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U.S. Force establishment – our own worst enemy?

July 8, 2009

interesting observation by David Kilcullen:

“Even within the armed forces, there is a substantial mismatch between the capabilities needed for the current international security environment and those actually present in the U.S. military inventory. This is starkest in terms of the lack of capacity for stabilization and reconstruction operations, and for counterinsurgency or FID. The vast majority of defense capability is oriented to conventional war-fighting, while even within the Special Operation Forces the primary focus is on direct action (killing or capturing key enemy personnel) rather than on capabilities that support an indirect, military assistance approach. At a higher level of abstraction, the resources available for land operations (including both army and marine ground forces and the air and maritime assets from all services that support them) are substantially overstretched by comparison to resources for conventional air and maritime war-fighting, which are far more expensive but much less likely to be called on. Thus the U.S. military exhibits both a capability mismatch and an asymmetry of capacity.

Despite all this, the U.S. government has enduring requirements to meet alliance obligations, deal with the potential for conventional adversaries and hedge against the threat of major theater conflict. And because capabilities for irregular or unconventional conflict are much cheaper to acquire than those for conventional conflict, and require less hardware and industrial capacity, they are paradoxically less likely to be developed. This is because, through the “military-industrial complex,” a substantial portion of the American economy, the numerous jobs in almost every congressional district, are linked to the production of conventional war-fighting capacity. It takes factories, jobs, and industrial facilities to build battleships and bombers, but aid workers, linguists and Special Forces operators are vastly cheaper and do not demand the same industrial base.

So shifting spending priorities onto currently ¬†unconventional forms of warfare would cost jobs and votes in the congressional districts of the very people who control that spending. This makes it structurally difficult for the U.S. fundamentally to reorient its military capabilities away from conventional war-fighting or to divert a significant proportion of defense spending into civilian capacity. Hence, absent a concerted effort by the nation’s leadership in both the executive and legislative branches, the pattern of asymmetric warfare within the U.S. adopting a basically conventional approach but being opposed by enemies who seek to sidestep American conventional power, is likely to be a long-standing trend.”

– David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerilla, Chapter 1 – Model 4. Asymmetric Warfare

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