The US defense community is only beginning to address the full implications of the challenges it faces in terms of international economic competition and shrinking budgets. Its strategic planning and analysis is still largely conceptual and often focused so far in the future as to be virtually meaningless in providing useful guidance for allocating resources, and making hard decision about strategic commitments, force plans, procurement plans, and manpower plans.
The Burke Chair at CSIS has developed a summary briefing showing the key resource trends that affect US strategy and the need to develop a new approach that pays as much attention to resources and costs as to the other aspects of strategy.
This report is entitled “Rethinking a Resource-Based Strategy” and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/110712_US_Resource_Based_Threats.pdf
It shows that US baseline defense expenditures are limited in terms of the burden they place on the US economy by recent historical standards, and that the US still dominates the world in terms of military spending. At the same time, the US does face growing strategic challenges throughout the world where the location, intensity, and type of future conflicts will remain unpredictable.
The most serious challenges to an effective US strategy may well be domestic resource constraints, and a failure to plan and manage defense expenditures. The US federal budget will face growing problems for more than the next decade because of rising entitlement costs – unless US domestic politics undergo a virtual revolution in balancing costs and resources, and addressing the growing burden of medical expenditures and dealing with an aging population that is not saving for retirement. This is a far more serious set of structural problems than is being addressed in the current budget deficit debate, which focuses on the fiscal balance of government expenditures and not the underlying problems that must be addressed.
At the same time, the brief shows that the Department of Defense has consistently failed to manage military spending and implemented its planning, programming and budget efforts at an acceptable cost. These failures have been driven in recent years by gross failures to plan and execute US military and civil operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in ways that could have prevented the rise of insurgencies, and controlled the cost of these operations.
More generally, however, the Department of Defense has not made effective progress in controlling the steadily rising real cost of active military personnel and operations and maintenance, and every service has failed to develop effective procurement programs, control cost and configuration, and deliver planned new systems in the numbers needed, at the times needed, and at acceptable cost.
The cost and spending data in the briefing show that that today’s efficiency and cost cutting efforts cannot possibly substitute for far broader efforts to force new links between strategy, planning, and resources; and force far higher performance standards on the Department of Defense in actually executing its plans and programs on time and at planned cost.
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