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Ever since did Eisenhower select a nuclear-tipped force that emphasized technologically led quality over brute force quantity in order to obtain security on the (relative) cheap, technical superiority has been the guiding doctrine of procurement and force planning for the US military. While Eisenhower was in charge, it worked — mainly because it was a doctrine aimed toward avoiding war and not its fighting. It is in the fighting that technology has a decidedly more mixed track record.

This is not to say that innovation in materiel is, well, immaterial. When an invention is transformative it can deliver a decisive advantage to its possessor, at least until it becomes well propagated. Not less than big advancements in generalship and tactics, developments such as the use of horses, chariots, siege engines, the stirrup, artillery, hand firearms, machine guns, airplanes, tanks and many others had in their time decided battles and entire wars, and the world would have looked very different today without them.

The trouble comes when the differential in relative technology is less pronounced. When Kublai conquered China, for example, the Chinese possessed a far more sophisticated applied scientific base — and after conquest they were the ones to provide the Mongols with their engineer corps. In that rather minor conflict that reshaped world history down to our own times, the Franco-Prussian war, it was the French with the machine gun, and yet it was the Germans who prevailed.

More recently, aside from the well-known instances from WWII, the United States itself was beaten thrice by peasant armies wielding often nothing more advanced than shotguns or an IED, with yet one more defeat soon looming. The politically incorrect fact that is so assiduously avoided by both the military and the civilian war leadership is that without willingness to really fight, fight hard and dirty and to the bitter end, no amount of technology can delivery victory in war or security in peace. The British Empire has demonstrated that a vast portion of the globe can be controlled with just a handful of active-duty soldiers costing barely more than half percent of GDP, provided that they have enough commitment, not to mention ruthlessness.

The irony of the technology-driven military is that from being a low-cost security solution in the 1950s it has grown to consistently absorb a vast share of the budget and a remarkably consistent share of the GDP, at least during the (relative) peacetime. The latest shots fired in election-time debates bear stark witness to the fact that the technical advantage doctrine is alive and well going well forward, no matter the ever-growing vulnerability of both the information infrastructure and big-iron hardware to low-cost disruption measures, not to mention to being overwhelmed by massed low-tech force, and so we are yet again in the position to pick up the ever-growing tab for a military that still lacks ability to bring the nation long-term security — and nevermind advantage.