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Pressing “Reset” on the U.S. military
20 May 2014

Pressing “Reset” on the U.S. military

What if we could start over and design our military from scratch? In an article in Foreign Policy magazine last week, Shawn Brimley and Paul Scharre ask just that.


In their article they offer a really interesting and thoughtful vision organized around three big missions:

–      Defend the homeland

–      Defeat adversaries and;

–      Maintain a stabilizing presence abroad.

As part and parcel of this, they would eliminate the current Regional Command structure.

(Infographic by Valerio Pellegrini)

Brimley and Scharre ask the question of whether we’d even have a Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army if we were to simply hit a reset button. They talk about robotics, cyber and a different way to recruit and attract personnel while at the same time significantly reducing the general officer corps.

The vision goes on to describe how they would invest in capabilities that get to future threats versus Cold War era structure. All of this, of course, is in the context of needing a strong national security while at the same time living in a significantly challenged budget environment.

I love the non-traditional thinking. Organizing around the three missions, on the surface, makes a lot of sense, especially in tomorrow’s world. This is a well thought out vision and the authors are to be commended. I’m hopeful this will act as a catalyst for policy makers to think deeply about these issues and offer up their own different approaches, or further vet this one.

The reality is that the current model is failing us, and more importantly failing our troops.  We have different adversaries with substantially different methods for attacking us than we did after the Cold War or even after the end of the last World War. Add our economic situation into the mix with declining budgets and you start to get to a perfect storm. Of course the challenge is that the legacy players, who are wedded to the old way of doing business, are frequently the ones still standing and most invested in ensuring change does not occur.

So now what? I’d drill even further into the questions the article provokes. What are the budget implications? How does one build off of and evolve the strengths of the service cultures while dis-assembling the darker elements of culture? Is there a time frame? Could we opt into this in a piecemeal manner or is it all at once? Can the approach be prepared, and shopped, to present an intelligent alternative the next time sequester rolls around?

If this was to be considered a serious idea, the first thing I’d do is map out the current visionary thinkers in the defense community and start to build this out. When I was with Les Aspin at the Department of Defense, he created and implemented the Bottom Up Review, holding a series of mixed tables in advance of that to start reaching out to all the stakeholders. If this really thoughtful piece is to get traction, the authors and supporters of the idea will have to do that in spades. For what it’s worth, I’d suggest a Gordian Institute Strategic Charrette to start working the numerous questions.

Politics being what it is means this sort of dramatic shift overnight won’t happen and the chances of it happening at all are slim. BUT the article represents a rare bit of deep thinking about one of our most important topics, national security and I for one hope it gets some real traction.


John Rogers


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The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.

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