Tuesday 14 April 2009

Hey, a Republican who gets military doctrine!

In the January/February 2009 edition of Foreign Affairs, Robert Gates argued in favor of focusing on the conflicts of tomorrow rather than sticking to doctrine which was drafted in the 1940s and 1950s. Almost all of our military conflicts since Korea have overwhelmingly involved counterinsurgency rather than conventional warfare. DOD needs to institutionalize its counterinsurgency doctrine, in everything from bureaucracy to procurement and talks with Congress. Even actual or potential enemies who fight conventionally will also use asymmetrical tools: Russia used cyber warfare in Georgia and Saddam used fedayeen. And even conventional wars involve many of the same problems as counterinsurgency efforts: post-op reconstruction, security issues, and building up local governmental institutions and security forces (as well as aid and training for allies – we need to promote the guys who do this sort of training). We should move forward on counterinsurgency ops manuals, special ops, UAV’s; the navy has an expeditionary combat command units.

Gates acknowledged that if we abandon conventional or nuclear capability, or lose in Iraq or Afghanistan, the wolves will come prowling – put the nuclear weapons to sea in submarines, with a few on bombers for flexibility. The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program should be funded. Remember, however, Russia ’s conventional forces are a shadow of their former selves and demographics will ensure that the slide continues; our battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies and 11 of the 13 are friendly.

As Gates noted, sometimes the state of the art is not worth the money: our fighters already out-fly everything else in the sky (nobody is going to seriously engage us in a battle for air supremacy), but we’re setting aside F15’s and F16’s that cost 20-30 million apiece, in favour of F35’s and F22’s that cost ten times as much; the Super Hornet seems to be doing the job for the Navy and it’s cheaper than the new stuff.
We should start moving away from the $300 million fighter which, fancy though it is, can still only be in one place at one time, and instead buy ten $30 million fighters, which can control more sky and can be passed more easily to partners (particularly with respect to training).

Strategy needs to drive procurement, rather than the other way around, and procurement needs more flexibility, as the MRAP issue demonstrated. Should we be spending money on the Osprey, the Zumwalt class destroyer and the Virginia class submarine? Or on things like shallow-water naval vessels – a concept which rose from the dead once piracy became an issue.

Also in this vein: we need to know if the missile defense system actually works, and whether we even need it.

Unlike his predecessor, Gates foresees a central role for the State Department, particularly with respect to prevention: slowing the deterioration of shaky states into failed states, because many threats will come from failed states rather than aggressor states; promoting governance and economic development; and discrediting the philosophy of the enemy. Build up the Foreign Service, USAID and the USIA. He also noted another area in which State might help: arms proliferation. Thanks to the Russians and Chinese, arms are spreading all over the world, to the point that Hizbollah, for example, has better weapons than some countries.

“Repeatedly over the last century, Americans averted their eyes in the belief that events in remote places around the world need not engage the United States. How could the assassination of an Austrian archduke in the unknown Bosnia and Herzegovina affect Americans, or the annexation of a little patch of ground called Sudetenland, or a French defeat in a place called Dien Bien Phu, or the return of an obscure cleric to Tehran, or the radicalization of a Saudi construction tycoon's son?”

So Gates is on the ball, and not the neocon some feared him to be.

Most of our strategic doctrine was written in the 1940s and 1950s, and we’re still equipping our forces to fight that battle, which wastes hundreds of billions a year. Gates will write a new doctrine. Recruiting, training, equipment, retention will all change once the new doctrine is in place. There will be a great deal in there regarding the new tools of the enemy: snipers, carbombs, IED’s. Also Russia and China are beefing up fighters, anti-air, anti-satellite and anti-ship systems, and cyber warfare capabilities. One issue which is sure to cause trouble: the likelihood that we will need to shift manning from the navy and air force to the army and marines.

There are three guys to watch. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities does a lot of work with counter-insurgency. The Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, will be needed to roll back Bush’s rulings on torture, indefinite detention, and also the wiretaps. The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy writes the Quadrennial Defense Review that envisions the overall scope of U.S. military missions; this is the starting point for manning, training, procurement.

The notion of nation-building will pop up again. First, we clearly need to avoid such a process when possible, picking our fights carefully, weighing the potential costs and benefits of waging war. But once committed, there are things we must remember: winning hearts and minds, building coalitions, institutions and infrastructure, and being flexible and above all patient. Remember that the current English government is 900 years old and still has no written constitution; France went through five republics in 200 years; Germany’s superb Weimar Constitution led to Hitler, while our own Constitution was drafted only after the Articles of Confederation collapsed; and yet people are surprised that Iraq still doesn’t have stable governmental institutions after five years, working under very adverse circumstances.

But it is refreshing to be able to ask "do we really need this stuff?" without having the Cheney-Wolfowitz neocon you-hate-the-troops shithammer come down on our heads.

No comments: