Academic journal article Policy Review

The Essentials of Self-Preservation

Academic journal article Policy Review

The Essentials of Self-Preservation

Article excerpt

What Our Military Can't Live Without

THE WORD "DECADENCE" derives from the medieval Latin de cadere -- to fall away, by implication from some previous height or standard of virtue or excellence. Some years ago, literary critic Robert Adams fleshed out this meaning and its application to human affairs. In Decadent Societies, he described historical decadence as the process whereby "societies that without suffering a grievous wound began to languish, struggled vainly for a while against minor enemies, and then succumbed to inner weakness." From this he arrived at "the simplest definition of decadence; it is not failure, misfortune, or weakness, but the deliberate neglect of the essentials of self-preservation -- incapacity or unwillingness to face a clear and present danger."

By this standard, America is a decadent society. Despite the expenditure of well over $300 billion a year on defense and related activities, despite rhetoric about being "the world's only superpower" and lacking any conceivable "peer competitor," and despite all the high-tech gadgetry, today the United States possesses less usable military power than at any time since the late 1970s, perhaps the late 1940s. The problem goes far deeper than the debate over transient "readiness." It is structural. Its components are the following:

* Ten years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States continues to field a smaller, ever more costly, unmaintainable, unready, and irrelevant version of its Cold War/industrial age military dinosaur.

* The United States clings to an outdated military strategy of fighting two major land wars on two transoceanic fronts.

* The United States squanders its power on ill-conceived and open-ended commitments -- we're now on our second decade of bombing Iraq and plan on staying in the Balkans indefinitely.

* The Navy dwindles to 300 deteriorating ships. The Air Force plans to fly its B-52 bombers until they're 70 years old, and it cannot maintain its tactical aircraft fleet. The Marine Corps faces the obsolescence of its helicopters and other major systems. The Army's tanks and trucks, helicopters and weapons wear out. Even M-16 ammunition is in short supply. During the Kosovo operation, the Army couldn't get to the fight at all.

* Preventing casualties has become an end in itself, and an extreme casualty-intolerance drives major political and military decisions.

* The United States refuses to mount an effective national missile defense, or to organize properly for effective homeland defense against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

* The United States fails to exploit its tremendous potential offensive advantages in space. Simultaneously, we neglect to defend the civilian and military systems upon which we are now critically and irrevocably dependent.

After years of official denials, not even the Pentagon denies that this force is in serious trouble. The question for the next administration is: What now?

Dollars are not enough

ONE ANSWER, much beloved of both political conservatives and the Pentagon, is to spend more money. Throughout the Cold War, peacetime defense spending averaged about 3 percent of GNP. In recent months, both conservative civilian analysts and senior officers have touted a "4 percent solution" -- raising defense spending from its present 2.9 percent of GDP to 4 percent. This proposal, an attempt to lock in a share of the pie, would produce extremely high annual defense budgets -- within a decade or so, well over $400 billion, assuming the economy remains robust. In a time of peace, these levels of spending should not be necessary.

Still, more money must be spent. Final fiscal 2001 expenditures (the basic defense appropriations bill enacted in August 2000, plus all the ancillary bills and inevitable supplementals) will probably tally at least $320 billion. But several score billion, carefully targeted, are additionally needed over the next several years to maintain parts of the present "legacy force" while moving towards a twenty-first century "transformation force. …

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