So I decided to take the Farley Challenge and come up with something to say about the question of “What should US force structure and military doctrine look like?”
The beginning of the framework is that we should reduce the scale of our economic commitment to the military, which over time means not just fiddling with procurement but actually doing less and having a smaller force structure. Less what? In particular, I think we should actually move away from the COIN/MOOTW paradigm and focus on the idea of deterring and defeating military attacks on the United States and sundry allies. It should be possible to do that without representing 50 percent of global defense expenditures, especially when the allies in question are generally the richest countries on earth.*
I think COIN has a poor track record of success, a terrible track record in a cost/benefit sense, and that the self-conscious development of COIN capabilities risks inducing demand for military action. When someone asks “what’s the point of having this magnificent military if you’re not going to use it” I want the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to have a very good answer at his disposal like “it’s there so that we don’t have to use it” not “eh, maybe so.”
That said, wars undertaken for perfectly good reasons of collective self-defense can swiftly turn into situations that require post-conflict stabilization. North Korea might attack South Korea in a way that demands response, and the response could well lead to the collapse of the DPRK state requiring the victorious allies to administer former DPRK territory. So it’s not smart to just say “COIN is bad, so let’s make sure we can’t do it and then hope for the best.”
What we need, I think, is some form of American gendarmerie — a quasi-military federal organization specialized in police/security functions rather than finding and killing bad guys per se. Such a force would, unlike today’s military, have a valuable peacetime domestic role to play as a flexible auxiliary police force that could assist high-crime jurisdictions with the kind of temporary infusion of extra personnel that can help push crime rates down to a lower equilibrium.** A “surge” if you will. But it would also be prepared to deploy abroad in the case of contingencies. The regular military would be big enough to beat an adversary (i.e., a lot smaller than the regular one) but it would need to call on the gendarmes (who naturally would need a less French name) to conduct an occupation. This means we wouldn’t be caught lacking capacity in a real emergency, but since the gendarmes would be performing a useful peacetime domestic service politicians would (appropriately) feel that initiating situations that require their mobilization is high cost situation that ought to be avoided if possible.
Anyways, that’s the upshot of a couple of hours’ worth of thinking and a chat with a coworker, not real research or deep thinking. But I thought I’d put it out there for discussion.
* Why help defend allies when the allies are rich? I think the “security dilemma” is a very serious problem, that’s best solved by having liberal democracies formally commit to each others’ defense and engage in continuous operational military cooperation.
** See Mark Kleiman, When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment for details on how this works.