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Military and media leaders have been basking in the glory of the West’s supposed victory over Communism and developing disarmament plans so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labors. The ugly truth, however, is that despite our new' relations with Cold War foes, the world is probably more dangerous now than at any time since World War II. As we prepare for the future, we must understand what really happened during the Cold War and separate reality from propaganda.
The lessons-learned business is one of the few remaining growth industries in the Defense Department. Thousands of people, in and out of uniform, are using Desert Storm experiences to justify all manner of ideas, programs, weapons, and strategies. Unfortunately, the spectacular, highly publicized victory in Kuwait occurred at the same time the Soviet Union was collapsing. The Ctlsy lessons of Desert Storm have tended to obscure the J^ore difficult, but far more important lessons of the Cold Jr- Our foreign policy and national military strategy, 'l'ch served us through 40 years of Cold War hostili
ties, no longer are valid. It is unclear how long it will take for a new, stable foreign policy to emerge, but before we can develop a viable strategy for the future, we must understand the strategic lessons of the previous era.
Having given some thought to our recent history and the current world situation, I offer some observations on strategic lessons that we ought to learn from the Cold War era. Some of these ideas run counter to the conventional wisdom, but I believe it is time to look critically at events of the not-too-distant past, to help us find the right direction and avoid repeating mistakes as we work toward new national and military strategies.
Settings / September 1993
The term “Cold War” is one of the great misnomers and propaganda devices of the past half-century. I think “World War III” more accurately describes the scope of the conflict. This long battle between the forces of (more or less) democracy and communism was one of history’s great ideological struggles, rising above the baser motives of territorial expansion, greed, and revenge that have fueled most wars. It was global in nature, touching every continent except Antarctica. And it was a real, hot war—but one characterized by battles on the flanks, often fought by surrogates on the Communist side (e.g., Korea, Vietnam).
It was total war, keeping tens of millions of men continuously under arms and draining the economies of both sides in an endless, escalating arms race. Indeed, this war finally was won by the ability of the Western democracies to sustain the arms race—a lesson that is as likely to impress the Russians as it did the Japanese after World War II. Complex diplomatic and foreign aid initiatives were used to maintain our long-term containment policy.
And finally, the death and destruction should tell us this was no “Cold War.” Fifty-four thousand Americans died in Korea, 57,000 in Vietnam. And while accurate numbers for anything beyond these two largest conflicts are hard to find, certainly thousands more died in overt and covert operations in other parts of Southeast Asia and in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa. Hundreds perished in surveillance missions against the Soviet Union, China, and Korea. Add to this our men and women killed on strategic deterrent operations, forward deployments, exercises, and training evolutions—a conservative estimate would be an average of 2,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, every year, or more than 80,000 during this period—and our Cold War deaths come to about half of U.S. World War II losses.
On the other side, Soviet military losses must at least equal ours. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese soldiers died, as did tens of thousands from nations allied with both sides. Add to these military casualties the millions of civilians slaughtered in Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and Korea—to name just a few— and the nations destroyed or crippled, and the image of devastating world war emerges far more clearly than that of cold war.
Even in Europe, Cold War hardly describes what happened. Warsaw Pact forces never poured through the Fulda Gap, but from wars in Greece and Yugoslavia, to numerous incidents along the inter-German border, to the Soviet crushing of dissent in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Baltic States, to the killing of thousands of people trying to escape through the Iron Curtain, the last 40 years were far from cold.
What difference does it make whether we call this conflict the Cold War or something else? It makes a difference because the myth of the Cold War prevents us from seeing the full scope of this long struggle. It prevents us from understanding the true success and value of our flawed, but vital, efforts in Korea and Vietnam These wars, only partially successful in tactical and operational terms and often viewed as U.S. failures in a geopolitical sense, were actually important strategic successes in the context of a half-century long global war They demonstrated Western commitment, willingness to fight, and superior tactical, technological, and logistics capabilities.
Finally, the myth of the Cold War interferes with out ability to appreciate our success and to properly honor the tens of millions of Americans who served and sacrificed and those who fought and died in this longest and costliest war of our history. The end of the Cold War has been a ho-hum event. The end of World War III merits more attention and analysis.
The New World Isn ’t Ordered
Anyone who celebrates the breakup of one of th< world’s largest and longest- lived empires clearly has no concept of history. Th< demise of the Soviet Uniof signals the end of an ed and the beginning of a period of geopolitical readjustment, with uncertain direction and outcome. Previous experience with the falling of empires would suggest the' this period of readjustment will be long, chaotic, and bloody.
