“The Best Defense is…”

F7hanko05  Download thebestdefense.pdf

I wrote this article (with a friend) thirty years ago just after the Indochina War ended.  That was a period of depression and re-assessment in the US Army.  The strategy known as the "Active Defense" was in fashion as a method of fighting overwhelming Soviet strength in the event of a European war.  This envisioned what amounted to a controlled withdrawal under severe pressure and held out no hope of defeating the Soviets as well as the possibility of a "forced" release of nuclear weapons to prevent the loss of all Europe.

I had seen many NVA units destroy themselves attacking American positions and after thinking over the possibilities in Europe I thought that it might be possible to employ available NATO strength in such a way as to defeat the Soviet Army through attrition of mind and body. The way I thought this might be done was to construct a wide belt of field fortifications in West Germany that would serve as a "grid" of "hard points" on which a mobile defense could be based.  The concept is described in the article (downloadable above).  The piece was published in the "Military Review," the journal of the Command and General Staff College.

I thought of it recently in the context of the recent Hizbullah defense of southern Lebanon and found it on the website of the magazine.  The "internets" are a miracle.

"Medley Global Advisors" (MGA) in New York City is publishing an essay by me online today to their clients bringing this line of thought up to date.  Anyone who would like to read that should contact MGA at advisors@medleyadvisors.com

As further background on the Lebanon War I recommend the following article suggested by one of our colleagues and commenters.

Pat Lang


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16 Responses to “The Best Defense is…”

  1. Michael says:

    Excellent articles. Thank you Col, your perspectives and experience are a huge help those (like me) who have a hard time getting a handle on this ‘mess’ and its history.

  2. Pat, that (Sunday Times) piece by Uzi Mahnaimi is certainly a good resource. Earlier this week I finished writing a long studyu of the war for Boston Review. I guess it’ll take a little time for the issue to come out– not sure when.
    In the meantime I’ve been posting some partial assessment and links to other good resources on the war on my Justworldnews blog. You should probably check the topical indexes for both Israel and Lebanon to see what’s in both categories.
    Also, Pat, I don’t think I can come to your talk in C’ville Monday morning but I’d love to see if we can get together while you’re in town? Email me maybe?

  3. Grimgrin says:

    Col, that’s an interesting article. This quote in particular jumped out at me in particular as relevant to the situation in Lebanon. “A protracted defence of perhaps three or four days by cut off units would prove to be an embarassment to a Soviet commander trying to conduct offensive operations further West.” The Israelis experienced this embarrasment firsthand in Bint Jbril.
    In a war that’s being televised and reported on to the extent that the Lebanon conflict was, embarassment is a powerfull weapon. It strikes directly at the confidence of the citizenry in their leadership, both millitary and civilian.

  4. Will says:

    Is MGA going to publish it online? I don’t understand? How is the article going to be published?
    For your interest, at my instigation, a veteran political discussion group is taking a poll whehter to adopt the state motto and seal of the Commonwealth of VA as our motto. Trying to keep John Wilkes Booth and Brutus out of the discussion.
    Sic Semper Tyrannus
    I does kind sound of like regicide. Especially so back in 1776. Must have been very treasonous.

  5. Will says:

    I enjoyed reading the paper. It was very good.
    Some points.
    I was surprised to learn that the Soviets would own the skies. I’ve always been used to American air superiority. Indeed the Soviets even had some air superiority at the latter stages of World War II.
    It would have been interesting what would have happened if Patton had provoked a war in 1945-46. The American Sherman tanks were lightly armored and had pea shooter guns. Whereas the Soviet T-54’s and by then Josef Stalin MBT had sloping thick armor, big guns, and diesel motors. But their fuel supply lines would have been over-extended to our bombers if they were still getting oil from Baku and even from Poleski. That would be a consideration also for your scenario unless they owned the skies completely.
    The wooden stakes in the ground at Agincourt to protect the archers from the French cavalry are key and very important. There’s a very important battle over there where the English/Welsh archers were slaughtered by the French knights either because they neglected or didn’t have time to drive the wooden anti-cavalry stakes. Think how differently the Battle of Hastings would have progressed in 1066 if Harold had had Archers like King William and stakes (field fortifications). Or if the Arabs at Tours had had archers to break the Franks out of their defensive positions.
    The best balance of oombined ancient arms to crack a densive position was the Parthians vs. the Romans at Carrahae, The archers, supplied arrows by camel trains, drew the Romans into their classic tortoise formations who were then scattered by heavy armored cavalry.
    I was surprised at the format in your conclusion by a matter of style. You addressed some matters such as the Syrians in the Golan Heights and Jordan that you hadn’t covered in the paper. I was always skewered in law school for mentioning things in the conclusion that were not in the main paper.
    Very good Reading!

