I really like Nora Bensahel's critique of the U.S. military's inadequate thinking about the
But the one part I found myself disagreeing with strongly was her plan for
"Ensuring U.S. Technological Superiority," which seemed to me overly
pessimistic about our technological future and also misdirected. It struck me
as rooted in the industrial approach used in the Cold War, which was an anomaly
in American defense history.
"Maintaining technological superiority over potential adversaries
has been a cornerstone of U.S. defense strategy since the end of World War II,"
she states. Yes, it is true that in the two decades after that war, the U.S.
government devoted enormous amounts of money to developing long-range bombers
and missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, satellites, and computers, as well as the
hydrogen bomb. The spending had huge effects on the civilian economy, leading
to the long-range Boeing 707 jet airliner and virtually creating the computer
We are not going to see that kind of spending again, as a
percentage of GDP. So I don't think her prescription of "maintaining U.S.
technological superiority [through] substantial investments in research and
development" points in the right direction: Rather, I think we can better
maintain technological superiority by tracking civilian innovation in computers
and UAVs and then selectively applying those changes to defense uses.
In other words, it is time to revive the concept of "defense
conversion" but reverse it. The old
sense of was the central theme of Bill Clinton's defense policy when he
campaigned in 1992. By that he meant stop making radars and start making
microwaves, and other civilian goods. I think it is time to think about defense
conversion again, but with the opposite meaning -- that is, finding military uses
for civilian products. Face it: Within a few years, Amazon and Google are going
to know much more about the operation of huge fleets of drones that the Air
Force or Navy will. They will run circles around command and control
arrangements the military develops. So the military would do well to focus on
how to apply that knowledge to combat situations, and also to make drones
stealthier and faster than civilians generally will want. If there is a role
for the old-line defense industry, it will be to "mil spec" civilian gear.
That said, Dr. Bensahel as usual has produced a fine paper. The
parts I agreed with articulated the issues better than I could, and the part I
disagreed with made me think. What more can one ask?