Few Americans understand or appreciate the size ab complexity of the Soviet empire, or realize that Russia^ dominance grew over a period of some 1,100 years, onl) 75 of which were under Soviet rule. Beginning in tb 9th century, the Russians began a gradual expansion if all directions from Kiev: west to Europe, east to the Pa cific, south to China and the Ottoman Empire, and nortf to the Arctic. The Russians held sway within the appro* imate boundaries of the former Soviet Union for 400 year- This empire controlled vast natural resources and weald and exercised tremendous diplomatic and military infl11 ence throughout the world. What will happen now tlb many separate nations have been created? How will tb wealth, resources, people, and influence be redistrib uted? The answers to these questions are not clear, but i is a safe bet that these nations will not adopt U.S.-styl1 democratic governments to lead them into the future.
The breakup of the Soviet Union has returned us to tb world situation that existed at the end of World War I when the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires finals collapsed. During the post-World War I peace and treat! negotiations, European and U.S. diplomats redrew tb boundaries of Eastern Europe and the Middle East wi1^
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little regard for the people who lived there and scant recognition of existing national and tribal boundaries. These artificial national borders were fiercely resented and resisted by local peoples, especially in the Balkans and the Middle East. But until now, these borders have been held in place by such forces as the Great Depression, World War II, Soviet and Western military occupation, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Iraqi invasion °f Kuwait and the current fighting in the Balkans are only the opening rounds in this long-simmering desire of peoples in these regions to determine their own destinies and borders.
Ultimately, the United States and other nations will have to decide whether to allow these nations to resolve their differences themselves or to impose another external solution. But we must maintain the military capability to support whatever diplomatic course our government should choose.
While U.S. and European pundits blindly celebrate the death of communism, the rulers of Communist nations, firmly controlling nearly half the world’s population, must be remarking that rumors of their demise are greatly exaggerated. Totalitarian communism seems to have failed in ’he former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cuba, and North Korea still exist under Soviet-style governments. Will these governments ^°llapse under their own brutality and inefficiency, too? ''’ill they now change and adapt, giving their people more reedom and expanded market opportunities within a Communist framework?
And what will happen in the former Soviet Union and ’he Eastern European states? Americans seem to assume ’hut, from the ashes of communism, U.S.-style democ- ra’ic republics will arise. This prospect seems extraordi- Uarily remote. None of the nations in this region have any ■story of, or experience in, democratic government. Under the Czars, the Russians built a three-pronged sys- e,T1 consisting of the aristocracy, the church, and the s^Cret police/army working together to subjugate the people to the will of the Czar. Soviet communism substituted a bureaucracy for the aristocracy and the Communist party °r ’he church, and strengthened police functions to re- a,n control of the people and ensure they carried out -Will of the state.
"Hi hundreds of years of this kind of government now Suddenly yield to democratic self-rule? If it did, would it Jcate a better strategic situation in the world—one that °uld permit us to substantially disarm?
Perhaps more to the point, the conditions that encour- 8ed the spread of communism in the 20th century have °’ changed. World population has doubled since World
War II and—at current growth rates—will double again in about 25 years. This explosion in population will occur largely in the poorer nations of the world; vastly larger numbers and percentages of people will be bom into societies in which they have little or no opportunity for success, comfort, upward mobility, education, or even the basic necessities of life. To these people, the central themes of Marxism still sound attractive: elimination of hereditary ruling elites, abolishment of class distinctions, redistribution of land and wealth, state ownership of the means of production, “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs.” The additional message that these goals can be achieved only through armed revolution presents the continuing opportunity for charismatic leaders to foment Communist revolutions.
The Socialist/Communist message is not dead, even in the industrialized nations. Most Western European countries, for example, embrace vast Socialist programs—universal health and child care, education, unemployment and pension benefits, for example—while maintaining democratic governments and strong market economies. They redistributed their wealth via taxation, to provide a better quality of life for the entire population while limiting the accumulation of great fortunes by a privileged few. Even Americans desire a significant expansion of socialistic services like health and child care. We just don’t want to pay for it.
Communism is not dead; it is alive in both the industrial and nonindustrial world. The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, does present a historic opportunity. If Western nations can now channel developing and poorer nations in the direction of social democracy, perhaps revolutionary communism will not reappear. But we should remain aware that democratic processes work slowly and are often inefficient. True democracy can work only in societies that value, or at least tolerate, frequent changes in leadership, diversity of ideas, and a well-educated and informed population. These characteristics are in short supply around the world.
