On my research trip, I spent several days in London, Paris, and Berlin each. Across each of the countries, I conducted over a dozen interviews with American and foreign defense officials, think tank experts, and academics on numerous topics related to reforms, structure, and management of the respective defense enterprises. I received invaluable perspectives from many of the people I spoke with that challenged my research presumptions and assisted in sharpening my areas of comparison with each country. During the downtime I had, I was also able to visit a variety of excellent and topical museums including the Churchill War Rooms in London, the Musée de l'Armée in France, and the German History Museum in Berlin. It was an incredible experience that I am extremely grateful for, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the research and writing process.
Despite the obvious substantial differences in political systems, I chose the UK, France and Germany as comparison points for the U.S. defense system given that each nation possess some of the most capable armed forces in NATO, the high-level of cooperation among each of the militaries, and similar challenges to DoD. The parallels between reforms in the UK and U.S. are the starkest. Before recent reforms, the last major set of reorganizations of the Ministry of Defence occurred in the early 1980s, a few years ahead of the landmark U.S. Goldwater-Nichols legislation. Modern reforms to the MoD came in 2011 with the Lord Levene reforms, again a few years ahead of the conversation in the United States. One would be forgiven for mistaking the description of challenges facing MoD management outlined in the Lord Levene report for a compendium of the difficulties DoD is struggling with expressed in last fall’s series of Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, given their significant similarities. With regard to French practices, some have pointed to their white paper commission process as a valuable model and potential route toward renovating the apparatus of current U.S. defense strategy documents. Ongoing challenges the Bundeswehr in Germany has faced in the realms of acquisition and personnel management, especially since its transition away from conscription, were another productive area for comparison I selected. Additionally, just weeks before my visit, the Federal Ministry of Defence released its first national security strategy document in ten years, the 2016 White Book, which provided another opportune avenue for research. While the divergences in governing systems between the UK, France and Germany with the U.S. are numerous, I believe there are discreet areas in the defense reform field where the U.S. would be wise to consider taking a page out of each of their books.
These issues have also become a personal interest for me, as I’ve spent much of the last year examining a variety of defense reform subjects at my day job as a program coordinator and research assistant in the Center for Strategies and International Studies’ International Security Program. As it seems the debate over whether the U.S. government is appropriately organized and managed to meet 21st century national security demands will endure for the next few years, I plan to continue to examine these issues and publish analyses on them.