The Hollow Defense Debate (IV): A View of General Sullivan's Comments
from a Retired Colonel's Perspective

Comment: #181

Discussion Thread:  #s 177, 178, 179


[1] Email from Colonel John Rothrock (USAF Ret.) Attached.

In Reference #1, Col Rothrock expands the discussion of General Sullivan's call for higher budgets by observing how institutional rigidities stifle initiative and create a climate of fear that makes it difficult to adapt to changing conditions. He concludes by saying, "We do not need to spend more on defense. We just need to spend differently and more honestly."

Unfortunately, Rothrock's simple call for honesty is a tall order for a bureaucracy that can not and does not want to produce a financial accounting system that meets the minimum standards set by the intersection of the Constitution with one's the oath of office [as discussed in Comment # 169].

Chuck Spinney

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Reference #1


I certainly agree with the concerns which the respondent to General Sullivan voices regarding the General's heavy emphasis on defense funding levels. I also agree with the respondent regarding the problem of self-serving careerism from which the Army (and the other services) seems to suffer. However, I'm also struck by the respondent's apparent unwillingness to give his own name -- this itself says something about the intellectually stultifying environment of fear and lack of candor which has developed to an alarming degree within today's American officer corps.

This month's ARMY Magazine contains a very insightful but troubling letter from (active duty) Colonel Dave Fastabend -- one of the principal authors of the visionary (and, therefore, controversial and still far from approved) re- draft of the Army's 100-5 (Operations) manual. The letter laments the lack of real debate within today's Army (and, by implication, the entire U.S. military -- USMC perhaps partially excluded - J.R.). Colonel Fastabend characterizes the intellectual stultification which he sees within the Army as symptomatic of an "overdeveloped institution". By that, he seems to mean an institution that is so heavily specialized and bureaucratized that the structure and processes have taken on a dominant institutional intellect of their own, the primary goal of which is defense of the organizational status quo.

To carry this argument a bit further (but certainly NOT to presume that this is where Colonel Fastabend would necessarily take it), as the structural character of an institution -- in this case the Army -- becomes to be ever more at logical odds with the real world environment in which it functions, it must come to be ever more intellectually defensive and, in the last resort, intellectually suppressive. Well established institutional interests whose most logical advocacy arguments are rooted in the logic of times well past (e.g.., the Cold War) become increasingly dependent upon tortured logic whose greatest enemy is the free and open competition of ideas.

Examples of this abound today throughout the U.S. military, whose member services all insist that their very institutional existences depend upon funding of immensely expensive but conceptually dated weapons programs. The original conceptualization and justification for all of these programs were rooted in arguments that are now nearly two decades old and rooted firmly in the geostrategic assumptions of the Cold War. There are certainly few, if any, military career advantages for any officers who would express doubt about these programs' relevance to today's (let alone tomorrow's) dramatically changed circumstances. And, perhaps even more tellingly, such forthright opposition to the ways their services intend to spend tax money would certainly do similarly little for whatever aspirations these officers might have for lucrative "second careers" within defense industry.

Thus, we are left with the prospect of a future military that will be "modernized" over the next decade and a half with a host of incredibly expensive weapon systems whose admittedly eye-boggling technological sophistication will, in fact, possess little relevance to the world that they will confront. A future American military of F-22s, Joint Strike fighters, the CRUSADER artillery system, the (improved) NIMITZ Class carrier, nuclear attack submarines, etc. (which all together comprise by far the lion's share of currently planned major DoD system procurement) is likely to constitute little more than an impressive array of hammers which will be all the U.S. has to deal with the global equivalent of a continuous attack of poisonous insects.

The argument that it is better to buy the familiar even in the face of good evidence (i.e., that compiled over the experience of this decade following the Gulf War) that it is not the familiar that we will need, rather than to wait to buy until after we have given it some thought and experimentation, is more than fatuous -- it is deceitful and dangerous. Why worry about "keeping an industrial base" whose very capabilities are already or soon will be obsolete? That is like a late seventeenth-century king worrying that his makers of lances and suits of armor would go out of business lest he keep buying their products -- at the sacrifice of developing and buying better cannon and firearms.

(Once again) I urge all concerned citizens to go back and read President Eisenhower's ominously prescient farewell (January 1961) warning regarding the "military-industrial complex". (To that we need today also to add "congressional".) Ike's warning carries even more weight today than it did four decades ago. It should (but, unfortunately, does not) go without saying that we should always beware of calls for particular expressions of patriotism -- most notably increases in defense procurement spending -- from those for whom such patriotic expressions promise profit and personal advantage, not sacrifice.

We do not need to spend more on defense. We just need to spend differently and more honestly.


John E. Rothrock Colonel, USAF (Ret)