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It's About the Money

At Last, Truth in Advertising from the Army?

by WILLIAM S. LIND

The Army has made it official. What those who work in Washington have long known — that the Pentagon is about money, not war — is now Army policy. According to the March 10 draft of the Army Campaign Plan, "The Army’s center of gravity is the resource process."

Yep, it sure is, as the cost of the Future Contract System readily attests. Still, the Army deserves some sort of award for its truth in advertising. How about a medal showing a hand with a West Point ring on it reaching for someone else’s wallet?

Of course, money has always been important in war. For centuries, a king who wanted to go to war had first to trot down to his Schatzkammer and see how many thaler he had piled up. If the cupboard was bare, he wasn’t going anywhere.

But saying, as the U.S. Army has, that its center of gravity is the resource process is going a great deal further. Clausewitz defines a center of gravity as "the hub of all power and movement, on which all depends." If that were true of money, then the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be happening. The U.S. Army’s resources, not to mention those of the rest of the Defense Department, are so vastly greater than those of our Fourth Generation opponents that they would not be able to stand against us for an hour.

The Military Reform Movement of the 1970s and 80s put it differently. It said that for winning in war, people are most important, ideas come second and hardware is only third. How does the Army affect its people, ideas and hardware by making resources its center of gravity? In each case, negatively.

Within the officer corps, the focus on acquiring and justifying resources corrupts, not in the sense of people taking money under the table but in the more profound sense of corruption of institutional purpose. Officers whose focus and expertise is combat are shunted aside while those who are most adept at the resources game are promoted. Worse, a swarm of vultures is drawn by the resources, in the form of a secondary army of contractors. Because their goal is not truth but the next contract, intellectual corruption is added to corruption of purpose. At its higher levels, the whole system becomes Soviet, Gosplan in or out of uniform. The outside world, the battlefield, is an irrelevant and unwelcome distraction.

Ideas are similarly corrupted. In general, poverty begets ideas, while an excess of resources brings intellectual laziness. The illusion that the organization can simply buy its way out of problems spreads. The ideas that are valued are those that justify still more resources, while ideas that promise battlefield results with small resources are dismissed or seen as threats. Again, the FCS is a wonderful example. From a military standpoint it is a joke, a semi-portable Maginot Line doomed to collapse of its own complexity. But in terms of justifying resources, it is a tremendous success because for the first time the Army has a program that costs even more than Navy or Air Force programs.

That leads to hardware, where complexity becomes the rule because simplicity does not cost enough. The more complex a system, the less it is able to deal with threats not envisioned by its designers. Thus we see what Iraq has illustrated time and again, expensive, complex systems nullified by imaginative, simple countermeasures based on people and ideas. Worse, because hardware best justifies more resources, hardware becomes the Army’s top priority with both people and ideas left far behind. In the end, the Army loses to opponents who have kept their priorities straight.

The Army should not be blamed for coming out of the closet and stating up front that resources are its center of gravity. The scandal is that for all the American armed services, the resource process is the center of gravity and has been for a long time (the most recent to make it so was the Marine Corps, in the mid-1990s). To return to Clausewitz’s definition, one might say that when a military defines resources as its center of gravity, it creates a hub of all weakness and stasis, on which all fatally depends.