The Hollow Defense Debate An Army General Weighs In

September 1, 1998

Comment: #177 

Discussion Thread:  #s 159, 165, 166,168, 169, 172, 173


[1] Gordon R. Sullivan, "Increased global engagement makes greater investment in military vital," Tacoma News Tribune, August 18, 1998.  Excerpt attached.

[2] Email from an active duty Army officer. Attached.

The battlefield shaping operation to build support for a larger defense budget continues.

In Reference #1, General Gordon Sullivan, a former Chief of Staff of the Army, argues that the military's readiness and modernization problems are caused by budget cuts. His solution is to increase the budget to 4% of GNP. This is exactly the kind of simple-minded thinking that has led the military into the readiness vs. modernization cul-de-sac that is setting up the phony debate over the need to increase the defense budget.

General Sullivan does not cite a threat to justify why 4% of GDP is a good budget number, nor does he acknowledge that the United States is now spending more than three times as much on defense as Russia, China, and all rogue states combined, nor does he acknowledge the contributions of our allies, which if accounted for, would drive up the friendly vs. adversary spending ratio to over 5 to 1. Percentages of GDP are meaningless measure, in any case, because they are input based. Percent of GDP says nothing about outputs. If fact, its logic can lead one a preposterous conclusion: one way to meet General Sullivan's goal of 4% is to continue to cut defense spending, but chop GDP even faster by having a depression!

Note that General Sullivan says nothing about the destructive relationship between cost growth and budget growth. Yet is the mismatch between cost and budget growth that has created the train wreck between the rising cost of low readiness and the modernization plan that cannot modernize the force [this is explained the reports hot linked at the web site under my signature block]. Costs have been growing faster than budgets even when budgets increased rapidly, as they did in the 1980s. As long as this relation holds true, increasing the defense budget to 4% or even 6% will be throwing good money after bad, and set the stage for an increase in the cost of low readiness and another reduction in reduce production rates.

Note also that General Sullivan makes a recommendation to increase defense spending, but he does not say anything about the well documented fact that the Defense Department's accounting system is broken. How can he calculate that 4% of GDP will fix things, when the Pentagon does not have the information needed to understand in detail what is even happening, let alone figure out where to spend the money or how much is really needed?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, General Sullivan argues that our best people are leaving (and the quality of the military is declining), because they do not receive salaries that comparable to those of the civil sector. Rather than address this issue, I asked a serving active duty Army officer (one who has contributed his ideas to this list in the past) to respond to it. Reference #2 is his reaction. I urge you to read it carefully.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Increased global engagement makes greater investment in military vital

By Gordon R. Sullivan
Tacoma News Tribune
August 18, 1998



The Cold War was won without a shot in anger by our forces being trained and ready. Those forces are adapting today to the new defense era we face. Those forces cannot be downsized anymore nor continue to face under-resourcing. We simply cannot continue to make the mistakes of the past with the dismantling of our armed forces.


The current defense budget is not large enough to accommodate the Army's needs, or the other services' needs for that matter. As former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the current defense budget is only 3 percent of the gross domestic product - lower than it was at the time of Pearl Harbor ... Just 3 percent of the GDP will not allow the nation to shape, prepare or respond to today's national security strategy. We should set the marker at 4 percent.

Retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, former Army chief of staff, is president of the 100,000-member Association of the United States Army.

Reference #2

Email from an Army officer:

I am insulted by General Sullivan's article in the Tacoma News Tribune. The author is retired Army Chief of Staff, who now holds down a six figure job for Association of the US Army (AUSA), an organization that works hand in hand with the defense contractors.

General Sullivan says declining readiness is due to "lack of money." Note how he asserts, "Failure to increase defense budgets may hasten the hollowing of our forces. If our talented and competent young people leave for better-paying positions in the private sector in significant numbers, the quality of our force could decline." Think of the logic implicit in his statement: He apparently thinks the best soldiers joined the Army to get higher paying jobs. Therefore, if there are better paying jobs in the civilian sector, our best soldiers will leave to make more money, and the quality of the military will decline.

In other words, the only way to maintain a quality force is to bribe our best soldiers to stay. That a retired chief of staff of the Army would hold his men and women is such contempt says more about leadership's contributions to the current readiness mess than the effect of budget cuts.

General Sullivan is right about one thing. This is the "be all you can be" army, and we have recruited too many self serving careerist and courtiers. Not surprisingly, they are punching out, because they were recruited by an advertising campaign that appealed to their self interest, and now the grass is getting greener somewhere else. I say Good riddance!

But we are also losing some of our best small unit commanders. The real reason they are leaving has less to do with money than with senior officers who place little value on training, excellence, duty, honor, and country.

So, if you are not a politician, a courtier, and a self-server (all the same), then you are getting out, because when the going gets tough the self-interested and weak depart! Only those with nothing else to do, stay. Maybe, if General Sullivan and the high priests of management science had realized there are loyal and competent officers and NCOs who stay for reasons other than money, promotions, and positions of power, we wouldn't have the some of problems we have today.

An Insulted Army Officer!