The Military Coup of 2012 Revisited

In 1992 then-LTC Charles Dunlap wrote a famous article, The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012 where he warned about the dangers of the military taking on increasing numbers of civilian missions and ultimately finding itself a substitute for civilian rule altogether. In this weekend's Washington Post, Ambassador Thomas A. Schweich makes a similar argument in his essay, "The Pentagon is muscling in everywhere. It's time to stop the mission creep." Dunlap's wry tone is bookended with Schweich's more shrill assessment, but between the two is the single biggest issue that has generated virtually no serious debate in American politics.

The United States has not undertaken a serious defense policy review since the Cold War. There have been several documents issued -- new National Military Strategies and now something called a National Defense Strategy -- but we have not paused to ask the most basic question, which is what precisely our military is for in this day and age. Instead, the default answer has been: "everything and anything."

This sort of response is blandly reassuring and masks the real challenges we face. Simply put, there are no free lunches in this world. A serious defense policy require prioritization, and our current substance-free approach to national military strategy makes choices impossible.

In order to jump start debate on a new National Military Strategy, my colleagues and I at the American Security Project have issue a series of short, provocative essays on "Defense Alternatives." We would invite you to review the argument, and hopefully engage in a lively debate over our assumptions, approaches, and recommendations.

The blogosphere has driven many important policy debates over the past several years. Now it is time to aim the power of new media on the thorniest of old problems -- the challenge of matching ends and means in the development and use of military forces.