A nationally known defense expert from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey will discuss the U.S. military’s capabilities and priorities next week in a talk at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore.
The expert, John Arquilla, is a former analyst with the RAND Corporation, now a Distinguished Professor of Defense Analysis.
His talk, “National Defense for a Brave New World,” is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, March 12. It is part of the Rae Dorough Speaker Series, and sponsored by the Quest Science Center.
In an interview prior to his talk, he said he believes that the U.S. military is too reliant on a small number of very large and expensive programs and forces, leading to vulnerability in an age when adversaries can purchase or develop highly accurate weapon systems.
What is needed is organizational change, he said. The military should be restructured around “smaller things.”
“Instead of just 11 (aircraft) carrier strike groups, we should probably have quite a few more, smaller naval platforms. Instead of a couple dozen brigade combat teams, we probably want hundreds of smaller of units of action… (We need to) go from the few and the large to the many and the small.”
One of his current classes at the Naval Postgraduate School covers just this topic: “Military organizations and technological change.”
“The story’s pretty much not a happy one,” he said. “Going from the first truly modern war, the American Civil War, it’s hard to find examples of militaries who have understood the implications of new technologies quickly, readily and effectively.”
He considers the “larger question” to be whether potential adversaries like China and Russia “are understanding these lessons more quickly than we. I fear to some extent that’s the case.”
Under the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine, for instance, Russia “did not send columns of tanks” into eastern Ukraine but infiltrated smaller, covert groups of soldiers.
At about the same time, they “annexed Crimea bloodlessly with small forces.”
Gen. Valery Gerasimov is the contemporary Russian strategist sometimes credited with developing a concept for achieving strategic goals using a very wide range of resources, from economic to diplomatic to military.
There is disagreement in some circles about whether the Russians practice a formal doctrine with that name, but in any case, Arquilla believes that the Russians “understand not only that it is economical to build a smaller, nimbler and more networked military, (but) it’s also more effective.”
He says the same smaller-is-better trend is also seen in the Chinese and Iranian militaries.
Arquilla said his Bankhead talk would also touch on nuclear deterrence, the cornerstone of U.S. nuclear weapons policy for many decades.
Personally, he said, he is “distressed that nuclear deterrence still relies on threats to innocent noncombatants. The whole notion of mutual assured destruction is ethically quite questionable, even if it is the only practical way to maintain some kind of deterrence.”
He says there is “strong bipartisan support” for eliminating nuclear weapons; he also favors trying to do so, but “getting there would be a very dangerous process.”
By that, he means that as nations reduced their arsenals to smaller and smaller numbers of weapons, the benefit to a successful cheater would rise.
Hiding 100 nuclear weapons might matter little if an adversary had 1,000, but it could convey an overwhelming advantage if the adversary had only 10.
“The payoff for being a cheater is quite high when the number of weapons is quite low,” he said.
Tickets for Arquilla’s Bankhead talk are available online at https://bit.ly/39nDvgX and may be purchased at the Bankhead Theater box office, 2400 First Street, Livermore, Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m., or by calling (925) 373-6800.