Spring 2012 Bulletin

The Future of the American Military

John L. Hennessy, David Michael Kennedy, William James Perry, James John Sheehan, and Karl W. Eikenberry

The place of the military in the public consciousness has changed dramatically over time. In a Gallup poll from 2011 that measured the public’s confidence in sixteen major institutions, the military ranked higher than any other institution, with 78 percent of respondents stating their respect for and confidence in the armed forces. On December 7, 2011 – the seventieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor – the Academy convened a panel of scholars at Stanford University to discuss the military and international relations. The following is an edited transcript of the discussion, which served as the Academy’s 1979th Stated Meeting.

John L. Hennessy

John L. Hennessy

John L. Hennessy is President of Stanford University. He has been a Fellow of the American Academy since 1995, and serves as a member of the Academy’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Pearl Harbor Day is a sad but highly appropriate day for the topic of this panel. It is a day reminding us that there are times and circumstances when the nation’s very existence depends on its national defense and on the willingness of members of the armed forces to stand in harm’s way to defend our country. That fateful day led the United States into a war that touched the lives of every American. I certainly remember my parents talking about what life was like during that war. It called on every family to make a sacrifice, and while there have been other wars and battles in the interim, we are indeed fortunate that we have never had to face a situation as demanding and as traumatizing as the one we faced seventy years ago today.

Our distinguished panel, whose expertise ranges from military experience to history, will discuss the changing relationship between the military and civilian society. David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, at Stanford, is one of the university’s best-known professors. He has a long history of writing on military topics, beginning thirty years ago with his book Over Here: The First World War and American Society and including his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Freedom from Fear. He is a Fellow of the American Academy.

I first became aware of David’s writing on this topic during a talk he gave at Stanford. In his remarks, he pointed out that only 2.6 percent of the enlisted personnel in the armed forces at that time had a college education, compared to 32 percent of all men in the general population of the same age cohort. He also noted that of 535 members of Congress and the Senate, just ten had children serving in the military. With David’s views in mind, in Spring 2011 I asked him, together with our second panelist, Secretary William Perry, to make the opening presentation to our faculty senate as we reconsidered whether to reestablish the ROTC program at Stanford.

Secretary Perry is well known for his contributions to government, having served in the Department of Defense in a number of roles, culminating with his leadership as Secretary of Defense. Long before that, he was an engineer, an entrepreneur, a member of the Stanford faculty, and an Academy Fellow. Following his government service, he returned to Stanford as the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor, Codirector of the Preventive Defense Project, and Senior Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Our third panelist, James Sheehan, is the Dickason Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Modern European History, Emeritus, at Stanford. He is a Fellow of the American Academy and a Guggenheim Fellow. Recognized for his many contributions to history, he will bring a different viewpoint to the panel.

Our final panelist, Karl Eikenberry, served thirty-five years in the U.S. Army, culminating his career as lieutenant general and receiving numerous decorations for his service to our country. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and is currently the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute.

David M. Kennedy

David M. Kennedy

David M. Kennedy is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, at Stanford University. He has been a Fellow of the American Academy since 1996 and is the guest editor of the Dædalus issue on “The Modern American Military” (2011).


The discussion this evening is principally occasioned by the Summer 2011 issue of Dædalus, which I edited, on “The Modern American Military.” This volume has two aims: first, to examine what the U.S. military does today, and second, to look at who does it, why they do it, and how they do it. I chose as an epigraph for the volume a maxim from Cicero: “Arms are of little value in the field unless there is wise counsel at home.” That maxim served to focus the issue on a theme that runs through all the volume’s essays, and it will be prominent in our discussion, of the critical importance of the relationship between military institutions and civil society.

The importance of that relationship was driven home to me in a vivid way during a visit to an ROTC encampment at Fort Lewis, Washington, in Summer 2008. I was a witness for about a week at Warrior Forge, a five-week course in leadership training that Army ROTC cadets complete between their junior and senior years. Many times over the course of that week, various officers who were running the program asked me a version of the following question: “How can it be that the Army is at war but the nation is not?” That question put into sharp focus the issues that concern us this evening.

