America has spent the post-Cold War era buying one military while operating another. We continue to buy a Big War force that's optimized to defeat other traditional militaries, and yet more and more we find ourselves waging lengthy postwar operations. So when are we going to start buying the Big Peace force?
Let me offer a challenging proposition: America won't adequately fund that manpower-intensive peace-waging force until we build it a bureaucratic home, functionally located between the current departments of war (Defense) and peace (State). I'll call it the Department of Everything Else because I'm not sure about everything it will entail (e.g., nation-building, disaster relief, counter-insurgency). I just know it'll fill the same basic space that our old, pre-World War II Department of Everything Else (Department of Navy) once did and that it'll definitely include the Marines.
Judging by the current Quadrennial Defense Review, which Congress requires from the Pentagon every four years, the Defense Department remains fully committed to funding big platforms (ships, aircraft) best suited for wars with other great powers, particularly China. But as America and China grow increasingly interdependent in both trade and financial flows, that scenario grows less plausible. As for China's rapid military build-up, let's keep that in perspective: the Pentagon spends more each year on research and development of new weapons than China spends on its entire military. That's a pretty solid hedge.
The Defense Department has made some key changes, like ordering that all military commands make the same effort on planning for postwar operations as for combat operations, and the Pentagon now has a deputy assistant secretary for stability operations, which shows it's trying to think more systematically about winning the peace.
As for the Army and Marines, who suffer virtually all of the casualties in this global war on terrorism, they're coming out with a new field manual on counter-insurgency, while the Army's reorganizing itself into a modular force that's able to rotate brigade combat teams overseas more smoothly.
The upshot, however, is the same old, same old: We fully fund the Big War force (Air Force, Navy) while running the Big Peace force (Army, Marines) ragged. Consider this: we started a new nation-building effort about once every decade during the Cold War, but since 1990 we've started six (Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq), almost all of which have dragged on for years.
And when you think about where we'll go next in this long war (e.g., Central Asia, Africa), we seem destined to stay in the nation-building business.
That's the essential rub: Wars have gotten shorter, easier, cheaper and less deadly, while postwar operations have grown longer, harder and costlier in both blood and treasure. Check out Congress' emergency funding bills for military interventions, known as supplementals: Since 1990, well over 80 percent has been spent on postwar stabilization operations while less than one-fifth went for major combat operations. In short, war is a declining market, while postwar is a growing one, and yet service budget shares are essentially unchanged.
Mastering that postwar environment won't be easy, and as we're proving in Afghanistan and Iraq, just throwing money at the problem isn't the answer, especially when we've lost more than 2,000 lives in the meantime.
No, America needs a new set of skills, one that combines the security-building functions offered by our ground forces with the institution capacity-building functions offered by our Agency for International Development.
The military's new counter-insurgency doctrine argues that a successful campaign logically entails 20 percent kinetics, or combat, and 80 percent nonkinetics, or institution building and economic development. Expecting the Defense Department to manage foreign aid seems far-fetched, but so does expecting the State Department to oversee the kinetics of suppressing insurgencies.
Planning on the National Security Council to coordinate everything is equally unrealistic because the national security adviser's main job is to insulate the president from foreign policy failures.
Moving weak states beyond the endemic strife that both defines their failure and invites the parasitic presence of transnational terrorist networks will be America's primary strategic task in this long struggle. Eventually, we'll create that Department of Everything Else for the strategic space that's not quite war and not quite peace.
And the sooner we come to that inescapable conclusion, the better it'll be for our soldiers and Marines.