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March 23, 2009

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I don't have anything intelligent to add to this, but I just want to say that this, from last week, is the saddest Onion article I've ever seen:

U.S. Troops in Iraq Excited to Finally Return to Afghanistan

The last four paragraphs are actually hard for me to read again.

Or, more briefly: negotiate from a position of strength.

Yeah mckinney. But the Byman piece is worth reading for the other issues discussed.

I glanced at it. Unfortunately, I am jammed for the foreseeable future and beyond. Still though, the basic premise that negotiations are most effective when done from a position of clear military advantage seems to run counter to much of what I've read, and perhaps misinterpreted, of your views on size and composition of our military. This last is a comment, not a challenge, BTW, for you to give some kind of explanation. You've said in earlier posts that you'll be addressing defense spending and asset allocation over time and I look forward to what you have to say when you have time to address the issues in detail

Damn, if we just had that Raptor, them insurgents would be runnin' scared...

Still though, the basic premise that negotiations are most effective when done from a position of clear military advantage seems to run counter to much of what I've read, and perhaps misinterpreted, of your views on size and composition of our military.

I'm not really sure what you're getting at here. You'll have to explain further which of my views seem to run counter to negotiating with insurgents from a position of strength where possible, but to avoid being in a position where negotiating with insurgents is required in the first place.

I would note: Iraq definitely weakened our position vis-a-vis Iran.

Briefly, Eric, you seem to advocate a significant reduction in standing forces across the board and cancellation of many (most, all?) new weapons systems now under development, being deployed or on the board. I am not sure what force structure would meet with your approval, and I am equally unsure how the US would ever negotiate from a position of strength if it were to adopt, say, the CDI's concept of an adequate national defense posture (you have quoted the CDI approvingly, or at least that was my take, so in the absence of more specifics from you, I am taking the CDI perspective as roughly mirroring your own). I could be wrong, you may be more or less hawkish than CDI. I assume you will eventually get around to stating what you feel the right structure/mix of forces is.

Briefly, Eric, you seem to advocate a significant reduction in standing forces across the board and cancellation of many (most, all?) new weapons systems now under development, being deployed or on the board.

Not exactly. I have never advocated reducing standing forces - if anything, I would increase them, or at least push for a better mixture of specialties within those forces/use of same. One thing I would do is reduce the size of the Air Force, and try to fold more of its operations into the other branches.

As for weapons systems, it's not about "across the board" cancellations of most or all of anything. It's about reining in our out of control budget so that it matches our national security needs. We don't need to be spending as much as the rest of the world combined. What that likely means is scrapping some big ticket items (F-22) and slowing the pace in terms of development of the next big thing.

By focusing on big ticket items, we can actually hurt the efficacy of the troops in the field who need more smaller ticket items than we can afford.

It works in two ways: big ticket items are so expensive, that we can't acquire sufficient numbers to be available in all areas of need. Further, because they are so expensive, we don't have money to buy cheaper, less flashy alternatives.

I'm for budget reform, but nothing so rote or absolute as you seem to perceive.

And, no, I don't think scaling back orders of F-22s is going to hinder our ability to negotiate from strength with Afghan insurgent groups. I don't see the two as intextricably linked. That dynamic has more to do with troops on the ground than Raptors in the sky.

Nor do I think "negotiating from military strength" is going to be very useful with big countries such as Russia, China, Pakistan, India, etc. They're big enough that even if we bankrupted ourselves on military spending, they could still tell us to shove off.

mckinney,

The bottom line is that I think we can cut defense spending and still enjoy such an enormous comparative advantage, that we can get what we need out of negotiation from strength. Rob Farley does a good job of putting things in perspective:

Absent supplementals, the United States currently runs a defense budget of just over half a trillion dollars, a number which does not include defense-related spending in other departments. By the kindest calculations, this means that the U.S. spends roughly four to six times as much on defense as our closest competitor. By less kind calculations, we spend about 10 times as much as any other country in the world, accounting for somewhere around 50 percent of aggregate world defense spending. Although the absolute numbers have changed since the early 1990s, the ratios have not. The U.S. has simply dominated world defense spending since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in spite of the fact that most of the other top defense spenders (France, U.K., Japan) are close U.S. allies.

If an analyst had proposed, during the Reagan administration, that the U.S. outspend the Soviet Union by a factor of 5-10, he or she would have been laughed out of government by Republicans and Democrats alike. Today, however, debate over the defense budget almost never results from the question "How much do we need to spend?", or even "Should we spend more or less?", but rather "How much more should we spend?" And this is simply insane, given the massive advantage that the United States enjoys over any potential competitor, and the security gains that the United States has accumulated since the end of the Cold War.

