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With the passing of the Soviet threat, the American people are looking for a defense windfall. In fact, the conventional forces that will be required to counter the future’s less predictable, less sophisticated threats, such as the ongoing conflict in the former Yugoslavia, will be more manpower intensive—and therefore more costly.
Myth: The United States can reduce the national debt, invest in infrastructure, and provide for the myriad of domestic needs that have been neglected in deference to defense imperatives by dismantling major segments of its defense establishment and by reducing the rate at which it modernizes its remaining forces and weapon systems. The United States can do this because the Soviet Union has collapsed and the Commonwealth of Independent States has renounced the policy of direct conflict with the capitalist West and the belief in the preeminence of Communist Socialism. In addition, those nations that do pose a threat to world order have limited resources to commit to weapons development and possess only limited military capabilities.
Reality: The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact has spurred the rapid proliferation of weapons technology, especially weapons of mass destruction. The pursuit of exchange dollars has led to the sale of weapons and technology that previously were reserved for indigenous forces. Expecting that the technological edge enjoyed by U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf will be preserved takes a leap of faith. Anticipating that we will retain the ability to respond to future threats with as timely success and as few casualties is too optimistic. Expecting to use smaller forces against unpredictable, emerging, technically advanced threats in more numerous potential theaters with less cost is unrealistic.
For more than 45 years, a predictable threat, operating from a predictable base, vulnerable to a well-tailored intelligence network, and surrounded by a mature theater infrastructure allowed us to construct a relatively simple defense algorithm. The mainstay of that defense was nuclear deterrence. Maintaining a balanced nuclear deterrent capability was less costly than maintaining only conventional forces to counter the Soviet threat. It certainly was
less costly than the predominantly conventional force stn1 ^ ^ ture that will be required to cope with the technically 3 vanced, amorphous, and geographically dispersed thr^ that is now emerging. ,
The resurgence of long-suppressed nationalism and . nic animosity expands the threat spectrum greatly—as ( idenced in Yugoslavia—and presents the potential t more, not fewer confrontations. These confrontations w not lend themselves to the constraints of nuclear deter rence. The old defense paradigm is gone. Changes can and doubtless should—be made to better tailor ford structure for the future. But presuming that savings ma) be had as a result of that redesign process ignores reality, history, and the best judgment of those whose lives not just political credibility—will be on the line.
At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated that the resurgence of ethnic naf tionalism could result in a world with as many as 5j countries. Balancing their narrow or tribal economic an' social objectives and aspirations with those of the 1 or so existing nations will lead to tensions with n easy solutions for U.S. diplomacy and an increased potential for conflict. The resulting threat environment while lacking the same potential for global annihilation as the Cold War—will be far more unpredictable. Tltfl United States will have less control over the time and] place of the next conflict; there will be more concurrefl1 demands on the U.S. military; more threats to the eco-
ALL PHOTOS AP / WIDE WOP'
nomic well-being of the United States and its Western allies will arise; and more diverse, costly, and challenging intelligence gathering will be necessary.
The belief that future conventional forces will be much less costly and that the United States will incur no significant additional strategic risk by reducing force structure is bolstered by the seemingly easy success of Coalition forces in the Gulf War. That assessment does not wear well under closer scrutiny, however. It fails to recognize that:
y The Coalition was confronted by an enemy who would not or could not fight.
► We enjoyed an unparalleled technological advantage.
> We enjoyed a modern infrastructure in theater.
' >■ The terrain, weather, cover, and reconnaissance envi- |( ronment favored Coalition forces, weapons, and tactics, iy We enjoyed unprecedented international political , support.
The assessment also incorrectly assumes that the col- j lapse of the Soviet threat leaves only lesser contingen- , cies and that current conventional forces and appropri- i ate segments of our nuclear deterrence—built in response ; to the now-defunct Soviet threat—can be deleted with-
quate, standing, conventional, forward-deployed force.
The Army divisions. Air Force wings, and naval forces deployed worldwide are not a counterforce as much as a demonstration of U.S. will. These forces provide a sustainable crisis response and were a deterrent “trip wire” to ensure that the Soviets would not try to call our bluff by staging repeated below-nuclear-threshold, conventional
out increased risk. This ignores the realities of Cold War force structure.
In fact, U.S. conventional forces—even when bolstered by those of our allies and with sufficient warning— were only marginally adequate to counter a determined Soviet thrust in Europe. Our strategic planners realized early that the investment required to match conventional European Soviet force ratios was far too costly. They realized, too, that conventional opposition to Soviet aggression would incur casualties at a rate that rapidly would tax our ability to field replacement forces. Therefore, a policy of containment, bolstered by nuclear deterrence, was developed. This later translated into a policy of gradual response to Soviet aggression. Initial response would be conventional, but it rapidly could lead to nuclear exchange if necessary. As costly as this strategy was, it proved far less costly than the maintenance of an ade-
incursions. Continental U.S. forces provided the rotation base to support forward-deployed forces and were the base force upon which the United States would rely to defend against a global conflict while the nation shifted to a war economy. Therefore, U.S. force structure—while tailored for the Soviet threat—was and is sized more in reflection of the global scope of U.S. engagement and the ensuing operational tempo required by a global response capability than in reflection of the forces required to meet Soviet aggression head on.
