New Officers’ Survey: US Military Stretched, Unable to Fight Another Major War

A survey of more than 3,400 senior U.S. military officers by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think-tank, and Foreign Policy magazine has some grim findings (.pdf):

Of the more than 3,400 active and retired officers surveyed, 60 percent say the U.S. military is weaker today than it was five years ago. Asked the reason why, more than half cite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the pace of troop deployments those conflicts require.

Nearly 90 percent of the officers—all of whom hold the rank of major or lieutenant commander and above—say that the war in Iraq has “stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin.” Asked to grade the health of each military service on scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning the officers have no concern about the health of the service and 10 meaning they are extremely concerned, the officers reported an average score of 7.9 for the Army and 7.0 for the Marine Corps. However, asked if they believe the war in Iraq has broken the U.S. military, 56 percent of the officers say they disagree.

Perhaps most notable, the survey found:

“At the same time, 80 percent of the officers say it is unreasonable to expect the U.S. military to successfully wage another major war at this time.”

“Based on a quick scan it all seems about right,” emails Tom Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute and a former staffer on the House Armed Services committee, regarding the study. “The obvious policy implication to me – we all see what we want to see, right? – is that the Army needs to be substantially larger. I’m waiting for the CNAS recommendation on that.”

“My take is that this generally confirms that the Iraq war has made our armed forces — and our ground forces in particular — incredibly brittle,” emails Colin Kahl, a CNAS fellow and Georgetown University political science professor. “This is one of the strategic risks that will have to be factored into the Iraq debate and military policy moving forward–and it will be a central issue for the next administration.”

The Pentagon declined to comment on the study. “I appreciate your query, but we don’t comment on survey results,” said Ltn. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in an email.