HEAVY LOSSES: The Decline of American Defense by James & Michael Killian Coates

HEAVY LOSSES: The Decline of American Defense

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An exhaustively documented and alarmingly persuasive critique of the poor returns being realized on America's immense investment in defense. Coates (a sometime Pentagon correspondent for The Chicago Tribune) and Killian (a Washington-based columnist for the same paper) cover somewhat more ground than did Edward Luttwak in his excellent February entry, The Pentagon and the Art of War. In addition to the armed forces (from a contentious high command down through the enlisted ""lifers"" in the all-volunteer military), their targets include prodigal contractors, lawmakers with parochial interests, Strangelovian strategists and researchers based in Beltway think tanks or university labs, so-called Christians (i.e., those working for reform within the system), anti-war activists, intelligence-gathering agencies, fair-weather allies, the frequently adversarial press, and presidents with little aptitude for managing, much less controlling, the atomic arsenal that may prove an only resort. Of particular concern to the authors are interservice rivalries. Each branch, they note, has an outsized bureaucracy whose legions lobby aggressively for the largest possible piece of the procurement pie, protect the parent organization's flanks, and scan the skyline for friendly or other foes. Largely pointless competition of this sort results in duplicative efforts, plus commitments to incredibly expensive high-tech weaponry that performs poorly if at all in combat. It can also lead to tragedy--as when Army commandoes in an Air Force transport were killed by a Marine helicopter during the abortive Desert One raid in Iran. A graver consequence of the defense establishment's disarray, say the authors, is the possibility that the military's dependence on reliable nuclear arms may increase to the point where their use becomes ever more likely. Some officers, they note, now refer to even the Pershing II missile (which has a 1,200-mile range) as a conventional weapon (in part because it would be used against Soviet tank formations in Eastern Europe). Coates and Killian (at some pains to distance themselves from the peace and nuclear-freeze movements) do not claim to have unearthed a conspiracy. At issue, they maintain, is a disjointed, blank-check system that invites exploitation and, hence, threatens national security. In the event, their wide-angle overview represents a genuine contribution to the ongoing debate on the Pentagon's bloated and economically disruptive budgets, which thus far has focused on dollars appropriated rather than value received.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking