Last week Across the Aisle blogger Christopher Preble had an excellent op ed in the Baltimore Sun. Chris argued that despite the apparent bipartisan consensus on the need to increase the size of the military, if the overwhelming threat to the US is terrorism, this increase does little to counteract that threat. Moreover, increasing the US military might actually lead us too quickly to turn to the military to solve our national security problems. Chris also blogged about this recently here. This argument is very appealing to me. However, I’m also aware that many others feel strongly that the active duty military must be enlarged. So, I took a look at their arguments. My final conclusion is that this is not a black or white issue. I tend to come out somewhere in the gray.
Some have argued that we need to increase our military manpower while at the same time decreasing Cold War era high cost defense projects. I tend to agree that it make sense to get rid of these costly projects. Larry Korb, Peter Ogden, and Fred Kagan argue that here. This seems to be a worthy tradeoff to me. However, I’d also like to see any increase in military manpower to be matched with a similar increase in State Department funding, development assistance, alliance building, intelligence gathering etc. In essence it seems to make sense that these are equally, if not more, important elements in the struggle against terrorism.
However, I do admit that there are valid arguments for increasing the military. Although I strongly believe that we need to begin the process of removing our troops from Iraq, I also recognize that even if we remove combat troops, a significant troop contingent will remain in the region either in Iraq itself, or nearby. Although this frustrates me, I also realize that it is the most likely way that this drawdown will take place. Some euphemistically call it strategic redeployment.
I also am somewhat skeptical that simply having a larger active duty military would encourage us to use it more. Our willingness to engage in foreign entanglements is more a function of who our leaders in power are. A smaller active duty military certainly didn’t keep Bush from invading Iraq. It’s more a matter of who is the commander in chief, and less a matter of how many troops that commander in chief has at his disposal.
I tend to think that there may be smart ways to increase military manpower. Larry Korb’s 2006 Quadrenniel Defense Review presents a smarter way to do this. It recommends:
Increase the size of the total army by at least 86,000 active duty troops. The Pentagon should add two division sized peacekeeping or stabilization units, double the size of the active duty special forces, and add 10,000 military police, civil affairs experts, engineers, and medical personnel to the active duty force.
I concede that these increases might make sense considering the types of activities that our military may be involved with in the future. There are numerous failed or failing states that could become havens for terrorists. Afghanistan, which was once considered a success story, seems to be in danger of becoming a failure. I could see situations where the US would need to act within the context of a true multinational force (provided authority through the UN) in order to stabilize a conflict situation.
However, I agree with Korb that such an increase must be matched with cuts in programs such as the national missile defense, and other costly programs that have either outlived their usefulness or counteract threats of minimal danger. One example is our continued maintenance of an excessive nuclear arsenal, and proposed development of new tactical nuclear weapons.
Moreover, as I previously mentioned, increases in active duty troops should also be matched with equivalent increases in our other diplomatic and development tools of international engagement.