Inevitably, when covering as broad a discipline as U.S. national security budgeting and spending, the necessary reading can prove eclectic. It’s important to know something about policy, because policy is what budgets are designed to support and implement. Likewise, it’s crucial to understand how the federal budget works overall and how the national security pieces fit into that budget. Also, it’s necessary to comprehend the processes used to make decisions in the executive branch and Congress. Finally, it’s essential to keep an eye on how the U.S. public and international community view Washington’s policies and national security spending.
The books below take all of this into account. Sadly, though, while there is a significant amount of literature on the federal budget as a whole, the amount of material about national security resource planning is thin. That’s why I’m coauthoring a text on national security resource planning. It should be published sometime in 2009.
This is one of the better books at explaining the mysteries of homeland security policy. It focuses on getting the country beyond fear and how to deal with the inevitable (in Flynn’s view) reality that someone will succeed in carrying out a terrorist attack in the United States. Although it edges slightly into fearmongering, the book provides as solid analysis of coping strategies.
The United States spends $3 trillion in the federal budget and most of us are illiterate when it comes to the budget. We don’t know how the spending decisions are made or who makes them. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to correct that problem. Schick is the dean of federal budget analysts, and he writes clearly and insightfully. Thank goodness he updates the book every few years!
While it cannot do full justice to any single episode in the CIA’s history, Legacy of Ashes is a masterful survey of the U.S. intelligence community’s inept, 60-year attempt at “shaping” the globe according to U.S. interests. My sole quibble: The book focuses mainly on CIA covert activities and not on the full scope of U.S. intelligence operations--namely, analysis and technological systems. Weiner’s work raises serious questions about whether the vast investment in U.S. intelligence gathering has yielded an appropriate return.
This isn’t much literature on the complexities of the U.S. intelligence community and how it functions. Lowenthal is a solid analyst of the process, having served in both the executive branch of the U.S. government and Congress. For anyone who wants a solid introduction to the mysteries of intelligence, Intelligence is the best basic text.
Bacevich comes from an unexpected quarter. Currently a historian at Boston University, he’s a retired military officer and a conservative. But The New American Militarism is a solid, detailed analysis of how Americans have come to expect the military to serve as the main tool in U.S. statecraft--no matter the situation. He describes how neoconservatives used the military message to advance their policy goals and the dangers of relying too much on the armed forces for this capability--both for the military’s long-term health and U.S. national security policy.
An interesting, if highly egocentric, book that outlines one view of the future of U.S. national security policy and planning. The perspective is military-centric, and Barnett puts forth the idea of the United States as “global administrator” of the international system. It’s an ambitious, expensive, and likely self-destructive plan, but many on the defense side of U.S. policy making agree with Barnett--exactly why it’s worth a read.
An old hand from Capitol Hill, from a congressional perspective, Wheeler has seen it all. And in his view, it’s not pretty. Even Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain is criticized for not following through on his campaign against wasteful spending and congressional earmarks. Stylistically, The Wastrels of Defense is uneven, but it’s highly entertaining and informative.
Americans don’t read enough of what is written about U.S. national security from a foreign perspective; therefore, our view of international issues is half-informed, which, of course, doesn’t help the effectiveness of U.S. policy. Todd’s book serves as a corrective. He’s a demographer, historian, and anthropologist, and he makes a strong case that the days of the United States as the dominant global power are numbered. He cites economic, political, and demographic trends as evidence that the United States is in decline. Is he right? It’s hard to say, but his book is compelling.
Destler and Kull’s work precedes 9/11, but every poll since underscores what they’re saying: The U.S. populace is both internationalist and multilaterilist, and they want to engage the world in a healthy, nonbelligerent way. Misreading the Public provides a detailed tour through public views, almost all of which are counter to political preconceptions and the whims of elected officials, who seem to think Americans run scared from the rest of the world, hate the United Nations, and want a unilateral security policy.
It’s heavy going for the nonsocial scientist, aka most of us. But to better understand the many ways in which to explain how national security policy decisions are made, Essence of Decision is core reading.