The Skeptics

Hollow Claims of a Hollow Force

Second, the authors' notions of what cuts pose unacceptable risk are simply asserted without justification. The report shows how big cuts would limit our ability to patrol foreign seas, deploy armies and so forth but not how that would impact our security. That omission shows the impossibility of divorcing defense budgeting from defense strategy. To draw conclusions about the efficacy of military spending, you have say something about how you cause security, which means talking about strategy. The authors further demonstrate this problem when they sensibly argue that with protracted occupational warfare now less likely, the ground forces should get less of the budget and the navy and air force more. As Chris Preble suggests, that budgetary recommendation follows from a strategic choice.

What’s more, there is little reason to believe the report’s claim that we could not execute its “global engagement” strategy at far less cost. The report defines that strategy as having six components (really three or four since several are redundant):

1. Guard the U.S. homeland against territorial invasion or attack by another country.

2. Deter potential adversaries from attacking the U.S. and allies.

3. Protect trade routes and access to global energy supplies on which the U.S. and allied economies depend.

4. Help secure the global commons of sea, air, space and cyberspace, on which the U.S. and global economic systems rely.

5. Defend the United States against transnational security threats, such as nuclear proliferation and international terrorism.

6. Support international laws and norms which help bolster peace and security.

These objectives are so vague and the threats to them so few that a far smaller force could defend them with ease. For analysis of how we could lessen the costs of commanding the global commons (CNAS’s categories three and four), especially the sea, read Joshua Shrifrinson and Sameer Lalwani. They show how the primacy strategy that CNAS implicitly endorses encourages U.S. enemies to arm and erodes our relative power. We can both enhance security and avoid hollowing the force by using it more judiciously.