Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Michael O'Hanlon, his book "The Future of Land Warfare", and Me

Michael O’Hanlon has released his latest book entitled “The Future of Land Warfare” though it is a discussion of the future size and shape of American Land Power than about the future of warfare in conflicts that might call upon US land power.  O’Hanlon argues here for land forces that are at least the same size or even slightly larger than those currently fielded by the United States.  Three chapters survey possible conflicts or humanitarian disaster/relief situations that could emerge in different regions of the world and discuss what US forces and capabilities would be needed to respond.
The conclusions re US force structure represent somewhat conservative and mainstream military thought but as the author points out more than once, force planning must be done conservatively because it is less embarrassing to have more forces than you need than it is to have fewer.  I agree that ground warfare will remain the central defining aspect of war over the foreseeable future, simply because humanity remains tied to the 30% of our world that is its land surface.  I also think that his proposed 1 war + 2 regional crises formulation is a reasonable basis for this exercise.

I do have to quibble with him on a couple of points advanced during his discussion.  The regular US Army before the Civil War was about 15,000 men, but 97% of the men who fought that war for the United States did not enlist in the Regular Army, they enlisted in Volunteer regiments that were governed by separate (though very similar) legislation, regulation, policies, and procedures – in effect a massive army of citizen soldiers who resumed their civilian lives after the war.  I do not challenge his figures on the number of men who served under arms (Continental Line, State Line, Militia, etc.) during the American Revolution, the largest single battle of that conflict saw an American Army reportedly numbering about 10,000 men versus 22,000 Crown forces, significantly smaller than most battles fought in Europe during the latter half of the 18th Century.

Michael dismisses the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) concept or perhaps more accurately the ideas, etc. put forward in recent years in the name of RMA.  While I agree that the RMA idea has too often been invoked by people wanting to sell either hardware or an associated theory of how we should be making war, I have to disagree with such out of hand dismissal just as I disagree with Thomas Kuhn’s belief that his theory on such revolutionary processes could not be applied beyond the hard sciences. 

However, it is easier for us to apply hindsight in identifying RMAs than to apply foresight.  Too much of the debate has focused upon technology and hardware and not enough upon the breakthrough revolutionary applications of technology.  Twenty-four years after tanks first appeared on the battlefield, Germany in 1940 in France fielded tanks that were generally inferior to tanks used by both the French and the British armies, but neither of the latter countries understood just how revolutionary was the German use of tanks on the battlefield.

The oft revived debate that the USA does not or has not had at key moments a coherent clear national strategy has seen me on both the sidelines and as a participant.  However, I have come to attribute the oft noted lack of a strategy to the reality in the years following the Second World War that the USA has been primarily a status-quo power.  Maintenance of the status quo has been at least our default national strategy even if not clearly expressed or artfully presented and supported in public debate.  I would argue however that in the face of the reality that the one constant of life is change, it is long past time for the USG to abandon the status quo.

We should have a national strategy that reflects the reality of a constantly changing world instead of wasting our time, treasure, and resources trying to maintain the status quo.  Our global strategy should examine where we want to be in that oncoming changed world and then work at achieving the changes to the world that we desire.  This strategy would have to be supported by the military forces appropriate for implementing the military elements of that strategy, but in the absence of such a strategy we continue to guesstimate instead.  I would note also in this context that Michael O’Hanlon asks how great a reliance the US should place upon its allies.  However, I believe he stops short of the even more pointed question of how much reliance do we want our allies to place upon the US?  How great a burden will we take up in that regard?

The challenge of formulating an effective national strategy is affected also by the persistence of American exceptionalism contending with a residual isolationism and a desire to further disengage from the world.  Recurring demands for American leadership partially reflect a reality shaped since World War II by US reluctance to see the UN or any other nation emerge as a rival source of leadership.  Yet, I am persuaded that the greatest obstacle is the absence of consensus on such critical questions as our national identity as a country or of a clear definition of what our interests are in the rest of the world.  Lacking answers to those questions we cannot have a clear national strategy.

Some other points that occurred to me in reading Michael’s book follow:

·        The mistakes made in 2003 were not due to the fact that no one in Washington DC anticipated or predicted the outcome in Iraq, but came about because those who offered warnings about this outcome were ignored and pushed aside by decision makers who had already decided.

  • Nation-building remains apparently as much beyond our understanding and our capability as it was in the attempted reconstruction of the post-Civil War American South some 150 years ago.

  • I would add in connection with the scenario discussions regarding India and Pakistan that in 1990, intelligence indicators were that the war we would have to deal with would be between those two South Asian nations.  Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait kicked that idea to the side of the road so to speak.  Also, it would appear that an Indian “Cold Start” doctrine and related planning would also prepare India to respond to a collapse of Pakistan requiring an Indian response to keep it from spilling over in any way onto Indian soil.

