March 29, 2012

Are Think Tanks Biased Toward the U.S. Army?

Raymond "Galrahn" Pritchett argued as much on his maritime strategy blog today:

I truly believe the think tank community in Washington DC is one reason why the US Army has so much influence right now in the Pentagon. About 70% of the defense analysts in think tanks that focus on defense issues are veterans of the US Army, and it has been like that since around the time of Gulf War I.

It is probably a coincidence the Army has been fighting a land war in Asia for over a decade, and the Army has been fighting a second land war in Asia for almost a decade. Probably. And it is also probably a coincidence that the US Navy has been shrinking during that same time period.

In response to the figure cited by Pritchett, my research intern and I went through the following think tanks and scanned their security-related research programs for veterans: the American Enterprise Institute (0!), the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (9), the Center for a New American Security (7), the Center for American Progress (2), the Council on Foreign Relations (2), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (10), the Brookings Institute (1), the Heritage Foundation (4), the Institute for the Study of War (4), and the Atlantic Council (4).

We did not count active-duty military fellows and only looked for people with military service in their official biographies. So I'm sure we missed a few people. We also did not look through the federally funded research centers like Rand or the Institute for Defense Analyses. So this is a decidedly non-scientific exercise. Galrahn's assertion just piqued my interest. 

The results of our informal survey, though, show 18 veterans of the U.S. Army, 11 veterans of the U.S. Navy, 10 veterans of the U.S. Air Force, three veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps, and one lone Coast Guard veteran currently working on defense policy issues. Even allowing for the fact that our survey was unscientific and that Galrahn is a product of the Arkansas public schools system, 43% is not "about 70%." The service break-down of veterans working on defense policy issues in think tanks does, though, seem to roughly correspond to the respective numbers of active duty officers in each service: U.S. Army (39.3% of all active-duty officers), U.S. Navy (22.8%), U.S. Air Force (28.7%), U.S. Marine Corps (9.2%), and U.S. Coast Guard (3.6%). 

Based on our initial research, we can advance the following hypothesis: there is no think tank conspiracy against the U.S. Navy.

Regarding the focus on ground forces over the past decade, Galrahn has probably inverted his causal relationship: are think tanks focused on issues related to the ground forces because we have been in two ground wars for the past decade, or have we been in two ground wars for a decade because think tanks focus on the ground forces? I think the former is a lot more likely than the latter.

Further complicating Galrahn's tin-foil musings is the fact that -- aside from the whole "the U.S. Army has so much influence right now in the Pentagon" thing, which Ray Odierno and Lloyd Austin U.S. Army officers everyone in the Pentagon will find hilarious -- our most recent report on the future defense budget has made our own U.S. Army veterans personnae non gratae in the Dept. of the Army. Led by LTG (Ret.) David Barno (USMA '76), our team argued that if you're going to cut the budget for a service, you should cut the budget of the U.S. Army. You'll need the U.S. Navy and Air Force, our report argued, to meet the future security challenges in the Persian Gulf and East Asia.

[I tease Galrahn because his Razorbacks beat up on my Volunteers each fall, but his blog is seriously great. Check it out here.]