Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Reprogram the Pentagon

A Balanced Strategy

Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age

Robert M. Gates
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2009


The United States' ability to deal with future threats will depend on its performance in current conflicts. To be blunt, to fail -- or to be seen to fail -- in either Iraq or Afghanistan would be a disastrous blow to U.S. credibility, both among friends and allies and among potential adversaries.

In Iraq, the number of U.S. combat units there will decline over time -- as it was going to do no matter who was elected president in November. Still, there will continue to be some kind of U.S. advisory and counterterrorism effort in Iraq for years to come.

In Afghanistan, as President George W. Bush announced last September, U.S. troop levels are rising, with the likelihood of more increases in the year ahead. Given its terrain, poverty, neighborhood, and tragic history, Afghanistan in many ways poses an even more complex and difficult long-term challenge than Iraq -- one that, despite a large international effort, will require a significant U.S. military and economic commitment for some time.


What is dubbed the war on terror is, in grim reality, a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign -- a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation. Direct military force will continue to play a role in the long-term effort against terrorists and other extremists. But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory. Where possible, what the military calls kinetic operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance, economic programs that spur development, and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit. It will take the patient accumulation of quiet successes over a long time to discredit and defeat extremist movements and their ideologies.


The military and civilian elements of the United States' national security apparatus have responded unevenly and have grown increasingly out of balance. The problem is not will; it is capacity. In many ways, the country's national security capabilities are still coping with the consequences of the 1990s, when, with the complicity of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, key instruments of U.S. power abroad were reduced or allowed to wither on the bureaucratic vine. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers. The U.S. Agency for International Development dropped from a high of having 15,000 permanent staff members during the Vietnam War to having less than 3,000 today. And then there was the U.S. Information Agency, whose directors once included the likes of Edward R. Murrow. It was split into pieces and folded into a corner of the State Department. Since 9/11, and through the efforts first of Secretary of State Colin Powell and now of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the State Department has made a comeback. Foreign Service officers are being hired again, and foreign affairs spending has about doubled since President Bush took office.

Yet even with a better-funded State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, future military commanders will not be able to rid themselves of the tasks of maintaining security and stability. To truly achieve victory as Clausewitz defined it -- to attain a political objective -- the United States needs a military whose ability to kick down the door is matched by its ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterward.



Even as its military hones and institutionalizes new and unconventional skills, the United States still has to contend with the security challenges posed by the military forces of other countries. The images of Russian tanks rolling into Georgia last August were a reminder that nation-states and their militaries do still matter. Both Russia and China have increased their defense spending and modernization programs to include air defense and fighter capabilities that in some cases approach the United States' own. In addition, there is the potentially toxic mix of rogue nations, terrorist groups, and nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. North Korea has built several bombs, and Iran seeks to join the nuclear club.


But it is also important to keep some perspective. As much as the U.S. Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, for example, in terms of tonnage, its battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined -- and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners. Russian tanks and artillery may have crushed Georgia's tiny military. But before the United States begins rearming for another Cold War, it must remember that what is driving Russia is a desire to exorcise past humiliation and dominate its "near abroad" -- not an ideologically driven campaign to dominate the globe. As someone who used to prepare estimates of Soviet military strength for several presidents, I can say that Russia's conventional military, although vastly improved since its nadir in the late 1990s, remains a shadow of its Soviet predecessor. And adverse demographic trends in Russia will likely keep those conventional forces in check

In the case of China, Beijing's investments in cyberwarfare, antisatellite warfare, antiaircraft and antiship weaponry, submarines, and ballistic missiles could threaten the United States' primary means to project its power and help its allies in the Pacific: bases, air and sea assets, and the networks that support them. This will put a premium on the United States' ability to strike from over the horizon and employ missile defenses and will require shifts from short-range to longer-range systems, such as the next-generation bomber.


I have learned many things in my 42 years of service in the national security arena. Two of the most important are an appreciation of limits and a sense of humility. The United States is the strongest and greatest nation on earth, but there are still limits on what it can do. The power and global reach of its military have been an indispensable contributor to world peace and must remain so. But not every outrage, every act of aggression, or every crisis can or should elicit a U.S. military response.

We should be modest about what military force can accomplish and what technology can accomplish. The advances in precision, sensor, information, and satellite technologies have led to extraordinary gains in what the U.S. military can do. The Taliban were dispatched within three months; Saddam's regime was toppled in three weeks. A button can be pushed in Nevada, and seconds later a pickup truck will explode in Mosul. A bomb dropped from the sky can destroy a targeted house while leaving the one next to it intact.

But no one should ever neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of warfare. War is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain, and it is important to be skeptical of systems analyses, computer models, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. We should look askance at idealistic, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to transcend the immutable principles and ugly realities of war, that imagine it is possible to cow, shock, or awe an enemy into submission, instead of tracking enemies down hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said, "Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster."

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