More recently, in his graduation address at West Point in May 2011, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen gave a more comprehensive description of the issue:

There isn’t a town or city I visit, where people do not convey to me their great pride in what we do. Even those who do not support the wars support the troops. But I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle. This is important, because a people uninformed about what they are asking the military to endure is a people inevitably unable to fully grasp the scope of the responsibilities our Constitution levies upon them. Were we more representative of the population, were more American families touched by military service, perhaps a more advantageous familiarity would ensue. But we are a small force, rightly volunteers, and less than 1 percent of the population, scattered about the country due to base closings and frequent and lengthy deployments. We are also fairly insular, speaking our own language of sorts, living within our own unique culture.

And this is not a purely academic matter. Time magazine featured a cover story called “An Army Apart,” by Mark Thompson, on November 21, 2011. A month earlier, on October 5, the Pew Research Center released a survey data report entitled War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era.

The Dædalus volume begins with an overview of national security doctrine and perceived needs, both how they have changed and how they are likely to be adapted to changing circumstances in the future. The volume discusses strategic and tactical doctrines. It has much to say about force configuration and composition, the demography of the force, as well as the lived, actual experience of people in service, both in the battle space and when soldiers return to civil society.

One of the premises of the volume – and of our discussion this evening – is that today’s force is not your father’s force, and it is certainly not your grandfather’s force. First, it is voluntary, and has been so since 1973. It is also exceptionally small by historical standards: about 0.5 percent of the American population serves in uniform today; in the World War II era, well over 10 percent of the entire U.S. population – sixteen million people – served. Our current force is also relatively inexpensive, although this is a point of some controversy. The Department of Defense budget consumes about 5 percent of GDP. At the height of World War II, the armed forces accounted for 40 percent of GDP, and at the height of the Cold War, about 8 to 10 percent of GDP. By historical standards, our force is not only small in terms of the population, but in the context of our $14 trillion economy, it is also relatively inexpensive.

The Pew data reveal how different the force is, in terms of composition and the experience of service, from our forebears’ military. For example, according to self-reported data in the survey, 44 percent – nearly half – of veterans returning from the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters report that they have had difficulty readjusting to civilian life. For people who served before 9/11, only 25 percent reported difficulty readjusting to civilian life. Thirty-seven percent of post-9/11 servicepeople self-report post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); only 16 percent of pre-9/11 servicepeople self-reported PTSD. In terms of political views, 36 percent of the enlisted ranks and 60 percent of the officer corps are registered Republicans, as opposed to 23 percent in the population at large.

Because the force is all-volunteer, it is an unrepresentative force. African Americans, for example, make up less than 13 percent of people in the eighteen- to forty-four-year-old labor force cohort, but they make up nearly 20 percent of the enlisted ranks in the U.S. military. Hispanics, on the other hand, account for about 17 percent of that labor force cohort but less than 13 percent of the U.S. military. Women make up 51 percent of the eighteen- to forty-four-year-old group but 14 percent of the military. So the demography of the military force does not map precisely onto the demographic profile of society at large.

I mentioned that the force is small, but the official size understates the number of people who are committed to its mission. As Ambassador Eikenberry will discuss, at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, more than half of the U.S. personnel on the ground were not in uniform but were contractors, which raises all kinds of questions about the command-and-control structure and accountability.

I will close by quoting an early member of the American Academy. In 1783, George Washington said, “It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government owes not only a proportion of his property but even of his personal services to the defense of it.” That is not the system we have today.

William J. Perry

William J. Perry

William J. Perry is the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor at Stanford University, where he is also Codirector of the Preventive Defense Project and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. At the U.S. Department of Defense, he served as Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. He has been a Fellow of the American Academy since 1989.


I will discuss how U.S. military strategy and policy are derived from the perceived threats to our nation, and I will begin by providing some historical perspective. In World War II, we believed that we faced a truly existential threat from the formidable military machines in Japan and Germany. Although today we think of ourselves as a technology-oriented nation, in World War II, our strategy was to overwhelm enemy forces with numbers – not technology. To that end, a military of a few hundred thousand before the war grew to an impressive sixteen million, as David said. Our defense industry went from building a few dozen aircraft a year to building one hundred thousand military aircraft in the peak year of 1944. That amazing story is detailed in David’s brilliant book Freedom from Fear.

