A few days ago a tweet pointed out that the Rand Corporation had released a study, US Global Defense Posture, 1783-2011. Given the upcoming budget controversy about the military budget and the coming end of “combat operations” in Afghanistan, I decided that this might be an interesting read. And it is, in a way. It’s a 146-page summary of the history of the US military’s global deployment over its entire history up through 2011. It is readable and has extensive footnotes and a bibliography.

Pittsburgh offices of RAND

RAND Corporation offices in Pittsburgh. A look at how RAND produced a historical study of American imperialism using taxpayer dollars.

It creates a classification of US military postures.

Since independence, senior officials have developed and at least partially implemented seven distinct and identifiable U.S. global postures:
continental defense (1783–1815), continental defense and commercialism (1815–1898), oceanic posture and surge deployments (1906–1938), hemispheric defense (1938–1941), perimeter defense in depth (1943–1949), consolidated defense in depth (1950–1989), and expeditionary defense in depth (1990–present).

The study uses three factors to classify those periods: the stationing within or outside the continental United States, whether troops are deployed as a garrison force (protection) or as an expeditionary force (power projection), and whether the defense is a perimeter defense or a defense in depth.

Finally, the study offers the following recommendations:

Plan strategically
Think globally
Connect basing efforts inside and outside the contintental United States
Develop a lighter and more agile footprint overseas
Opportunistically expand the US presence abroad in critical regions

Just to position this study in terms of its approach to national security, here is the opening paragraph:

Over the past 220 years, as the United States has matured from a young nation struggling to survive into a global hegemon, its military has experienced a corresponding increase in size and capability, growing from a single Army regiment and a handful of frigates into the preeminent global military force with unmatched land, air, space, and maritime forces.

The author is Stacie L. Pettyjohn and the list of acknowledgements:

I particularly want to acknowledge the assistance of Douglas Feith, Brian Arakelian, Thomas Ehrhard, Lt Gen Christopher Miller, Lt Gen Paul Selva, Maj Gen James Holmes, Col David Fahrenkrug, Col Mark Burns, Lee Alloway, Fernando Manrique, Maj Aaron Clark, Group Captain Dean Andrew, Col Bruno Foussard, Lt Col Peter Garretson, Michael Fitzgerald, Scott Wheeler, James Mitre, Lance Hampton, Andrew Plieninger, Lt Col Russell Davis, Yvonne Kinkaid, Debra Moss, Col James Casey, and James Tobias. Special thanks go to Evan Montgomery for his comments on multiple drafts of this report. I would also like to thank Robert Harkavy and RAND colleagues Michael McNerney and Thomas Szayna for their thorough reviews of the manuscript.

RAND colleagues Stephen Worman, Paula Thornhill, Alan Vick, Andrew Hoehn, Jacob Heim, Jeff Hagen, Karl Mueller, Lynn Davis, Ely Ratner, and Eric Heginbotham provided valuable feedback and suggestions.

Where we started in 1783 was with “the ingrained American revolutionary fear that centrally controlled armed forces represented a threat to freedom at home, combined with the relative security afforded by the Atlantic Ocean, a 3,000-mile wide moat, and the nation’s expanding strategic depth, enabled the United States to rely on a small standing military establishment that would be bolstered by citizen-soldier reinforcements in the event of a war.”

There were a few coastal forts and a string of frontier forts that extended from the Great Lakes to New Orleans manned by 2500. In 1800, the population was 5 million. An equivalent standing force today would be about 160,000. There are 1.4 million active and 1.4 million reserve personnel in the US military today with around 5 million people reaching military age annually. That should put some perspective on what’s required for basic continental defense and our current defense posture. But I digress from discussing the study.

And why the US Air Force spent taxpayer money on the study.

First of all:

This monograph is a product of the RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF) continuing program of self-initiated research. Support for this research was provided by the research and development provisions of PAF’s contract with the U.S. Air Force. The study described in this report was administered by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within PAF.

Got that. The US Air Force contracts with the Rand Corporation for an open program of research, in this case related to Air Force strategy and doctrine. The Rand Corporation initiates the studies it sees useful for the Air Force and bills the taxpayer. At a fundamental level it’s a “welfare for wonks” program that keeps RAND around in case the military should need it to do some serious thinking.

And then:

This research should be of interest to officials in the services, combatant commands, and the Department of Defense, as well as to those in the broader defense policy community.

I’m blogging on this because I assume the folks (taxpayers) who are paying for this study are in the broader defense policy community.

The history is presented in a pretty standard fashion for a US military history. There are a number of particulars that will be of interest to most folks. Here’s one:

The U.S. expansion into the Western Pacific in 1898 exemplifies the role that chance played in the U.S. acquisition of an overseas empire. First, a young naval officer, with no real political input, developed the war plan against Spain that called for a simultaneous attack on Spain’s territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean. Second, McKinley ordered then–Commodore George Dewey, commander of the Asiatic Squadron, to capture or destroy the Spanish fleet in the Pacific. The goal was not to conquer the Philippines, which few anticipated or even desired, but rather to acquire leverage that could be used to compel Spain to withdraw from Cuba. Third, Dewey was forced to occupy Manila because his squadron was short on critical supplies,  including coal and ammunition, because of the lack of access to nearby bases during wartime. As a result of Dewey’s decision to occupy Manila, McKinley eventually decided that the United States must annex the entire Philippine archipelago to keep the islands from coming under the control of Germany or Japan. The decision to retain the Philippines, in turn, required the United States to annex Guam and Wake Island to secure the long lines of communication from the western coast of the United States to the Philippine archipelago.

