John Arquilla himself might describe his new book on foreign policy as an academic text, unlikely to be noticed or discussed beyond a small circle of professors and policymakers. But he has insight into American national strategy and knows a lot about new military technologies, and a few of his passing claims in The Reagnanan Imprint might make it grist for future historians.
One such claim is that one man, Andrew Marshall, was primarily responsible for proposing to Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s that the United States ratchet up its military spending, in order to prompt an arms race that would be so economically punishing it would help dispatch the Soviet Union to the dustbin of history.
It’s a plausible assertion. If one speculated about the identities of the specific architects of Reagan’s strategy, it would be hard to think of a more likely candidate than Marshall, who through seven presidencies, and now in his mid-80s, has remained the reclusive, semilegendary director of the Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon’s in-house think tank of strategic analysts and futurists. Certainly, John Arquilla – a consultant to Santa Monica, CA-based think tank Rand, Pentagon advisor, and professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA – has an insider’s knowledge. He also has an agenda, however.
In The Reagan Imprint, Arquilla writes that his book’s raison d’être was his “deepening sense of unease about the general direction of American foreign policy and national security strategy….The United States is squandering the remarkable reversal of fortune in world affairs that Ronald Reagan engineered.” By reassessing Reagan’s strategic legacy, Arquilla proposes, we might understand how American policy needs to be adjusted.
As the titles of his previous books suggest – Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, or In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age – Arquilla is among a corps of defense thinkers who, following Marshall’s lead, have promoted the concept of U.S. military “transformation.” Nowadays, transformation, in its specialized sense, is an official policy of the U.S. military, instituted by another Marshall acolyte, former Rand chairman Donald Rumsfeld. “Transformation” was considered an easier word for the Pentagon’s generals and admirals to swallow than “revolution” – as in “revolution in military affairs,” or RMA, which was how Marshall and the other originators of the concept first described their big idea.
As either transformation or revolution, however, the policy entails moving America’s armed services away from the massed forces and big weapons systems of the 20th century and toward smaller organizational units that use modern information, communications, and robotics technology to mount the kind of agile campaign seen in Afghanistan in 2001.
Long-range smart missiles, drone aircraft, and cyber attacks on enemies’ communications systems are all part of the vision of transformation. Longer-term plans call for even more advanced technologies. The massively ambitious Future Combat Systems program, for instance, will create a “system of systems” networking all elements of the U.S. armed services to enable unprecedented levels of joint connectivity and “battlespace” awareness. Bolder still is the Future Warrior Concept effort, which the U.S. Army is conducting in tandem with MIT: by 2020, it will supposedly have produced the ultimate infantryman’s kit, integrating fluid-based body armor that hardens in a thousandth of a second and a nanotechnology-based powered exoskeleton. Researchers are unabashed to admit that the battle suits in Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction novel, were an inspiration.
Expensive new toys are, of course, usually welcomed at the Pentagon. But in the vision laid out by Andrew Marshall and his followers, transforming the U.S. military will ultimately mean fewer generals and admirals with fewer big toys – fewer aircraft carrier battle groups, fewer heavy-tank divisions, and fewer next-generation fighter planes. So while the American military establishment pays lip service to transformation, its actual attitude has been along the lines of St. Augustine’s prayer: “O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.”
The Reagan Imprint is best understood as, partly, Arquilla’s attempt to sell transformation in its pure version. A smaller, more agile military would be cheaper, better suited for today’s regional conflicts, and less antagonizing to other nations, he argues.