“The dynamic joint defense force envisions active and regular surveillance for seamless response to ‘gray zone scenarios’ between peacetime and wartime.”
U.S.-Japan Allied Maritime Strategy: Balancing the Rise of Maritime China, Tetsuo Kotani, CSIS Strategic Japan April 2014
“Occasionally it would be good if the target cost more than the bullet”.
Admiral Mike Boorda, USN, CNO 1994-1996
The late Admiral Mike Boorda popularized a worthy rule for affordable and effective defense. He offered this guidance in the 1990s during a time of economic expansion. The Department of Defense had lost its planning and programming lodestar with the fall of the Soviet Union. The United States was experiencing its second Unilateral Moment. Without a designated enemy, with nobody to fight for the moment, and therefore little need for a comprehensive strategy, it chased capabilities to lock in its superiority. Operations Desert Shield and Storm validated profound U.S. superiority in command, control, surveillance and precision weapons technology. One breathless observer declared “the triumph of silicon over steel.” Victory may have a thousand fathers, but it has one dominant progeny – a conviction that one has found the ultimate battlefield solution that will endure forever. As a result, DOD pursued ever more exquisite battlefield technology to exploit this lead.
Admiral Boorda’s caution in this hubristic period was quickly overwhelmed. Nevertheless, it echoed, perhaps unconsciously, an earlier and more extensive effort to impose the burden of unbearable costs on others instead of the United States assuming those burdens itself. His advice was, by definition, limited to the military component of national power, and to the tactical realm within that. With no peer or near-peer competitor - or even a recognized asymmetric competitor - in the 90s U.S. leaders saw no need for a military acquisition strategy, much less a national grand strategy. His advice had an effect like rainwater on a rock. The United States lost its knack for strategic planning.
Imposing costs at the tactical level requires a governing policy and strategic context that is supportive. Admiral Boorda did not have that. Similarly, any coherent alliance cost-imposition effort in the East China Sea requires a coherent, supportive policy and strategy context to guide the development of tactical and operational level cost-imposition measures.
In earlier days the United States did recognize the need for strategic thinking and capability development. “Competitive Strategies”, the concept introduced by Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger in the 1980s, described an all-inclusive national strategy analysis focused on the long term. It required explicitly considering the impact of resource requirements and capabilities on the U.S., its allies, and the threat. It required a vigorous and continuous analysis and reconciliation of ends, ways and means to ensure the sustainability of the strategy. Development of capabilities that forced an opponent to produce and deploy unaffordable countermeasures was an explicit objective. Such thinking and analysis also gave both appointed and elected officials the intellectual capital needed to secure support from the electorate for defense expenditures. Systems analysis, defense hardware and technology improvements were not the first order items. Policy, strategy, doctrine, forces and training had priority. It was a “grand strategy” in its application of the full range of national capabilities against the full range of the Soviet Union’s strengths and weaknesses. It is this type of “grand strategy” that the U.S.-Japan alliance needs now to meet today’s threat.
More from CNAS
CommentaryThe Nonintervention Delusion
Richard Fontaine addresses the most frequently expressed concerns about U.S. military interventions and concludes that the use of military force will remain a key component of...
By Richard Fontaine
CommentaryWhy Huawei Isn’t So Scary
5G may have become a buzzword, but the notion that countries must rush to be first to deploy it is mistaken and reckless—and increases the odds of security breaches. There’s n...
By Elsa B. Kania & Lindsey R. Sheppard
CommentaryTime for Congress to Establish a U.S. Digital Development Fund
As impeachment deliberations roil Washington, Congress will be tempted to look inward and dial back on efforts to address the challenge China poses to American security, prosp...
By Daniel Kliman
CommentaryWhy the United States Needs a Digital Development Fund
What the executive branch and Congress can do to counter China’s expanding digital footprint across the developing world....
By Daniel Kliman