In 1945, when the war was over, the United States rapidly demobilized its tremendous military force. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union maintained a large Red Army, trying to emulate what the United States had done in World War II by building up a huge defense industry. That set the stage for what came to be called the Cold War. The threat, as we saw it, was that the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China would come to dominate Europe and Asia. Now, as the aphorism goes, the generals always fight the last war – and that turned out to be true of the Soviet Union. Stalin was preparing to fight the last war, and he prepared his military accordingly.

The United States, based on a decision by President Eisenhower, did not prepare to fight the last war. General Eisenhower believed that sustaining a large standing army would devastate our economy. He evolved a strategy to maintain a small army (about one-third the size of the Red Army) and to offset the size differential with nuclear superiority. That strategy indeed worked for the first half of the Cold War. But by the mid- 1970s, the Soviet Union had achieved nuclear parity, and their three-to-one advantage in conventional forces seemed unacceptable. At that point, Jimmy Carter was president. He agreed with Eisenhower’s decision not to build up a large standing army; instead, he invoked what he called the offset strategy: we would maintain parity in our nuclear weapons, but we would transform our conventional forces not in quantity, but in quality.

At the time, I was the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and my job was to try to implement that strategy. We developed stealth technology, smart weapons, smart command-and-control information, including GPS, and what came to be called ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). That strategy prevailed in the United States until the end of the Cold War. It became fully operational before the Cold War ended and was demonstrated, during Operation Desert Storm, to be remarkably effective. We defeated not the Red Army, but what could be considered a surrogate for the Red Army, because the Iraqi Army was equipped entirely with Soviet equipment – and with quite modern equipment, I would add.

The third era, and the one we are in now, is called – for want of a better name – the post–Cold War era. The new threats that emerged were instability, failed states, potential for regional wars, nuclear proliferation, and the potential for catastrophic terrorism. Now, we don’t believe in fighting the last war, but we inherited the military we built up for the Cold War to deal with these new challenges. So the reasonable question to ask is: how did a military designed for the Cold War adapt to these new threats? In the first Iraq War (that is, Desert Storm), it adapted very well; this is not surprising because the army we faced had many of the characteristics of the Red Army that our military was designed to fight.

But in the second Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan, the situation was very different. Although we defeated the Iraqi Army and the Taliban in just a few weeks, our army was not well configured or equipped to fight the insurgency phase that followed. Our foes did not oblige us by fighting the way we wanted them to fight. They used asymmetric techniques and insurgency warfare, improvised explosive devices, and terrorism. As a consequence, the Iraq War, which was originally advertised as lasting a month or two and costing less than $15 billion, continued for seven years, at a cost of well over $7 trillion and with casualties totaling more than four thousand U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians. In Afghanistan, we have waged war for almost ten years and counting, which is adding up to a very substantial cost in casualties as well. The U.S. military was not designed to confront asymmetric tactics and is still trying to learn how to deal with those kinds of threats. In the area of domestic terrorism, the U.S. military simply is not used in defending against that particular threat to the country.

The question, then, is: how should we transform the U.S. military to operate effectively in light of the modern threats we face? In terms of Cold War–era nuclear weapons, the major threat is not an attack from the Soviet Union, which no longer even exists, but proliferation, terrorism, and the danger of a regional nuclear war being started. Our strategy for dealing with those threats is to maintain our deterrence at a much lower level of nuclear weapons, protect bombs and fissile material so that terrorists won’t get them, and increase our efforts to halt proliferation – efforts that have not been very successful. The deterrence aspect of this mission is essentially unilateral, but the others require multilateral cooperation. The problem we face today is very different from that of the Cold War. In the conventional forces, our strategy has been to use our naval forces to protect the sea lanes, especially the Pacific and the Mideast; to use our Air Force in overseas operations, primarily through vehicles piloted remotely from U.S. bases; and to decrease the size of our infantry and armored forces while increasing our special operations forces and Marines. Through all these changes, we expect to maintain high quality and readiness. And with this smaller, all-volunteer military, the decoupling of military and civilian society that David described will become even more stark.

