"appointed to his spot by every single president since Nixon."
December 9, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

In 1973, a small think-tank with the mandate of anticipating and preparing for future threats was formed inside the DoD, called the Office of Net Assessment. A RAND corp strategist named Andrew Marshall was placed at its head. Forty years later, he's still at it and has survived the latest round of budget cuts - for now.

Marshall has been called "inscutable," his low profile, and is known to some as "Yoda."

The American Prospect, DEC 2001: The Dubious Genius of Andrew Marshall
WIRED, FEB 2003: The Marshall Plan
For 40 years, the man Pentagon insiders call Yoda has foreseen the future of war - from battlefield bots rolling off radar-proof ships to GIs popping performance pills. And that was before the war on terror.
Talking Points Memo: Inside The Pentagon's Idea Factory
The Diplomat: The Pentagon Still Needs To Think - "Shutting down the Office of Net Assessment would be imprudent, although more oversight would be wise."
The Nation (cache): The Man From ONA
The Weekly Standard: Hear No Evil - the adminstration's move to silence a Pentagon strategist

Marshall promoted the idea of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), defined:
A military revolution occurs when the application of new technologies to military systems combines with innovative operational concepts and organizational adaptation to alter fundamentally the character of conflict by producing a discontinuous leap in the combat potential and effectiveness of armed forces.
War On The Rocks: Office Of Net Assessment: Swept Away By A Revolution In Socio-Political Affairs?
In a time of (relative) austerity, it is surely sensible to consider trimming the defense bureaucracy and the number of reports floating unread within it. There is some degree of irony, however, in the fact that Marshall, his office, and indeed the American defense establishment writ larger are being blindsided not by one of the flashy RMAs that they theorized, but rather by a more fundamental shift in the socio-political landscape. It isn’t technology or tactics that present the biggest challenge to America’s military primacy. Rather, society’s shifting political preferences and conceptions of the role of the state are changing the way leading states prioritize their efforts, allocate their resources, and conceive their international objectives. Instead of looking for the next RMA, we should concern ourselves with the deeper revolution in socio-political affairs that will spawn it.
The National Interest: In Defense Of Net Assessment
American Enterprise Institute: Keep net assessment independant

Marshall featured prominently in Fred Kaplan's book Daydream Believers: How A Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power

The Office of Net Assessment commissions reports like:
The Great Siberian War Of 2030 (PDF)
Russia is depopulation, Siberia is emptying out. A gigantic imbalance is being created in the heartland of Eurasia, the heartland of which is increasingly empty of men, epscially of Russians. The opening of a vacuum of that size, and the concomitant demographis disequlibrium with populous neighbors must have geopolitical effects of the first order. The disparity between a rising economic power and a stagnant one will only sharpen differences between China and Russia.
An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security (PDF)
There are some indications today that global warming has reached the threshold where the thermohaline circulation could start to be significantly impacted. These indications include observations documenting that the North Atlantic is increasingly being freshened by melting glaciers, increased precipitation, and fresh water runoff making it substantially less salty over the past 40 years.
This report suggests that, because of the potentially dire consequences, the risk of abrupt climate change, although uncertain and quite possibly small, should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.
Capability Surprise(PDF)
This study concerns itself with the matter of capability surprise, which can arise from many sources - scientific breakthrough, rapid fielding, operations innovation. It considers two fundamental kinds of surprises: 1) those specific few, that because of their unique characteristis and impact, the nation should be anticipating - referred to as "known sujrprises"; and 2) those that arise unexpectedly out of a myriad of other possibilities, seeming without warning - the "surprising surprises." The preimse of the study is that surprise cannot be eliminated, biut it can - and must - be managed.
The Revival Of Chinese Nationalism: Challenges To American Ideals And Interests In East Asia (PDF)
Fighting A Nuclear-Armed Regional Opponent: Is Victory Possible? (PDF)
Competitive Strategies For The 21st Century

Some studies that I couldn't find had very interesting names: "Contradictions And Continuities: The Changing Moral Education Landscape" and "Biometaphor For The Body Politic"

Saddam-Qaeda Conspiracy Theorist Surfaces Writing Iraq Reports For The Pentagon

US Army's Strategic Studies Institute: Net Assessment: A Practical Guide (PDF)

An Ode To Andy Marshall the strategist

DoD Directive 5111.11, 22 AUG 2001.

Previously: Global Domination: The Missing Manual
posted by the man of twists and turns (18 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
So the Military-Industrial complex has a marketing department, and Mr Marshall is the head of it... I find this enlightening.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:24 PM on December 9, 2013

My old man was forced into mandatory retirement at 65 but this old bastard is 92 flipping years old and still draws a federal salary?

I don't know whether to be upset or impressed, because he seems to have a better grasp on reality than any other policy-level federal appointee I can think of offhand.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:47 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nostradamus looks very forward thinking and prophetic when you selectively highlight from his quatrains. If this guy is really such an influential and forward thinking strategist why does the US continue to get caught flat footed w/r/t strategy. We were totally unprepared for the collapse of the Shah in the 1970s, and communism in the late 80s. We were slow to understand what was happening in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In Iraq we were going to be greeted as liberators. The Taliban were supposed to be no longer a significant problem after 2003. The Arab spring caught us off guard. We've got totally unattainable, hugely unpopular drone wars going on in several countries and we have no idea how to end them.

