Small Wars Journal

Is the Chairman a Disruptive Thinker?

An article in the most recent edition of the Naval War College Review takes a critical look at the cost of joint reform and offers some interesting recommendations to maintain the benefits of jointness in a fiscally austere environment:

“Jointness represents an inefficient compromise between two schools of thought: on one hand, complete unification of the military, and the other, maintaining a service-centric structure. Joint organizations and processes, many of which were created during periods of practically unconstrained spending during the Cold War and after September 11, 2001, are layered upon the existing overhead of the services.

Over the past twenty-five years many practitioners, elected officials, and scholars have written extensively on the positive and negative aspects of Goldwater-Nichols legislation and the extent of its implementation throughout the Department of Defense. However, a gap exists in the current literature—an assessment of the total cost of implementing and maintaining the current joint structure. This assessment must include the total cost of military, civilian, and contractor support to joint staff work; facilities; additional work levied across the enterprise to support joint processes; and the cost of developing joint products, exercises, and assessments. That total cost of Goldwater-Nichols implementation should then be compared to the benefits derived from twenty-five years of reform to determine if the congressional mandate has provided good value for the American taxpayer.”

The article also highlights the critical role the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had in stimulating the G-N reform movement 30 years ago:

“In a closed session of the House Armed Service Committee in February 1982, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Jones, U.S. Air Force, told Congress that the system was broken and that despite his best efforts he was not able to reform it— congressional action was needed. This testimony was ultimately the catalyst for bringing about the Goldwater-Nichols reform, though it would take nearly five years to garner enough support in Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House to pass the watershed legislation.”

Considering the numerous acquisition debacles, the broken personnel system, and the conduct of military operations over the past decade, will our current Chairman step forward with bold ideas for reform or will he simply defend the status quo in the face of forthcoming fiscal cuts? Could the current national fiscal problems and the public’s mandate to reduce military spending actually force much needed changes in the US Military?


Jack Gander

Sat, 09/08/2012 - 11:50am

Looks like this Time blog post on the DoD Chauffeur's Service answers the question about the CJCS being part of the DT movement...

"The Motor Operations Division’s Chauffeur’s provides transportation support for the Senior Executive Staffs of the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Under Secretaries of Army and Air Force, Vice Chiefs of Staff Army and Air Force, Assistant Secretaries, and other Principal Officials of Headquarters Department of Defense (DoD)."

Good luck making the case to the American taxpayer that any cut in defense spending puts national security at risk with this type of information surfacing daily.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 11:26am

In reply to by Bill M.

Two things prevent the military from getting to the force it needs to be. One is up and out, the other is down and in:

1. The unwillingness to publicly confront civilian authorities on matters of policy that drive military spending and capacity unnecessary to the defense of the nation. From programs and bases that we don't need, to outdated treaties, policies, relationships, etc that drive plans and posturing for situations that have long sense evolved into something very different. Couple with this the unwillingness to tell civilian officials: "Yes, absolutely we can execute that mission, but when we do so it will not solve this problem and will likely create new, even larger problems. This is a failure of policy, not intelligence or military action. Let's discuss policy solutions rather than military band-aids."

2. Human nature. The natural tendency of every bureaucracy to protect itself and the tendency of every commander to want to do more, bigger, better than the last guy (with zero incentive to do otherwise). We recognized the need to develop greater jointness, but we did nothing to reduce the "serviceness" in a corresponding amount. We just added an additional layer of headquarters and staffs and processes to feed. Maybe it is time to take the final ultimate step toward jointness and kill the services? I don't know, but it is time for a MAJOR overhaul, not just another round of incremental changes.

We owe it to the nation to show the rest of government that we can accomplish our mission and do it on a budget the nation can afford. Instead of crying about how "sequestration" will create a "hollow force" and then refusing to plan for how we will take that challenge on, we should be doubling down. We should build a DoD plan for how we cut twice that much on our terms. Include the bases and programs we know we don't need to secure the nation, gut the bloated redundancies of our dual service/joint HQ structure, cut the hundreds of thousands of personnel we simply do not need in times of peace, get real on budget busting programs like fighter planes and aircraft carriers, slash the bloated redundancy of intel we have been layering on in recent years, etc.

Is the Chairman a "disruptive thinker"? I guess we'll find out. But if we wait until we are forced to change and then only do the minimum to meet that mandate, while sustaining as much of the status quo as possible, it doesn't sound very "disruptive" to me.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 5:17pm

In reply to by Jack Gander


Good question and good point. I think the questions can be asked in myriad different ways but what it all comes down to is leadership on the part of the one who is asking the questions and assessing the answers. And if the questions are asked before the task organization is established during planning we can prevent some of these potentially unnecessary layers of HQ from being deployed (I emphasize potentially because sometimes they are justified and do add value but what we have to avoid is just adding a HQ just because it exists or just because part of its elements are being deployed) But again, in the end, it is all about leadership and figuring out and then doing what is right - and though it is a cliche, doing the hard right over the easy wrong.