How should we contend with this decoupling? I would suggest placing a greater emphasis on the Reserves, the National Guard, and the ROTC as well as maintaining the GI Bill. David pointed out that only a small percentage of our GIS have college educations. When I was Secretary of Defense, I visited most of our bases, and at each visit I asked the question: why did you join the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force? More than half the time, the answer was, “I wanted to go to college and I couldn’t afford it, so I joined for the GI Bill.” Many of those who joined the military for that reason have now finished their service and are attending a college or university. My own grandson, for example, who went into the Marines right out of high school and served three tours in Iraq, is now a student at Stanford. And there are many other specific examples of citizens benefiting by serving their country in the military and then returning to civilian life. The general policy conclusion I draw is that our nation would be well served by placing greater emphasis on the citizen-soldier component of our military. Doing so will be a win for the citizen-soldier, a win for the military, and ultimately a win for the nation.

James J. Sheehan

James J. Sheehan

James J. Sheehan is the Dickason Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Modern European History, Emeritus, at Stanford University. He has been a Fellow of the American Academy since 1992.


I will offer both a chronological and a geographical context for the American case. American historians, particularly my friend and colleague David Kennedy, are much exercised by the notion of American exceptionalism. Indeed, the problems that we face are exceptional, but to understand those challenges, we have to look at the rest of the world.

I want to frame my remarks with a famous 1937 article entitled “The Garrison State,” by American political scientist Harold Lasswell. For Lasswell, garrison states were states in which the specialists in violence, especially the military, played a predominant role. Civilian states were states in which businessmen, specialists in what Lasswell called bargaining, established institutional priorities. The two models were on either side of an old debate in European social and political thought about the direction of modern societies. In 1937, and even more so in 1941 when Lasswell republished the article, the specialists in violence appeared to be winning virtually everywhere: garrison states, driven by the imperatives of World War II, were being established throughout the world. But after 1945, the balance slowly, gradually, but inexorably tipped toward the civilians, particularly in Europe, the part of the world that for centuries had been the center of military activity with global consequences.

Beginning in the 1960s, the specialists in violence – the military – were marginalized in virtually every Western European state. Military budgets shrank. The number of soldiers conscripted decreased, and although conscription remained, it became a less effective way of raising military forces, a consequence that no one seemed particularly worried about. In the years after the 1960s and 1970s, these civilian values and institutions spread out of Western Europe, first into the periphery of Europe – Spain, Portugal, and Greece – and then into Eastern Europe. When the Soviet Union fell in 1989, Eastern European states also took on civilian values and institutions. In Europe and elsewhere in the world, including Japan, for example, the civilian values of bargaining and commerce now predominate.

There are, to be sure, still garrison states. North Korea is an archetypal garrison state, and there are others as well. But while these states are still dangerous to their own population and to their neighbors, they are increasingly isolated in the global scene.

What about the United States? One of the reasons why Lasswell’s argument has had such a long shelf life – and is still one of the most influential articles of the twentieth century – is that Americans have traditionally feared the shadow of a garrison state. This was, after all, the substance of Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell address, in which he warned about the rise of the military- industrial complex. There is a shelf of books published in the last few years that talk about the new militarism – the new way in which Americans are in danger of falling victim to the garrison mentality. The historian Andrew Bacevich of Boston University is the most eloquent and insistent advocate of this position. And there is considerable evidence to back up these kinds of anxieties. While the United States spends a relatively small amount of its budget on military institutions, compared to most of the rest of the world that investment is still substantial. The United States has an archipelago of bases. It has a fleet that is able to project power on a global scale. No other country matches the U.S. military in its extent, its ambitions, its aspirations.

And yet it seems to me that we should not overestimate the danger of an American garrison state. It is striking how little concern there is for military matters – indeed, for war – in the American public. The remarkable feature of the ten-year war we have been fighting in the Middle East is how little political resonance it has had. Where are the Iraq War movies? Where are the protests, for and against? Those of us who grew up in the Vietnam era are often struck by the way this war, now more than a decade old, has had so little impact on American political culture.

