06 January 2012

Pentagon Announces New Military Strategy

So 2MRC is dead. The question now is, "what's next"? There was an attempt at answering that yesterday, as President Obama and Secretary Panetta announced a new "strategy" yesterday that's focused on Asia and stresses 'cheap' stuff like drones and foreign engagement.

quotes, and more articles, after the jump...

President Barack Obama unveiled a defense strategy on Thursday that would expand the U.S. military presence in Asia but shrink the overall size of the force as the Pentagon seeks to slash spending by nearly half a trillion dollars after a decade of war.
The strategy, if carried out, would significantly reshape the world's most powerful military following the buildup that was a key part of President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cyberwarfare and unmanned drones would continue to grow in priority, as would countering attempts by China and Iran to block U.S. power projection capabilities in areas like the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz.
But the size of the U.S. Army and Marines Corps would shrink. So too might the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the U.S. military footprint in Europe.
Troop- and time-intensive counter-insurgency operations, a staple of U.S. military strategy since the 2007 "surge" of extra troops to Iraq, would be far more limited.
"The tide of war is receding but the question that this strategy answers is what kind of military will we need long after the wars of the last decade are over," Obama told a Pentagon news conference alongside Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The strategy drew varied reactions, with Republican Senator John McCain saying the United States could not afford a "budget-driven defense" and independent Senator Joe Lieberman warning it would "greatly increase the risk" that a U.S. adversary would underestimate the U.S. resolve to fight.
The scary part of this, of course, is the numbers...
Administration officials have said they expect Army and Marine Corp personnel levels to be reduced by 10 percent to 15 percent over the next decade as part of the reductions.
The Army's current strength is about 565,000 soldiers and there are 201,000 Marines, meaning an eventual loss of between 76,000 and 114,000 troops.
Panetta acknowledged the Pentagon's financial constraints would mean difficult choices and trade-offs that would require the United States to take on "some level of additional but acceptable risk in the budget plan we release next month."
Critics charged that the cuts were driven by budget woes rather than U.S. defense needs.
"The Pentagon is trying to put on a brave face that this is a pure strategy that has informed the 2013 defense budget," said Mackenzie Eaglen, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.
"Everyone knows that the cart was before the horse on this and that Congress and the president picked a budget and this is a strategy to chase down those numbers," she said.
"This is a classic resource-driven strategy document," said Gordon Adams, an American University professor who worked on defense budgets in the Clinton administration White House.

The Economist has their own sobering take on the situation:

The contours of the new military strategy announced by Barack Obama at the Pentagon on January 5th have been fairly clear for some time. To talk of it as “new strategic guidance” is thus slightly misleading. Short of some cataclysmic event that reshapes the entire landscape, strategy should hardly ever be new, but continually evolving to secure national interests (which remain constant) in a dynamic environment (in which change occurs in unpredictable ways and at varying speeds). As it happens, that pretty much describes Mr Obama’s approach. It is realistic rather than new.
What sort of power projection is needed? And how are the competitors countering it?
The third is the implicit recognition that the long wars against Islamist fanatics distracted America from paying the kind of attention it should have to “the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia”. Consequently, the Pentagon is now promising that “of necessity” it will “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region”. In particular, there is a firm commitment to maintain America’s ability to project military power in the region despite the rapidly rising military prowess of China and, in particular, its investment in asymmetric “anti-access/area denial” capabilities designed to make it too dangerous for American carriers to venture into its neighbourhood. The next decade will be a test both of that commitment and the way in which the strategic relationship with China–the first potential “near peer” military competitor America has faced since the collapse of the Soviet Union–develops.

The DoD has released the official statments from
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and from Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta.

Much more on this later.

By: Brant


Guardian said...

[This is going to be a three-part comment. Hopefully it's at least half as interesting to read as it was to think about and write.]

Perhaps I'm playing devil's advocate, but I would propose that we haven't had a 2MRC capability since the "peace dividend" of the 1990's.

