Cockamamie courses of action in the past featured mismatches between strategies and threats, strategies and objectives, strategies and forces, strategies and tactics, strategies and strategies. The following four cases, which deposited too many or too few eggs in fatefully important baskets, are illustrative.
All eggs went into the "Strategic Air Power" basket soon after the first nuclear fireballs burst over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The simplistic U.S. strategy calculated to "get a bigger bang for each buck" matched ends and means very poorly, because concepts of total war leading to total victory couldn't convert nuclear supremacy into deterrent capital. Foes who favored psychological warfare, subversion, and insurgency consequently scored consistently without tripping nuclear triggers. Stalin trapped Central Europe behind an Iron Curtain, then squashed rebellious satellite states while we wrung our hands impotently, mindful that even limited nuclear reprisals might precipitate World War III, which we sought to prevent. Mao concurrently consolidated control over China and Tibet. Communist-kindled conflagrations flared along East Asia's fringe from Korea to Malaya throughout the 1950s. Inflexible U.S. abilities to cope with skullduggery, in short, fell flat.
U.S. conventional capabilities benefited a bit after President Kennedy consecrated Flexible Response in 1961, but the basket labeled "Nuclear Deterrence" collected a disproportionate number of eggs when Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara modified Massive Retaliation to fit Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) schemes, which critics contended were "almost literally mad." Deterrence based on a balance of terror emerged as its only aim. Active and passive programs designed to safeguard the United States from atomization languished, because power to destroy aggressors presumably provided the prime deterrent, not the ability to protect our people or production base (historical archives reveal that no other nation has ever repudiated homeland defense). Far from capping the nuclear arms race, self-imposed U.S. constraints encouraged Soviet competitors to catch up, and then surpass us in several respects. Nuclear warhead inventories soared on both sides and, if deterrence failed, savage U.S. retaliation against Soviet cities would have culminated in national suicide.
Carl von Clausewitz's classic On War correctly stated that "The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish...the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature." Misguided U.S. strategists who put most eggs in the "Traditional Military Operations" basket therefore failed to subdue Viet Cong insurgents for several years while will-o-the-wisp foes engaged allied armed forces whenever and wherever they wished, using hit-and-run tactics much like those that frustrated British Regulars during the American Revolution. U.S. military power took precedence over political and psychological offensives. "Grab 'em by the b----, their hearts and minds will follow" was a popular slogan, but indiscriminate firepower disaffected many indigenous friends whose cooperation was imperative. Ho Chi Minh's battered successors sued for peace after we finally got the hang of it, then regained control at conference tables in Paris, where savvy Communist negotiators rid the region of U.S. power while leaving red power in place. We lost a game of intellectual judo, in which conceptual leverage proved more potent than munitions.
Answers to the question "How much is enough?" have put too few eggs in the "Force Posture" basket for more than five decades. Kennedy/Johnson administration requirements to combat the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China contemporaneously with enough left over to handle a lesser contingency were never more than pipe dreams. Unachievable 2-1/2 war capabilities shrank to 1-1/2 wars by 1969 (the USSR or China plus sideshows). Aspirations bottomed out in 1980 at one major and one minor contingency against unspecified foes, then rebounded in response to President Clinton's 1993 Bottom-Up Review, which demanded forces able to fight and win two major regional conflicts "almost simultaneously" while minimizing U.S. casualties. Nobody except its architects ever believed that feat was feasible, given congressionally authorized force levels and budgetary deficiencies.
"I'll think about it tomorrow. . . After all, tomorrow is another day" were Scarlett O'Hara's last words in Gone With the Wind . She clearly was oblivious to Don Quixote's squire Sancho Panza who, loosely paraphrased, advised all to "plan for tomorrow while you labor today." Incipient trends now in gestation unfortunately suggest that U.S. national security decision-makers, preoccupied with two shooting wars, may put too many eggs in the "Current Problems" basket and too few in "Future Requirements." So doing, of course, would make it most difficult (perhaps impossible) to deal effectively with potential contingencies that already loom large.
Counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, which occupy center stage, affect Navy and Air Force demands very little, but Army and Marine ground pounders as presently resourced have their hands full in Iraq, where the real war erupted after Saddam's regular army disintegrated, and in Afghanistan, where hunts for al Qaeda and quests for internal stability continue. Few uncommitted mud soldiers remain free to conduct combat operations in North Korea, Iran, Syria, or anywhere else if additional hostilities erupt.
Title 10, United States Code tells the U.S. Army to "organize, train, and equip forces for the conduct of prompt and sustained operations on land. . . ." Our Army, however, is too small to meet sustained commitments on the scale of those in the Middle East and Balkans, much less elsewhere.