Matt Yglesias commenting on Farley is also good:

That’s a very good point. If you had a situation where we were confident that the U.S. was spending more than the U.S.S.R., that our NATO allies were collectively spending more than the U.S.S.R.’s Warsaw Pact allies, that South Korea was spending more than North Korea, and that Japan, Australia, etc. were floating around out there as additional sources of western strength you would say that Communism was being adequately contained and deterred. These days, though, the United States is maintaining a defense budget that’s ten times what Russia or China spend and yet holding that budget flat is considered an almost outrageously dovish position. And this even though our allies haven’t vanished. The combined defense spending of the UK, Japan, Germany, and France is considerably larger than the combined spending of Russia and China. And of course our contemporary relationship with Russia and China is far better than was our relationship with the U.S.S.R.

With the latter point relevant to our conversation: we would never need to negotiate from strength with most militarily strong nations.

Eric, I agree that the mix of forces needs changing, and I have no objection to saving money anywhere in our budget, defense or non-defense, that makes sense. However, it is a good idea to compare like to like. Raptors don't mean much to Taliban insurgents, but so what? They would mean a lot if the airspace over Taiwan, for example, was in dispute. What is your alternative to the Raptor?

On the like-to-like comparison note, comparing Russian or Chinese outlays to US outlays is misleading at best. Does a Chinese or Russian private get paid or get the enlistment bonuses that a US recruit gets? Not hardly, and you, Yglesias and Farley all know that. Do Russia and China have the same need we do for two blue water navies? Not even close. Does either country pay the same in US dollars for its hardware? Same answer as before. The comparisons you make don't hold up. Further, most of your position is couched in terms of 'amount of spending' not a realistic, long-term threat assessment coupled with an analysis of what force levels are needed to meet which threats. Threats, adversaries' capabilities and mission drive defense spending, not misleading comparisons.

They would mean a lot if the airspace over Taiwan, for example, was in dispute. What is your alternative to the Raptor?

But that's the thing: we're not going to fight over the skies of Taiwan, Raptor or no Raptor. The alternative would be to scrap the Raptor, keep our current superior fighter jets, buy more close air support aircraft - which are cheaper - and then look to the next gen fighter (F-35) which is already in the queue - and cheaper per unit.

On the like-to-like comparison note, comparing Russian or Chinese outlays to US outlays is misleading at best. Does a Chinese or Russian private get paid or get the enlistment bonuses that a US recruit gets? Not hardly, and you, Yglesias and Farley all know that. Do Russia and China have the same need we do for two blue water navies? Not even close. Does either country pay the same in US dollars for its hardware?

With the exception of enlistment bonuses, though, you mostly make my point: they don't have blue water navies to the same extent, which gives us an enormous advantage. Further, their hardware is inferior and less expensive. Finally, there are actually arguments that it is more onerous on each to spend at the levels they do because they lack the infrastructure and capacity that we do to manufacture the equipment in question. They have to dedicate a lot of resources to get technichians, engineers and designers, and then produce the facilities to produce the end products.

"But that's the thing: we're not going to fight over the skies of Taiwan, Raptor or no Raptor."

(If I could do parentheses, I would be a lot cooler) How can you be certain this will never happen? That asked, when is the F-35 due to come on line? If while the current crop still has a useful life, this seems like a reasonable position. Close air support, however, only works with air superiority at higher altitudes.

"With the exception of enlistment bonuses, though, you mostly make my point:"

Not so. Both countries can put a lot more feet on the ground at a lot less cost. Quantity has a quality all of its own, as I suspect you know. Both countries can arm and equip up to a level that, given the numbers they have, make for a credible adversary, and they can do so for far less than the US. Our troops eat better, live better, have hugely superior health care, educational opportunities, etc. all of which is part of the DOD budget.

Of course our blue water navies give us a huge advantage, but we pay hugely for that advantage, which is why comparative spending is, at a minimum, misleading.

But still, your specific on the fighter program makes sense. When your schedule permits, should you decide to do a series on projections, needs, capabilities, etc, I'd look forward to seeing that.

How can you be certain this will never happen?

Close air support, however, only works with air superiority at higher altitudes.

Bottom line: If we ever get in a shooting war with China over Taiwan, the last thing we'll have to worry about is the F-22 vs the F-16, 15 or 14.

And I think that's why it will never happen: each side can inflict massive damage on the other, with or without the Raptor being in the mix.

Same with your second point: we're not going to get into a conflict with any country with which our current array of aircraft do not allow for high altitude supremacy.

Lockheed won the contract in 2001 - after a fiver year competition. I've heard estimates ranging from 5-15 years from now in terms of full roll out. There are already prototypes in the mix.

When your schedule permits, should you decide to do a series on projections, needs, capabilities, etc, I'd look forward to seeing that.

I hope to do that soon. I've been reading up on it, but still want to dig deeper, pull in more opinions and put something together.

"And I think that's why it will never happen: each side can inflict massive damage on the other, with or without the Raptor being in the mix."

This is probably right, the operative reason being we have the force structure to make the move prohibitive. I look forward to your coming series.

Right. And I'm certainly not in favor of seriously degrading that capacity. I'm not naive about the need for a robust military. It's just that I think we're spending at unsustainable levels and, perhaps more importantly, in ways that don't actually improve our fighting capacity.

Conversation to be continued...

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