For the military, the lesson here is that more is required to defeat communism, or implant democracy, than counterrevolutionary military force. U.S. military power may be useful in stabilizing a chaotic situation, providing security, or separating warring parties, as it was in Somalia. But military force alone will fail, as it did in Vietnam, unless it is part of an effective larger package that gives a population a positive, viable alternative to the promise of a Communist utopia.
Big Enemies Make for Strange Bedfellows
When you have a large and clearly defined wartime enemy, you aren’t too picky about the politics or human rights records of your allies. Whether they will support you
however. Coalitions should never be used unless absolutel) in necessary. Having worked at NATO headquarters for three m years, I can attest to the frustration, inefficiency, and waste th of time and money that went with gaining consensu* ta among 16 nations on every political and military issue m operation, and acquisition. These frustrations were shared br and openly discussed, among officers from all countries But the NATO alliance was necessary, and it worked. The at inefficiencies were justified by the result. Alliances shoule id be formed only when their value outweighs the problem1 ba they create. qt
The same thing can be said for joint military operations fo Clearly, being able to participate in well-coordinated join so operations is a necessity for all armed services. And th* ou elimination of wasteful duplication of effort by combin ing or consolidating similar functions, especially in sup port areas, will improve efficiency and save money. Bn jointness rapidly is becoming an end in itself, and we nee< to be careful with this.
and whether they can fight are the only important questions. In the course of its history, the United States has allied itself with various unsavory nations to achieve shortterm wartime goals. Until the end of World War II, these alliances generally were terminated at the end of hostilities. But fear of the Warsaw Pact and the continued spread of communism after World War II caused us to retain ties to many anti-Communist regimes around the world.
Justifying its actions under “realpolitik,” or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the United States brought to power, shored up, funded, and otherwise supported a rogue’s gallery of tyrants, thugs, murderers, and criminals masquerading as leaders of their peoples—from the Shah of Iran to Diem, from Marcos to Noriega, from Chiang Kai-shek to Saddam Hussein. We sent hundreds of billions of dollars, free military equipment, and all kinds of training and support.
While these deals may have seemed necessary at the time, we must now try to understand that they may have helped spread communism, not stop it. In all these repressive regimes, the people longed to overthrow their corrupt leaders and obtain freedom, democracy, and a better life. Only the Communists were offering hope for a better future. By being so anti-Communist, we gave away our chance to promote democratic, peaceful change as a viable alternative to Communist revolution.
The friends we bought are gone now, but we still face the hatred and enmity of their peoples because we were always on the wrong side in these local conflicts. Now, in Vietnam, Iran, Central America, and the Philippines, new leaders are arising from a generation that fought U.S.- backed tyranny. We now have a chance to close this chapter of U.S. history, provide positive leadership, and try to show that democracy works when given a chance. What role, if any, would U.S. military forces play in a scheme to spread the message of democratic change?
Coalition Warfare Works
Despite the warning by George Washington to avoid entangling alliances, the United States has fought few wars without joining a group of allies. The Cold War was no exception. Aided by a variety of alliances, primarily NATO, the Western nations relentlessly squeezed the life out of the Warsaw Pact. Alone, the United States could not have sustained either the military or economic pressure required to win the contest.
Desert Storm is another example in which coalition warfare achieved a limited objective. In this case, the United States had the military-power to win the war alone, yet the political benefits and support gained from joining forces clearly were worth the effort.
This last observation comes with a cautionary note,
Democratic govern ments often are criti cized for being unab' to sustain consisted long-term foreign pol icy goals. The con ventional wisdom sa> that the frequen change of leadership, the need to satisfy a fickle electoral and the division of powers make it impossible to sustai' a vision. Certainly there are abundant examples where U-$ foreign policy has been weak or has changed direction wd' a new administration. But the last 40 years demonstrafl that our nation can sustain an overarching foreign poliC vision that is embraced by all political parties and leaden In this case, the policy was containment—to prevent tl>' spread of Communist ideology. Not only did the Unitf1 States adhere to this policy, but so did NATO and mad other nations.
