But what makes the report important is that it accepts fiscal realities and makes proposals to tailor U.S. forces so they can perform missions within a realistic view of the global security universe. It argues that the United States has and will retain military superiority, enough to anticipate any contingency that might require military action. It realistically proposes reducing U.S. military forces in Europe, avoiding a buildup in the Middle East, and rotating forces in East Asia. And it argues for avoiding protracted ground wars anywhere.
The report proposes a smaller Army structure than is currently projected, as well as a smaller Marine Corps -- though the cuts are not so deep as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said would happen with sequester-level budgets. It would keep operational the number of aircraft carriers we now have (11), as well as the current Special Operations forces (some 68,000 across the services). It argues for increased investment in cyber capabilities -- a recommendation I do not agree with -- but reduced investment in nuclear forces. And it makes a number of recommendations on procurement programs consistent with its force structure options.
Most significantly, the Stimson report challenges the Pentagon to find savings in overhead spending to make these other recommendations possible. The SCMR was insufficiently ambitious in its "back office" savings; the Stimson report says savings of $20 billion a year should be possible, which is roughly three times the savings SCMR proposed. And it makes specific recommendations on how to achieve those management savings -- civilian and military personnel reductions, reforms to retirement and health care programs, and a reduction in the number of contractor personnel working directly for the Pentagon.
There should be no crying "wolf": Even with the sequester, Pentagon budgets would still be above Cold War-average defense spending, in constant dollars. And the signers of the Stimson report argue that, with budgets at that level, national security is not threatened.
The Stimson group is, by design, visible; there is also some really interesting thinking at less visible levels. The other report worth flagging is a bluntly realistic review of budgets, strategy, and the global security situation, from a long-time insider in the Pentagon, H.H. Gaffney. He wrote The Future of U.S. Defense while at the Center for Naval Analysis, a think tank linked to the Navy. Gaffney has worked on nuclear and conventional force issues, defense budgets, military assistance programs, and more.
Suffice to say that he's been around the block a few times. So he's got the street cred to write: "No 'strategy,' 'requirements,' 'scenarios,' 'commitment,' 'responsibilities,' 'obligations,' etc. -- all self-assigned, in any case -- have ever determined the defense budget top line. The only 'demand' for the employment of U.S. forces in the world is by the administration-in-office itself." Take that, strategists of the world: We have met the budgetary enemy and they are us...
Gaffney isn't prescriptive, but his description of where we are is certainly outside the conventional wisdom. The world is largely a peaceful place for a large proportion of countries and peoples, aside from Afghanistan and a few terrorists, which will come as a shock to those who argue that global threats have grown. There are fewer civil wars and no major existential threats to the United States, argues Gaffney.
And most of the "global commons" -- space, air, sea, cyber -- is a place nobody patrols and nobody really guarantees militarily. International organizations and treaties do that, not armies. The Navy sails around, but is not and cannot be everywhere -- shipping goes on because it is in everybody's interest, and that includes the Iranians and Chinese.
In this world, the United States still has military superiority, as the Stimson report argues, and that superiority is pretty much unchallenged by anyone else. The major challenges are economic and political, not military, and most of those challenges are here at home (does the political tragedy of the last two years qualify?). We're not going to occupy anyone else soon or build a nation somewhere else. America will remain technologically the best force around, but with a more limited mission than the ones it has been asked to assume in recent years.
Changes in the budget, he argues, will happen in any case, driven by forces external to defense, but they will not change the military or security realities he describes. Future military planning needs to focus on hitting the number, which will be done by shrinking the force.
Gaffney's report is straightforward, clear, informed, and still outside the box as far as the Pentagon is concerned. And way outside the box for the "defenders of defense" on the Hill. But it is solid, worthy reading.
And it suggests a few basic truths: we are our own worst enemy. We come to believe the myths we parrot about the world and the role of our military. When we do, they come back to haunt us. And it is hard to change the perceptual reality that we have built. With budgets shrinking and threats less frightening than we think, a good dose of this kind of outside-the-box thinking is badly needed.