  6. arbogast says:

    With reference to the TimesOnline article, this sentence is notable:
    Even though Hezbollah has lost a quarter of its fighters, its military base in Beirut and its bunkers in the south, Israelis feel less secure.
    Is that from a Hezbollah press release? From an omniscient God? I would hazard to say that Hezbollah hasn’t lost any of those things.
    And the earlier sentence: “Meanwhile the Israeli public are struggling to accept that the country’s security might now depend on whether a French-led United Nations peacekeeping force proves able to disarm Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
    That’s not on the table.
    The Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch whose Zionism is a matter of record. For an article like this, despite it’s glorification of the Halutz’ bunker, to appear in the Times is really quite extraordinary.
    It would seem to me that Bush-Blair simply have to bomb Iran. Blair is hanging on by his fingernails in Britain, and Bush is doing a slightly better job in the US, but is still threatened. The attack has to come before Blair leaves office.
    Now at least we have a fairly clear timeline.

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    We are regicides. We take pride in it. Look at Virginia’s flag. That is the king on the ground, dead, with Liberty’s foot on his chest.
    Booth was not a Virginian, he just died here.
    MDA is publishing online to their clients. pl

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I am not a lawyer. pl

  9. arbogast says:

    Certainly one of the greatest generals, if not the greatest general of all time was Charles Martel.
    He defeated the Emir at the Battle of Tours with a force a small fraction of the Emir’s, the Emir’s men being mounted, armored cavalry and Martel’s men foot soldiers.
    Martel lost one battle, his first. From then on he never lost. He always chose the ground he fought on, perfected the false retreat, etc.
    For those of you who believe in an afterlife, consider what was going through Martel’s mind as he observed Halutz in his bunker.

  10. arbogast says:

    Cannot resist adding that Booth considered himself, certainly a Confederate, and probably a Virginian.
    His acting career never took off until he started playing in Richmond. In Richmond he became a star.
    And he was undoubtedly heading for Richmond when he was killed.
    “With malice toward none and charity for all…” Those words, among the noblest in the English language, have never seen the light of day in any real context outside of the Second Inaugural. It is crystal clear that they cannot come out of the barrel of a gun.
    Anybody’s gun.

  11. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You omitted the words that came before your quote:
    “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. With malice toward none….”
    Where else would Booth have been going? He was moving down the line of withdrawal laid down in the operational plan. pl

  12. zanzibar says:

    These paragraphs really struck me when I first read the Times report.
    Halutz smiled with relief and called Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, who was enjoying a cigar as he waited by a secure red phone at his residence in Jerusalem.
    “All the long-range rockets have been destroyed,” Halutz announced proudly. After a short pause, he added four words that have since haunted him: “We’ve won the war.”
    Even as Halutz was declaring victory, 12 Israeli soldiers from the Maglan reconnaissance unit were already running into an ambush just over the border inside Lebanon near the village of Maroun a-Ras.

    Was this an intelligence failure or hubris?

  13. pbrownlee says:

    Thr key pars for me in the Times piece are “Olmert appeared to lose confidence and began to issue conflicting orders. ‘Our mission changed twice, three times, every day,’ complained one soldier.” and “On the final day of the war, Halutz was sitting in his favourite seat at the air force bunker in Tel Aviv, waiting for the results of a massive airborne operation. Then the news came through that a Sikorsky CH-53 helicopter had been shot down by a Hezbollah rocket. He is said to have felt defeated, both personally and professionally.”
    Where is the way out for these guys?
    Also, I am increasingly uneasy when I see vision of massive missile attacks on totally undefended cities — is this something civilised people do?
    Incidentally, Murdoch has just bought a share of Channel 10 in Israel but I am not sure you can rely on any Murdochian ideology except a deep commitment to selling advertising.
    Being Australian (mostly) his capacity for mischief-making should be factored in — I am looking for a lot of Fox/Newsworms instantly U-turning when/if Uncle Rupert backs Hilary in ’08.

  14. Will says:

    i got carried away by the ancient history, i gorgot to mention that i served in one of those defensive fortifications that wrecked the NVA in Vietnam.
    Con Thien 1970-71, on the DMZ, or as the Army called it A4. It was the closest to the DMZ but was a network of firebases upon which the NVA destroyed themselves in offense.
    I still remember at age 19 leaving the firebase at night on three man ambushes to go out there and sit until dawn. the NVA youngsters, and that’s all they were, not to take away from their deadliness, would be out there planting mines while listening to transistor radios. We were afraid to make sounds breathing.
    Best Wishes

  15. “von Manstein continued to argue with Hitler about overall strategy on the Eastern Front. He advocated an elastic, mobile defense; he was quite ready to cede territory, attempting to make the Soviet forces either stretch out too thinly or to make them advance too fast so that they could be attacked on the flanks with the goal of encircling them. Hitler instead insisted on static, attritional total war.”

  16. Will says:

    I used to have a copy of von Mansteins’s book Lost Victories. I lent it and never got it back.
    He was actually the author of Operation Sichel (?) in which Guderian led the tanks thru the Ardennes and raced to the coast and enveloped the British and French.
    He also saved the Caucus Army Group escape route in the Stalilngrad environs. His masterpiece was the masterly envelopment of the Soviets at Kharkov while retreating that Dimitar alludes to.
    He was later fired by Der Fuehrer.
    He was briefly imprisoned after the war, but his sentence was commuted.
    I still remember the preface from his book- an epitaph from Thermophylae
    Stranger, Go tell Sparta here we lay faithful to her Command.
    Best Wishes

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