Building a Military for the 21st Century: New Realities, New Priorities
(Source: Center for American Progress; issued Dec. 10, 2008)
Executive Summary (excerpt)

In a little over one month, a new administration will have the opportunity to manage a significant realignment of U.S. defense and national security priorities. To be sure, this process will not occur in a vacuum. Today’s security imperatives and budgetary realities will require the next administration to make hard decisions and difficult trade-offs on competing visions of the military and its role in implementing national security strategy. These trade-offs will have wide-ranging consequences for the size and structure of the force, and what procurement and modernization options are feasible in order to advance overall U.S. national security interests.

Pentagon planners have already begun to warn the incoming administration about the choices it will have to make. A Pentagon advisory group recently notified the president-elect’s office that the Department of Defense, “cannot reset the current force, modernize and transform in all portfolios at the same time. Choices must be made across capabilities and within systems to deliver capability at known prices within a specific period of time.”

In order to make these important decisions, the next administration will first have to evaluate the current state of the military; examine the current composition of the Defense budget; and define the threats, challenges, and role of the U.S. military in the 21st century.

This report is intended not only to serve as a playbook for a new administration and military planners. It also aims to guide policymakers and the general public about what a new administration will need to do to restore American military power while reorienting the military to more effectively and efficiently counter current and future threats.

The next administration will inherit a vastly different military than the one bequeathed to President George W. Bush in January of 2001. After nearly six years of war in Iraq and over seven in Afghanistan, the next administration will have to contend with two wars, a military readiness crisis, recruitment and retention problems, mounting equipment shortages, and an out-of-control defense acquisition process.

Yet the American military has developed a cadre of experienced, battle-tested officers and enlisted men who have been able to adapt and excel at counterinsurgency and peace and stability operations despite the personnel and equipment constraints of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last seven years. Moreover, the Army has undertaken a decisive effort to capture the lessons learned in both theatres and has institutionalized them in Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency Operations, and Field Manual 3-07, Stability Operations.

While the Pentagon and a new administration’s first priority must be to reset the force and restore high levels of readiness, it must also do everything in its power to retain these high-quality military personnel. As former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, the person who ended the draft and created the all-volunteer force put it, “people, not hardware must be our highest priority.”

A new administration will also inherit a defense budget that is increasingly out of control. Gordon Adams, the former associate director for national security and international affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, said it well when he recently stated that, “It’s increasingly clear that Defense Department leadership has moved into a totally unconstrained view of military spending.” It is common knowledge that DOD spending is more in inflation-adjusted dollars today than at any other time since the end of the World War II, but this fact obscures the dramatic increase in defense spending of recent years.

Adding the funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the fiscal year 2009 base defense budget brings that sum in real dollars to nearly twice the amount spent for defense only eight years earlier.

Soaring defense budgets have paradoxically failed to create a larger, more ready force. In fact, today’s force is smaller, older, and significantly more engaged than at any time since the Vietnam War. This situation has materialized despite the fact that, over the past eight years, the services have received $770 billion in their base budgets above and beyond what they planned on receiving in 2000. As many defense analysts have noted, large increases in the service’s base-budget spending have made the Pentagon’s problems worse. A budget devoid of spending limits and priorities has created an environment where the services have not had to make trade-offs or difficult decisions when it comes to operations and support, and acquisitions programs. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full report (70 pages in PDF format) on the CAP website.


prev next

Official reports See all