Small Wars Journal

Message to the Next Secretary Defense

Message to the Next SecDef by Colonel Joseph J. Collins, USA Ret., Armed Forces Journal. BLUF: "To get us through this budget crisis, we don't need a new strategy; we need prudence, visionary leadership and tough management."


If you do not read anything else today (or even this week), I recommend you read this very important article.  There is something here for everyone from "entitlements" within DoD and the retirement system, to duplication of capabilities (SOF included) to not only air and maritime wars in the Pacific to war on the Korean Peninsula, to COIN and "COIN-lite" among many others.  This is one of the most thought provoking articles I have read in a long time and one that the next SECDEF should certainly read as well as those in Administration and on the National Security Council who probably should be concerned with Strategy.

I do take exception to this one sentence from the conclusion:

"To get us through this budget crisis, we dont need a new strategy; we need prudence, visionary leadership and tough management."

I certainly agree with the prudence, visionary leadership, and tough management ideas, we definitely need them.  However, to say we do not need a NEW strategy I think implies we have A  current and good strategy.  I have to say there are is no real strategy found in the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, or the National Military Strategy or the National Cyber Strategy, or the National Strategy for Terrorism, or the Quadrennial Defense Review or any of the other so-called strategies we have out there.  All of these documents are so broad and do no real prioritization that we have nothing on which to base prudence and tough management or to provide visionary leadership. While they might all be consider strategic documents, they do not really define our Strategy and certainly not a Grand Strategy.   They are all consensus documents that have everybody's equities and agendas represented in order to ensure that every agency has justification for its resources (protection of each agencies budget, manpower and force structure and acquisition programs).

I know it sounds flippant but we need a Solarium project-like (Ike's 1950's grand strategy development effort that led to adopting the containment strategy) effort again and we need to develop both a Grand Strategy and a coherent strategic doctrine that informs and assists the decision making (and prioritization and tough management) process without being prescriptive.  We need a Grand Strategy of the United States that will provide focus and priorities and allow for visionary leadership by senior officials and most importantly provide the foundation for the tough management decisions.  For the Grand Strategy of the United States the acronym be GSUS and I guess the troops would pronounce that "gus- us" :-)


Sat, 04/02/2011 - 2:19pm

My biggest fear is that a transition to a new SecDef, along with a hurried closing of two theaters and the potential re-election of Pres. Obama will send the military into a spiraling drawdown that cuts people, destroys training budgets, and purges our force of all the warfighters. Our military could be seriously hindered within the next five years.
There is already talk of the 'CINCOS' with NCOs, and an officer grade plate review. I can only imagine that people and major programs will get the axe before too long.

SGT D (not verified)

Sat, 04/02/2011 - 7:50am

I agree cuts need to be made but let's be wary of Sec Def Louis Johnson style cuts that left us vulnerable in Korea in 1950. I hate to see SecDef Gates go, he's done a lot of good there. Whomever replaces him has very big shoes to fill.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 04/02/2011 - 7:42am

We don't need a NEW strategy because that implies we has one to begin with. We need A strategy- something with reasonably definable ends so we can orchestrate the ways and prioritize the means.