Military Readiness: Concepts, Choices, Consequences

By Cooper, William R. | Naval War College Review, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Military Readiness: Concepts, Choices, Consequences


Cooper, William R., Naval War College Review


Betts, Richard K. Military Readiness: Concepts, Choices, Consequenes. Washing ton, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1995. 322pp. $42.95

When asked, any veteran of our modem armed forces will readily define what "readiness" means, both in a theoretical and practical sense. If pressed, most can probably recall how readiness affected them during various aspects of their careers. It is also likely that the veteran can also recount an instance of how an evaluation of readiness (usually by one's superior) can go bizarrely wrong. In this reviewer's case, it was the "randomly selected" readiness sortie of my destroyer in 1975 after we had removed both our SPS-40 and SPS-10 radar antennae for repair. I am sure there are numerous other tales of misconstrued and misapplied readiness criteria that continue to this day. One can begin to understand why this phenomenon occurs by carefully reading this admirable book by Richard Betts.

The author is a professor of political science at Columbia University and a former senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. He has spent his career studying the more complex aspects of modern politicalmilitary affairs. In this work he explains why the United States has continued to have serious problems in understanding, planning, implementing, and measuring the many aspects of military readiness. He uses various excellent examples from recent history to illustrate how difficult it is to deal effectively with this topic, and he offers some keen insights into how we can change our national approach to this subject now that we have emerged victorious from the fortyyear Cold War.

In one section, Betts takes the topic of readiness and explores aspects of it by using some historical examples from the last seventy-five years. He points out that there can be two distinct definitions of readiness: readiness for when, and readiness for what. The former entails operational readiness much like that maintained during the Cold War it is based solely on the amount of time needed to react or respond to attack. The second type is structural readiness, which refers to how effectively an infrastructure supports mobilization.

Betts's "readiness for when" is finite in sustainment and execution, for resources can remain at such a threshold only for a limited period of time; they must be rotated regularly to permit rest, retraining, resupply, and refurbishment. If these forces are committed to battle, there are few reinforcements, and victory must be swift. Betts is speaking here of almost a "come-as-you-are war." There are considerable economic consequences involved in the endless yet routine rotation and refreshment of these forces.

In "readiness for what," there are very different costs, but these can also be significant: industrial capacity, stockpiles, war reserves, spare parts, training cadres, and other elements such as sealift and airlift. In addition, this background readiness can result in greater personnel casualties in advance units in the early phases of a conflict while the rest of the force is in the process of mobilization in the rear. …

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