This disconnect brings us directly back to the subject of the Dædalus volume and today’s panel. The war has had so little resonance because, for most Americans, it has not seemed to cost anything. The Army is small. One of the interesting sets of data in the Pew survey that David mentioned is the degree to which the U.S. Army is becoming more like the British Army – that is, an army of families, in which soldiers are apt to have parents (traditionally fathers, but recently, both fathers and mothers) as well as siblings who are soldiers. In other words, the Army is becoming not only smaller, not only less a part of Americans’ experience, but also more insular.

To use Lasswell’s terms, the American case is exceptional because the United States is a civilian society that wants to have a powerful military. It wants – rightly, in my judgment – to be able to project global power. And that takes us to the questions that animate the Dædalus volume and that I think ought to concern all of us. These are questions about the impact on the military itself of making enormous sacrifices for a society that in many ways is not deeply engaged with those who serve and that does not understand them. These are questions for all of us, about the deep moral and political problems in a democracy that imposes a burden on a relatively small, isolated sector of the population. These are political problems, they are institutional problems, they are moral problems, and they are, it seems to me, problems that have no easy solution. But it is essential that we confront them.

Karl W. Eikenberry

Karl W. Eikenberry

Karl W. Eikenberry is the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. Previously, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. He served in the United States Army for thirty-five years, retiring in 2009 with the rank of Lieutenant General.


In advance of my remarks, I would like to say that the Summer 2011 issue of Dædalus is the most provocative and informative volume on the U.S. military that I have read in thirty-eight years of military and government service. I commend it to all of you. In fact, I’m going to send a note to our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Marty Dempsey, and ask that he consider making it mandatory reading for our officer corps.

I would like to make three points. First, I will talk about the risk of our armed forces becoming alienated from greater society. Second, I will address the threat to our nation’s security and to our military that comes with our declining economic and fiscal standing in the world today. Third, I will make a plea for our civilian leadership to better conceptualize our national security strategy in the years ahead, and to give more thought to the direction of major military operations prior to engagement.

With regard to the potential decoupling of military and civilian society, I would also commend to you the Time magazine article by Mark Thompson that Professor Kennedy mentioned. Most attempts to examine the decoupling of the American military from our society trace the problem back to 1973 and the beginning of the all-volunteer force. (I’m embarrassed to say that my military career spans the draft army and the all-volunteer force; I was a cadet at West Point in 1969.) Let me make clear that at that time, we had an ill-disciplined draft army. It was plagued by racial problems; it was ridden with drugs. In 1971, I went to serve as an acting platoon leader for the 25th Infantry Division, based in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and which had recently returned from Vietnam. On a Saturday, I had the responsibility of serving as staff duty officer, who checked on the troops in the barracks and made sure good order and discipline were being maintained. As I was getting ready to go on duty, I was told, “You will carry this sidearm, and you will have live ammunition with you, because when you walk through the barracks on Saturday night, you don’t know what to expect.” My point is, be careful about romanticizing the draft army.

On the other hand, what are the consequences of having a no-draft, all-volunteer force? The political constraint on our government during the Vietnam War, for example, came in part from our use of a draft army to fight an unpopular war. Would we have invaded Iraq with a draft army? Would we have one hundred thousand American troops in Afghanistan, ten years after 9/11, if we had a draft army? If your answer to those questions is “certainly not,” then you have to ask: is there something wrong with the republic right now? This is a fundamental question of democratic values and accountability, and I think that there is something wrong. We have a Congress that has not been very clear over many decades about how it exercises its function to declare war, and generally has not exercised that prerogative since World War II.

What do we do about the system we now have? Well, we could return to the draft. In his confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate this summer, General Dempsey said, and I agree, that a return to the draft would certainly come at a huge cost to the readiness of our armed forces and, politically, is probably a nonstarter. So how do we proceed? Dr. Perry had some very good insights; I hope the issue will be discussed further.