I don't have time to look it up at the moment, but I believe the strategy that was in place before GWOT started was win-hold-win. The concept was to have sufficient capabilities to decisively win one MRC (for example, another war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq), hold the line in another MRC (for example, an opportunistic attack by North Korea on South Korea while the US was focused on the hypothetical rematch against Iraq), and then (after we won the first MRC), shift the resources to the second MRC to counter-attack and score another win.

Consider some scenarios, beginning with Afghanistan and Iraq.

We pulled critical resources (including SOF, ISR, and tactical airlift) from Afghanistan to focus on Iraq from 2003 through (roughly) 2009 and win OIF (for a loose definition of "win") while basically holding in OEF. Now we have focused our resources on Afghanistan in an effort to finish that with a win (again, loosely defined). It was not win-hold-win of MRCs, but win-hold-win of COIN and CT campaigns.

While all of this was going, I am not at all confident that we could have won or even held in another MRC, like North Korea getting too "frisky" while we were busy in Iraq and Afghanistan. The burden of the fight would have been on (quite capable) South Korean forces, with us reinforcing them to some extent on the ground with a few brigades put primarily providing logistics, ISR, and deep strike support.

Bottom-line: I don't think we've had a 2MRC capability for 20 years. What we're really giving up is the capability to fight protracted COIN campaigns like OEF and OIF. In my personal opinion, good riddance. If we want to do COIN, do it with SOF in a Foreign Internal Defense (FID) role with the host nation forces doing almost all of the fighting, like it's supposed to be done.

Guardian said...

[Part 2 of 3]

I think when the dust settles, we should have the following capabilities:

1) Quickly and decisively win a big "come-as-you-are" war with a near-peer competitor like Russia or China. Essentially a fourth-generation warfare (4GW)/Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) version of the classic WW3 scenario (but hopefully without a strategic nuclear exchange).

2) Quickly and decisively win a conventional(ish) war against a regional power. Examples of this are Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the initial phases of OEF and OIF (before they degenerated into COIN campaigns), a Second Korean War, etc.

3) Conduct quick and effective pre-emptive or retaliatory operations against any power using a combination of air, naval, space, "cyber" (don't really like that term), SOF, and conventional ground forces.

Note that (2) and (3) cover what I call the "Israeli strategy" and have talked about here before. Since the 1980's, when Hezbollah, Hamas, or their Arab neighbors finally push Israel too far, Israel unleashes the IDF to tear up the neighborhood for a few months. Then they withdraw. Essentially, Israel is saying "We just kicked your asses. If you don't knock off the crap, we'll do it again in a few years." It is not necessarily decisive, but it keeps Israel "reasonably" secure. Israel does not try to occupy the Palestinian territories or south Lebanon for years and try to remake it into a peaceful, prosperous, democratic society as we tried to do in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This "Israeli strategy" is how I think we should have dealt with the Taliban after 9/11. We gave them a chance to cooperate and either turn over al-Qaeda or let us come in get them. They refused, so we kicked the door in, as we should have. But we mission-creeped from CT (and seize and holding the ground needed to conduct the CT campaign) into a noble-sounding, but seemingly futile, COIN campaign. Imagine an alternate version of OEF where we seized Bagram, Kandahar, J-Bad, and a few other key locations and then just focused on holding those sites and maintaining the lines of communication/supply until we were "finished" (whatever that means) with the CT campaign. In some ways, that's what OEF degenerated into by default due to resource starvation while we were busy with Iraq. IMHO, it was kind of OK like that. And at some point, we just say "We've done all we can here. It's time for us to go. If we find any more terrorists here, we'll be back and this time we won't wait until they kill 3,000 civilians. You can count on it."

But I digress... back to the capabilities.

4) Provide decisive support to host nations in COIN/anti-terrorism/counter-narcotics campaigns (but NOT fight the whole campaign for them).

5) Conduct effective CT operations in either permissive or denied environments.

