TODAY'S GROWTH INDUSTRY in Washington centers on ideas for reorganizing the Pentagon or reforming the U.S. defense establishment. In rapid succession, we have been bombarded recently with separate reorganization proposals from the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, interim recommendations from the President's Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, and White House press conferences or press releases telling us the president is going to implement "virtually all" of that panel's recommendations. This tells us that those in the know are not very impressed with the way America defends itself -- and why the Pentagon is under so much outside pressure to overhaul the national defense bureaucracy.
Senator Gary Hart and his defense adviser since the mid-1970s, William S. Lind, approach the issue from a different perspective: they believe the solution lies in reform from within the military establishment.
America Can Win spells out both the need and a rich menu of solutions for that reform. It is a brutal intellectual assault on how today's military leaders and the civilian institutions above them pursue the profession of arms. Since, except for editors, few people resent constructive criticism more than generals and admirals, the very audience at which this book is aimed will probably loathe it.
But Hart and Lind make a substantive, constructive case for military reform. In places, they overstate their case or slice the onion only one peel deep, but the book is a lot more honest than reassurances we hear from the Pentagon that the only problem with America's defense is Congress' failure to fund it at the levels Caspar Weinberger and Ronald Reagan would have us buy.
Contrary to most impressions, the "military reformers" for whom Hart and Lind speak do not argue for lower defense budgets: "Their goal is an effective military, not just a cheap one." Hart and Lind worry that in recent years, "most of the debate was about money" whenever Congress discussed defense affairs, whereas Hart came to conclude from his work on the Senate Armed Services Committee "that fighting over how much we spend had little to do with whether or not our military forces could win in combat."
Thus, America Can Win focuses on "winning in combat" rather than in the budget arena, where most of the military hierarchy's attention has been centered of late. The book also cautions that "Reorganization is not reform. It can often be a facade to escape the harsh reality of reform."
How, then, do Hart and Lind believe America's military -- whose "last brilliant victory . . . was in 1950" when Douglas MacArthur made his "audacious" amphibious landing at Inchon to flank North Korean forces overrunning South Korea -- can "clone warriors, not milicrats" (as they describe "bureaucrats in uniform" who behave no differently from their counterparts elsewhere in government)?
Their proposals run the gamut from overhauling military promotion policies to keelhauling the Navy.
The "dangerously fragile" U.S. Navy, we're told, "is more a museum than a modern fighting force." Senator Hart and Lind want to restructure the fleet around a force of 300 attack submarines (up from today's goal of 100) because "the submarine, not the aircraft carrier, is today the capital ship." While they make an interesting case for this proposition, their argument weakens considerably when they urge that the additional submarines should include a "mix of nuclear . . . and small, quiet conventional submarines . . . for barrier operations and missions in coastal waters and closed seas, such as the Mediterranean." Nowhere do Hart or Lind acknowledge that the Navy has long argued (so far successfully) against such a mix because our allies build small, quiet conventional subs and, being far closer to the kind of waters in question, operate them far more efficiently there than we could. (In the seas bordering Europe, for instance, the Warsaw Pact has roughly 200 attack submarines and the United States only about 70; but our NATO allies, the authors fail to mention, operate about 95 others, the very kind they want us to build.)
Hart and Lind have long made public their dismay with America's supercarriers, which, they argue at length, are vulnerable, too expensive to deploy in the numbers needed, and carry the wrong kind of aircraft. They float an interesting case for a new kind of ship, "High Adaptability Surface Combatants," a hybrid mini-carrier and surface warfare ship that, by changing modular sensors and weapon suites, could be reconfigured fron one mission to another. Vertical or short take-off and landing aircraft like the Marine Corps' and Royal Navy's Harrier would operate from its flat top deck; a merchant ship-like bow or stern would let it also serve as a "roll-on, roll-off" amphibious ship; containerized antiaircraft weapons and modularized electronics and sensors would equip it for either antisubmarine or antiair warfare roles.
UNFORTUNATELY, the authors' tendency to assault the constituency they are trying to persuade will undoubtedly close a few minds that might otherwise be open to such ideas. They tell us, for instance, that "Our Navy has a rich history of innovation," but follow that with the sentence, "The Navy's current poverty is of its own making.
Hart and Lind are not bashful about suggesting changes in strategy and tactics. Here, they give the U.S. Army high marks for its new emphasis on "maneuver warfare" in place of its Vietnam-era attrition strategy, while they blast the leadership of the U.S. Marine Corps for training recipes that are still "rigid and mechanical." But the authors skim over, in eight lines, the Marines' quick switch in Grenada from a planned amphibious landing to a heliborne assault and then back to amphibious envelopment, and their book's repeated, pejorative, frequently unsubstantiated dings at the Corps' senior leadership ring hollow and detract greatly from its generally constructive, if arguable, logic.
Hart and Lind are at their most persuasive in discussing personnel reforms. They make strong cases for: reducing the size of the officer corps "by 50 percent" in the grades of major or lieutenant commander on up (thus eliminating layers of military bureaucrats who are "very busy" in unnecessary staff jobs "pushing decisions to even higher levels"); abandoning today's "up or out" promotion system (thereby, they hope, undercutting "the current fixation on promotions and the resultant careerism"); decentralizing promotion authority to division, regiment or branch; achieving more unit cohesion, by assigning officers and noncomissioned officers back to the same regiment, ship, or air unit at various steps in their careers; and eliminating "unionism" with the Navy's three branches by "cross-branch training" among aviation, surface warfare and submarine assignments (although the authors don't suggest how the Navy can turn an attack pilot into a submarine navigator in between tours at the Pentagon and Navy Postgraduate School).
Some military critics will fault Senator Hart and Lind for intruding the ideas of civilian theorists into their private, professional domain. But a lot of taxpayers will read America Can Win because we all long for another victory like Inchon, and too few officers in uniform today are willing to tell us in public writings what they are doing -- or think someone else should do -- to make that happen. Perhaps they aren't permitted to share critical ideas with us, however constructive. The paucity of such military writing today suggests we may have returned to the 1893 mindset of military bureaucracy in which Commodore Francis M. Ramsay said, in an unfavorable fitness report on Alfred Thayer Mahan, the Clausewitz of maritime strategy, "It is not the business of a Naval officer to write books." If that's the problem, the case for military reform is even stronger than Hart and Lind make it.