Review: Preventive Defense–A New Security Strategy for America

5 Star, Diplomacy, Force Structure (Military)

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Fully Half of the Right Answer–Bi-Partisan and Serious,

August 30, 2000
Ashton B. Carter
The authors provide a coherent discussion of fully half of the security challenges facing us in the 21st century. They wisely avoid the debate swirling around the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)-but deserve credit for their predecessor “offset strategy”-and simply note that the absence of “A List” threats gives us an opportunity to strengthen and maintain our traditional nuclear and conventional capabilities against the day when a Russia or China may rise in hostility against us. The book as a whole focuses on the “B List” threats, including Russia in chaos, a hostile China acting aggressively within its region, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and catastrophic terrorism. They note, correctly, that most of the spending and effort today is focused on responding to the crisis de jure, some but not enough resources are applied to preparing for the future, and virtually nothing is being done against the latest concept, that of “shaping” the environment through “forward engagement.” Perhaps most importantly, they introduce the term “defense by other means” and comment on the obstacles, both within the Administration and on the Hill, to getting support and funding for non-military activities with profound security benefits.Although others may focus on their discussion of Russia and NATO as the core of the book, what I found most helpful and worthwhile was the straight-forward and thoughtful discussion of the need for a new national strategy, a new paradigm, for dealing with potentially catastrophic terrorism. Their understanding of what defense resources can be applied, and of the impediments to success that exist today between state & local law enforcement, federal capabilities such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and defense as well as overseas diplomatic and intelligence capabilities, inspire them to propose several innovative approaches to this challenge. The legal and budgetary implications of their proposals are daunting but essential-their proposals for dealing with this one challenge would be helpful in restructuring the entire U.S. government to better integrate political-diplomatic-military-law enforcement operations with judicial and congressional oversight as well as truly all-source intelligence support.

Interesting side notes include 1) the early discovery in US-Russian military discussions that technology interoperability and future collaboration required the surmounting of many obstacles associated with decades of isolated (and often secret) development; 2) the absence of intelligence from the entire book-by this account, US defense leaders spend virtually all of their time in direct operational discussions with their most important counterparts, and there is very little day to day attention to strategic analysis, estimative intelligence, or coordination with diplomatic, economic, and law enforcement counterparts at home; 3) the difficulty of finding a carrier to send to Taiwan at a time when we had 12 carriers-only four appear to have been “real” for defense purposes; and 4) the notable absence of Australia from the discussion of security in Asia.

The concept of Preventive Defense is holistic (requiring the simultaneous uses of other aspects of national power including diplomacy and economic assistance) but places the Department of Defense in a central role as the provider of realigned resources, military-to-military contacts, and logistics support to actual implementation. Unfortunately the concept of Preventive Defense has been narrowly focused (its greatest success has been the dismantling of former Soviet nuclear weapons in the Commonwealth of Independent States), and neither the joint staff nor the services are willing to give up funds for weapons and manpower in order to make a strategy of Preventive Defense possible.

This resistance bodes ill for the other half of the 21st Century security challenge, what the author’s call the “C List”-the Rwandas, Somalias, Haitis and Indonesias. They themselves are unwilling to acknowledge C List threats as being vital to U.S. security in the long-term (as AIDS is now recognized). I would, however, agree with them on one important point: the current budget for defense should be repurposed toward readiness, preparing for the future, and their concept of preventive defense, and it should not be frittered away on “C List” contingencies-new funds must be found to create and sustain America’s Preventive Diplomacy and its Operations Other Than War (OOTW) capabilities. It will fall to someone else to integrate their concept of Preventive Defense with the emerging concepts of Preventive Diplomacy, International Tribunals, and a 21st Century Marshall Plan for the festering zones of conflict in Africa, Arabia, Asia, and the Americas–zone where ethnic fault lines, criminal gangs, border disputes, and shortages of water, food, energy, and medicine all come together to create a breeding ground for modern plagues that will surely come across our water’s edge in the future. On balance, through, this book makes the top grade for serious bi-partisan dialogue, and they deserve a lot of credit for defining solutions for the first half of our security challenges in the 21st Century.

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