- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Capt. John Byron, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
It is brilliant. And impossible.
Why brilliant, this proposal by Shawn Brimley and Paul Scharre for Resetting America’s Military? Well for me, partly because it echoes concepts I brought forward over thirty years ago when a student at The National War College.
I began with the realization that the U.S. military consists of three rice bowls: one labeled land war, one war at sea, and the third strategic deterrence. And that each service had interest in all three of the mission-labeled bowls. I also concluded that the total amount of rice in the game was not the military’s to decide, our nation’s dollar support of national security determined by political and policy decisions at levels above the military. Finally, it dawned on me that the game would be changed radically in a good direction if the Services had their missions realigned to match the labels on the bowls.
New rules: no forks and you didn’t have to fill your own bowl, it’s done for you.
Then I looked at how the existing services might align with these Natural Missions, as I called them. Obviously Navy got war at sea (minus sealift, minus the missile submarines), Army land war (minus ballistic missile defense but plus sealift, strategic and tactical airlift, and close-air support). My new Strategic Deterrence Force got the Triad and BMD. I left the Marine Corps alone and outside the model, arguing it brought too much to the table to kill it and we wouldn’t have the wit to invent anything nearly as good as replacement.
Note: no Air Force. That got a lot of attention.
My paper was published by National Defense University, printed in Naval Institute Proceedings, made the Early Bird, and got a fair bit of play in the Military Reform debates of the Eighties.
Then it died.
Brimley and Scharre have brought into this century the natural concept of natural missions and the undeniable value of aligning military services to serve them. I find their analysis and proposals flawless, a tour de force. And impossible of execution.
Why? One, the Iron Triangle flat would not allow it. Two, it would make the services’ heads hurt so much that any serious move towards the idea would make them collectively catatonic. Three, broad reshuffles of this scale need a champion (think Goldwater-Nichols; think Ike Skelton and the service colleges) and there’s none in sight.
So let’s applaud this brilliant essay for what it is, an ode to the current and probably permanent dysfunction of the American military. There’s no why to why things are as they are other than history and deeply entrenched interests. But these are real and the world Brimley and Scharre would create a fantasy. Alas. And worse for our nation.
Captain John Byron, USN (Ret.) served on continuous active duty for 37 years, commanding the submarine GUDGEON and Naval Ordnance Test Unit at Cape Canaveral. He is a former chief sonarman. Ping.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| Turtle Bay |