Jack Gander

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 2:49pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


Do you think that approach worked? I fear that such a question could result in a canned answer such as HQ X is needed to maintain the Commander’s SA or to facilitate span of control. To me the better question today is, “can we accomplish the mission without it?” JFCOM offers a good example.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 9:05am

In reply to by Bill M.


When I was an S3 our Group Commander, COL Todd, when looking at how to task organize forces, said that for each headquarters and level of command the following question should be asked and if the answer is negative then it should be eliminated from the task organization: Does this HQ contribute to effective operations and if so how?

This article was well researched and presented, and made a strong case for cutting overhead staffs before cutting one soldier, marine, aircraft or ship. The author is not attacking the pursuit effective jointness, but the unintended detrimental consequences of excessive jointness.

Some key examples cited included:

The culture of jointness and desire to speak with one voice silenced dissented opinions about the logic of the Iraq war leading to bad military advice to our civilians. (an example where this didn’t apply was GEN Shinseki’s challenge to the prevailing logic concerning Rumfield’s assumptions prior to invading Iraq)

He noted that jointness has improved efficiency, but in some cases has eroded effectiveness as seen in Grenada and the failed attempt to rescue our hostages from Iran. The desire to “always” use joint to the extent possible resulted in some illogical decisions such as using unqualified Marine pilots for the hostage rescue in Iran, and brining in the Army to support the Grenada operation, which the Navy-Marine team could have handled on their own with much less confusion.

The author in my view misrepresented some of the facts regarding effectiveness. Clearly the military was more effective in Panama than Grenada, and very effective during the first Gulf War which is partly attributable to improved jointness. However, the author argues we may fail in Afghanistan, which in his view means the military hasn’t improved in effectiveness since the Vietnam conflict. I think an argument could be made that while the military made several serious mistakes in both conflicts, but ultimately the factors driving failure were/are unrealistic policies. From a fighting perspective the military has improved considerably.

Where the author hits a grand slam is his detailed description of unneeded layers of staff. The article points out there are between 17 and 30 layers of staffs between the national level and the action officer. That equates to 17 layers of filters from Joe on the ground to decision makers. Any wonder our higher level leaders can't get ground truth?

The ever present and troublesome personnel system was noted several times. One point made was the excessive focus on making all officers joint qualified, and the detrimental impact of demanding to much diversity in officers’ careers. He wrote, “Is it realistic to expect a naval officer to become an expert in a technical field and warfare specialty, complete successful tours at staff and command positions, perform joint duty, and remain current in professional military education, all within twenty years?”

The requirement for all officers to get joint qualified has resulted in 13,070 joint billets of which only 758 were classified as critical. The cost of maintaining this equates to how many Army or Marine Battalions? He points out that closing Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) has had no negative effect on the force, and advocates considering the doing the same to STRATCOM. The savings would be considerable. This would be a positive change in my view, especially since the prevailing trend since 9/11 has been to grow staffs.

What about the myth that the military is underpaid? He points out, “A 2011 Congressional Budget Office study noted military compensation was significantly higher than that of federal employees with the same education and experience. Eliminating the four-star command infrastructure and many of the military billets in the logistics arena would provide considerable savings, as the two-billion-dollar savings from the closure of JFCOM suggests.”

He adds, “Eliminating up to a third of the total admirals and generals would provide a significant cost savings.” Of course it would, because most of these officers come equipped with their own mini-staffs, luxury offices, perks, etc. and worse had layers of bureaucracy to the system.

He sums it perfectly, “The current “easy choice” of reducing end strength to survive the forthcoming budget reductions should be considered only after all means of reducing unnecessary overhead have been exhausted.”


Sat, 09/01/2012 - 7:47pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

<i>But--honest question here--what is the difference between Thomas Barnett's core-seam-gap and post WWII theories of the developed and developing nations?<i/>

My general sense is that it's more evolutionary thought than it is revolutionary thought; but I must caveat this by admitting that I have not done a one for one review between Barnett's works and that of such folk as Wallerstein or Rostow. I will say this, the work of Barnett that I am familiar with is generally inline with my subscriptions/readings and experiences: The Financial Times, The Economist, Globalization A Short History (Jurgen Osterhammel and Niels P. Peterson), How Soccer Explains the World (Franklin Foer), The Global Transformations Reader (Held & McGrew), The Globalization Reader (Lechner & Boli), Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction (US Institute of Peace), The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli), reconstruction work in Iraq and Latin America, civil infrastructure work in America. What I find valuable about Dr Barnett is that he has the courage to stand up before all, say that what we are doing is not working, and then go on to define & advocate for a multitrack capability to respond to concerns.

