Posted on Nov 10, 2021

Last week Bill Kennedy shared a timely presentation - War Preparedness-is it Necessary?  Timely as part of our Veterans Day celebration and, timely because last week our speaker made the argument that “possibly all wars are unnecessary”.

So, what are the arguments in favor of War Preparedness?  1) It is a Constitutional mandate.  2) What is the reality in our world?  “We must look at the world as it is, not as we wish it was”.  Bill was privy to the daily presidential security briefing while a strategic planner/policymaker in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  In a word, what was shared was “frightening”.  3) What is the cost of failure?  4) A strong Department of Defense acts as a deterrent.  Finally, there are many “auxiliary” benefits from a strong military e.g., maintaining commerce lanes, supporting are allies, fulfilling our peace treaties and negotiating with our enemies from a position of power.

But why not just depend on diplomacy?  We all know diplomacy alone has not yet solved the world’s problems; it is best to think of diplomacy and military preparedness as complimentary.  If we need to go to war, we need a military that has been trained for many years to be effective.  Both training and weapons development take years before they are effective.

But what about the cost?  The most expensive wars were WWI (54% of GDP) and WWII (38% of GDP).  In both cases we were poorly prepared going in, which highlights the added cost of not being prepared as well as the possibility of failure.  But, should preparedness be a function of needs or ability?  Historically the DOD cost has been declining as a percentage of GDP.  So, we have the financial capability but, we must learn to choose wisely regarding how much and for what.

Bill made some suggestions to improve defense spending.  A good guide is what has become known as the “Powell Doctrine” developed by Colin Powell and Caspar Weinberger.  Three components were mentioned – 1) Be sure what you are doing is in the best interest of national security, 2) When you go to war be sure you have an exit strategy and, 3) Be sure you have public (taxpayer) support.  So, it’s essential to educate the American people.

How would Bill reorganize the DOD?  The (5 year) Pentagon planning cycle needs to be synchronized with current events and short-term future expectations.  The effect of frequent turnover in the military and civilian components has the usual effects we see in congress (short term fixes and/or temporizing).  We all know the nature of conflict is changing.  Sometimes our senior military leaders prepare for the future with what has worked for them in the past. Future conflicts likely will be “non-kinetic” (think cyberspace, disinformation spreading and electronic devices).  Lastly, Bill suggested policy and procedure in DOD should have an oversight Board of Directors with members from retired military, industry and the general public.

Questions from Rotarians focused (not surprisingly) on China - (Should we defend Taiwan?  How should we respond to weapons testing and saber rattling from the world’s other superpower?)

A great presentation - makes this writer wish the “World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot” was still in a position of power.