I do not see any kind of objective data that would indicate that this office provides any actual strategic value to the US. Give me 14 full time analysts to crank out memos and research papers for 40 years, I'm sure the group will come up with plenty of shit that will look totally prophetic in hindsight.
posted by humanfont at 8:54 PM on December 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

I wish I had time to read these PDFs. Looks interesting.
posted by saber_taylor at 9:07 PM on December 9, 2013

I'm with Humanfont here. US strategy over the past few decades - or longer - has been abysmally bad. You can't blame it all on one guy in an office, but it's not much of a defense to say that he was ineffectual rather than incompetent.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:12 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

This guy is just one example of the group that has real power in our government - the no-name career folks and low-profile appointees who manage to keep their jobs for their entire career. These folks watch presidents and senators and representatives come and go, administration after administration, while they trudge on, doing the grunt work that decides policy, embodying the governmental inertia that dictates what actually happens politically. The posturing and promises of highly visible elected officials who regularly crash up against that steadfast rock with lots of photogenic splashing and dramatic to-do, at best effect only incremental change on a geologic time scale.

When it comes time to "throw the bums out", how do you throw out those millions of federal workers?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:55 PM on December 9, 2013

Is there a name for the high level no-namers? Like "secret/shadow cabinet" since they have cabinet influence but do not have their appointment reviewed by the Senate.
posted by saber_taylor at 11:02 PM on December 9, 2013

Oh for fuck's sake, greg_ace calls out an article in the "Washington Times"?

posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:18 PM on December 9, 2013

Ehh, it was the first link that showed up on Google that stated a solid number. I looked at others, and overall decided that 2-million-ish seemed to be a reasonable guess.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:27 PM on December 9, 2013

[Washington Times considered harmful, point taken. No need to start a fight over it.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 11:56 PM on December 9, 2013

The fact that same person has been there for 50 years means that no-one in US administration has been looking too deeply at what they create.

Which gives the reason why the US strategy seems to have been so bad!

Joe in Australia: "US strategy over the past few decades - or longer - has been abysmally bad."

Dont we keep reading about people who manage to create a job where no-one notices if they are doing anything or not? This guy seems to be a living example.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 1:50 AM on December 10, 2013

The great Siberian war: Haven't I read this before.... I think it was a Tom Clancy novel.

Now the question is did the novel create the paper or did the paper create the novel?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 1:56 AM on December 10, 2013

US strategy over the past few decades - or longer - has been abysmally bad.

Just because this guy's group has been at it for decades doesn't mean anyone in power has actually been listening to him or taking his advice.

Everyone who has worked in an Hierarchical organization knows the people in power only want to hear confirmation bias echos, no matter how much they profess to the contrary. The lack of saying what the boss wants to hear seems to be at the heart of the current push to get rid of Marshall and the ONA.

Out of curiosity, does anybody know the ONA take on pre-WMD US invasion Iraq? Were they in the "liberator cakewake" camp, or did they see the cesspit we were about to jump into?
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:42 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sounds like a fun gig. Where do I apply?
posted by IndigoJones at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2013

Out of curiosity, does anybody know the ONA take on pre-WMD US invasion Iraq?

No, and they probably didn't have one. ONA is *not* an intelligence arm. ONA's role is to take plausible but unlikely conditions and game out scenarios, and US troops in Iraq/Iran/Syria were so far into the possible that they would probably have well developed and gamed scenarios in place.

ONA is different that that. They are deliberately blue-sky, so preconditions like "but that won't happen" aren't allowed -- if the posit is "A firearm propellant some six times more powerful than the current triple-based powders, but otherwise identical", they figure out a probable result and what that would do to current strategy, tactics and materials.

By the nature of this, 99% of what they produce would be wrong, because the initial posit would not have happened. But given the tendency to monolithic thinking in the military, having a blue-sky wild-eyed group not making basic assumptions like "The Battleship Will Always Be The Key To Naval Power" and "The Bayonet, with an Infantryman Behind Him, Can Win Any Battle" and thinking about just what this flying thing might do* and what those grooves in a barrel and that weird looking bullet that drops in, then expands to fit, just might do** to your basic strategy.

* Remember: In the first week of the Pacific War, the Empire of Japan sunk or put out of action every Allied battleship and battlecruiser in the Pacific except for the Colorado, which was in refit in Peugeot Sound. This, of course, resulted in the complete and utter defeat of the Allies in the Pacific, right?

** The US Civil War was the first major conflict where the infantry was primarily armed with rifles, not smoothbores. So, instead of shooting to confuse, they were shooting to kill at hundreds of yards. That bayonet, that was essential to the Spearman with a Boomy Stick, became much less important, lining up in a big block became very, very dumb, and digging trenches became very important indeed. It was a shame, for the infantryman in particular, that it took a long time for the commanding generals to fully understand that.
posted by eriko at 7:56 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

IndigoJones: Sounds like a fun gig. Where do I apply?

Research and Studies for the Office of the Director, Net Assessments
Solicitation Number: HQ0034-ONA-13-BAA-0001
[text from PDF at link ]
Objective and Areas of Interest: The Office of Net Assessment seeks proposals that respond to the following areas of interest. Proposals will be considered that undertake comprehensive approaches to one or more of the following areas, or that investigate one or more particular aspect(s) or case(s) that belong to the broader areas listed below:
Future Naval Warfare ...
Proliferated world ...
Space ...
Sustaining Current Areas of U.S. Advantage ...
History (Military) ...
Precision Strike ...

the solicitation is open through 2018!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:34 PM on January 4, 2014

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