- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001


Many defense intellectuals and some military professionals want to abandon the so-called "two-war strategy" that calls for the United States to have the capability to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major theater wars. This has been a major element of our national security strategy for a decade after the end of the Cold War, because it makes good sense in a world of multiple, smaller but still dangerous threats. Those who oppose this part of the national security strategy simply don't appreciate that it is necessary to be ready for two wars to minimize the probability of having actually to fight two wars.
Here is what the National Security Strategy issued by The White House in December 1999 actually says about this topic: "Fighting and winning major theater wars is the ultimate test of our Armed Forces a test at which they must always succeed. For the foreseeable future, the United States, preferably in concert with allies, must have the capability to deter and, if deterrence fails, defeat large scale, cross-border aggression in two distant theaters in overlapping time frames. Maintaining a two major theater war capability reassures our friends and allies and makes coalition relations with the United States more attractive. It deters opportunism elsewhere when we are heavily involved in deterring or defeating aggression in one theater, or while conducting multiple smaller scale contingencies and engagement activities in other theaters. It also provides a hedge against the possibility that we might encounter threats larger or more difficult than expected."
We do not have a "two-war strategy" in the sense that we plan to fight two wars at the same time. We certainly don't want to do that. Our strategy is to respond appropriately across the entire spectrum of conflict to whatever does occur. We don't know the future. Since we are not aggressors, we don't know exactly where and when we will have to fight. Our intention is to have sufficient, very visible combat potential to deter an aggressor from starting something while we are already engaged. Deterrence is the goal, and deterrence is based on capability. If we are armed well enough and ready, we make it more likely that we will not have to fight two wars at the same time or even one war.
Preparing for only one war is intrinsically unsound. If we have the capability to fight only one war, we weaken our ability to dissuade an enemy from taking advantage of our total commitment to an ongoing war. We could find ourselves losing in a second theater or trying desperately to fight on two fronts with forces for one. That situation would be too reminiscent of the traditional American strategy of unpreparedness, which has in past wars caused us to lose the first battles and delay while we mobilized to win. We don't want to repeat that experience, and we don't have to because we can afford to have the capability to wage two wars at the same time.
Scenarios involving two wars or two wars plus some smaller scale contingencies are posited in the defense planning guidance in order to give the service and defense agencies a concrete basis for planning and programming the force structures and supporting personnel and procurement programs they put into the Department of Defense budget submission. While these planning scenarios are unlikely to occur exactly as described in the guidance, there will be future wars sometime, someplace that will require the employment of U.S. military forces. If our planning has been good, we will have the forces to fight them.
We handled well a two-war situation that occurred in the early 1950s. One war was the overt conflict initiated by the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950. The other war was the possibility that the Soviet Union would take advantage of U.S. preoccupation in a desperate struggle in Asia to seize Berlin or advance into West Germany. We were able to wage one war and deter the other by judicious allocation of existing forces and by mobilizing additional forces. We managed to send enough additional units and personnel to the Far East to prevent the North Koreans from conquering South Korea and to achieve a stalemate that persists to the present time. However, the strategic priority was to NATO, where we deterred Soviet aggression by converting existing constabulary troops in Germany into fighting divisions and sent over several more divisions and additional combat aircraft from the United States. The ultimate result of our actions in the 1950s was victory in the Cold War in 1989.
The United States does have enough combat potential today to wage war in two separate theaters. We might have to win one war first while holding a defensive line in the other, but we would prevail ultimately in both. There are sufficient battalions, ships and squadrons to do this many of them National Guard and Reserve units that would have to be mobilized in this situation. We have sufficient air and sealift to do this, for most of this kind of capability can be used first for one theater and then for the other, depending on the sequence of events. We need to assure that we will continue to have this two-war capability.

Col. John R. Brinkerhoff, U.S. retired, writes on military affairs.


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