News | May 4, 2023

Resourcing the National Security Enterprise: Connecting the Ends and Means of U.S. National Security

By Stephan Pikner Joint Force Quarterly 109

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Lieutenant Colonel Stephan Pikner (FA59) is the Military Advisor to the Director, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of Net Assessment.
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Resourcing the National Security Enterprise: Connecting the Ends and Means of U.S. National Security
By Susan Bryant and Mark Troutman
Cambria Press, 2022
279 pp. $39.99
ISBN: 9781621966241
Reviewed by Stephan Pikner

Books on strategy are often aspirational or theoretical, considering high-level questions, first principles, and general trends without delving deeply into the mechanics of implementation. Similarly, a parallel vein of literature focuses on a narrow range of tactical platforms or concepts in the implicit hope that someone somewhere will use these clever tools to build a future force from the bottom up. Resourcing the National Security Enterprise: Connecting the Ends and Means of U.S. National Security fits squarely between these two attractive yet unsatisfying poles; it is a practitioner’s guide to programming and budgeting that aims to demystify the “invisible but very real web of processes and authorities [that] constitute the ‘rules of the game’ for the bureaucracy”—“rules which often forestall the ‘obvious solution’” to government workers’ problems.

This edited volume draws on the expertise of 10 highly regarded contributors, all of whom bring deep familiarity with a specific corner of the larger national security enterprise to their chapters. Strongest of these is John Ferrari’s chapter on programming strategic priorities, a topic covered in exhaustive, technical detail elsewhere that comes to life through sharp and insightful prose that returns to a common theme: “There are no shortcuts; only by understanding time and bounding the strategy to available resources can a strategist be effective.” This is not a passive subordination of strategy to budget constraints: “A strategy can drive resource allocations, but only if it works effectively within the constraints of the decade-long national cycle of funding.” Resourcing the National Security Enterprise shines brightest when it is outlining these constraints while highlighting where sustained progress can be made.

A discussion of the role of Congress in budget formation by Heidi Demarest opens a series of chapters that touch on different portions of the Federal government. Demarest focuses on congressional staffers, particularly the relative decline in their typical national security expertise since the end of the Cold War. Jason Galui’s chapter on the National Security Council centers on the Office of Management and Budget’s role in crafting the Presidential budget submission, an effort Galui calls “the structural support of the NSC strategy bridge.” Importantly, these chapters (and the volume itself) sidestep personalities and partisanship and instead dive deeply into the mechanics “under the hood” of the programming and budgeting cycle.

In contrast to other works that focus narrowly on the military, Resourcing the National Security Enterprise takes a refreshingly broad view, extending beyond the Department of Defense (DOD). Particularly welcome in this regard are contributions by Geoffrey Odlum on funding U.S. diplomatic priorities, Rebecca Patterson on resourcing U.S. partners and allies, and Mark Troutman on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Odlum offers a candid diagnosis of the bureaucratic and cultural impediments to effective strategic planning and programming in the State Department, which, though “sufficient to muddle through and with diplomatic tools and programs that remain planned and funded well enough to react” to an immediate, local crisis, can end in larger “policy failure [that] is most often the result of poor planning or poorly managed implementation or both.” Patterson highlights the value to the United States of sustained funding for United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations as an affordable hedge against instability in troubled regions. This argument, carried forward from the political science literature on post-conflict stability and reinforced with a detailed discussion of UN funding pathways and resourcing, is an intriguing direction that merits broader incorporation in discussions of force employment and competing operational demands. Troutman’s chapter is equally illuminating, tracing the evolution of DHS since its founding nearly two decades ago. He diagnoses the fundamental challenge faced by the department clearly: “The DHS is neither a peripheral nor a temporary addition to U.S. national security. However, it is resourced and organized as though it were both.” Of the various thoughtful recommendations for reform and process modernization across the volume, the succinct set of proposals that Troutman ends his chapter with hits the hardest.

Resourcing the National Security Enterprise is at its softest when it bemoans larger trends such as increased nondiscretionary spending, the expanding national debt, and the projected slowing of economic growth. Although these trends do matter, the cursory treatment they receive at several points oversimplifies the uncertainty and complexity in such projections, ignores the sound advice offered elsewhere to acknowledge that some things are beyond a security strategist’s control, and distracts from the overall thrust of the chapter. Left underdeveloped is the argument that many of these same trends—namely, rapidly increasing health care, higher education, housing, and pension costs—detract as much from the proportion of the military’s overall budget spent narrowly on modernization and training as from DOD’s overall relative share of the Nation’s production. More narrowly, the book leaves unexplored the challenges facing the Navy as it balances tradeoffs between fleet size, emerging adversary capabilities, operational tempo, and modernization, all against the backdrop of limited shipyard capacity. The forces that led the sea Service to overinvest in some platforms at the expense of others in prior decades are worthy of separate, deep study, but (at a minimum) a nod to the dynamics driving the Navy’s shipbuilding plans would have made Resourcing the National Security Enterprise a richer read.

Those minor critiques aside, a close reading of Resourcing the National Security Enterprise is a valuable starting point for the deeper understanding required to guide the fundamental processes that shape our national defense. As Ferrari, a retired Army major general, ends his contribution,

To have true positive influence on the process requires investing hundreds of hours in preparation and working multiple jobs in the Pentagon. High rank and position cannot shortcut the process. Part-time programming may alone account for the dismal outcomes associated with America’s first battles.

This volume has earned a place on strategists’ bookshelves and consideration for inclusion in higher-level professional military education curricula. Perhaps more important, its underlying message, that budgeting and programming experience is both invaluable and irreplaceable, should guide career managers and mentors as they steer promising officers toward assignments of greatest impact. JFQ