  • No nation or group of nations has the power to deny any nation the right to decide for itself on matters of national security and defense, including NATO.  If NATO was to and is to retain its meaning and place on the world stage, it has to keep its doors open to membership by any nation that meets its criteria.  Russia’s absence from NATO today is as much or more a product of its own failure to meet those criteria and its insistence despite that fact that it receive special treatment and consideration and join NATO directly foregoing the tedious process followed by all other modern new members.  Likewise, in the face of a Russian invasion and occupation of even a portion of the territory of a NATO member state, a NATO failure to respond militarily would sound the death knell for the alliance, for where is the value in membership if NATO does not fight for even its smallest and most vulnerable members?

  • As frustrating as we may find it now to deal with Putin’s Russia, the greater tragedy may well be that Obama’s successors will find themselves dealing with a post-Putin Russia that knows no other paradigm for interacting with the West than the one bequeathed to them by Vladimir Putin.

  • The conflict in Syria and Iraq is on the verge and in my view already constitutes a single conflict with numerous fronts.

  • China’s role and actions in a future Korean Peninsula crisis must not be seen as limited to militarily propping up the regime.  It is already clear the Beijing does not relish being confronted with a wave of refugees from North Korea in the even war breaks out on the peninsula.

  • Historically, If you’re lucky, you start fighting the next war with the army that won the last war for you.  Of course, it’s rarely if ever the army you really need for the new war and you find yourself adjusting on the fly.  Even our best wargames rarely predict for us the war that we find ourselves fighting but they can still give us some idea of how we will fight the next war.

  • A military force facing the challenges outlined by Michael O’Hanlon and others must fight better, faster, harder but especially smarter.  A critical element in fighting smarter is bringing the nation’s best from our civilian National Security agencies to the field with the force to help inform the decision-making of our military commanders.  This means that DoD, DoS, and the others must start working now to give their personnel the joint training experience that will prepare them to become 'expeditionary'.

Finally, the author presents an excellent explanation as well of why we cannot return to a draft-based military, though I agree that military service would be an important element in any proposed universal national service obligation.

This discussion also helped me probe deeper into my own mind experiment of a wholly Reserve/National Guard military.  Michael O’Hanlon’s calculations confirmed my conclusion that this would require significantly more people in uniform in order to provide the Inactive Reserve/Active Reserve/Active Force throughput.  The amount of time to be served in the Inactive/Active Reserve/Active Force needs to be carefully calculated in order to ensure sufficient active capability and the necessary reserve supports.  There would have to be some number of career servicemen and women to fill command and planning functions, especially in the Army, Corps, Division headquarters organizations what would be always in the Active Force.  Employment protections for the civilian jobs of the members of such a force would also need to be enhanced and enforced.   However, such a force once stood up could fulfill one element of a possible system of universal national service and would great reduce the chasm that has opened up between our military personnel and their civilian population in general.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What Would I Change About the American Foreign Service?

This week I participated in one of a series of forums sponsored by The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA).  AFSA is the professional association as well as labor ‘union’ for American Foreign Service Officers and I maintain my membership as a retiree.  The purpose of these forums was to present the various candidates now seeking office in AFSA’s leadership positions – President, Vice President, Secretary, various representatives, etc., to different membership groups.  This forum was for the retiree community.
After the candidates, or their representatives, had spoken, the meeting was opened to questions from the floor.   After hearing several exchanges, I realized that one thing missing from the discussion about how to protect and defend the Foreign Service, etc., was ‘how would these candidates seek to change the Foreign Service and prepare it for the challenges ahead?’  This question arose in my mind because I remembered that the Foreign Service that I joined in 1973 was not the Foreign Service that I thought I was joining.  While the Foreign Service from which I retired in 2002 was not the Foreign Service that I had joined thirty years earlier.  Knowing that change is inevitable, I wondered what AFSA might do to try and guide and influence that process of change – what would we change about the Foreign Service?

I asked my question, addressing it to the candidates for AFSA President and any other candidate who wanted to discuss this, but it also occurred to me that I should answer my own question as I would if the positions were reversed.  So here’s my answer and since I’m not running for anything I feel no compulsion to engage in any prolonged defense of these ideas or to push for their adoption, but I would be interested in seeing how others in AFSA’s ranks might answer the question.

Q) What changes do I think should be made to prepare the Foreign Service for the future?


1) Extend the duration of a standard career path:  this would provide additional staffing, retain experience and expertise, and create time within a standard career to allow for more professional training opportunities.

2) Increase staffing and hiring: the added personnel would fill existing vacancies as well as ‘mothballed’ positions, provide a training ‘float’ to carry personnel on professional training assignments, support the interagency role in DoD and other USG agency training exercises in order to prepare both host agency and State Department personnel to work together in real world situations being examined in exercises.

3) Introduce 360 degree evaluations for all staff:  experience has proven to me that no one knows an officer or staff member better than those who work under or around them, this would also help the system spot  officers who ‘kiss up and kick down’ to the detriment of their supervisors, subordinates, and the Department.

