The future of american military strategy (cont)

Michael P. Noonan Marzo 2006



Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow in defense and security policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of Armed Forces Journal, started off by arguing that the search for strategic wisdom must begin with looking at ourselves rather than looking outward. According to Donnelly, for Americans of the post-Cold War generation "the goal of our strategy has been to preserve the amazingly free, generally pretty peaceful and extraordinarily prosperous era that has been occasioned by the collapse of the Soviet empire." Maintaining American preeminence or primacy applies equally to the Clinton Administration as it does to that of Bush 43. Other members of the international community, however, see the expansion of our values (read: democracy) as threatening.

For Donnelly, there are three categories of international actors that fit the definition of aggressive rising powers and are threats to American primacy. First and foremost is the People's Republic of China. That country's remarkable economic growth, population, and rapidly modernizing military make it a rising great power. They are not simply a rising East Asian power; they are a rising global power with global interests -- particularly in the international economy. Next, al Qaeda and radical Islamism are an aggressive rising great power. While they currently lack a state their long-term goal is the establishment of a Caliphate in the Middle East. Last, are weak states like Iran, North Korea, and possibly Pakistan. By traditional measures of power they don't rate such status, but the acquisition of nuclear weapons has turned the traditional calculus of the balance of power on its head. "Their very weakness becomes the thing that is most of concern and most disruptive to the international order and to us in the United States," said Donnelly.

The U.S. should follow three imperatives. The first should be to try to keep these problems as separate from one another as is possible. Next, we need to pull together a set of alliances or a global alliance to try to help preserve Pax Americana and the peace. He sees Great Britain, Japan, and India, along with the United States, as members of an emerging global alliance held together by strategic interests (vis-a-vis China and the Middle East), a dedication to liberal democracy, and a continuing commitment to the legitimacy of military force as a tool of statecraft. Last, the United States needs to have a domestic dialogue about strategy making.

Militarily, he sees the capabilities-based approach as ineffectual. We need to think geopolitically and strategically about the conflicts we are most likely to be involved in and structure forces appropriately. Crediting the Rand Corporation's Andrew Hoehn with the concept, Donnelly stated that the U.S. needed to shift to a posture of "lateral jointness." In other words, the Army and Marine Corps would focus on missions in the Middle East, the Navy (and also the Marine Corps) would focus on East Asia, and aerospace power would provide global fire support and reconnaissance. He insisted that dealing with the third tier of rising powers would be labor intensive and there would be no quick fixes.

Brigadier General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., USAF, appearing in a personal capacity, began by acknowledging that there is debate within the military between those who see irregular warfare as the future and those who see Iraq as "the last war." He liked Donnelly's notion of a balance of power that favors freedom, but added that is also the freedom to hate us. He also approved of Donnelly's raising the issue of China. Confrontation is not inevitable, but it might be possible if China sees it as a pragmatic way of achieving their ends. Competition over resources, and particularly energy resources, would likely be the number one driver of future conflict in Sino-American relations.


We need increased cultural understanding of Chinese notions of nationalism and feelings of victimhood. General Dunlap agreed that the capabilities-based approach to force structure needed to be taken off the table; threats need to be examined and prioritized. Concluding his remarks, he argued that the strength of the United States is in the free enterprise system premised upon competition. Taking this into the military realm, he agreed with Donnelly and others that there needed to be more competition in the realm of ideas and divisions of labor amongst the services so that more the clash of ideas and divergent military theories flourished to produce greater efficiency and effectiveness.

Daryl G. Press, an Associate Professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and a Research Associate of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, agreed with Donnelly's emphasis on more traditional threats by major powers in the future. Paying too much attention or placing too much emphasis on non- traditional threats now might lead us to develop the wrong suite of capabilities for ten or fifteen years down the road, when we may be dealing with major powers that have conflicting interests with ours. But Press had four concerns with a strategy of primacy. First, while it is currently indeterminate whether China will or will not become a threat, pursuing policies such as building an encircling alliance around China might greatly increase the probability of conflict or long-term friction in Sino-American relations. Second, primacy will weaken the incentives of our potential allies to stand with us or help us confront mutual threats that do arise. Third, "a militarily active approach in the Persian Gulf is not well connected to our interests and actually causes us more problems than it solves." Too much of an American presence fuels support for al Qaeda and weakens the legitimacy of governments in the region who have their own reasons to go after jihadis. Last, while we have a strong interest in the current war of ideas, primacy takes an overly aggressive and counter-productive approach to promoting our values. Our ideology, said Press, "doesn't need to be spread at the barrel of a gun." There are more useful political, economic, and humanitarian tools to spread our values.


