National Security Context

The most intractable problems of the world seem to be getting larger and more complex. At the same time, innumerable smaller problems have also proliferated with globalization and technological advances. The resources we are putting against National Security problems seem to be diminishing as a percentage of total assets.

We have a lot of national security problems to address, which include (in no particular order):

  • The mess we made in Iraq
  •  Iranian nuclear development and regional ambitions
  • Somali pirates
  • A belligerent and nuclear North Korea
  • Narco-insurgency in Mexico
  • Smaller scale counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency missions in a dozen or more countries
  • Russia reasserting herself
  • Israel still can't get along with the Palestinians (or Iran or Syria)
  • China as an emerging global power
  • Pakistan is a mess
  • The mess we made in Afghanistan
  • Syria is a mess
  • Widespread poverty, ignorance, hunger, and disease
  • Other failing states in Africa, Asia, Europe and the western hemisphere
  • Not to mention any unforeseen contingency or act of God (hurricane, forest fires, tsunami, etc) that may come along.
  • Our reputation as a global leader is tarnished (Abu Ghraib, Helmand massacre, drones, etc.) 
  • We're in a deep recession, the government is running a $13.8 trillion deficit, unemployment is high, and Social Security and Medicare are heading towards bankruptcy.

Our ability to address the all problems facing us is quite constrained. The housing bubble, the bailout of the automotive industry, high unemployment, a record debt, and a soaring deficit top the domestic policy agenda. The State Department is too small and inexperienced to deal with all the international issues. The military is large and capable, but we do not have a large military or defense budget, historically speaking.

  • Current defense budget is $664B, which is 4.7% of GDP.  During WWII, the defense budget was 37.8% of GDP.
  • Current uniformed military manpower, counting active, guard, and reserve Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard is 2.96M, which is under 1% of the population.  During WWII, there were 8.5M citizens in uniform, over 6% of the population.
  • Current operations tempo (OPTEMPO) for the Army’s basic fighting unit, the Brigade Combat Team (BCT), is 1 year of combat of operational deployments for every three years, or 1 up to 2 back, or 1:2.  At the height of the Cold War, the OPTEMPO of a Brigade was 1:10.
  • We have 10 divisions now, compared to 18 at the height of the Cold War and 95 during WWII.

Given this context, where do we accept risk in order to maximize the bang for our very limited buck?  Where is the best place for a good decision analyst to apply his craft? What policies are most likely to move Armageddon to the right by a generation, so my children can have children of their own?  These types of national security questions drive my daily interactions with friends and colleagues. They fuel my inquiries and motivate me to work hard, stay strong, and use time wisely.

In addition to blogging I have many interests and many passions in my life. As a career Army officer I have developed from an architect to an engineer, company commander, systems manager, field grade staff officer, and operations research analyst. One common thread connecting my education and work experience is the security strategy for our Nation. I think about National Security Strategy and Ends, Ways, and Means all the time. These themes form the overarching context for the 20-odd jobs that have comprised my career to date.

ver 2, updated January 27, 2012