Sunday, November 12, 2006

Defense Priorities – On the Wrong Path

By Jim Simpson

Many say that in light of the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet empire, weapons systems like the F-22 Raptor are just overpriced boondoggles. I am not knowledgeable enough to judge the relative merits of the F-22 over other technologies. I do know this however. Despite the “End of the Cold War” the Russians have continued to develop and field ever more expensive and sophisticated weapons.

The Topol M or SS-27 intercontinental ballistic missile is supposed to be the “last word” in missile technology. According to Wikipedia: “The missile is claimed by its designers to be immune to any planned US ABM defense. It is said to be capable of making evasive maneuvers to avoid a kill by terminal phase interceptors, and is likely to carry targeting countermeasures and decoys. It is shielded against radiation, EMP, nuclear blasts in distances less than 500 meters, and is designed to survive a hit from any laser technology.”

Do we have anything like that? And the many years we dawdled, debating the wisdom and legality of fielding an ABM system, the Russians quietly built their own.

Or what if our pilots had to fight the new MiG 33, which is contended to have superior flight and weapons system characteristics to the F-18 in virtually all categories? How about fifth generation fighters like the Sukhoi SU-37, or the SU-47, described by as having “far superior maneuvering in the air to any aircraft known to this date.”

This begs a number of questions. If, as they claim, the Soviet Union fell because we “outspent” them in military production, and forced them to go broke, how is it that they find the resources to produce such weapons? “Well, they cut back in different areas,” some respond. If this is true, then why are they in such dire need of Western financial assistance?

Forgive my cynicism please, but how can the Russians scream “poverty” while concurrently producing expensive weapons that military critics contend the vastly wealthier U.S. cannot afford? Are they so insensitive to the needs of their population that they would allow people to starve in order to produce Cold War hardware they no longer need? Well, they used to be that insensitive, but if that is still true, why are we helping them? If not, why do they need our financial assistance? claims the Su-37 and 47 have not been put into production because they don’t have the money. Do they know that for sure? If so, why develop a fighter you don’t need, since we’re all such good friends and all, when you can’t afford to produce it anyway? The foreign market is always an option, true, but do you want to sell hardware to potential enemies when you can’t afford the same or better for yourselves? And the market would be China. You remember China, the nice communists? The ones Nixon cleverly thought we could play off against the Soviets? Would the Russians trust them with their best hardware?

Others make the ludicrous claim that these big-ticket items were “already contracted”. They have obviously never been in business. If you go broke, you go broke. That means no resources, nada, nothing, zilch. Factories lay dormant, people are laid off, and creditors are stiffed. Contractors halt production, everything stops. It doesn’t matter if you are a totalitarian government either. You cannot compel production when you do not have the resources to make it happen. Sure, they can order people to work under threat of death, and/or resurrect the gulag system of the bad old days, but they still have to come up with the resources to finish the job. If the “Cold War” is over however, and we are no longer the enemy, why go to the trouble?

Still others dismiss these new weapons systems as coming from a quaint Russian desire to maintain “prestige” in the world. The Russians, so goes the argument, feel inadequate, so they must keep producing this stuff in order to feel equal to the Big Bad US of A. Sort of like an impotent man continually trying to demonstrate his manhood. Ignoring the financial argument for the moment, wouldn’t that make them more dangerous? There is nothing so dangerous, they say, as a wounded, cornered animal.

Almost every analyst has a different explanation for this Russian behavior. Each one is more logically implausible than the next. When no logical and factually sound consensus emerges, and none has, don’t you have to question all the analyses? For eighty years we operated on the assumption that the Soviet Union was our enemy. In a few short years we dismissed this as a foolish relic of Cold War thinking, the province of a few hardcore, fanatic right wing nuts. The Soviets were never really that dangerous—a paper tiger. All those killed in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere, died for nothing. The Cambodian killing fields never happened. The 40 million murdered by the Soviet regime died only as a consequence of one fanatic nut: Josef Stalin. The 70 million killed by Mao? Well, to make an omelet...

And what about all the nuclear and biological weaponry floating around the now out-of-control Russia? Not to worry! The Russians have it under control! No need to develop countermeasures. No need to worry our pretty little heads about it. The State Department–that font of wisdom for the ages–will take care of things: they’ll go talk it over!

Put this together with the fact that the Russians continue to spy more aggressively on the U.S., continue to oppose us around the world, even if their opposition these days is better disguised, and the fact that the Russians have a virtually unbroken eighty-year record of deceit and treachery, wouldn’t it be just a bit prudent to treat them with some caution? Wouldn’t it be wise to “keep the powder dry” or “trust but verify”, as Reagan used to say?

