US Defence Strategies

Good article by Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defence, in the Foreign Review on the balanced approach of the US National Defence Strategy.  This balance lies in three areas

  • prevailing in current conflicts while preparing for other contingencies
  • maintaining the existing conventional and strategic technological edge while institutionalising capabilities in counterinsurgency and foreign military assistance, and
  • retaining successful cultural traits while shedding those that hamper doing what needs to be done

Part of the biggest difficulty in defence is the long lead times in procurement, not just for large items like the next fighter aircraft but also for armaments (the things that go bang) so that they go bang when they are meant to go bang.  This requires testing under the various climatic conditions – what might work in an Iraqi summer may act very differently in an Afghani winter.

Gates states quite eloquently:

The Department of Defence’s conventional modernisation programs seek a 99% solution over a period of years.  Stability and counterinsurgency missions require 75% solutions over a period of months.  The challenge is whether these two different paradigms can be made to coexist in the US military’s mindset and bureaucracy…  The issue then becomes how to build … innovative thinking and flexibility into the rigid procurement processes at home.  The key is to make sure that the strategy and risk assessment drive the procurement, rather than the other way around.

This challenge is not confined to the US military but applies across the public sector.  How do you balance long-term infrastructure development with the need for action and funding that will have impact in the short-term and on-the-ground.  The short-term actions are often cheaper, more sustainable and context-sensitive.  They provide options for undertaking safe-fail experiments to see what works.

Finally, some other quotes:

I have learned many things in my 42 years of service in the national security arena.  Two of the most important are an appreciation of limits and a sense of humility… But not every outrage, every act of aggression or every crisis can or should elicit a US military response.

As General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”


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