Top-level policy-makers accordingly are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Unpopular Stop Loss policies, which retain military personnel beyond scheduled discharge dates, have been a stopgap since September 2002, with no end in sight before 2006, if then (a federal appeals court in San Francisco on 13 May 2005 refused to stop Stop Loss). At least 26 of 33 active Army brigade combat teams and 20 of 45 separate brigades will deploy overseas this fiscal year. More than 10,000 troops scheduled to return from Iraq were rooted in place past the January 2005 elections. Recurrent reliance on assorted Army National Guard and Reserve units puts civilian jobs in jeopardy and severely strains family relationships.
The Army recently recalled 5,600 members of the Individual Ready Reserve who previously completed specified periods of active duty, but remained vulnerable because their Reserve Component contracts had not expired. Something like 100,000 artillerymen, air defenders, and others ill-suited for counterinsurgency billets are retraining as infantry, military police, intelligence analysts, and civil affairs specialists whether they like it or not. Our All Volunteer Force consequently is becoming less voluntary every day, with adverse impacts on troop morale.
DoD consequently must sweeten the pot to retain overcommitted Army personnel and stay competitive with civilian employers who bid for their talents. Incentives include Special Duty Assignment Pay, hefty reenlistment bonuses, and lump sum payments up to $40,000 for high-priority specialties. Highly qualified Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and SEALs who possess scarce skills can pocket $150,000, if they sign up for six more years. The composite package totals many millions.
Title 10 further tells our Marine Corps to organize, train, and equip forces "for service with the fleet in the seizure or defense of advanced naval bases and for the conduct of such land operations as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign." That prescription, however, isn't worth the paper it's printed on because Marines repeatedly must supplement our shorthanded Army, which cannot satisfy its assignments unassisted. Leathernecks during World War I and since World War II have routinely taken up part of the slack by performing protracted land power missions that have nothing in common with naval campaigns. Included tasks frequently involve nitty gritty urban combat rather than fluid littoral warfare, as demonstrated inside Seoul (1950), Hue (1968), and Fallujah (2004). In 1988 Al Gray, the realistic Marine commandant, switched the Corps' specialty from amphibious to expeditionary warfare as a direct result. That sorry situation will persist until the Army expands enough to satisfy commitments.
Special Operations Forces (SOF) have enjoyed unprecedented popularity since October 2001, when tiny increments were spectacularly successful in Afghanistan. So-called SOF Truths nevertheless caution admirers against excessive exuberance, because quality is more important than quantity and competent SOF can neither be mass-produced nor be created quickly after emergencies occur. Congressional enthusiasts accordingly should think at least twice before they approve substantial expansion without well-informed debate, lest they rob special operations forces of their special characteristics. Finally, it's well to remember that U.S. military mainstays skilled at traditional combat were appallingly unprepared to respond effectively after Iraqi insurgents opened unfamiliar fronts in April 2003. Why? Because top-level leaders sighed with relief as soon as the Vietnam War was over. "Thank God!" they crowed, "Now we can concentrate on activities we understand." Neither they nor their successors ever introduced succeeding generations to counterinsurgency (COIN). Mandatory courses disappeared from military college curricula and relevant reams about COIN strategies, tactics, and techniques have moldered unread on library shelves ever since. Present day politico-military policy-makers, as a direct result, still strive to reinvent a counterinsurgency wheel while forces in the field pay lethal penalties. Let's pray that senior officials don't let COIN go down the drain again after current demands dissipate.
Pleas for Flexibility
Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie's little gem entitled Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control contains a plea for adaptable concepts and forces, since nobody other than God can consistently predict the onset, scope, tenor, intensity, course, and consequences of any war. Requirements therefore exist for a rucksack full of plans and supporting force postures designed to facilitate smooth transitions in emergencies because, as Wylie succinctly put it, "planning for certitude is the most grievous of all military mistakes."
Senior U.S. politico-military decision-makers who hope to avoid injurious surprise would be well advised to take Wylie's wise words on board by adding Flexibility to existing Principles of War, with a framed copy on the wall of every office and a plaque on every desk. Said principle would remind employers that enemy purposes, plans, and methods of operation are subject to radical change without notice at the worst possible times and places. Failure to bear that basic fact of life in mind, meanwhile, amplifies possibilities that future U.S. armed forces will revisit déjà vu all over again.
Colonel Collins has studied military matters for more than 60 years. He currently manages an e-mail net called the Warlord Loop, which investigates cogent national security issues from every angle.