A Decade after 9/11: Highlights from a CSBA Seminar

This morning, I attended a seminar put on by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The topic was where the U.S. military finds itself ten years after 9/11. Andrew Krepinevich, Jim Thomas, and Todd Harrison were the presenters.

Here a few highlights from the seminar. They are points that were most interesting to me and ones I don’t find commonly discussed elsewhere. They don’t constitute the entirety of the presentation. Hopefully, the CSBA staff will soon post the slides from the conference on their website. [UPDATE: Here are the slides from the presentation.]

Jim Thomas

  1. 9/11 was a watershed for the DoD. 9/11 forced the Pentagon to relearn irregular warfare and how to function on non-linear battlefields (which the United States has done many times before in its history).
  2. U.S. policymakers have yet to define a theory of victory for modern irregular conflicts.
  3. As the Long War continues, U.S. society still hasn’t solved the “shared sacrifice” problem, which will continue to aggravate civil-military relations.
  4. In the past, there were “vital” and “peripheral” geographic areas. When irregular adversaries have global mobility, such distinctions don’t apply.
  5. U.S. warfighting strategies assume permissive power projection through the global commons. This is an increasingly bad assumption to make. Future budget cuts should focus on systems that can’t survive in non-permissive environments.

Todd Harrison

  1. DoD is entering its fourth major budget drawdown since the Korean War. The three previous peak-to-trough spending declines were 53% (post-Korea), 26% (post-Vietnam), and 34% (post-Cold War).
  2. Unlike previous drawdowns, there was no build-up this time from which to reduce. Troop levels are about the same, aircraft, ships, and bases are already lower compared to 2001. This will make cuts this time much more consequential compared to past episodes.
  3. Should the second budget trigger get pulled this winter, the peak-to-trough cut will be 31%.
  4. Higher operating costs are now embedded in normal peacetime operations. Personnel costs per soldier are much higher compared to 2001. Same for peacetime training costs: flight hours, ship steaming days, tank miles are all much more expensive than in 2001. These make O&M cuts more consequential and increase the risks of a hollow force.

Andrew Krepinevich

  1. Tectonic shifts are looming for the distribution of global political, economic, and military-technical power.
  2. The world is on the cusp of a much wider distribution of guided munitions, nuclear weapons, cyber weapons, and bio-weapons.
  3. The current period is reminiscent of the 1930s: falling resources for defense while serious security challenges rapidly expand.
  4. There are underappreciated risks to undersea resources: oil platforms, pipelines, data cables, etc. are soft targets, vulnerable to attack by easily-acquired underwater robots. There are high future costs for undersea mitigation and security.
  5. Falling resources and expanding threats create the need for a real national security strategy. Top policymakers seem un—to admit their resource constraints and are un—to face up to the need for goal prioritization.
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