On Point: The Pentagon Opts for Economy of Force

by Austin Bay
February 8, 2011

This week, the Pentagon published a national militarystrategy document, its first revision since 2004.

"The National Military Strategy, 2011" (NMS 2011)begins with the assertion that the U.S. has reached a "strategicinflection point." Economic and information interconnectedness and whatare euphemistically described as "ongoing shifts in relative power" (meaningcomparative power among nation states) have produced this strategic change indirection.

The assertion is debatable. NMS 2011's own survey of theinternational order and disorder regurgitates what we already know about thecomplex and convoluted strategic environment that emerged after the end of theCold War. That was the real inflection point, the big change in direction --economically, ideologically and structurally -- with which the world continuesto grapple.

As the Cold War receded, and Russia's empire and influencemelted, literally hundreds of old historical, tribal and religious conflictsreappeared. Commentators called it the multipolar world with state andnon-state actors. The Internet Age NMS- 2011 substitutes the term "multi-nodal."

By 1989, the year the Berlin Wall cracked, China had alreadyacknowledged the failure of the communist economic model. India, too, began toshed its statist economic shackles. NMS 2011 notes the consequence, two decadeslater, when it says, obliquely, "There exist in Asia two rising globalpowers and a large number of consequential regional powers."

NMS 2011 pegs intense urbanization as a gritty geo-strategicissue, 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 the1950s -- arguably since World War I, when considering chemical weapons. NMS2011 says, "State-sponsored and non-state actors complicate deterrence andaccountability by extending their reach through advanced technologies that wereonce solely the domain of states." That paraphrases Martin Van Creveld,circa 1989. In 1993, a non-state actor, al-Qaida, attacked the World TradeCenter. Al-Qaida believed Islam-inspired militancy in Afghanistan had broughtdown 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 Thomasbadgered 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 Staffhave seen the recession, know tight budgets are inevitable and are providingplanning 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 payfor the bus.

The document also advocates a comprehensive approach tolong-term planning -- with an eye on effectiveness -- which is just commonsense, and also nothing new. Heavens, Donald Rumsfeld supported the concept ofUnified Action (i.e., coordinating and synchronizing every "tool ofpower" America possesses to achieve a political end). For decades, theU.S. military has used the acronym "DIME" to describe the four mostbasic elements of national power: "Diplomatic,""Information," "Military" and "Economic" power.Crafting then conducting policy to achieve a goal so that diplomacy, economicpower, military power and information power (both the ability to communicateand to gather intelligence) reinforce one another is the acme of statesmanship.

NMS 2011 is steeped in the language of fiscal constraint andDIME. "Our Nation's security and prosperity are inseparable." Asbudgets shrink, leaders "must ... make difficult choices between currentand future challenges." DIME appears on page one: U.S. foreign policy must"employ an adaptive blend of diplomacy, development (i.e., economicassistance and investment) and defense." We "must continuously adaptour approaches to how we exercise power" and use "the full spectrumof power to defend our national interests and advance international securityand stability."

That's old wine served in a new skin, in an era when the oldwallet is dangerously thin. Preaching it, however, is easy. Achieving itwithout loss of lives and treasure is all too rare. 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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