A Matter of Risk

I’m a veteran and tend to take a supportive view of the military. I happen to believe, and strongly, that a strong military equates to a stronger nation.  But I wasn’t particularly upset by the announcement last week about the cuts to military spending and a change in focus. Understand that I don’t support any kind of cuts to the funding of programs for personnel disabled as a result of their service. And yes, I accept it if someone was to say “Well, you would because you’re one of those people.” My point  is that disability programs are part of the compensation package contracted between potential military members and the government at time of enlistment. We accepted incredibly low pay and high risk in trade for our benefits and the knowledge that we’d done our part for the nation when it needed it. I expect the government to honor its contracts to its soldiers and dismiss outright any thought of conservatives welshing on the deal as a cost saving measure. Let it take the money from other sources. Our military budget has risen by 71% in the last ten years while the number of soldiers has only gone up by 25%. As such I agree that changes in the standing military are where cost adjustments are needed.

The thing is, threats to the nation take a radically different form than they once did. Our greatest vulnerability is damage to the electric power infrastructure and data processing networks. Physical attacks in large scale grow less likely as time goes by. It is easier to cripple a nation through economic manipulation, interruption of infrastructure, and hit and run actions reducing faith in civil protection. The likelihood of an infantry attack is so minimal as to be unworthy of notice, but attacks against the infrastructure are very real worries. As such, our military needs to make changes that reflect the different types of threats we face today. Most of our military is focused on taking real estate, as was the Second World War and Vietnam. And our strategies in Vietnam were the greatest reason we left the war as a failed endeavor. We weren’t ready to fight a war of hedgerows, fighting against enemies who couldn’t care less about the real estate, except they didn’t want us on it. So we fought a line war while the enemy fought with hit and run. We brought boxing gloves to a gunfight.

The general war theater is tremendously different, where our greatest vulnerabilities have little to do with large clashes. If our power grid or our ability to pass data was significantly interrupted, it could thrust us into the stone age and quickly turn us against each other as we competed for the few resources a damaged infrastructure might permit. We would quickly find our neighbor to be the enemy, so it’s critical that we protect our electronic shores with the same resolve as we defend our borders. No, I’m not talking the kind of protection that is currently being touted on television; that has more to do with the motion picture executives fighting against the new delivery methods of distributing artistic content and using the tiny amount of piracy that remains as their reasons. The SOPA initiatives have  to do with profits and nothing more.  The warfare I’m talking about is a lot more sophisticated and ruinous.

I endorse the use of more robotic devices taking the role of anti-personnel operations. At least to the degree that it’s possible. As we have recently seen, it’s a wide theater. But I do support maintaining presence of both personnel and modern electronics based weaponry around the world because we have to maintain a presence to protect our sources of materials. But I don’t believe we need large forces, rather smaller and better oriented troops for the new ways of war. As a nation, we have a very small manufacturing output and an ever shrinking agricultural product. As a result, we have come to be highly dependent on imports to supply us with the foods and products we need to live. Which means that a part of our spending on national security should be going to rebuild an agricultural and manufacturing force in addition to a military. We need to change the face of how we do business and take a less global approach to our lives, so that we can better support the needs of the nation. As such, my view of military spending takes in a much wider swath than merely the men and women that wear uniforms and carry weapons. Defending the nation is a vastly larger endeavor than it ever was, but a military response to the threats is less and less of the fronts we need to engage with. Much of the military budget can come as a multi-departmental thrust for improvement.

That’s why I am not shuddering and complaining about the cuts which are now causing debate. The old school military is not the best defense of our country, nor is it where we should put such a lion’s share of our defense spending, Investment in alternative power, increasing the data infrastructure while being a lot more conservative about the type of traffic it bears, and improving the infrastructure for transit and travel to accommodate a greater manufacturing and agricultural base is where I think we should be investing our dollars. It’s a new day that takes new measures, and new thinking could build this nation’s strength in other ways than strictly military, benefiting us all.