- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

Tom Ricks and Vernon Loeb recently wrote in The Washington Post that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's goal of "reshaping the U.S. military from a heavy, Industrial Age force designed in the Cold War to an agile, Information Age force capable of defeating more elusive adversaries anywhere on the globe" has created serious strains between the secretary and the uniformed services. According to this and other news reports, the Army in particular is in the cross hairs of Mr. Rumsfeld and some of his aides, leading one Army officer plaintively to ask, "Does Don Rumsfeld really hate the Army?"
There is no question that the Army faces major problems in today's security environment. These problems have to do with the nature of strategic geography. To protect its worldwide interests, the United States must be able to project power globally. But given its geographical position, the United States can project power only by overcoming what the former commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Charles Krulak, has called the "tyranny of distance." The tyranny of distance creates a dilemma for ground forces the tradeoff between rapid strategic deployability on the one hand, and lethality, sustainability, tactical mobility and self-protection on the other. Thus an airborne unit can deploy more quickly than any other ground force, but it lacks the killing power and sustainability necessary to win once it gets on the ground. On the other hand, an armored unit possesses the latter characteristics, but takes a long time to get into the theater of war.
There is no question that the Army must undergo a substantial transformation if it is to remain strategically relevant. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki has been pushing hard to transform his service to a more adaptable, more easily deployable force capable of a greater range of missions than the current Army. The Army's transformation strategy calls for replacing difficult-to-deploy heavy forces with medium-weight, wheel-mobile combat brigades supported by an advanced gun system.
But according to news reports, Mr. Rumsfeld wants to go far beyond the Army's transformation plan, reducing the Army's force structure from its current mix of 10 heavy and light active duty divisions to eight or fewer light divisions. The Army's heavy forces armor and mechanized infantry would be transferred to the National Guard and Reserve.
The defense secretary has been rough on Army programs. Some, such as the Crusader artillery system, needed to be cut because they are not sufficiently transformational. But cuts in many of the other programs make less sense.
For instance, Steve Cambone, director of the Pentagon's Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E;) has recommended not only cutting the Army's "interim" force, combat brigades based on the Stryker wheeled vehicle instead of the tank, but also delaying the Future Combat System (FCS) necessary to field the "Objective Force," the heart of the future Army.
There is an heroic assumption at work in these proposals that traditional ground combat is a thing of the past and that future U.S. power will be based on precision strikes delivered by air or space assets, perhaps coordinated and directed by a handful of special operations forces (SOF) soldiers. This assumption smacks of a pair of heresies that periodically afflict U.S. defense planners.
The first is "strategic monism," the belief we can depend exclusively on a single, strategically decisive capability. The "air power can do it all" argument is a form of strategic monism. This version of strategic monism maintains that air power (and increasingly, space power) is not only the necessary, but also the sufficient cause of strategic success in conflict.
The strongest argument against the current version of strategic monism is that it has been tried before and found wanting. During the Eisenhower administration of the 1950s, U.S. strategy and force structure were based on the "New Look," the centerpiece of which was long-range strategic air power.
This focus on strategic bombing to the exclusion of other capabilities resulted in strategic inflexibility: The U.S. largely lacked the ability to respond to threats at the lower end of the spectrum of conflict.
The "New Look" demonstrated that although air power is critical to both deterrence and war-fighting, it lacks nuance. Air power is either on or off.
Thus, its threatened use in situations involving less than vital interests lacks credibility. It is therefore not always politically useful.
Accordingly, our adversaries during the "New Look" era were able to develop "asymmetric" responses to the dominant nuclear capability of the U.S., e.g. "peoples' wars" and "wars of national liberation." The inability of the U.S. to respond to such threats led to the replacement of the "New Look" by the strategy of "Flexible Response" in the 1960s.
The second heresy might be called "technophilia." Technophiles contend that a "revolution in military affairs" based on emerging technologies has so completely changed the nature of warfare that many of the old verities no longer hold true. The technophiles argue that the U.S. must do what is necessary to ensure its dominance in military technology even if it means accepting a substantially reduced force structure.
One does not have to denigrate the importance of air power or technology to believe that the exclusive reliance on air power or technology at the expense of a robust, balanced force structure is to invite strategic failure at some time in the future. This is not the sterile "airpower ueber alles" vs. "boots on the ground" argument. The fact is that air and ground forces are like the blades of a pair of scissors both blades are necessary if the scissors are to cut.
The fundamental flaw characterizing both the strategic monist and the technophile is the certainty one can predict the future. But, the future isn't knowable. As Loren Thomson of the Lexington Institute recently observed, the United States has suffered at least one strategic surprise every decade since 1940. "So any concept of transformation that proposes sweeping programmatic changes based on a presumed understanding of future challenges is likely to go wrong. There are simply too many possible threats, and the very act of preparing for some reduces the likelihood that those are the ones we will face."
We should be very skeptical of those who claim to know the future well enough to eliminate or substantially reduce certain capabilities, e.g. land power. Balanced forces have provided a hedge against uncertainty in the past and as such have served the interest of the United States well. We should not use special cases such as Kosovo and Afghanistan to justify a return to the strategic monism that characterized the 1950s to the detriment of overall U.S. security.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.


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