Two Views on Andrew Marshall and the Office of Net Assessment

There’s a new book by Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts, titled The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Defense Strategy. Marshall is, by many accounts, the most influential person in U.S. defense policy that you’ve never heard of.

I haven’t read the book yet, as I’ve been too busy with teaching and research projects with deadlines, though my erstwhile officemate has, and he says it’s hagiographic.  However, Marshall and the ONA are of abiding interest to me because of the role both played in the ascendancy of the “Revolution in Military Affairs” concepts that dominated U.S. defense thinking from the early 1990s to about 2010, when the concept seems to have faded, if not died out completely. In part this was influenced by events in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in part I suspect by the growing (and to me welcome) ascendancy of LTG H. R. McMaster’s way of thinking in Army circles at least. McMaster is well known for being skeptical of the post-Desert Storm RMA as posited by the ONA and its think-tank allies (see this interview from 2013, and this 2014 column on West Point’s “War Council” site.)

Anyhow, for those interested I’ve found both a pro and a con view Marshall’s legacy. For a skeptical view of the biography and the ONA, see Michael C. Desch’s column “Don’t Worship at the Altar of Andrew Marshall.” For an exposition of the biography, see the April 27 panel hosted by the Richard Nixon Foundation, featuring Watts and Krepinevich.

Personally, I count myself among the skeptics, mainly because I think that, whatever the impact of “precision” munitions etc,, the way they have been discussed in U.S. defense circles has led to the atrophy of clear thinking about strategy and the ability of military force to do more than break things and kill people.

To be continued…