Virtually all of our nation’s senior military and foreis policy planners have spent their professional lives wofi tl°t ing within the containment framework. For our gened ®sts tion it seems natural to have a focused foreign policy v1 e'l sion that leads to a coherent national military strategy up0 . ^ which we can base requirements and force structures. M°' tl0r military planners long for the Clinton administration 1 c°n declare a new foreign policy framework. What we fail1 'Ve realize, however, is that our country has gone for long p1 riods without major foreign policy guidelines. Presided °v would simply react to world events as U.S. intered J“°I dictated. J° s
Even when a vision seems necessary, it takes a lod n> time to develop it. It took more than four years after Wot1 war War II for the United States to adopt the containment sth>! °Ur egy as a guiding policy. And this was at a time when d . es Soviet Union was developing nuclear weapons and p° *
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ing a real military threat. Today, the international Communist movement is both moribund and discredited and there is no military power that could launch a credible attack on the United States without an extended period of mobilization. So it is not apparent that we even need a broad, global national strategy at this point.
Suppose we don’t get a substitute for containment, or at least not for another five years or more. Suppose President Bill Clinton deals with foreign policy on an ad hoc basis for two full terms. How will we then develop requirements and force structures? What sort of military forces are required to enforce ad hoc diplomacy? What sort of planning framework will the Pentagon adopt when °ur trusted threat-driven models no longer work?
Our Intelligence and Warning Systems Don’t Work
For purposes of political and diplomatic decisionmaking, our intelligence and warning systems at the strategic level in Washington, D.C., are failures. No one needs to see another list of events that we have failed  sustain a credible defense against a powerful foe and make even Grenada-sized operations a strain on active-duty resources.
So we must remember that our system has never, and probably will never, deliver adequate warning to make reconstitution a viable military planning construct. Every battle will be come-as-you-are, and we will get what we need only after it is proved that our forces are inadequate. Military planners and advisors must find a way to ensure we maintain adequate forces to carry out projected tasks.
The other reason our intelligence systems don’t work is that all the services use intelligence reports for budget building. Any requirements officer who has worked in Washington for a couple of years knows how to get any answer he wants out of the intelligence community. Is the Defense Intelligence Agency’s threat analysis weak? Ask the question differently and get a better response. Does the new analysis still not support all your program’s whizbang overkill? Get a newer analysis from naval intelligence.
This emphasis on defining often wildly exaggerated capabilities as actual threats in order to support programs and budgets is a serious flaw in our planning system. The same agencies and people who spent the last 40 years building 10-foot-tall Russians are now busily constructing 30-foot-tall Iranians, Ethiopians, and other mythical enemies. The money is going away. Every threat analysis that says we need $500-million-per-copy stealth bombers and $2 billion submarines takes money away from things we are going to need to fight realistic enemies of the next 20 years.
Desert Storm was one of the United States’ most successful small wars ever, and certainly our best effort since World War II. But Desert Storm’s quick and nearly painless success is also the reason it is inadequate as a model for future conflicts.
Desert Storm was an aberration in U.S. military history, perhaps in all of military history. A large and well- equipped foe sat back and permitted the buildup and ideal deployment of an overwhelming enemy force. We fought under terrain and environmental conditions that were ideally suited to our equipment and tactical doctrines. We encountered a cooperative enemy, whose air force ran away at the first shot, and many of whose poorly trained, ill-fed, and demoralized troops in the end simply refused to fight. In what future scenario might we face similar possibilities—Yugoslavia, North Korea? I think not.
Desert Storm is another of numerous examples where we felt compelled to punch some petty bully in the nose. And our victory had the same outcome as almost every previous similar effort: We won a military victory, gained a limited objective, and went home happy—leaving the bully in place to cause trouble later. The main lesson here is that we must sustain the capability to respond to crises in a world where the bullies are more sophisticated, bigger, and better armed than they used to be.
In spite of Desert Storm’s limitations as a model for future military actions, it serves to validate a number of strategic concepts that have guided our defense planning since the end of the Vietnam War. Some of these are:
► We are still a maritime nation; 90% of the material we needed to win in Kuwait went there by sea. Perhaps the inefficiencies and glitches in this effort will finally spur us to upgrade our sealift capability and fix our ailing shipbuilding and maritime transport industries.
► Caspar Weinberger’s principles for the application of military force are good. See what you can do with broad public support for the application of overwhelming force in pursuit of well-defined military and political objectives?
► Forward presence is vital. What would we have done in Kuwait without Saudi bases and the maritime prepositioning ships? We must be careful in our drawdown and retreat from overseas basing.
