Saturday, April 30, 2011

What A Difference Half A Century Makes

While the anonymous authors of "A National Strategic Narrative" seem to invoke George Kennan's famous "X" article with their "Mr. Y" appellation, a more attentive reader will find much closer parallels with a far different document - National Security Council Memorandum 68 (NSC 68), signed in to law by Pres. Harry Truman in 1951 as a highly classified Executive Order. Reading through NSC 68 - and it isn't easy; unlike Mr. Y, the piece is long and detailed, rather than sketchy and general - I was struck, in particular, by the perceived strategic posture of the United States on the eve of the Korean War.
In the broadest terms, the ability to perform these tasks requires a build-up of military strength by the United States and its allies to a point at which the combined strength will be superior for at least these tasks, both initially and throughout a war, to the forces that can be brought to bear by the Soviet Union and its satellites. In specific terms, it is not essential to match item for item with the Soviet Union, but to provide an adequate defense against air attack on the United States and Canada and an adequate defense against air and surface attack on the United Kingdom and Western Europe, Alaska, the Western Pacific, Africa, and the Near and Middle East, and on the long lines of communication to these areas. Furthermore, it is mandatory that in building up our strength, we enlarge upon our technical superiority by an accelerated exploitation of the scientific potential of the United States and our allies.
Compared to the perceived strategic posture presented by Mr. Y, this paragraph can be summed up by saying the US needs to be everywhere all the time in force.

A quick analysis of the relevant fiscal outlays and GNP proportions reveals what seems, at first blush, a stark, and threatening, contrast:
The program will be costly, but it is relevant to recall the disproportion between the potential capabilities of the Soviet and non-Soviet worlds (cf. Chapters V and VI). The Soviet Union is currently devoting about 40 percent of available resources (gross national product plus reparations, equal in 1949 to about $65 billion) to military expenditures (14 percent) and to investment (26 percent), much of which is in war-supporting industries. In an emergency the Soviet Union could increase the allocation of resources to these purposes to about 50 percent, or by one-fourth.

The United States is currently devoting about 22 percent of its gross national product ($255 billion in 1949) to military expenditures (6 percent), foreign assistance (2 percent), and investment (14 percent), little of which is in war-supporting industries. (As was pointed out in Chapter V, the "fighting value" obtained per dollar of expenditure by the Soviet Union considerably exceeds that obtained by the United States, primarily because of the extremely low military and civilian living standards in the Soviet Union.) In an emergency the United States could devote upward of 50 percent of its gross national product to these purposes (as it did during the last war), an increase of several times present expenditures for direct and indirect military purposes and foreign assistance.
In 1950, Pres. Truman had proposed a military budget of $13 billion. The authors of NSC 68 foresaw the outline of a policy calling for an increase to $50 billion, a nearly four-fold increase. In his memoirs, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, while recognizing that at the time he was writing the document was still classified, covered in broad outline the internal debates as well as the public discussion that followed the submission of the memo, and his own personal and professional opinion that, while a radical shift in national priorities, it was also necessary.

There could be little more stark contrast between the two strategic visions than the fiscal, investment, and even foreign policy assumptions guiding these two documents. From Mr. Y, in contrast to the committee that drafted NSC 68:
Rather than focusing all our attention on specific threats, risks, nations, or organizations, as we have in the past, let us evaluate the trends that will shape tomorrow's strategic ecology, and seek opportunities to credibly influence these to our advantage. Among the trends that are already shaping a "new normal" in our strategic environment are the decline of rural economies, joblessness, the dramatic increase in urbanization, an increasing demand for energy, migration of populations and shifting demographics, the rise of gray and black markets, the phenomenon of extremism and anti-modernism, the effects of global climate change, the spread of pandemics and lack of access to adequate health services, and an increasing dependency on cyber networks.
The closest the authors come to a mention of the boogey man of "Islamic terrorism" is citing "the phenomenon of extremism and anti-modernism". While I would hardly argue that the list is either exhaustive or orderly, that the authors manage to notice economic and social factors before they get to "extremism" (please note, they don't actually say "terrorism", let alone "terror") is telling. The authors recognize that terrorism in whatever form is merely the expression of extreme rage across a broad spectrum of ideologies, knowing no home, respecting no persons. Considering the abundance of domestic terror in the US stemming from anti-abortion and racist groups, one would think this obvious point need not be made.

In any event, against this background, rather than discuss specific fiscal, budgetary, or other outlays in any comparative fashion - precisely because the authors see the strategic challenges facing the US in coming decades coming far less from traditional actors - they do, nevertheless, talk about what our investment priorities should be. The difference with NSC 68 could not be more arresting.
As Americans we have access to a vast array of resources. Perhaps the most important first step we can take, as part of a National Strategy, is to identify which of these resources are renewable and sustainable, and which are finite and diminishing. Whtout doubt, our greatest resourse is America's young people, who will shape and execute the vision needed to take this nation forward into an uncertain future. . . . We must embrace the reality that with opportunity comes challenge, and that retooling our competitiveness requires a commitment and investment in the future.

Inherent in our children is the innovation, drive, and imagination that have made, and will continue to make, this country great. By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans - the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow - we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, the, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America's youth.

Our second investment priority is ensuring the nation's sustainable security - on our own soil and wherever Americans and their interests take them. As has been stated already, American view security in the broader context of freedom and peace of mind. Rather than focusing primarily on defense, the security we seek can only be sustained through a whole of nation approach to our domestic and foreign policies. This requires a different approach to problem solving than we have pursued previously and a hard look at the distribution of our national treasure, For too long, we have underutilized sectors of our government and our citizenry writ large, focusing intensely on defense and protectionism rather than on development and diplomacy.
There are no numbers in Mr. Y, and while this does present some weaknesses to the argument, it also points out a major distinction between the overall strategic picture today in contrast to that of 1950. Then, the threat was, in a sense, traditional. Today, we face a completely different set of challenges, calling for completely rethinking the way we "do" national security.

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