See. Taking possession of the Philippines was just a by-product of kicking the European powers (Spain) out of the Americas, but then we had to keep them from coming under control of Germany or Japan. And in for a penny, in for a pound, we were a Pacific power and had to protect our status quo.

So what is the relevance of this survey of history now and why might this be of interest to the defence policy community broadly and the US Air Force specifically? Well there’s this:

Today, in response to changes in the political, fiscal, and strategic environments, the United States is revising its global defense posture. The Department of Defense has announced a number of initiatives that are a part of its rebalancing toward Asia, while, at the same time, maintaining a significant presence in Southwest Asia, even as U.S. forces are drawn down in Afghanistan. As these plans move forward, it is important to recognize that America’s overseas military presence, as it currently exists in terms of scope and scale, is largely a legacy of the Cold War and that, over the past two centuries, the United States repeatedly adjusted its posture in response to the emergence of new types of threats, technological innovations, and the availability of overseas bases. Understanding past U.S. postures, what they looked like, why they were implemented, and why they changed can provide important insights for policymakers as they look to modify today’s global defense posture in the coming years.

And this:

The current U.S. global defense posture—that is, the location and primary operational orientation of the nation’s military personnel and the military facilities that its troops have access to—is under increasing pressure from a number of sources, including budgetary constraints, precision-guided weapons that reduce the survivability of forward bases, and host-nation opposition to a U.S. military presence.

For a variety of reasons, the US is going to be withdrawing from or closing bases over the next few years. RAND thinks the Air Force wants to put a stake in the ground concerning the factors that will be considered in making those decisions.

The Findings and Recommendations chapter should logically be where an agenda is laid out. In this study, the findings and recommendations starts with with a comparison of the life-cycle of bases acquired through the logic of mutual defense and those acquired through a quid-pro-quo transaction. Those relationships change over time and both can be problematic. The problem comes when a base acquired through a mutual defense agreement no longer is needed for defense by the host country and US presence is extended through a contract. Even without regime changes, governments might restrict or revoke US basing rights or up the demand for compensation. That complication is the principle finding. The recommendations are bromides.

Take “The Importance of Strategci Planning”. There’s this:

Historically, major changes to the U.S. global defense posture have only been successfully implemented in the wake of an exogenous shock.

Bromide: Be ready with a list of desireable locations for bases.

“Think Globally” argues not to be blinded by the current structure of areas of responsibility-USNORTHCOM, USSOUTHCOM, USAPACOM, USAFRICOM, USCENTCOM, USEUCOM.

Bromide: Develop defense posture from a top-down perspective.

Connecting basing efforts inside and outside the US argues the political value with Congress of having this linkage to allow repurposing of stateside bases to keep members of Congress happy. The US Air Force needs the Rand Corporation to tell it to do this!

The section about having a light footprint contains some buzzwords you might see as defense posture begins to be discussed in the media: forward operating sites (FOS) and cooperative security locations (CSL), which are not the sites themselves but are types of access agreements. Here is the gist:

…host nations are more likely to grant Washington the right to use a base occasionally than to allow it to permanently station forces on their territory, so long as they can be convinced or believe that a smaller or more intermittent military presence remains a credible deterrent to aggression. A focus on acquiring limited access, therefore, improves the probability that the United States can begin to make inroads in critical regions where it currently has little to no presence.

Doing this essentially moves US forces to the periphery and needs to be done in a way that allows the US to meet the responsibilities resulting from its current overseas commitments. So a “no boots on the ground” posture has to be squared with agreements that have used the presence of US troops as an economic cash cow to the local economy.

The last recommendation is a pure “shock doctrine” play. To wit:

If U.S. policymakers continue to regard an overseas military presence as essential, DoD would benefit from seizing on opportune moments when shared perception of threat is rising to expand its military presence in key regions

The purpose of US posture is assumed in the “Concluding Thoughts” to be:
Reassuring allies
Deterring adversaries
Projecting force abroad when called on to do so
Guaranteeing the freedom of the commons (international waters and international airspace).

The send-off statement is “… it is important to recall that America’s global posture, in its current scope and scale, is a rarity in the modern era.”

I titled this “Office Politics” for a reason. Someone in a decision-making position for spending the money on this study has an agenda relative to coming changes.  There are some notable points of office politics, better asked as questions from the point of view of the Air Force.

How will the Air Force benefit in the competition for mission, resources, and budget from a shift to temporary forward operating site agreements and cooperative security locations?

How will the Air Force benefit if the geographical Areas of Responsibility command structure is reorganized into a consolidated global view? Note that the study tiptoes around this possibility.

Which elements of the Air Force will benefit?

What with the other services be seeking in the competition for mission, resources, and budget in a time of relative austerity for the military?

US national security policy is changing. There is some recognition that there is no longer an identifiable threat. Some folks it seems are moving post-post-9/11. But this is an intellectual exercise, not policy. Which is why the office politics of the reason it came to be is so interesting to me.

Photo from the Wikimedia Commons released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.