More thoughts on “the next war”

S9_3ares "In military journals, midlevel officers’ conferences and gatherings around the Pentagon, a growing number have expressed concern that the Defense Department’s planning and resources are being trained disproportionately on small guerrilla wars.

At the same time, they fear that important military skills — storming beaches, fighting tank battles, using air and land power in unison to attack enemy lines — are beginning to atrophy.

"The military is almost always accused of preparing to fight the last war," said former Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne. "The most interesting part of ‘next-war-itis’ is that we are being accused of trying to fight the next war."

The military, Wynne said, has the responsibility to prepare for wars against competing nations even as it fights what he calls the war of "choice" in Iraq. "We shouldn’t have to pick between this war and the next war," he said. "That is a bad deal.""  NY Times


After Vietnam the armed forces, particularly the US Army turned away from all that had been learned by hard experience and study of counterinsurgency (COIN).  This subject was resolutely avoided for decades and over time was largely forgotten  Counter-terrorism became the principal mission of the community of light forces called, "Special Operations Forces."  For a long time, this mission consisted largely of preparation and exercises, but 9/11 brought that to the front of everyone’s mind.  Counter-terrorism became the "flavor of the month," and these forces have been allowed to operate across the world with a degree of independence that is worrisome to many in the armed forces. 

The disastrous miscalculations regarding Iraq were compounded early on by the US ground forces’ ignorance and frankly disbelief in the possibility of a serious guerrilla enemy.  The inability at that time of many officers to think usefully about insurgency and counterinsurgency without official sanction for such thought should give one pause.  Perhaps the right habits of thought are not being inculcated?

Now we have a great ongoing resurgence of counterinsurgency doctrine and practice.  In Vietnam and the other COIN wars of the 20th Century, specialists in that field largely ran such wars while the main ground forces of the US remained focused on the Soviet Army and the central German corridor.  When brought into Vietnam they thrashed around in the woods looking for the enemy’s main forces (the North Vietnamese Army with its divisions, artillery and tanks) and were hardly involved in COIN at all. Now, the main forces of US ground power have been told that COIN is the thing for them to do.  Great!  I love it that battalion commanders of infantry read learned articles by foreign experts and speak with confidence in the vocabulary of social anthropology (cool) and political science (not cool).

Nevertheless, this is a mixed blessing.  I have written earlier of my concern that a cult of generational development in warfare is spreading the idea that warfare develops progressively new forms and that old forms are no longer relevant because the nature of world society has moved "beyond" them.  This is a false and misleading notion.  War is a process of human social interaction carried out along a broad spectrum of possible forms.  The resort to these forms has much to do with local conditions and the relative strength of the adversaries. In other words, many different forms of warfare can exist simultaneously and have generally always done so. 

In the era of COIN doctrine ascendancy and the re-organization of the US Army into a brigade based structure largely stripped of mass, and heavy weaponry, the question must be asked, "what happens if we encounter an adversary who has a lot of equipment and who is determined to fight for a long time?"  I asked Rumsfeld that question five years ago.  His answer was that the crowd of obviously intimidated generals whom he had brought to the meeting had told him that this was not a problem.  Maybe that is why I was not invited to any more meetings.

Now, we have a group of officers who are arguing at the risk of their careers that history does not march in lockstep towards the future.  They should be heard.  A balanced defense policy and forces are what are needed.  pl,0,4118211.story?track=ntothtml

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4 Responses to More thoughts on “the next war”

  1. b says:

    “We need the bulk of the Army prepared to go toe-to-toe with the heaviest combat formations our adversaries can field,” Dunlap said. “For what it is worth, I predict the next big war will be conventional, or I should say symmetrical. In my judgment, we are not going to get into the business of occupying a hostile country of millions of people.”

    Who would that be? China? Russia? Why? And would that not include fighting in big cities against a resistance with civil support?
    Dunlap is a lawyer and Air Force. He seems to be already looking for a nice job in the relevant industry.
    That said – the 4GW warfare craze is overdone. Most wars have been across the spectrum and the Roman legions in the Teuteburg forest got slaughtered by my ancestors mainly through 4GW guerrilla tactics. What’s new with that?
    There needs to be balance in a force and the U.S. is, in my view, too big in air fighting, logistics tail and ego and for its overall size too small in foot on the ground and too risk avers towards casualties.
    Gates probably also sees something some the generals do not want to acknowledge.
    The next president will spend much less on the military than this one. The budget will simply not be there. I expect it to be cut in half. Many big ticket programs will have to be stopped.
    Why build fighters that never will find an enemy. A follow on for the A-10 would be more worthwhile and much cheaper (The JSF is NOT a CAS plane.)
    Why build big destroyers when small boats and motherships might to the job much better?
    Anyway, the basic question is much bigger. Shall the U.S. military rule the world or defend the U.S.?
    If its the first than the soul of the U.S. will die in imperial overstrech. If it is the second it may survive.

  2. Okay I will buy the need to prepare for a big war and agree with your logic or whomever supports the notion! Now tell me, who are the “Big war” opponents? Who is stupid enough to fight the US where and when it is strongest? The basic absurdity of other nations doing so (meaning we think they cannot think) is absurd and how we got into the current mess. How about proxy wars? Well if we reduced sales of conventional arms and others did so also would we still have so many sub-state actors threatening nation states? Hope to find the answers soon? The key national security issue is proliferation of WMD not conventional warfare!

  3. According to the New York Times, , the Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac crisis is posing a serious threat to the Federal Government’s credit rating.

    Now that the two companies are at risk, how their rescue is handled will ultimately test the world’s faith in American markets. It could also influence the level of interest rates and weigh on the strength of the dollar for years to come, analysts say.
    “No less than the international perception of the credit quality of the U.S. government is at stake,” said Richard Hofmann, an analyst with CreditSights, an independent research house with offices in London and New York.
    Also at stake is Americans’ future ability to gain access to credit. If foreign companies and governments abandon United States investments, home, auto and credit card loans will be much more difficult to come by.

    Under these circumstances, it is somewhere between probable and highly certain that the United States’ defense expenditures will be constrained to levels far below today’s.
    Rational defense policy should begin with that constraint.
    So let us assume that we may face future conventional threats. How do we respond cheaply?

  4. zanzibar says:

    Its natural human psychology to project the recent past into the future. You see that in financial market forecasting all the time.
    I would like to see a more fundamental strategic debate here in the US. What is our national interest? How does our national interest align with/or collide with the national interests of the other major actors? What role should the military and other levers of national power play in exercising our national interest?
    In my opinion such a debate should lead to a more balanced policy. I believe we have been on auto-pilot for far too long and over the past 8 years that auto-pilot has been hijacked by the neo-con kleptocrats. In any case we may be forced into a new policy regime due to our updated financial constraints.

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