BRAC should be based on sound military strategy, not jobs creation

BRAC should be based on sound military strategy, not jobs creation

Posted on February 7th, 2012 in Blog, News, Services, Top Picks

As part of the overall effort to significantly reduce defense spending President Obama will soon ask congress to establish a Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission.  While some analysts are concerned about losing military infrastructure and the ability to quickly reconstitute our forces should war require it, many other military decision makers have acknowledged this request as necessary.  For example, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz recently noted that the Air Force has “excess infrastructure in the neighborhood of 20 percent.”  However, BRACs can cost jobs and therefore are rarely welcomed by the legislative branch.

What would it look like to have an approach based on military strategy, and not on externalities like job creation and how a given congressional district might fare?  Should the issues in play hinge on military need, on economic reality, or on externalities like jobs creation? 

B.H. Liddell Hart summed up defense strategy as “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.”  Therefore, as we make cuts based on budgetary needs we also must make a clear choice on which policy the nation should pursue with regards to our military facilities and BRAC:

1. Buy everything we might need, within some realm of ‘reason’, to deal with a multitude of threats we face; or

2. An efficient distribution of military bases placed throughout the United States and the world that allows for raising, training, and deploying our military in a cost-effective manner; or

3. A focus on job creation. 

Reality dictates that we have to make a compromise between numbers 1 and 2, but the idea of using item 3, jobs creation, as an argument to alter the basic calculus seems ridiculous when tested against real needs, both strategic and economic. 

Perhaps since this issue cuts close to home when we think of American jobs at risk we should put the discussion in terms of overseas bases, both areas where we need military support to meet our active military engagements – such as Afghanistan – and areas where we can probably afford to pull back some of our forces – like Europe.  We would be equally aghast at the idea of deciding where to put a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan based not on military necessity but on the need to create Afghan jobs as we would at the idea of keeping European facilities open to provide European jobs.  The realignment or closing of a FOB in Afghanistan is rightly determined by the operating conditions on the ground, and so are decisions about closures to overseas bases in non-war zones. 

We should apply the same logic with regards to military facilities outside of active warzones.  The question to ask is, “Where do military facilities make sense in order to carry out the military’s primary mission of ensuring U.S. national security?” Unfortunately, logic can often make a quick exit during BRAC discussions, and as a result the provision of national security becomes considerably more expensive than necessary.  Yes, without a doubt, military bases create jobs.  But jobs should not be their primary reason for the distribution of military facilities.  Strategic needs, including economic imperatives, must take precedence.