- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2000

It has taken 10 years, but the most ponderous and most deadly branch of the federal government has finally noticed that the Cold War has ended and that things need to change. In a series of press releases and interviews which recently culminated in a very polished and high-level conference held in the Washington Marriott, the United States Army through its chief of staff, General Eric K. Shinseki has unveiled its radical vision for the future of American land forces. If cutting-edge science can be harnessed as envisioned and the existing plans implemented, then we will all be witness to the most radical change in war-fighting thought and practice since the WWI battle of Messines bore witness to the introduction of the first heavy tank.

If we are to believe the hype, within the foreseeable future, the United States Army will go from being a heavy and slow moving force, with a disproportionately large logistics "footprint," and an overextended system of overseas bases, to being made up of units that are self-sufficient, fast to respond, super-deadly and light in weight. This sea-change will be brought predominantly by the development and introduction of a 20 ton tank (the M1A2 weighs 70 tons) which will be wheeled as opposed to tracked. If such a beast can be brought into the world then the aim is to have the United States able to deploy five new divisions in 30 days, in contrast to the six-month warm-up to Operation Desert Storm.

The chief of staff's reveille is very called for. Since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact at the end of 1990 and the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it has become clearer and clearer that classic Cold War doctrinal concepts are very much out of place in a world where the enemy is unpredictable, unfettered by the rigidity of bipolarity and well-versed in unconventional forms of asymmetric combat. The Marines saw the writing on the wall early on and have stressed flexibility and speed as their forte, fighting the initial battles in wars which it admits only the Army can finally resolve with its greater size and harder punch. The Air Force has also developed its concept of Air Expeditionary Forces, or AEFs, which are smaller, more responsive force packages better suited to the new types of operations we have seen in the last few years. The Navy, albeit the service most limited by the medium in which the majority of its vessels must travel, has demonstrated its stand-off capabilities, most specifically the littoral delivery of cruise missiles representing yet one more policy option should diplomacy fail. It is the Army that has moved forward the least. And this is not surprising.

The Old Prussian Clausewitz still reigns supreme within the halls of land-force academe and doctrine. The maxim of needing three times as many forces as the enemy so as to be able to close and destroy all his forces still strongly influences the service. Add to this the fact that the chief of staff of the Army has traditionally had enough on his plate in simply managing his huge portfolio with its peculiar internal structures, and one could even congratulate Gen. Shinseki for bringing attention to the difficult choices that have to be made when moving into a new paradigm. And as an ex-tanker no one can say that he is unqualified to comment on matters having to do with the modern applicability of armor.

Russia is on its knees. It has insufficient funds to pay the wages of its soldiers or to properly maintain the launch vehicles for its corroding strategic nuclear force. Whilst the way in which it handles internal crises such Chechnya may make the West worry about Russia's commitment to international norms and the values of democracy, the country should not currently be seen as a traditional military threat. Moscow's recent attempts via Secretary General Robertson to revive good relations with NATO and Washington amply demonstrate this fact. China, the other bogeyman of the Cold War, is struggling in a fight with itself as its political identity collides ever more solidly with its growing market economy identity. Any conventional threat that either of these states could pose to Europe or to the United States would require a scale of effort that is beyond them now and a lengthy build-up period which would be telegraphed to Washington from the very start.

The foes of the next generation are different. Their physical distance from the United States is matched by their variety. From the paramilitary forces under the control of Slobodan Milosevic to the unpredictable regime of North Korea, these menaces have one thing in common: They must be responded to rapidly and with forces that can be sent thousands of miles within the necessary time-frame. We still need to have a service which can take ground and hold it, then control it. Yet that force does not have the luxury of being based just kilometers away from its potential foes, as U.S. troops were once arrayed just across the Sibesse Gap from their Soviet foes in East Germany just ten years ago.

The Army, with its new outspoken visionary, has finally joined its sister services in realizing the need to adapt. Would that this were enough. Even with a plan and a united military team, all these good words may be lost, as were similar plans but 20 years ago. As always, we now need the political support that can find the funds to bring about the change and, more importantly, that can bulldozer the cliques set against any change that one always finds inside any organization.

Sebestyn L. v. Gorka is Kokkalis Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of the recently released: “The Logic of NATO Enlargement in the post-Cold War World.”

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