Yochi J. Dreazen of the National Journal describes the announced US military reduction as follows. He characterizes the reduction as “a decisive shift away from manpower-heavy counterinsurgencies like Afghanistan,” and this isn’t inaccurate. Our military leadership, in fact, insists
that ground wars like Afghanistan are a thing of the past while air and naval conflicts with nations like Iran or China represent the most important threats of the future. The document explicitly said the Pentagon will shift military and financial resources away from Europe and toward the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions.
potentially significant cuts to the size of the Army and Marine Corps[.]
Both men [Panetta and Obama] have previously indicated that the purchases of costly armaments like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive warplane ever built, and several next-generation types of warships may be slowed or reduced to save money, though they offered no new details on Thursday.
There are some problems with this thinking, though. In the first place, if the primary upcoming threats are Iran and the PRC, then what do they call the terrorist organizations like the ones actively at war with us now? These are just competitors, then?
Secondly, if we’re to rely on our Navy in the Asia-Pacific region, and PRC is building up its navy, its long-range counter-ship capability, and its air force, how will we deter and defeat that threat without modernized—and more—ships?
Thirdly, do we no longer care about the safety of our only reliable ally in the Middle East, Israel? Are there no important threats there to our interests or to our ally? Or, for how long do the Pentagon and the White House expect that Israel can hold out while we’re “spoiling” an attack there, perhaps one by a nuclear Iran, while we are fully engaged elsewhere?
Additionally, air and naval forces can’t seize and hold territory—which is what terrorist organizations and their supporting nations, as well as directly threatening nations occupy. To defeat these enemies, we need to take their territory away from them and hold it ourselves until a more peaceable government can be installed. That requires ground forces not merely equipped and trained to the task, but numerous enough for it, as well.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says
The U.S. joint force will be smaller and it will be leaner. The Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support the kind of large-scale, long-term stability operations that dominated military priorities…over the past decade.
He’s partly correct. The Marines are an expeditionary force, best used for power projection and for breaking down the barriers to entry into enemy territory, and it’s the Army’s job to complete that entry and then to effect the subsequent destruction of the enemy’s ability to prosecute his war against us. Reversion of the Marines to its primary role—if that’s what’s actually intended, and not simply a “cost-saving” across the board slashing of manpower for its own sake—is a useful move. However, also stripping the Army of the numbers it needs to do its job—and there is a threshold number required, regardless of skill and equipage—simply strips us of our ability to protect ourselves.
Canceling or curtailing planned weapons buys is always difficult politically because lawmakers typically work to shield armaments built in their states as a way of saving jobs. It is likely to be even harder now because of election-year partisanship and legitimate concerns about the Pentagon taking steps that would almost certainly mean job losses at a time of deep economic weakness throughout the U.S.
To a large extent, though, as with the “smaller and leaner” bit above, this is only partially true. Where weapons systems cuts are legitimate—the F-22 is a prime example of a boon-doggle, and the F-35, within the new defense concept, is of questionable value, unless it can deliver the goods in the secondary “spoiling” engagements elsewhere in the world that is a part of this new “fight one and hope for the best everywhere elsedenying and deterring aggression elsewhere” strategy—the systems should be eliminated and the funds put to better use in the DoD.
On the other hand, systems that are necessary for this new strategy (vis., modernized and enlarged naval forces, longer-ranged air forces with larger payloads and better protection systems, and additional forward basing systems in places like, oh say, the Republic of China, the Republic of the Philippines, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Republic of India) will need to be increased, not cut. Congressmen of all parties and independencies will have to decide whether they’re going to be partisan hacks for favored private companies or Representatives of their constituents come together with their fellows at the Federal level, and look to doing what’s best for the nation as a whole: making the requisite cuts here and increases there, regardless of personal political profit.
Finally, I have to ask: Is Panetta now suggesting we have no more need of dealing with terrorists? The GWOT is over? As I mentioned above, neither insurgency and its associated terrorism, nor terrorism directed against us or our friends and allies, are destroyed unless someone is prepared, in the aftermath of the fighting, to occupy the territory and engage in “stability operations.” In the end, assuming we’ve won the proximate fight, who else will conduct the stability operations? The just defeated nation? With what resources, and to what motivated end? Europe? With what resources? They ran out of bombs five minutes into the Libyan No Fly campaign and had to drop American ordnance for the duration. Given that failure, from where will Europe get the manpower and equipment—including civil engineering manpower and equipment—to conduct stability operations? Or is Panetta’s plan to simply to shoot up the area, crush the enemy forces in the field, for today, and then just walk away? This seems somehow…incomplete.
In the end, the Pentagon and the White House seem to have lost sight of a fundamental tenet: quantity has a quality of its own. What’s the value of the best trained, best equipped, most courageous and dedicated force in the world if it can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers from an attacker that cares not a whit about his own casualty rate, so long as he kills and wins the battle? The terrorists in the World Trade Center attacks achieved ~110:1 kill ratio, and at Mumbai the terrorists achieved a kill ratio of nearly 20:1. Across both attacks, one attacker survived. The enemy simply didn’t care; he achieved his goals.
In the Korean War, the PRC forces kept coming against the American and Republic of Korean forces, absorbing enormous casualties to achieve their victories. Over the course of the Chosin Reservoir battle, for instance, the Chinese absorbed nearly 50% casualties in their attempt to pen up and destroy an Allied force half their size at the start of the battle. Even though the allied force escaped, the Chinese carried the battlefield, and so they counted the outcome as worth its cost.
Our enemies don’t think like us; it’s foolish—and fatal—to base our planning, strategy, and tactics on the assumption that they do.
It appears the present “draw-down” is based more on political rationale than on the evolving threat environment. Our new national defense concept seems based on a muddled, ill-thought out view of the purpose of our national defense, and of who the threats against us really are.
There are nation-states that remain our enemies and would like nothing more than to see our destruction. War is not out of the question with these. There are non-national organizations that already are at war with us, intending to destroy us. The force structures and capability sets necessary to engage and destroy these threats are as different from each other as are the threats themselves.
Does any rational person really think the proposed rump military that will result from the present reduction will be capable of being fully engaged simultaneously against both types of threats and defeat them—rather than itself being destroyed in those battles leaving us disarmed and helpless? Or that it’ll be able to function at all without control of the high ground—space—which went completely unmentioned?