Red Team Journal, 13 Years On
When I launched Red Team Journal in 1997, the U.S. military was still savoring its Desert Storm victory. The largely self-congratulatory concept of the revolution in military affairs dominated U.S. military thought, and no “peer” competitor was anticipated for many years. 1997 also marked an increasingly mad rush toward the dot-com bust of 2000. Even Chicken Little was feeling safe and making money.
Back then, we needed red teaming to remind us that our forces were not invincible, that not every dot-com wonder would make it big, and that clever and determined bad guys still planned to do us harm.
Thirteen years later, we are (or should be) greatly humbled. We all remember the events of 9/11, but it’s becoming difficult to ignore our eroding financial position, our fractured polity, and the success our adversaries enjoy in eluding and circumventing our military forces. Today, Chicken Little frets about a dystopian future in which the United States is broken and broke.
We no longer need red teaming to remind us we’re mortal; we know we are. Today we need red teaming to remind us we’re neither as rich nor as smart as we think we are.
For decades, we’ve thrown money at our problems. We’ve funded a space race, a war on poverty, a Cold War, several hot wars, a savings and loan bailout, a war on terror, and—in the last couple of years—a series of crisis bailouts presumably designed to preserve our economy from imminent ruin. Throwing money is our default strategy. When it works, we congratulate ourselves on our smarts. When it doesn’t work, we throw more money at the problem and then congratulate ourselves on our smarts. Whatever the nature of the next emergency, expect our policymakers to at least try to throw money at it.
Unfortunately, the more money we throw, the less it’s worth. In fact, we’ve thrown so much recently that we’re now in a bind. We’d be foolish to believe that our national security spending can continue to expand indefinitely at the post-2001 rate. We’d also be foolish to dismiss out of hand the more alarming scenarios involving long-term financial blight.
What does this mean for U.S. policymakers?
They desperately need better strategy—not necessarily grand strategy; merely smart strategy would do. This need exists regardless of how the future unfolds. If we sink deeper into the current economic mess, smart strategy will be indispensable. If we return to a position of unchallenged prosperity soon—as unlikely as that may be—smart strategy will still be indispensable. Our default strategy has made us very predictable, and our strategic skills have atrophied.
In a perfect world, policymakers would recognize the need and act swiftly to answer it. They would search out contrary points of view, expose their plans and policies to robust red teaming, and honestly consider the results. They would adopt a red teaming frame of mind and constantly seek to improve their red teaming methods and skills. Smart strategy would emerge, and the U.S. strategic position would no longer hinge exclusively on a fading, debt-ridden economy.
It will never happen, of course, which means that we can expect a very interesting and bumpy ride for the next few years. It also means I’ll be able to revise and repost this paper on RTJ’s twenty-sixth anniversary. Wherever Chicken Little is then, I sincerely hope she isn’t waiting for us with a smug “I-told-you-so.”