by Austin Bay
February 8, 2011
This week, the Pentagon published a national military
strategy document, its first revision since 2004.
"The National Military Strategy, 2011" (NMS 2011)
begins with the assertion that the U.S. has reached a "strategic
inflection point." Economic and information interconnectedness and what
are euphemistically described as "ongoing shifts in relative power" (meaning
comparative power among nation states) have produced this strategic change in
The assertion is debatable. NMS 2011's own survey of the
international order and disorder regurgitates what we already know about the
complex and convoluted strategic environment that emerged after the end of the
Cold War. That was the real inflection point, the big change in direction --
economically, ideologically and structurally -- with which the world continues
As the Cold War receded, and Russia's empire and influence
melted, literally hundreds of old historical, tribal and religious conflicts
reappeared. Commentators called it the multipolar world with state and
non-state actors. The Internet Age NMS- 2011 substitutes the term "multi-nodal."
By 1989, the year the Berlin Wall cracked, China had already
acknowledged the failure of the communist economic model. India, too, began to
shed its statist economic shackles. NMS 2011 notes the consequence, two decades
later, when it says, obliquely, "There exist in Asia two rising global
powers and a large number of consequential regional powers."
NMS 2011 pegs intense urbanization as a gritty geo-strategic
issue, but that has been a global trend since at least the mid-20th century.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation has been a worry since the
1950s -- arguably since World War I, when considering chemical weapons. NMS
2011 says, "State-sponsored and non-state actors complicate deterrence and
accountability by extending their reach through advanced technologies that were
once solely the domain of states." That paraphrases Martin Van Creveld,
circa 1989. In 1993, a non-state actor, al-Qaida, attacked the World Trade
Center. Al-Qaida believed Islam-inspired militancy in Afghanistan had brought
down the U.S.S.R. Time to tackle the U.S.A.
NMS 2011 doesn't really identify America's enemies, either,
beyond al-Qaida militants and nods at North Korean and Iranian troublemaking.
Identifying the enemy has been difficult since the George H.W. Bush administration.
When Bush presented his Cold War defense budget, the hideous Helen Thomas
badgered President Bush to name the enemy. He said insecurity and instability,
a competent impromptu answer for which she ridiculed him.
So what's the point of NMS 2011? The Joint Chiefs of Staff
have seen the recession, know tight budgets are inevitable and are providing
planning guidance for a decade of economic retrenchment in a dangerous world.
Their guidance reflects a classic military principle, "economy of force,"
which means employing all available power in the most effective, practical way.
To put it colloquially, if you can get there by walking, do it, and don't pay
for the bus.
The document also advocates a comprehensive approach to
long-term planning -- with an eye on effectiveness -- which is just common
sense, and also nothing new. Heavens, Donald Rumsfeld supported the concept of
Unified Action (i.e., coordinating and synchronizing every "tool of
power" America possesses to achieve a political end). For decades, the
U.S. military has used the acronym "DIME" to describe the four most
basic elements of national power: "Diplomatic,"
"Information," "Military" and "Economic" power.
Crafting then conducting policy to achieve a goal so that diplomacy, economic
power, military power and information power (both the ability to communicate
and to gather intelligence) reinforce one another is the acme of statesmanship.
NMS 2011 is steeped in the language of fiscal constraint and
DIME. "Our Nation's security and prosperity are inseparable." As
budgets shrink, leaders "must ... make difficult choices between current
and future challenges." DIME appears on page one: U.S. foreign policy must
"employ an adaptive blend of diplomacy, development (i.e., economic
assistance and investment) and defense." We "must continuously adapt
our approaches to how we exercise power" and use "the full spectrum
of power to defend our national interests and advance international security
That's old wine served in a new skin, in an era when the old
wallet is dangerously thin. Preaching it, however, is easy. Achieving it
without loss of lives and treasure is all too rare.