DeM Banter: Great thought piece… with some stellar links to other powerful articles. This is really the sort of stuff we need to be sifting through now…thoughts?
For an organization facing a period of significant transition, during a time of continued resource advantage and undefined threat, coming on the heels of the traumatic experiences of two ambiguous-to-unsuccessful wars, adjustments to culture will be critical to the success or failure of any reform efforts. Recent experiences have significantly skewed the organization’s culture, which must be re-grounded in order to move ahead rationally. You can see my general thoughts on this issue in more detail at “Disruptive Thinkers: Defining the Problem.”
This is a time of significant transformation.
-We are coming out of two complex and painful wars that have given the force ambiguous and hotly contested signals in the midst of a time of strategic upheaval and uncertainty.
-There is a lack of consensus about the “lessons” to be learned from these wars and the threats to prepare for in the coming strategic environment.
-There is no clear threat to focus minds, nor are there true constraints on resources. See Gladwell on innovation and the requirement for threat and constraint at this New Yorker article about Xerox’s PARC lab and Apple.
-Budgetary and political realities will place fiscal constraints on the force, while growing personnel costs will compete for operations, maintenance, and development resources.
-The force must adjust to changing strategic and budgetary environments in a rational manner to be successful, but neither the nature of the budgetary adjustment nor the culture of the force predisposes us to success in these efforts.
There are considerable structural and environmental factors that disadvantage the DoD in seeking rational and positive change.
-The Department of Defense has been “resource advantaged” and relatively unconstrained in the recent past. This is a common problem plaguing big corporations and it is always difficult to reset and pare back to a competitive core. For example, see “Microsoft’s Lost Decade” and Richard Rumelt’s book “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy.”
-The DoD has a unique set of constraints and restraints that make it even harder to reset and rationalize the organization, including the lack of a payroll, profit statement, or other business metrics; the unique nature of the combat mission; the incentives to and purse-string control by Congress; and the nature of the military hierarchy and conservative culture. See my article “The Case for Disruption and Dialogue in Defense Reform.”
-Goldwater-Nichols, by separating service and operational chains, has arguably not done as much as many think to reduce parochialism, especially in procurement and other Title 10 functions. See for example “Real Acquisition Reform” from JFQ and the Beyond Goldwater-Nichols Phase I study by CSIS.
The military has emphasized themes of sacrifice and service so much that it has in some quarters transformed those into a culture of entitlement and superiority that hampers introspection and will cripple attempts to rationally reform the institution.
-We are used to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) money and justifying far too many things as essential to the war effort or victory and become indignant when we can’t get what we want. Must read this excellent and cutting parody from the Onion in which Gen Mattis purportedly asserts that we will never win the war in Afghanistan unless CENTCOM gets a pinball machine. Look around your spaces and count the number of plasma screen TVs, for example. Were they bought with OCO funds? Are they displaying a COP? If not, what channel is on? And who is paying for that?
-The military lives in a world where sacrifice and heroism are at one time both lionized and conferred on everyone, we live in a socialist military system (see this at FP), and yet we believe we are owed things due to our “sacrifice” and “service.”
-Due to lobbying (e.g., MOAA), increased costs of caring for personnel who have been at war for over a decade, and the political popularity of gestures toward the military, the personnel costs of the military are soaring, eating up greater portions of the budget.
-Additionally, the military is increasingly distanced from and disgruntled with the society and civilian government it serves. A sense of elitism is part of the esprit de corps of the military, especially the all-volunteer military, but at some point it goes to far. Consider the WWII military. Did they feel any distance from American society at large?