- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Today, the U.S. search for allied support and participation in a possible conflict with Iraq is a major political issue both in the United States and in the countries being asked to participate. Yet, though the United States places a deservedly high value on the political message sent by allied participation, how the allied forces will be integrated into the overall campaign what the military terms interoperability receives less attention. Because U.S. forces have more advanced equipment and have better and more realistic training than most of their potential battlefield allies, there has been a tendency to discount allies' battlefield contributions and begrudge resources required for effective interoperability. This is both inaccurate and a misreading of diplomatic and military realities.
In the future, as in the past, the United States will fight with allies whenever possible. If we are to receive the maximum benefit from this reality not just the important but nominal stamp of international approval provided by international participation the United States needs to consider its allies while making investment in forces as well as pre-conflict diplomacy.
This year, the military mixture of low-technology Afghan fighting men and U.S. special operations forces and air power proved remarkably successful. Yet either alone would have not been able to defeat the Taliban-al Qaeda forces. Because of its allies, the United States won a war in Afghanistan with mercifully few casualties where the Soviet Union was bloodily defeated. This reflects the different Afghan perceptions we were in the final analysis seen as liberators, they as would-be conquerors but also the different capabilities both had of incorporating their Afghan allies into their overall war-fighting. We were able to do both effectively just as we were able to do so in Kosovo in 1999, Bosnia in 1995 and Desert Storm in 1991 while Soviet allies were puppet regimes.
The importance of allies at the highest level of national strategy and effective integration of allied forces in military operations remain linked, both important to the United States. It shows that we can deal with the inherent tensions of coalitions of nations democratic or otherwise that tend to pull in different directions, while the Soviets insisted that "democratic centralism" mandated they run the show. Unless we are following the Soviet lead, we need to invest both in recruiting allied support a difficult and painful process as the Clinton administration's experience with Kosovo and the Johnson administration's experience with Vietnam demonstrate and in effectively integrating allied military capabilities so that, like the U.S.-Afghan alliance that topped the Taliban, they enhance joint military capabilities.
If we want allies to pay the political cost of helping us on the battlefield, we need to demonstrate that we care enough about operating with their forces that we have invested in making it possible for their forces, as well as our own, to take part in effective coalition operations. Regional commanders in chief have identified improving interoperability as the area where marginal dollars will yield the best results in defense investment, for it will allow U.S. forces to more effectively work in concert with those of allies.
That marginal dollar is often not forthcoming. Interoperability lacks a strong constituency either within the Department of Defense or in the Congress. Though investment in improving interoperability is small by the standards of Pentagon programs, it tends to lose out in the lengthy budget process. Investments such as interoperability training, procurement of communications equipment compatible with allied forces, using personnel with knowledge or experience with an allied force, paying personnel to maintain linguistic competence, emphasizing international operational planning and cooperative programs (often Pentagon step-children) are part of a long laundry-list of needed improvements.
The bottom line is that, if the United States wishes to effectively operate alongside allied forces in Iraq or elsewhere, it needs to invest in this capability, a demonstration to our allies that we value their contributions for more than the political symbolism involved. This will help them use their forces in a coalition that maximizes their strengths and, when required, lets U.S. forces compensate for their limitations. The United States has demonstrated that it can effectively integrate allied forces on the battlefield in Afghanistan, whether it was Afghan guerrillas, British and Canadian infantry battalions, or special operations forces. Investing to build on these successes is how the military can turn the diplomat's goal of a broad-based coalition into battlefield reality.

David C. Isby, a Washington-based consultant is, the author of "Armies of NATO's Central Front."

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