Those who criticize our efforts to field an anti-ballistic missile system and modernize our weapons are often the same ones who championed the Soviet Union in the bad old days and today dismiss the Russians’ curious behavior. In their minds the Russians can do no wrong, while we in the U.S. can do no right. Are we supposed to follow their logic while the Russians (and now the Chinese too–thanks Bill!) have thousands of ICBMs pointed in our direction?

No. Hopefully not.

Here’s another logical mindbender. We pride ourselves on our technological prowess. Indeed, when confronted with questions about adequacy of our current force structure, military analysts, including our ever-optimistic outgoing Secretary of Defense, respond that U.S. technology will conquer all. “We don’t need a larger force; superior U.S. technology will win the day. We don’t need more modern weapon systems, technology will...” Wait a minute! How can we rely on our technological edge if we don’t invest to maintain it? You can’t cut back and grow at the same time! You can’t slash budgets for high tech weaponry then expect that rapidly changing, extremely capital intensive industrial base to sit around waiting for you to change your mind.

And what happens when that high tech stuff breaks, or the GPS guiding it all gets knocked out, or the batteries go dead? Where is our tiny, undermanned, under-gunned, under-protected force going to be then? Can a pilot, a captain, a tank commander today still navigate without GPS? Bet those skills are a bit rusty. No? Would you bet your life?

Indeed, in addition to obvious manpower shortages, the dark secret is that we may not be as technologically superior as we think. Oh sure, our high-tech weapons can easily wipe out a third-world dictator’s army, which uses 30-year-old tanks and Toyota trucks as APCs. But what happens if we have to come up against an army driving the new Russian T-90 or T-95? I have the answer for you: we don’t have a clue!

I bet it won’t be pretty.

Finally, the emphasis on high technology presumes a “smaller, nimbler” conventional force, but our weaknesses revealed in Iraq are all about unconventional warfare. In this type of battle, like so many of the threats we face today, technology is of little use without good intelligence. And our intelligence services, both military and civilian, are woefully short of qualified, experienced, intelligence officers.

We must face facts. The world remains a dangerous place with many unknowns and hidden surprises. Pretending this isn’t so won’t make it go away.

In a world of finite resources we have to make hard choices: armor humvees or build a better APC? Fund the F-22 or make more capable drones? As we have seen, the consequences of our decisions can be counted in lives. But the fact that we did not have many armored humvees at the start of the Iraqi conflict does not automatically mean that we should have more. We should have at our fingertips the correct weapon system for the job.

The notion of America housing the Most Powerful Military Force in the World is plainly wishful thinking. It would almost be funny if it weren’t so terrifying. As Iraq has painfully revealed, we cannot even deploy sufficient forces for a medium-sized regional conflict. Never mind the “two regional conflicts” models posited in recent Quadrennial Defense Reviews, whether “simultaneous,” “nearly simultaneous,” “overlapping,” “one large and one smaller one,” “one soon to follow the other,” or other such absurd wordsmithing. The very fact that they had to come up with such creative scenarios shouts out our weakness. The enemy will not let us choose our favored scenario!

Did anyone imagine before OIF began that we’d also have to consider military action against Iran, Syria and North Korea at the same time? We couldn’t deal with any one of them right now. Our military is too small for the tasks it is currently being asked to perform, and for the conflicts it is likely to face in the near future. The arrogant, stubborn unwillingness to fully recognize our precarious position in the world will ultimately spell our demise as a nation.

The Soviet Union has been using a variant of the Cloward-Piven Strategy against us. This was a strategy dreamed up by two Columbia University sociologists, Richard Cloward and Frances Piven. Their idea was to place so many demands on the U.S. government that it would ultimately collapse, whereupon it could be taken over by socialists.

Cloward and Piven envisioned applying this strategy to our welfare system, demanding ever more programs until we went bankrupt. But the communists are applying this strategy by fomenting armed conflicts worldwide. On the one hand, their arming, training and motivating of “liberation” armies around the world is so pervasive, we would be hard-pressed to fight them all. On the other hand, if we don’t fight them, eventually they will reach our shores.

This state of affairs is hardly the time to be shrinking our force structure! We can continue to fight innumerable proxy wars around the globe until we are exhausted, smothered in debt, and overwhelmed, or we can go directly to the source of the problem. In either case, we are woefully unprepared. Doing nothing is not an option, unless we have already resigned ourselves to losing, in which case we are all dead.

If we still intend to live, however, our military must grow, and grow exponentially. It must truly become what ignorant pundits say it is now: the greatest military force in the world.

The time is nigh. The alarm bells are sounding. We cannot go gentle into that goodnight.

Freelance writer Jim Simpson is a former White House staff economist and budget analyst (1987-1993). His writings have been published in the Washington Times, FrontPage Magazine, DefenseWatch online newsletter, Soldier of Fortune magazine, Military magazine and others.