What’s a Good National Security Strategy?

In reading a very interesting post by Walter Pincus at The Cipher Brief about Bernie Sanders’s views on national security, a few things occurred to me. If “Walter Pincus” is not a household name for you, he’s a long-time columnist for the Washington Post who’s won just about every award available to journalists and writes on national security issues. My inference is that he would probably describe himself as a liberal.

My first observation in reading the post is that Bernie Sanders is very much a garden variety transnational progressive. That places his views very much at odds with my own since I think that greater reliance on international institutions and coalitions is a formula for unending U. S. involvements in wars that are only peripherally related to our national security and which we cannot win.

I guess that places Sen. Sanders in good company since I disagree not only with transnational progressives but with “national greatness” conservatives like John McCain who never met a war they didn’t like and neoconservatives who believe in spreading democracy by the sword to countries that can barely be called “countries” let alone liberal democratic ones.

My second observation is that it’s not clear to me what the relationship between military spending and national security actually is. I’m skeptical that there’s a direct causal relationship between the two. Increasing military spending can make us more secure, less secure, or have no effect whatever on our security. It depends on how the money is spent.

Although I’ve never been an actual defense contractor, I’ve had a number as clients over the years and I’m painfully aware of the Pentagon’s monumental inefficiency. If you like the centralization of power, that’s something you should get used to. Not only are bureaucracies inefficient but they are inherently inefficient and the Pentagon is probably the largest bureaucracy in the history of the world. The larger the bureaucracy the less efficient. Nothing can be done about it. It’s the nature of the beast.

My final observation is about U. S. leadership. A decline of U. S. leadership on the international scene is inherent in a greater reliance on international institutions and coalitions. I’m not sure how big a problem that actually is. It seems to me that an equally and maybe more significant problem a vacuum in U. S. leadership is a lack of international followership.

5 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    Inefficient, and much given to turf wars. The family member who does logistics for a living always has great, sort of, stories. They have quite a bit of new, unused equipment sitting around ordered for the ME that has not been used. They tried to give some to a deploying naval squadron, which they could have had essentially for free. No go. It would have lowered their budget and reduced the amount they could spend next year.

    To your larger topic, we just don’t need maximal involvement and intervention in everything we do. We really need to stop having our soldiers die to meet the wants of other nations in the ME. I don’t think we can avoid involvement with coalitions of other nations, but we can start insisting that they do their part.


  • We really need to stop having our soldiers die to meet the wants of other nations in the ME.

    It’s not just the Middle East. Why are there Americans who want to go to war over the Ukraine? Why were we involved in the Balkans? Because the Europeans were too lazy? How did it enhance our security? I know how it helped the Germans. I couldn’t figure out how it helped us.

  • michael reynolds Link

    Sanders (and others) throw ‘coalition’ around like it’s magic. But when you get down to specifics it’s nonsense. What is he talking about? A coalition of locals led by who? Saudi Arabia? Really? The people who fight wars by hiring Pakistani mercenaries? Every national government in the region is hanging by a thread, and they’re going to lead?

    The essential first question is national interest. If our national interest requires the destruction of X then why in God’s name do we first need to round up various military incompetents to ‘help’ us? If our national security does not require the destruction of X, then how about we don’t destroy X, coalition or no coalition?

    But IF we are going to war, then ‘coalitions’ are really little more than providers of bases for us to use, and the very last thing we would want to inflict on our military commanders is a bunch of half-trained, badly-equipped, unmotivated locals or Europeans.

  • steve Link

    Dave- There may be a component of wanting to protect Germany or carry out their interests, but I think this is mostly just the Cold Warriors wanting to have eternal war with Russia. I agree it is not in out interests, but almost half the population disagrees. The people they nominate for office claim that Russia is our biggest threat.


  • walt moffett Link

    Sanders as a transnational progressive, oh well, Vermin Supreme is still in the running.

    Always amusing by the way to notice how many NGO’s etc in the international arena always seem to afford top of the line Toyota Land Cruisers, fitted suits, plush offices, etc.

    As far as a national security strategy, we need to recognize the promise of nuclear retaliation is hollow. Will we nuke say Iran if Hezbollah uses Iranian made VX war heads when its Israeli rocket season or on say, Turkey for some reason? Then there is our interest in freedom of the seas treaties to protect Japan, Korea, the Baltics (and points to the West), random sized groups that want us dead, etc. All of which requires more thought than finding a middle path that incorporates all the contradictory advice given and horrors of horrors original creative thought on the occupant of the Oval Office and his party.

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