I've been meaning to say something about this for a while now, but happen to be a little late to the show. A couple of weeks ago two Marine Corps officers, whom I presume are members of the joint staff, released an article under the pseudonym "Mr. Y.," harkening back to George Kennan's "X" article in Foreign Affairs. In a nutshell, their article attempts to provide a broad conceptual framework through which America's role in global affairs can be viewed through the next century. John Norris at FP has some comments on the piece for those who are interested. I have a few thoughts of my own…
First, I will say that I'm pretty sure that I'm a bit more pessimistic than Norris is regarding the content of this paper. To be clear, it's not because I'm not sympathetic to its core message—it's because I'm not really sure what this document offers beyond its core message, which is really just the regurgitation of old ideas. The authors primarily try to point out that America must view its own existence within the context of an increasingly globalized and interconnected world. After you give that a minute to soak in, I think you'll realize that this is really nothing "revelatory."
One might also be inclined to argue that this piece is unique given that it was written by two miltiary officers, and that it seemingly calls for the military to decrease its own spending. While I'll have more to say on the whole of the article later, I wanted to focus on this point. It's nothing new for members of the military to be calling for decreased levels of military spending, but I think the key here is that Captain Porter and Colonel Mykleby are Marines, and seem to represent what I'm coming to view as a position that is pecular to members of the Marine Corps. This might be so for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the idea that the Marine Corps doesn't really stand to lose as much as other service branches from dramatic cuts in military spending. The Army has had problems in recent years justifying its continued emphasis on heavy armored units, which are difficult to mobilize in response to emergencies. Similarly, the Air Force has gotten some flak over big-ticket items like the F-22 Raptor–programs that cost billions but have yet to see much in the way of actual combat use.
The Marines, on the other hand, have historically tended to emphasize smaller infantry units that are far more mobile and can mobilize respond more quickly than the Army's heavy infantry units. John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife has some discussion of the tensions between the Marine Corps and the Army during Vietnam related to these issues. His account of the Army's approach to warfighting in Vietnam suggests that Army leaders actively pursued strategies and tactics that were suboptimal because the Army's top brass were concerned with the Marine Corps taking the operational lead in Vietnam. The Marines, who had a preexisting manual for fighting small-scale wars and insurgencies, proposed embracing tactics that made less room for the Army's emphasis on massive firepower. I'm more inclined to put some stock in his criticisms of the Army given that he himself was an Army officer.
George Wilson's This War Really Matters has some brief interviews with senior military leaders, and as you might expect, each service chief really tries to make the case for their own branch's pet programs. In one interview, Marine Corps Commandant Charles Krulak publicly calls for the Army and the Air Force to cut spending by scaling back on some of their large and expensive programs. Krulak is no different than the other service chiefs, but the Marine Corps' own unique history makes more room for their leaders to call for decreases in aggregate spending levels. Krulak tends to defend the Navy's large carrier-based fleets, however, as they essentially act as mobile forward operating bases and can deliver troops and artillery support to hot spots in relatively short order. Maintaining the Navy's basic structure is not necessarily at odds with calling for lower military spending, though, since cutting the big Army and Air Force programs would free up a considerable amount of money. Krulak's justification for picking on these programs in particular is based on his argument that the wars of the future would be "three-block" wars, fought primarily in urban and populated environments. In such spaces, tanks and bombers are not quite as effective as when battles are being fought away from cities.
In terms of the bureaucratic politics underlying this document's release, I'm partially inclined to agree with Norris who states that this probably would not have seen the light of day without approval from higher-ups. But this too is probably not a difficult feat to achieve, given that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a Naval officer, and the Vice-Chairman is a Marine–Both branches that would arguably be well positioned to benefit from restructuring/cutting American military spending. The fact that Ann-Marie Slaughter, former director of State's Policy Planning Staff, wrote the preface for this report, suggests that the message of this paper has broader administration support as well.
Addendum: Two things: One correction to the piece above–Captain Porter is actually in the Navy. That said, I think the basic thrust is the same. Basically, the Navy and Marine Corps still stand to benefit going forward as compared to the other branches.
Second, Fareed Zakaria discussed the Y article on his show this week. For those interested, you can check it out here.