6) Scale-up the force (by adding more BCTs, CVBGs, air wings, etc.) if we need to fight (or prepare to fight) some protracted war. I think such a protracted war would almost certainly be a "war of choice" on our part, like OIF or the COIN (as opposed to CT) part of OEF. I don't see a war with a near-peer competitor like China or Russia lasting years. It will come to a cease-fire in a less than a year (more likely 3-4 months) because one side is clearly losing or both sides are just exhausted. If that doesn't happen, it's more likely to go nuclear than drag on as a years-long conventional fight.

Guardian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guardian said...

[Part 3 of 3, re-posted to fix a typo]

Before everyone concludes that I think this is all rosy, there are a couple of nightmare scenarios that this leaves us vulnerable to.

One is the short nightmare. One morning, we wake up to a mushroom cloud over NYC, London, or some other Western metropolis. It is labeled "Made in Pakistan." Islamic fundamentalists have either gotten hold of one of Pakistan's loosely-secured nukes or they've actually taken over the country and its nuclear arsenal with it. We cannot let this happen, but it has little to do with force structure. Short of the (effectively impossible) task of invading and occupying Pakistan, no reasonable US or Allied force structure can "fix" Pakistan.

Pakistan is the greatest WMD the West faces right now, worse than Iran or North Korea, even though we seem to be slowly lurching toward a war with Iran. Some big thinkers, like Thomas P.M. Barnett, have suggested that allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons is somewhat OK, because it will force them to play by the high-stakes rules of nuclear powers. Yes, they are bellicose, but so was Khrushchev ("We will bury you!"). Yes, they are under the influence of an apocalyptic cult that wants to provoke Armageddon and hasten the return of the Mahdi (the Islamic messiah figure). However, a substantial part of the American electorate is under the influence of a very similar apocalyptic cult that also wants to provoke Armageddon and hasten the return of their messiah. Should we not be allowed to have nukes either? 1/2 :)

So we have to "de-fang" Pakistan. Unfortunately, it's a risky proposition. We have to get 100% of the nukes and all the associated personnel and infrastructure. If we miss one, we will almost certainly have provoked the nightmare scenario. And we will have to keep a close eye on them and interdict any attempts to re-build the capability (at least until Pakistan "grows up," which might never happen).

By the way, Iran *could* pose the same kind of problem as Pakistan if they get nuclear weapons and the country goes even further toward fundamentalism than it already has. However, I think that it is less likely than a turn toward more democratic ideals (like the recent failed "Green Revolution"). Attacking Iran will, in fact, likely back-fire and strengthen the fundamentalist's position as the Iranians unify against "the Great Satan" (a.k.a. "the Far Enemy" in al-Qaeda terminology). We might very well have to "de-fang" Iran sometime soon, but Pakistan already HAS fangs.

So, anyway, that's the short nightmare. Here's the long nightmare: "the Resource Wars." Oil is the obvious one, but fresh water, food, rare earth metals, and other resources are other possibilities. When push comes to shove and vital resources run out, we might very well exercise what I call the "imperial option": seize and territories (like the oil fields of the Middle East) in order to exploit their strategic resources. The locals would undoubtedly object to this, so it would require a lot of boots on the ground for security. Near-peer competitors like China and Russia would also object, so we would have to be prepared to deal with them. This would be all bad, of course, and I would much prefer that we transition to a sustainable society (different long exposition on that), but the "Resource Wars" are a possibility. To compete (never mind win), we will need to scale up the force with enough lead-time for it to make a difference.

Brian said...

Thanks Guardian. You wrote at much greater length my own thoughts on the subject, though I am not sure the US has EVER had enough strength to do a 2-MRC conflict since World War Two, at least without a national war-footing mobilization - more than just sending the Guard.

Regards your Post 3: I feel the long nightmare is by far the more likely outcome - and would probably happen even if the "short nightmare" never does. It won't be pretty or easy.