>■ Marine Air-Ground Task Force and Army Air-Land Battle doctrines are dynamite. Coordinated joint air and cruise missile operations work, too (in spite of well-publicized problems with the air tasking order). Everyone involved with creating and refining these concepts over the last 15 years should take a break to bask in well deserved glory— then get back to work fixing problems uncovered in actual combat.
► Our investment in modern amphibious lift is worth it. The benefits are obvious in places like Liberia and Somalia. In Desert Storm, the ready amphibious task force held in reserve forced the Iraqis to remain in fixed defensive positions and prevented them from shifting forces to face the Coalition’s main attack.
>■ Everyone but the U.S. Air Force seems to have relearned the lesson of World War II and Vietnam concerning the value of strategic and operational bombing: You can bomb the hell out of a determined foe, but he’s not going to surrender until your ground forces come in and seize his troops and land. In Kuwait, we bombed the
Iraqi troops into a state of quivering demoralization, bui they didn’t quit until the grunts came to look them in the eye. Bombing is good; it just doesn’t win the war b( itself.
► High-tech weaponry works and saves American lives. This was especially true in the early stages of Desefl Storm when cruise missiles, precision-guided missiles, and remotely piloted vehicles suppressed enemy defense^ destroyed command and control capabilities, and gave ui complete air superiority. Throughout the campaign, precision-guided missiles reduced the sorties required M knock out point targets like bridges and runways. Still with some of these weapons costing close to $1 millioe a round, we need to evaluate carefully how often we need to shoot cruise missiles, especially after we control th‘ skies.
The demise of the Soviet Union and the exhaustion an“ relief of its foes have made us all want peace and a lesj dangerous world. This wishful thinking colors and dis torts all our efforts to prepare for the future, both polij ically and militarily. The ugly truth, however, is that tb( world is probably more dangerous now than at any timj since World War II. The dangers are less focused, an* the directions of the threats are less clear, but that make] them no less real. It is vital to our ability to deal whj emerging world events that we clearly understand ouj post-World War II history—both its successes and i11 mistakes. Through knowledge of the real events of th( past 50 years, we must develop a vision that lets U retain the concepts that worked, discard those that fai| ed, and encourage innovative thought to master ne^ problems.
Captain Coyle is commanding officer of the Naval Air Technicj Training Center at Memphis. He was commanding officer of VQ-3 aflj in four squadron tours in VQ-3 and VQ-4, has accumulated nearly 6,0*1 flight hours in the EC-130. His previous staff assignments have incluifj NROTC instructor, analyst in OP-96, communications officer fj Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, in Brussels, and director on staff of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (RDA).
“Implacable, My Hat”
__________________________________________________ __________________________ '
Several years ago, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Fleet arrived on the quarterdeck of HMS Implacable. It was his habit to initiate some sort of practice emergency drill immediately on coming on board one of the aircraft carriers.
Looking at the duty lieutenant commander, he took off his hat, threw it on the deck, and said, “All right. That’s an incendiary bomb. What are you going to do about it?”
The duty lieutenant commander promptly kicked the hat over the side.
R. S. Blake
_________________________________________________________________ _ _______________________ /
to properly predict and react to in a timely fashion. Since World
 we have guessed wrong on almost everything, most recently on the collapse of the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Our systems don’t ^0rk partly because of the U.S. political process and partly because of the way the services use intelligence informa- d°n in Washington.
. The U.S. political process is very inefficient in mak- ln§ the decision to use military force. It was designed that WaY to keep us out of wars. In addition, the American Public and Congress have a deep-seated reluctance to fight m foreign lands. No doubt there were analysts in every mtelligence agency who correctly predicted every crisis the last half-century. But as their analyses go up the cbain to the President and Congress, they are interpreted to reflect the nation’s political reluctance to use force eXcept as a last resort. All ambiguities and alternatives are mterpreted to support the desire that military action will n°t be required. Only when U.S. military forces or inter- j!sfs are actually attacked do our politicians awaken, with e’§ned surprise, and send troops into the fray.
The lesson we need to learn here concerns mobiliza- lQu—or reconstitution. Reconstitution is supposed to be- ^)Ille an integral part of our defense planning. But when e know we have a political system that is incapable of aking decisions in time to initiate mobilization efforts, 0nv are we to make it part of our planning? During the t0 b War, we retained active duty forces large enough ^ sustain a credible defense—even against the Soviet Uion—which would have bought us time to mobilize ^ar-winning forces. Today, we already have drawn down ^Ur forces so much that we could not even duplicate .^esert Storm. Cuts to the lowest levels being discussed *be media would completely eliminate our ability to