Sunday, March 5, 2017

Making Sense Of Defense Spending Decisions

One of the biggest problems when our government tries to talk about defense spending is that, all too often, a big number (or relatively big) will be thrown out with the statement, usually meant to show the fervor for which the proponent supports a strong defense, that they are increasing our nation's defenses.

 We're getting more of nearly the same now, though the current occupant of the White House seems to prefer the emphasis to be a bit more on the fact that his increase will be the biggest ever, but, be that as it may, we get this sort of thing presented as a number; a number for some kind of an increase, but not knowing what the increase is exactly for, or what that increase means in terms of a new defense spending total, the rational, hopefully, involved, is not made clear at all. And, as usual, it is because we are given so little context to make any reasonable judgements on.

Because we've been on this merry go round before, we ought to consider coming at in in another way. And I thought I might propose a suggestion. Why not break out the defense budget into at least three separate appropriations bills.

1. Operations.
2. Procurement.
3. Research and development.

I tried Googling various permutations of "breaking out defense appropriations into more than one bill" and didn't get anything suggesting somebody has already been trying to propose this, but I'd be really surprised if that were actually the case. I would find it very hard to believe, in fact, that somebody, somewhere in the system, hasn't tried to push this idea out. It seems pretty obvious to me.

Anyways... To start off, obviously, if we task our men and women in uniform to do X, Y and Z then we have to give them the resources they require to do X, Y and Z. And we should restrain ourselves to the main emphasis of scrutiny here; that being one based simply on basic economic due diligence: are we getting the value we contracted for from our contractors, and are we paying for an efficient means to not only acquire the items in question, but to also then marshal, and distribute effectively? Beyond that scrutiny they should get what they ask for and we should leave them to it.

You can breeze by the third spending item fairly quickly as well because, firstly, no country can afford technological surprize, and secondly, it can come back to just another case of just doing the "economic due diligence" thing. Coordinating other science budgets would be desirable as well, but that's a topic for another post.

The second appropriations bill is where things can tend to get really confusing. This is so because, as a Nation, we don't put a lot of time into talking about what are our greatest threats are, and how we go about prioritizing them.

You really need to have this conversation because that provides a big input into what you are likely going to want your military to be tasked with in the first place. You have to be careful with this, however, because you also want to coordinate this prioritization with the budgeting, and tasking, of your State Department as well. It's mandatory in fact as they are your main eyes, ears, and mouthpieces, to the rest of the world, and you main means of either avoiding instability, or defusing ing it.

And, if that were bad enough, you also, now, have to coordinate with your Environmental agency because everything around us really is interconnected. So much so, in fact, that one of main forms of instability to come will be based, all, or at least in part, on rising seas, or ever more frequent extreme weather events (droughts, as well as floods, terrible snow storms as well as terrible heat waves, as well as the usual "bigger" tornado, or hurricane), with the other main form being the rising tensions do to dwindling resource supplies, but that connects to the environment too, however tangentially.

So we know we have religious extremists to deal with. We know we have other nations with which tensions have increased. We know that destabilized regions around the world breed desperate people. We know that desperate people do desperate things not only out of immediate deprivation, but also because they can be easy targets for manipulation. And in that one is quite justified in making an emphasis.

In the desperate can be sown a hatred for another people; a hatred that can be stitched with a tight knit of fringe religious justification, and scape goating, so textured and dense, it can become a cultural heritage. This is one of the reasons why it is possible to have hundred year wars, or greater.

You can see here why working to avoid destabilized regions, and the desperate people they create, might be a good thing to do. But even if you have diplomacy in mind, you often need first to establish some order so that people on the ground can get help, as well as the ability to start talking again. Or you need to make it clear that somebody can't just bully their way into new facts on the ground, with complete, or nearly complete, disregard to all of the other stakeholders in the region. In either case you need a credible big stick to indicate that your are ready, and able, to bring on the bruising.

We have another problem here, however, and that is the fact that our own history is a very checkered one. The simple fact of the matter is that we have abused the taking of resources from others in the past, and we may well be doing so now by various commercial interests; interests that have a funny habit of saying they have the rights of an American citizen, but are then quite selective as to which of the responsibilities they are then also supposed to adhere to.

They say we need to protect their access to these resources for the good of the nation, but then obfuscate just how beneficial that resource is in the first place, or whether the deal they're getting from the country in question really benefits anyone other than them, and the, often, distasteful people in charge of things there.