My second point relates to the impact of our declining economic standing on the armed forces and on our comprehensive security strategy. First, the American way of war is materially and technologically intensive. The American military dominates battle fields and theaters of war with its savvy use of high-quality material and technological resources. American creative genius permits us to take all this sophisticated equipment and employ it in clever ways. Over the last two centuries, our military has relied heavily on material and technology, and I believe that our armed forces will be even more dependent in the years ahead. How do we ensure that our defense base, our related civilian-industrial base, and our technological base remain superior to those of our potential contenders? The Dædalus volume includes a very good article about the potential vulnerability that our military faces when peer competitors – or just clever competitors – figure out how to deny us the tremendous advantage that we now enjoy in terms of precision strike, the related ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) system, and command and control.

But beyond the military implications of our weakening economy and compromised fiscal strength is a broader question: what does our changing status mean in terms of our ability to deliver a comprehensive national security strategy? On a recent trip that my wife and I made to Australia to meet with current and previous leaders of that nation, I heard for the first time the term “half a superpower” used in reference to the United States – to us, unrivaled and unmatched in terms of defense capabilities but without corresponding economic power. They talked about how their trade patterns were changing dramatically to focus on China, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. A pundit wrote recently that power follows the flow of money, and right now, there are a lot of dollars flowing out of the United States. At what point do others, as Australia has done, decide it’s time to at least reconsider their security ties? Eisenhower, who has been mentioned several times here tonight, once wrote that there is no defense for any country that busts its own economy. I think that is a good note of advice.

Third, I would like to emphasize the need for the civilian leadership to better articulate our national security strategy and provide more coherent guidance on its implementation. I do not believe that this will happen in the course of the 2012 presidential campaign. As Jim pointed out, U.S. military strategy is simply not on the radarscope of the American people. In Iowa yesterday, in preparation for the caucus there, Republicans were asked the question, “What’s important to you?” Zero percent – that is, no one – isted national security or international security as important. It will likely fall to the next administration– Obama II or a Republican administration – to redefine, if they wish, our national security strategy in light of the last ten years and the war on terror.

Our civilian leaders must be more thoughtful about our major military operations. Our military wages military campaigns; our civilian leadership is responsible for directing and providing guidance. We have heard quotes from George Washington; I will go back a couple of centuries earlier to the famous Chinese military strategist Li Ch’üan, who wrote in a comment to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, “War is a grave matter. One is apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflections.” I listen to the candidates on the campaign trail respond to the question, “What would you do in Afghanistan?” Generally, the answer is, “I would listen to my generals and give them what they want.” I am worried by answers like that.


John Hennessy

Historically, all of America’s significant armed conflicts – the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam – were followed by substantial demobilization. We did not keep a large-scale force in place. We dismantled virtually the entire military apparatus, and then we had to rebuild it later as successive threats presented themselves. The cultural and political stage seems to be set for something comparable to happen now. If someone were to ask, why do we have an armed force at all, and in particular, why do we have armed forces on their current scale and with this globe-girdling mission assigned to them, what rationale can the civilian leadership offer to the American people for sustaining, if not precisely the military we have today, then at least an establishment that will be commensurate with threats going forward?

William Perry

I am in favor of maintaining a smaller military than we have today, but whatever the size of the military, it ought to be highly ready, highly trained, very capable, and well equipped. In other words, I think we can maintain the best military in the world with a smaller military. In the past, the problem has been that as budgets shrink, we make the wrong trade-offs; we choose not to keep people in the force with readiness, with training, with education. I think that is a huge mistake. I don’t think we will make that mistake this time, but we will have to be careful.

James Sheehan

I think the pressure on the American presidency will come from Europe. It is remarkable that NATO has survived as long as it has, and as budget cuts come into play, there will be enormous pressure to reduce NATO’s infrastructure. There is some room to do so. However, NATO plays a valuable political role: it is a forum for political and military relationships that draw together not simply traditional partners, but partners such as Greece and Turkey that might not ordinarily be part of the same political structure. One of the reasons NATO has survived is that it has had a stabilizing influence on Europe as a whole, and dismantling that would be a grave mistake.

