Cost-Benefit Economics: Enhancing National Security and Air and Space Power

By Weeks, Michael R. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Cost-Benefit Economics: Enhancing National Security and Air and Space Power


Weeks, Michael R., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: The changing calculus of direct and indirect costs associated with warfare implies a need to alter strategy and doctrine. New technologies, the varying character of competition between states, and the proliferation of nonstate actors increase the difficulty of defining the effects desired during military operations. Viewing such strategic elements through a cost-benefit lens helps refine critical decision-making tasks for those who participate in the process.

To defeat this [terrorist] threat we must make use of every tool in our arsenal-military power, better homeland defenses, law enforcement, intelligence, and vigorous efforts to cut off terrorist financing. The war against terrorists of global reach is a global enterprise of uncertain duration.

-President George W. Bush

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America

THE LATEST VERSION of the national security strategy is a sweeping document that lays the groundwork for traditional defense roles as well as the campaign against terror operations and terrorists.1 After the Bush administration published its new security strategy, the mainstream press focused on the idea of preemptive action.2 Michael Kelly referred to this new strategy as "nothing less than a re-imagining of the American role in the world."3 Although this idea of preemptive action may be new to the words of the security strategy, it is certainly not new to the deeds. The actions in Grenada and Panama were preemptive in nature but did not spur this level of debate. Even Kelly admits as much when he says that "preventive wars are not new, and neither is the American impulse to better the world by air power."4 The preemptive aspect of the strategy might not be completely new; nevertheless, the preemptive nature of the strategy, as well as other aspects of the document, should spur some reflection. If this new national strategy is going to better the world through the use of airpower (in the context of joint operations), how might we airmen contribute to this cause?

The new strategy also reflects some current realities. Technological improvements have lowered the costs of warfare for developed nations, both in terms of dollars and human lives, but they have also lowered the costs for terrorists.5 This economic situation requires that we reexamine how we decide on appropriate courses of action-especially in situations that have traditionally resulted in long-term sanctions. National security decisions are not necessarily economic in nature; however, an economic framework can provide a clearer picture for analysis of the choices inherent in many security dilemmas. This article examines how the use of an economic view can help develop air and space power doctrine to support the national security strategy. Toward that end, it examines direct costs, indirect costs, marginal costs, and investments.

The Evolution of Doctrine

Do not let us split hairs. Let us not say, "We will only defend ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew and the passengers are drowned." This is the time for prevention of attack.

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

11 September 1941

Modern concepts of the application of air-power are represented in The Air Campaign: Planning for Combat by Col John A. Warden III, USAF, retired.6 Technological advancements have meant that even a relatively recent book such as this one, with its discussion of the serial destruction of centers of gravity, has become somewhat dated. However, The Air Campaign laid the groundwork for more refined doctrine that uses effects-based warfare. Maj Gen David Deptula, for example, advocates a forceful case for parallel warfare with precision weapons.7 Further work focuses on General Deptula's idea that absolute destruction may not be necessary to achieve the effects required for the campaign.8 Despite widespread discussion of these ideas, US forces have not applied such concepts with any degree of consistency. …

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