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“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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Monday
Aug152011

On asking questions you don't want to answer

ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recently published his trip report from site visits to several major Chinese installations in the New York Times.  One line especially jumped out:

We still don’t fully understand China’s justification for the rapid growth in its defense spending or its long-term military modernization goals.

The statement is calculated to be naïve – failing to acknowledge Chinese naval ambition in the Western Pacific is a way of delegitimizing the claims while leaving the door open for negotiation.  But it’s close to hypocritical to question China’s defense growth without expecting China to reciprocate. 

When the PLA looks at the Pentagon budget, it sees a 29% boost in base (i.e., non-war) costs over the decade from FY2001-10.

Your analysts at The Will and the Wallet have always been skeptical that there’s a strategy underpinning this growth.  But that matters far less than ADM Mullen’s own explanation of the situation:

This [Pentagon] budget has basically doubled in the last decade.  And my own experience here is in that doubling, we've lost our ability to prioritize, to make hard decisions, to do tough analysis, to make trades.

This glass house is going to need some reinforcing.  GEN Dempsey, ADM Mullen’s successor, will have to provide a better answer when China poses the question.  In the meantime, we’d all do well to consider whether PLA spending might also suffer from the same sort of political, parochial, symbolic, and bureaucratic spending indiscipline that’s weighted the Pentagon down over the past decade.

 

Reader Comments (1)

Today's release of the Pentagon's annual China report provides very predictable fodder of this sort. For just one example, see the explanation Michael Schiffer, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, offered for why China is "potentially destabilizing." According to him, “it’s a combination of the lack of understanding that’s been created by the opacity of their system, but it is also because there are very real questions given the overall trends and trajectory in the scope and the scale of China’s military modernization efforts.” No doubt very real concerns, but ones we're almost sure to face as well.

(http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/world/25military.html?_r=1)

August 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Leatherman

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