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On Point

The Pentagon Opts for Economy of Force


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 direction.

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 to grapple.

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 and stability."

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. 

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