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Brass Creep: It's More Than Just Money

Secretary of Defense Gates' recommendation to downsize the U.S. military's senior officer corps by a modest 5 percent, or 50 generals and admirals, is being discussed by the press as if it were a matter of bureaucratic efficiency and money. It should be seen as far more than just that. Militaries with proportionately large numbers of field and general grade officers have historically proven to be losers, not winners, in war. At its current levels, the U.S. military is among the worst. A new analysis of exactly that came over the transom from the Army into my office a few days ago. It is attached.

Note the tables on pp. 3-5 of the briefing. While there are some inconsistencies in these data, the American armed forces rank more like the French and Italians in World War II than the Germans, and certainly not like the Israelis when they were at their long ago peak of effectiveness in 1967.

Note the bullets on pp. 1 and 2; there are more than just numbers that denote successful and unsuccessful officer corps. The Washington Post reports this morning about the scramble of generals and admirals to save their bureaucratic skins. (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/12/AR2010081206232.html?wpisrc=nl_headline.) Consider whether that behavior qualifies under the heading of "Successful traits" or "Unsuccessful traits." The only institution that I can think of that is worse than the U.S. officer corps is the U.S. Congress.

Gates 5 percent reduction will be an improvement, but far more is needed for our armed forces to qualify as historically optimal.

The attached version of this important briefing is abridged. On request, I can send you the 64 back up slides.

Find Gates' recent press briefing at http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4669; find a very informative CRS summary of the Gates announcements at http://www.politico.com/static/PPM152_100812_crsmemo.html.

Winslow Wheeler, Director, Straus Military Reform Project, Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight

By: Winslow Wheeler
Director, Straus Military Reform Project, CDI at POGO, POGO

Mr. Wheeler's areas of expertise include Congress, the Defense Budget, National Security, Pentagon Reform and Weapons Systems

The goal of the Straus Military Reform Project is to secure far more effective military forces and much more ethical and professional military and civilian leadership at significantly lower budget levels.

We would like to thank Philip A. Straus Jr. and family for their generous support.

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