<i>CORDS and SysAdmin and Pacification and all that. What is the difference, and why would it work across time and distance, if it worked at all?<i/>

My scholarly work here is weak as well, however, here are four books that I am working on in order to broaden my understanding: Strong Societies and Weak States (Joel S. Migdal), Inside Rebellion (Jeremy M. Weinstein), Pacification (Richard A Hunt), and The Vietnamese War - Concise Edition (David W.P. Elliott).

Practical experience wise, many of his suggestions in the youtube video ring true to me Madhu. Successful & sustainable engineering projects require extensive political, economic, and technical groundwork before/during/after the first concrete pour. Dropping in a bunch of armed kids to solve a multi-facted problem may be a partial solution, but more is needed and we are capable if we wish to be...

<i>Where is the deep study of a particular strategic environment before picking the optimum theory with which to engage a part of the world?<i/>

At present I am inclined to run with the business community as an example of holistic thinkers.

The hanseatic league is one group of folks that I have been thinking about of late as a case study.

<i>I have genuine confusion on this, so, I'm not saying I know. I get confused.<i/>

Me too, at the end of the day I am still very much a student in this arena...reading suggestions are always welcome ;)

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 09/01/2012 - 6:27pm

In reply to by Surferbeetle

Okay, fair points.

But--honest question here--what is the difference between Thomas Barnett's core-seam-gap and post WWII theories of the developed and developing nations?

I mean, you could put some of his writing up against McNamara (who went on to be World Bank president, I'm sure you know) and it looks exactly the same?

CORDS and SysAdmin and Pacification and all that. What is the difference, and why would it work across time and distance, if it worked at all?

Where is the deep study of a particular strategic environment before picking the optimum theory with which to engage a part of the world?

I have genuine confusion on this, so, I'm not saying I know. I get confused.

Jack Gander

Sat, 09/01/2012 - 1:14pm

In reply to by Surferbeetle

I read Barnett’s book nearly a decade ago and agreed with his assessment that the US military was in desperate need of reform. However I’ve never seen any actionable recommendations to get to the two forces he discusses.

As Peter’s other post on the DT movement suggests – minor reform efforts are nearly impossible. How would you even begin the transformation process to the scale Barnett recommends? I guess as this post notes, it will take a senior military to finally say enough is enough and work with congress to get the conversation started. However Dempsey and many of the other 3-4 stars appear to be in denial about how broken the system is.

Who know’s - sequestration may be a blessing in disguise…


Sat, 09/01/2012 - 12:59pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Hey Madhu,

<i>What is this fascination with Dr. Barnett's theories and TED talks? There is theory, and then there is the background to the theory, and then there is implementation. <i/>

The model of ethos, logos, and pathos hasn't changed over the ages but, since we now huddle around personal electronic campfires instead of real communal ones, tools such as youtube are a way to further bridge the multidimensional distances between our personal campfires.

<i>What is this fascination with the theorizers and the marketers (I have nothing against the man, but he is clearly a brilliant marketer. Witness "Wikistrat", a perfect example of making sure his theories are a part of the conversation) over the hard stuff of actual experience?<i/>

Science & engineering training and experience is powerful. It allows us to break down problems into their constituent parts, examine the components, and build semi-responsive models (inexpertly mimicking original and sublime biological ones) which provide our communities with some level of understanding and predictable outcomes which then serve to reduce the uncertainties which bedevil our efforts to organize and grow.

Social 'studies' are subject to myriad barely glimpsed, much less understood, variables that we have trouble modeling. I am often reminded of Issac Asimov's Foundation series, or 1700's scientific thought regarding phlogiston and 'the ether', when I consider our/today's attempts/ability to apply science & engineering methodology to social issues.

Dr. Barnett holds up a candle to the dark in which we stand. It's not a searchlight, nor is it a National Electrical Code worthy solution which fully reduces uncertainties and provides a framework with which we can provide predictable outcomes for those/taxpayers who fund our services. To stay where we are however, is to be the drunk searching for his keys under the streetlight instead of the dark portion of the street where he lost them.