It is unlikely that the United States, if it is to remain globally engaged, will be able to reduce force structure significantly in the near future. The threat may have changed, but the threat equation has not. The vacuum created by the demise of the Soviet Union rapidly is being filled. In the bipolar world, countries nominally exercised their will in the shadow of superpower interests, and the likelihood of direct conflict as a result of these actions was minimal. In the absence of concern for superpower sensitivities, however, the chances for conflict may well increase. The actions of Iraq demonstrably, if not conclusively, support this.
In addition, the chance that more than one adversary will challenge U.S. interests increases. U.S. responses will increase accordingly, few of which will justify or lend themselves to resolution by surgical strike. Where U.S. interests dictate, the need will arise for forces to serve in a humanitarian capacity, as in Somalia; in a peacekeeping capacity, as in the Persian Gulf, Turkey, or the Balkans; or in a combatant capacity, as in Iraq. It is not at all clear that the forces committed to one “lesser-in- cluded” operation will be available for “major” operations. Nor is it certain that the resources consumed in “lesser” operations will be replenished in time to support subsequent or concurrent “major” operations.
Future forces will rely on conventional weapons, which—by virtue of their finite destructive power, lim-
ited deterrent capacity, and nature of employment—require more capital investment and more manpower than the same strategic deterrent capability resident in forces backed by a credible nuclear trump card. As many—if not more—forces than currently are fielded therefore will be needed to meet future taskings. They will be manpower intensive, and, because manpower outlays constitute the largest portion of defense outlays, they will be extremely costly. Manpower also incurs a long-term obligation for the government; a 17-year-old career enlistee can be expected to draw active duty and retired pay and allowances for himself and his family for more than 60 years. Even noncareer servicemen earn veterans’ benefits.
The anticipated manpower savings most analysts expect also neglect to account for adequate forces to provide a rotational base. The Desert Storm coalition would have had difficulty sustaining deployed force levels had the confrontation gone on for more than the six months it did. Even now, gaps are being projected in our ability to maintain uninterrupted presence in existing trouble spots and meet existing commitments without violating personnel and operational tempo goals.
To size force structure and determine capabilities appropriately, we must analyze risk as well as cost. Risk assessment necessitates evaluating general or strategic risk and specific or tactical risk. Absent the total collapse of the Russian and Ukraine governments and the threatened launch of the remaining strategic nuclear weapons by anarchical forces, it is difficult to envision a near-term threat that could place the United States in jeopardy the way a determined Soviet Union might have. In that regard, there is no pressing strategic threat. This may well change over the long term, but, if it does, we should have adequate time to respond. Of more concern is the nature of emerging, specific, near-term threats.
We are led to believe that the Gulf War characterizes the emerging threat that should drive U.S. force size and capabilities determinations. The force structure postulated as being adequate to respond to two concurrent such threats is smaller, albeit more technologically advanced. This structure ignores the fact that though the 500,000 troops the United States sent to Desert Storm represented less than one third of total U.S. forces, they accounted for 60%-80% of the frontline combat strength of the various component services. How could a smaller force structure support a rotation base if the conflicts last longer than anticipated?
Some postulate that the potential for actual foljl engagement in future conflicts and the risk to forces can be reduced measurably by develop! conventional, precision stand-off weapons. This, t< demands a leap of faith. We have demonstrated way of the Strategic Defense Initiative that even| we could develop the surveillance, classificatii identification, targeting, and weapons architect!) needed to provide a viable, stand-off defensive c pability, we could not ensure a degree of leak-pro defense that justified the cost. How can we, wi any confidence, expect that we can afford to ref cus that complex architecture and embed in it an £ fensive capacity that will function against an as-j unidentified opponent, operating in an undefio1 theater? The number of gross domestic products n<? essary to accomplish this stretches credulity. We are rf holding Iraq at bay, nor are we intimidating the Serbs Wi the deterrence of our precise standoff weaponry. This c(f cept of conventional strategic deterrence is even less pb1 sible when one recognizes that, in the end, no adverse in modem history has capitulated to conventional force1 the absence of actual invasion.
What is emerging from the new defense strategy af investment plan is the following recipe for strateg1 disaster:
► Assume future adversaries will be more manageable ‘ predictable than those in the bipolar world
► Ignore their potential lethality
► Assume we and our allies in coalition will be able1 dictate the time and place of the next conflict
► Assume technology advances will render face-to-fa1 combat a relic of the past or at least ensure acceptable sualty rates
► Reduce force structure in the face of a predictably >f creasing array of adversaries
► Assume technology will provide a conventional detf1 rence that will hold emerging adversaries at bay as
as nuclear deterrence held the Soviets at bay
Success in the emerging security environment requiff that we recognize the truth:
► The world is a risky place to live.
► The United States—whether we like it or not—is a* will remain engaged on a global scale.
► A viable defense will not accrue from a smaller, R*' sustainable force structure in a world that will present e'1 more opportunity for conflict.
We must be certain that subsequent to our success11 the Cold War and our victory against a less-than-word1 post-Cold War foe, we do not create a military that is e'£ more demanding of sacrifice than the one we are diJ mantling. We must avoid designing a defense paradig11 that, with political correctness, commits forces to one ta£ tical failure after another, while the nation as a whole loSf
its political credibility and its strategic advantage.
Colonel Hieb currently is serving as a fellow on the Chief of Naval 0( erations’ Strategic Studies Group. An AV-8 pilot since 1972, he ^ ^
served as the commanding officer of the AV-8B Fleet Replacen'fl Squadron. He has served tours at both Headquarters, U.S. Marine Co(f ; y and the Pentagon, and is a graduate of the Marine Corps Comma,,‘ 111 and Staff College and the Naval Postgraduate School.
Proceedings / January