In the January/February 2009 edition of Foreign Affairs, Robert Gates argued in favor of focusing on the conflicts of tomorrow rather than sticking to doctrine which was drafted in the 1940s and 1950s. Almost all of our military conflicts since Korea have overwhelmingly involved counterinsurgency rather than conventional warfare. DOD needs to institutionalize its counterinsurgency doctrine, in everything from bureaucracy to procurement and talks with Congress. Even actual or potential enemies who fight conventionally will also use asymmetrical tools: Russia used cyber warfare in Georgia and Saddam used fedayeen. And even conventional wars involve many of the same problems as counterinsurgency efforts: post-op reconstruction, security issues, and building up local governmental institutions and security forces (as well as aid and training for allies we need to promote the guys who do this sort of training). We should move forward on counterinsurgency ops manuals, special ops, UAVs; the navy has an expeditionary combat command and riverine units. Gates acknowledged that if we abandon conventional or nuclear capability, or lose in Iraq or Afghanistan , the wolves will come prowling put them to sea in submarines, with a few on bombers for flexibility. Russia and China are beefing up fighters, anti-air, anti-satellite and anti-ship systems, and cyber warfare capabilities. The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program should be funded. However, Russia s conventional forces are a shadow of their former selves and demographics will ensure that the slide continues; our battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies and 11 of the 13 are friendly. As Gates noted, sometimes the state of the art is not worth the money: our fighters already out-fly everything else in the sky (nobody is going to seriously engage us in a battle for air supremacy), but were setting aside F15s and F16s that cost 20-30 million apiece, in favour of F35s and F22s that cost ten times as much; the Super Hornet seems to be doing the job for the Navy and its cheaper than the new stuff. We should start moving away from the $300 million fighter which, fancy though it is, can still only be in one place at one time, and instead buy ten $30 million fighters, which can control more sky and can be passed more easily to partners (particularly with respect to training). Strategy needs to drive procurement, rather than the other way around, and procurement needs more flexibility, as the MRAP issue demonstrated. Should we be spending money on the Osprey, the Zumwalt class destroyer and the Virginia class submarine? Or on things like shallow-water naval vessels do we expect to be fighting in that environment? Also in this vein: we need to know if the missile defense system actually works, and whether we even need it. Unlike his predecessor, Gates foresees a central role for the State Department, particularly with respect to prevention: retarding the development of failed states, because most threats will come from failed states rather than aggressor states; promoting governance and economic development; and discrediting the philosophy of the enemy. Build up the Foreign Service, USAID and the USIA. He also noted another area in which State might help: arms proliferation. Thanks to the Russians and Chinese, arms are spreading all over the world, to the point that Hizbollah, for example, has better weapons than some countries. Repeatedly over the last century, Americans averted their eyes in the belief that events in remote places around the world need not engage the United States. How could the assassination of an Austrian archduke in the unknown Bosnia and Herzegovina affect Americans, or the annexation of a little patch of ground called Sudetenland, or a French defeat in a place called Dien Bien Phu, or the return of an obscure cleric to Tehran, or the radicalization of a Saudi construction tycoon's son? So Gates is on the ball, and not the neocon some feared him to be. Most of our strategic doctrine was written in the 1940s and 1950s, and were still equipping our forces to fight that battle, which wastes hundreds of billions a year. Gates will write a new doctrine. Recruiting, training, equipment, retention will all change once the new doctrine is in place. There will be a great deal in there regarding the new tools of the enemy: snipers, carbombs, IEDs. Also the Russia and China are building a lot of counter-force equipment, to attack aircraft and so forth. One issue which is sure to cause trouble: the likelihood that we will need to shift manning from the navy and air force to the army and marines. There are three guys to watch. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities does a lot of work with counter-insurgency. The Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, will be needed to roll back Bushs rulings on torture, indefinite detention, and also the wiretaps. The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy writes the Quadrennial Defense Review that envisions the overall scope of U.S. military missions; this is the starting point for manning, training, procurement. The notion of nation-building will pop up again. First, we clearly need to avoid such a process when possible, picking our fights carefully, weighing the potential costs and benefits of waging war. But once committed, there are things we must remember: winning hearts and minds, building coalitions, institutions and infrastructure, and being flexible and above all patient. Remember that the current English government is 900 years old and still has no written constitution; France went through five republics in 200 years; Germanys superb Weimar Constitution led to Hitler, while our own Constitution was drafted only after the Articles of Confederation collapsed; and yet people are surprised that Iraq still doesnt have stable governmental institutions after five years, working under very adverse circumstances. There will be areas in which investment will go up: the tools for low-density conflicts, logistics, intelligence, urban warfare, peacekeeping, special operations, helicopters which are always in short supply. A critical need is the care and feeding of our troops, in everything from armored APCs to hospitals and mental health. Ironic how the party that screeched Support our troops for five years forgot to actually support the troops. The Bush administration underestimated the cost of care, dragged its feet on treatment, and did not hire enough mental health professionals. The Bush administration, behind everyones back, rewrote the definition of combat-related disabilities to screw our veterans out of tons of benefit money, which is perfectly appalling. A weak economy and the drawdown in Iraq will bring recruiting and retention back up, but theres nothing like treating our troops the way they deserve. Bushs VA chief promised to cut the 6-month delays for disability benefits but never delivered; they also need an IT upgrade. There are record rates of PTSD and suicide. Hundreds of thousands of vets and relatives cannot get care. Exhausted military pilots are racking up more accidents. The VA and Walter Reed are in disarray. Even with dangerously lowered standards, recruitment and retention are inadequate. Obama took a giant step forward by giving the VA job to General Eric Shinseki, the guy who said we needed more troops in Iraq and was then shoved aside by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. There are many ways to save money without increasing risks. Our procurement system is a sea of pork: we must take a good hard look at the contractors, the oversight people, the lobbyists and the congressmen whose arms they twist and whose palms they grease. We also need to stay on top of base closings more pork. In Iraq we learned many hard lessons about what happens when oversight does not happen billions were wasted, Haliburton put raw sewage in drinking water and gave our troops diarrhea, Blackwater shot and ran over civilians with impunity, and investigations were obstructed. The process of identifying a need and filling it must speed up: it took too long for us to react to the IEDs by ordered up better armoured cars, and choppers have been in chronic shortage. Some argue for saving billions by cutting our nuclear arsenal down to about 1000 weapons on ten Trident submarines, although Gates said that if we draw down nuclear weapons we must either test them or modernize pricey. Good diplomacy can get us more basing agreements, thus reducing the pressure on our carriers to project power: dirt is cheaper than carriers. We need to ask how many bombers we need, and what for. Obama will also fix the no-brainers, like shutting down Gitmo and ending don't-ask-don't-tell.