Colonel Mackubin Thomas Owens, USMCR (ret.), the Associate Dean of Academics for Electives and Directed Research and Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College and a non-resident Senior Fellow of the FPRI, asserted that there is a "more balanced form of primacy that is based on hegemonic stability theory that is not necessarily aggressive, but its primary purpose is to underwrite the kind of liberal world order that most of us would like." Presently the United States faces the same sort of situation that Great Britain found itself in at the end of the 19th Century -- confronting a rising Germany and policing their empire. The security environment poses the possibility of a high-end threat from a country like China and low-end threats from state and non-state actors. In the military domain, the United States must be able to react to and deal with both of those types of threat well; that is, we must practice "strategic pluralism" rather than "strategic monism."

The U.S. military must avoid preparing for the wars that it wants to fight rather than the wars it is going to have to fight. Even after 9/11 the military has focused too much expenditure on high-end threats. In order to minimize irregular threats and counter a rising China and develop a liberal world order, we must invest in providing security that is necessary for prosperity and economic advancement. Endorsing the views of Thomas Barnett, Owens' said that we must "export security from the core, _on the one hand, to try to make that part of the world more secure, and at the same time, take whatever steps are necessary to try to accommodate the rise of China." Problems arise, however, if China does not want to be accommodated.

A strategy of balanced primacy will require robust forces and investment. The Army will probably need at least 48 maneuver brigades -- an addition of 5 brigades from current planning -- and the National Guard should focus on homeland security. The Marine Corps would maintain its current size but would bifurcate its roles to focus on expeditionary capabilities on the one hand and act as "colonial infantry" on the other. Naval forces will be critical for power projection. The size of the Navy should remain about the same as it is today -- which provides about seven times the firepower as the larger Navy of the 1980s -- but we need more capabilities such as the Littoral Combat Ship to operate closer to shore. The Air Force will require long- range bombers for strike and loitering capabilities and some F22s -- although fewer than are presently proposed. In the nuclear arena we need smaller yield warheads on deep penetrators to get at targets that are difficult to reach. SOF should not be expanded too much, nor too quickly, in order to avoid a qualitative tradeoff in their capabilities. Overall, the most important thing we can do is maintaining properly trained forces that are survivable on a lethal battlefield.

Maintaining and cultivating allies is important to the overall strategy. We must do whatever we can to attract allies to "bandwagon" with us. For all the talk about the problems of primacy, Owens pointed out that no one has tried to counterbalance against us. To conclude his remarks he argued that in order to fund the strategy of balanced primacy the U.S. would probably need to maintain a defense investment of at least 4.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The costs of balanced primacy in terms of budget deficits, and so on, are not overwhelming because "_the idea of primacy and economic prosperity are self-reinforcing."

Elizabeth A. Stanley, an Assistant Professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the Department of Government at Georgetown University, argued that the United States needed balanced national power capabilities rather than larger balanced military capabilities. She stressed that primacy was not sustainable economically (particularly as federal entitlements expand after 2011) nor domestically (over costs and casualties) and may not be the best way to plan forces under current uncertainty. Currently our forces are over committed around the globe. The threats we have today, even traditional threats, are transnational in nature. Stanley argued that these threats are best dealt with in four ways: (1) in a preventive proactive way, (2) multilaterally, (3) across elements of national power, and (4) we must be willing to work with people while respecting their dignity and preferences so as not to exacerbate grievances and resentments. Because of the underlying ends- means mismatch, she contended that the U.S. military should use Stephen Peter Rosen of Harvard University's approach of "type two" planning under uncertainty. This path would allow us to hedge against risk by using resources to buy information about what is technologically feasible on the battlefield and also advanced strategic warning intelligence capabilities rather than investing in capabilities that might be wrongly suited to the emerging strategic environment. Finally, the U.S. needs to recognize that the world is a complex, interrelated system and that the best strategy to deal with this is to work with allies and third parties to attack contributors to world instability and disruptions.

Bruce Berkowitz, a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, observed that the current environment, as opposed to the Cold War period, makes force planning more difficult for three reasons. First, there are more fundamentally different types of opponents (e.g., North Korea, Al Qaeda, possibly China, etc.). The U.S. has not figured out how to link offensive and defensive capabilities and because there are so many threats we cannot design a total force capable of dealing all of them. Second, the very nature of asymmetric threats "makes it difficult to measure what you need to do to deter your opponent, because he is actively taking steps to make that calculation certainly difficult to calculate, and also much more difficult to define." Last, it is very difficult to measure the critical capabilities of cultural intelligence, tracking individuals, and appropriate levels of language skills. Berkowitz argued that for these reasons the U.S. had to rely upon a capabilities-based approach. Capabilities have to be measured against what we think are useful against most of the opponents we face today and assess those against what we have and then decide upon an investment strategy. He identified precision strike and intelligence persistence (i.e., the ability to surveil or gather intelligence on a given area or target for a long period of time) as two useful, measurable capabilities that we have today and need to develop more of. The Regional Combatant Commanders, as consumers of capabilities, needed to have input into force structure requirements.



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