<i>The military isn't floundering so much as forgetting its role and this too because here-today-gone-tommorrow activists and politicos and theorists wish to throw the military around like toy soldiers, the ultimate problem solvers to any perceived international problem.<i/>

My science & engineering and experiential background are the lenses through which I peer at the 'problem set' we face. Darwinism/capitalism/militarism demands change and movement if one is to survive. DoD must evolve, it has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not the single-dimension solution to multidimensional problems. The Department of War and the Department of Everything else construct advocated by Dr. Barnett (arguably an articulate member of the establishment which needs to change) at least takes us from a one dimensional to a two dimensional world view...not adequate, but better than today's preferred and overcapitalized solution.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 08/28/2012 - 11:21am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

This is what I posted in the Council. I know I can seem very nitpicky and focused on one or two minor points, but I really need to know where this stuff comes from if we everyday Americans --and others-- are going to be asked to foot the bill and support interventions, civilian or military.

<blockquote>I've always wondered about the origin of the term "capacity building" and its relation to Thomas Barnett's SysAdmin, Kilcullen's proposed global "CORDS" (via the Counterinsurgency book linked above), etc? From the UN originally?

Capacity Building Defined

FM 3-07 (Oct 2008) Stability Operations: "Capacity building is the process of creating an environment that fosters host-nation institutional development, community participation, human resources development, and strengthening managerial systems."

UNDP Definition (circa 1991): "the creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation, human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems; UNDP recognizes that capacity building is a long-term, continuing process, in which all stakeholders participate (ministries, local authorities, nongovernmental organizations and water user groups, professional associations, academics and others."

Ford Foundation Definition (circa 1996): defines "capacity building" as the "process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes, and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in the fast-changing world."

What was the scholarship or whatever behind the UNDP definition? Anyone know?

I'm just curious, that's all. I like to know where terms come from and the intellectual genesis.</blockquote>

As I recall, on his blog, the good Doctor was a huge fan of the original FM3-24 or whatever (hope I'm getting this right, all from faulty memory), so, has he talked about what he thinks worked and didn't work and why?

Again, sorry to be so difficult, but after a decade or more of this, that, and the other fancy theory touted as the way to "end history", I've become very dissatisfied with what's on offer from the "national security community." I am likely being unfair. Can't help it, at this point, my trust level is pretty low....

Look: is this the only way to think about peace and stability operations? That's what I am really asking, because the military doesn't get to choose what to do, so what I am really saying is, what are different ways to think about peace and stability operations? Is this the only way, because it doesn't seem different from anything we've done since the fall of the Soviet Union in terms of the background theory.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 08/28/2012 - 11:09am

In reply to by Surferbeetle

What is this fascination with Dr. Barnett's theories and TED talks? There is theory, and then there is the background to the theory, and then there is implementation. What is this fascination with the theorizers and the marketers (I have nothing against the man, but he is clearly a brilliant marketer. Witness "Wikistrat", a perfect example of making sure his theories are a part of the conversation) over the hard stuff of actual experience?

I asked previously in the Small Wars Council under the Modernization thread I posted, where does the term "capacity building" came from, what is its intellectual genesis and root - and do we have any evidence that any of this works?

The military isn't floundering so much as forgetting its role and this too because here-today-gone-tommorrow activists and politicos and theorists wish to throw the military around like toy soldiers, the ultimate problem solvers to any perceived international problem.

The international development world is itself undergoing a huge intellectual crisis and we are going to double down on a particular view of stability and peace operations when we don't even know what we don't even know?

I'm sorry, I know this has turned into a rant, but I can't believe after everything that has happened, people still buy this stuff uncritically.

For every proposal, there must be potential positives and negatives. What are they?

Maybe he's right. But I need better intellectual vetting for this stuff, personally, because from my outsider vantage point, NATO and prioritizing international alliance building above reasonable endstates and attempting international development as a stabilizer in all cases equally is just failing.


Tue, 08/28/2012 - 9:24am

In reply to by Surferbeetle

I second the Barnett recommendation. Over the last several years I've had the honor of teaching over 1,200 civil affairs students. Each one of them has seen the TED video referenced here and many of them have written summaries of it.

Good stuff.

If we (USG) desires to continue engaging in stablity operations (with an eye towards stability-an entirely separate conversation), then something needs to give. Either big Army needs to embrace non-lethality as a core competency (for example, making BSO's out of loggies instead of combat arms types) or DoS needs to buy a lot more equipment.



Mon, 08/27/2012 - 1:55am

We as a nation have long ago lost sight of optimum tooth to tail and power to weight ratios and have instead sold our collective soul to pork to vote ratios.

Military Keynesianism, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

TED Talk, Thomas Barnett: The Pentagon's new map for war and peace,

<i>In this bracingly honest and funny talk, international security strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett outlines a post-Cold War solution for the foundering US military: Break it in two. He suggests the military re-form into two groups: a Leviathan force, a small group of young and fierce soldiers capable of swift and immediate victories; and an internationally supported network of System Administrators, an older, wiser, more diverse organization that actually has the diplomacy and power it takes to build and maintain peace.</i>

Don Henley - My Thanksgiving,