Karl Eikenberry

The famous military historian Michael Howard once said that one of the challenges for a military and a national security establishment is never knowing exactly what the future of warfare will look like, never knowing where forces will be called on to fight, and – during times of peace – avoiding getting things too wrong. Along with Dr. Perry, I believe in keeping our National Guard and Reserve vibrant and strong. These institutions can play an important role in ensuring that American society remains connected to its military. As I mentioned, maintaining the defense industrial base is necessary as well, and I think its importance can be explained to the American people. Part of avoiding getting it wrong also goes back to something that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said about six months ago, not long before he left office. He remarked that anyone who commits again to a large land war in Asia should have his head examined. Our military forces are asking, what roles and missions will be expected of them in the decades ahead, and at what scale will they be expected to operate? They will need answers to those questions from our civilian leaders.

Questions from the Audience


For a long period of time, there was a strong coupling between the people in the military and warfare. Around 1997, our Secretary of Defense Bill Perry ordered the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to put the only two Predators that it had into the Bosnian theater, where they began to demonstrate their capability, and now we have thousands of them. We are at the birth of the robotic era of warfare, which will decouple the military people themselves from warfare. How will that affect the future of warfare?

William Perry

I think that the future of the Air Force will likely revolve around not manned airplanes but remotely piloted vehicles, which employ much the same technology as the robotic vehicles you mentioned. I do think that is very important, and it is being pursued by the military.


Given the fact that the military may become smaller, and that some of the demands it will face will require very high levels of skill, how can we possibly avoid the decoupling of that small, highly-skilled military from the larger civilian society?

David Kennedy

My own view, which aligns with Bill Perry’s sense that we will have a smaller military going forward, confirms exactly that prospect. However, one counterthought is, to the extent that future missions include tasks such as peacekeeping, counterinsurgency, and nation-building, we may need a force that is configured entirely differently, that specializes not in the application of coercive force but in other kinds of missions and objectives. That may well be a larger force. It would not look like a traditional military, and it would have a different kind of mission.

William Perry

For many decades, we have designed an active-duty force lacking in certain capabilities needed for both fighting and peacekeeping operations. Indeed, when we launched operations in Iraq, we had to call on a substantial number of Reserve and National Guard members because we had built them into the structure of the force. As we move toward an even smaller army, the key will be delegating some of the activities in those kinds of operations to the National Guard and Reserve. As an additional benefit, having to call on the civilian part of the population to carry out a war would encourage some inhibition.


The elephant in the room is Iran and its relationship with Israel. I have talked to quite a few people in Washington who have said there is a good chance that Israel will attack Iran at some point. What kind of military would it take to deal with that problem?

William Perry

All the senior Israeli military and political figures that I have talked with have said that they will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon because they fear it would pose an existential threat to their nation–and with some reason, based on the statements of the Iranian president. Therefore, it is imperative that the United States, Europe, and Russia take this problem more seriously and work harder to try to keep that from happening. The unintended consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it succeeds in destroying Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, would be very bad.


With regard to the contracted personnel who are using weapons, can the panelists describe the contracted force in demographic terms? Second, what is the fate of a country that outsources so much of its own protection to a non-state agency? Is it only our international reputation that gets diminished, or is it dangerous to our future as a democracy?

Karl Eikenberry

The reliance on contractors, which began in the Balkans with more limited interventions and grew exponentially in Afghanistan and Iraq, is disgraceful. More than one hundred thousand contractors serve with the Department of Defense and our military inside Afghanistan. We have improved over time the rules of accountability for them, but this is still not adequate. So, yes, we have a lot of contractors running around Afghanistan with weapons. At the same time that we are lecturing Afghans on the rule of law and accountability, telling their soldiers that they have a monopoly on the use of force in their society, telling them to use it wisely to defend their people, we are bringing in one hundred thousand contractors. Not all of them, but many of them, are armed. It is a very severe problem.

There is a second challenge that hides the cost of the conflict. In year ten of Afghanistan, we have one hundred thousand soldiers; but when we include contractors, that number rises to about two hundred thousand personnel serving for the Department of Defense – and we hide that. It is not helpful for the republic when we go to extraordinary lengths to avoid having a frank conversation with the American people, in which we lay out the true cost of the conflict.

© 2012 by John L. Hennessy, David M. Kennedy, William J. Perry, James J. Sheehan, and Karl W. Eikenberry, respectively