4) Strengthen language requirements and create more language designated positions: language proficiency (and the resulting cultural/political awareness) are the sine qua non of the FSO and facilitate the direct access that enables the FSO to truly become knowledgeable about the host country.

5) Require mid-career professional training at the university graduate degree level with options that include both private institutions and the military war colleges:  I’ve found that DOD’s emphasis upon midcareer professional training has produced a corps of officers with both broad and deep knowledge of war and warfare but also of politics and diplomacy, if FSOs are going to hold their own and support the President, the USG, and the Department, we need to up our game.

6) Coordinate with DOD on its annual training calendar to identify exercises that should include State Department participation and designate officers for that duty: Both State and DOD need to have the best possible understanding of what each can and cannot do in future situations and the best way to do that is for FSOs and other State personnel to support and participate in DOD training exercises that call for interagency participation (from writing the scenario to the execution of the exercise in the field, the additional personnel needed to enable State to thus support DOD and other agency exercises will be supported by the expanded personnel float.

7) Enhanced Security Awareness training for all officers regardless of overseas posting to include weapons familiarization and advanced weapons training for selected volunteers:   It’s a new and dangerous world out there and State needs to be less risk averse about placing its personnel in harm’s way – but that comes with the requirement for those personnel to be trained appropriately so that they can take a greater responsibility for assessing and assuring their own security and safety and can more effectively cooperate with either Diplomatic Security or DoD personnel tasked with the security function.

8) Restore funding and representational responsibilities at all levels with each post to designate a senior officer to oversee the post’s representational activities program, to include coordination of each officer’s activities and a feedback/guidance loop to enhance the effectiveness of post’s representational activities.  I’ve watched with dismay as other agencies representatives at overseas posts have engaged in active representational programs supported by their Department or agency.  Such activities are an essential part of the development of the contacts and personal knowledge of a country that should be the hallmark of the FSO.

9) Assignments process? – when I joined the Department, I heard horror stories about the old system dominated and controlled by long-term Civil Service employees who, if they liked you, were your best friends, but if you crossed them you would never leave an endless cycle of hell hole assignments.   Now, I suspect the horror stories are more about the wolves that guard the henhouse and FSO assignment officers whose best efforts are dedicated to their own onward posting.  I defer to those who now have to live with the assignments process to put forward suggestions about reforming it but I’m sure a close examination would show some work is needed.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What Is To Be Done?

As we begin the year 2015, we are hearing echoes of a century ago.  Many people are asking themselves why we should concern ourselves with “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing” – and I will discuss that further in a future posting.

But what is actually at stake here right now?

Obviously, the future of a free, independent, and democratic Ukraine;

As well as the future of a still hoped for free, democratic, and independent Russia;

And probably the as yet unsought future of Belarus;

And quite possibly the freedom, independence, and peaceful future of small states in the Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Easternmost Europe, and the Baltic Littoral.

When I left Russia in 2000, after four years of living and working there – as I later came to put it, in the late-Yeltsin/early Putin years – Russian friends explained that ‘we’ll get another chance at democracy in 20 years.  For some time now I’ve consoled myself with that thought, but it’s a comforting thought that has now worn thin and threadbare.

Putin’s actions in Russia’s near-abroad and his domination of the various media in Russia have created a situation in which a besieged Russian population sees itself surrounded by enemies frequently acting at the behest of a hegemonic United States.  We are now the wolf howling at their door for many Russians who know little or nothing of anything beyond this narrative.  Even if we are able to peacefully resolve our conflicting ambitions on behalf of Ukraine and its people, we may well lose at least another generation of Russians who will buy in to Putin’s narrative.

Putin must be intelligent enough to realize that in an actual war with a US-led Western coalition, Russia would lose much of its hard won restored military might (such as it is) and quite possibly Putin would lose power.  It is hard to be certain exactly what his generals and intelligence chiefs are telling him, though it is worth remembering that many of them are graduates of the same schools who turned out a group of general officers who told Brezhnev that they could easily take control of Afghanistan.  It would be a costly and bloody victory for the West regardless and it would cement Russia’s position in impoverished opposition for a century and devastate Ukraine and any other country that ‘hosted’ such a conflict.

So for the best interests of the West, Ukraine, and that still hoped for democratic Russia and its many neighbors – how do resolve this ongoing dispute?

The answer given to us by history is that we convince Putin, his generals, and his intelligence chiefs, that the US and the West will fight them for the future of Ukraine.  We need to make it clear that collectively, including Ukraine, are willing to risk just as much and probably more than Putin is willing to risk – and he appears in fact to be risking almost everything – in order to prevent Putin from achieving his goal of blocking the emergence of a free, independent, democratic Ukraine integrated into Europe.

Whether we end up in actual conflict with Putin’s Russia, this contest will one way or the other define the 21st Century for much if not all of the world – whether shaped once again by a ‘far away quarrel” or shaped by a peacefully resolved contest of wills in which ‘the West’ awoke and demonstrated its resolve.