I don't want to get side tracked here by the shenanigans that such interests involve themselves with, so I'll just boil it down to this: What we end up with, often, are threat identifications that come more from protecting access to one resource or another; whether that resource has it's own negative issues or not, or whether the arrangement by which we get them is, in any way, of mutual benefit to the people ostensibly living with, and by, that resource.

The point here is that, a lot of times it's not just destabilized regions you need to prevent, you also need to ask deeper questions as to factors involved in the destabilization. Maybe the extraction of of a thing worth a lot of money is involved as well. Maybe that extraction poisons the people who live nearby. Maybe they get poisoned, and the money made gets pissed away by corrupt officials as well. This then leads to a potential double whammy (from the poisoning and the money being ripped off) being impacted on a nation that might otherwise want to be able to make declarations of intent, or descriptions of others, from as firm a moral ground as it is practical for a nation to be.

Working from a firmer moral ground certainly won't stop people from hating you. No matter what ethical, and moral precepts you strive to work from, fringe belief systems will always have reason to find fault. That is just the way it is. If you see things from a quite different frame of reference, how could it be otherwise? The thing is, however, to the degree you can work from a more universally acceptable set of moral standards, the more weight your collective voice can have when trying to act as that proverbial "honest" broker in the effort to cooperate in keeping the species alive. Because, at the end of the day, that's actually not only one of our highest priorities, it needs to be so for the rest of the world as well. Of course, with a more effective collective voice, convincing the rest of the world of this fact also becomes a good deal easier.

This is why trying to work with the rest of the world, and be proactive to situations, is not us trying to be the world's police force. It is us, in the best sense of enlightened self interest, trying to lead the effort to find consensus, and the ability to keep talking, while we all work on what is, or what could be, common ground for a more universally acceptable set of moral standards; even if it can't ultimately be reached. Because, somehow, despite what differences remain, the survival of the species is the base line. And to do that we have to find ways to keep cooperating no matter how distasteful, or repugnant, we may ultimately find each other.

If it hasn't occurred to you yet then it really needs to. Open, all out world wide war is simply no longer feasible in any sense whatsoever. No matter what tactical, or strategic goal you hope to attain, the cost of another world war will far outstrip any value you might think to gain. So many tipping points for cascade events are already in place for critical human infrastructure, as well as for natural systems of energy flow (all of the fluid dynamics of our atmosphere, and oceans), or biological replenishment in disrupted food chains, that a major war would be catastrophe across multiple layers of what keeps everything going. It is indeed just plain insanity that people still think they can win such things; thinking that prevailing militarily would make up for the loss of everything else that would actually allow people to continue on living prosperous lives.

The sad fact here is that, even if we wanted to have that national discussion on what are our most critical priorities, it would not be allowed to take place. Not a real one mind you. Not one where everyone comes clean on what they personally stand to gain from it, as well as what it might pertain to the interests of the rest of us. Even more unfortunate is the fact that many of us are ready to participate in obfuscating things precisely because we have skin in the game as well. A good job. A good income. Some prestige in fact. Why wouldn't you want to preserve some of that. Especially if you are just a working stiff, trying to get by, educate your kids, work at something you can be proud of. Maybe the weapon produced isn't the most cost effective, but it works pretty well, and it keeps our community going. Maybe the resource I help collect, and make available, isn't the cleanest, but we have to have something don't we? And my kids need dental work, and the wife may need an operation.

And so it goes. All completely human, and quite understandable. Not very helpful in deciding what our priorities should be though. But it is understandable.

This ought to beg a big question then, and that is my bottom line here. Perhaps we are just not structurally set up anymore to make objective, collective decisions, because all of the various interests of the stakeholders involved are at so many cross purposes. And also, of course, because so few of us enjoy a freedom of speech the rest of us do not have. A freedom of speech that can make a great deal more use of electrified amplification (where it's not just louder speech, but speech that can be spread out across both the breadth of media pathways, but also across the depth of time; allowing for the continuous, coordinated expression of message, in an ongoing, reinforcing, manner, as well as containing all of the best psychological techniques expensive research can buy). And if that is the case then what might be a better way to structure ourselves so that this not nearly so much the case?

As you might expect, I think my alternative offers a path to that new structure. I urge to look at it. Take it apart. Find what you see as the bad parts and suggest better solutions. Maybe you can come up with a better place to begin with altogether. That would be great too. Do that or defend what is in place now. Just do something that would help actually change things for the better. The clock is ticking.

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