In 2005 the Pentagon must produce the third Congressionally-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). This review, along with the President’s 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS) and the 2004 National Military Strategy, will define the Administration’s fundamental approach to questions of war and peace. It also will represent an official categorization of the nature of contemporary military challenges to America.
Even in peacetime such documents are essential supports for policymaking and for articulating the Administration’s intellectual basis for its policies and military strategy. But the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if one buys the official argument that they are both fronts in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), urgently compel the government to pronounce its views on these issues. Indeed, Pentagon officials state that the QDR will reflect the new understanding of contemporary war since September 11, 2001.1
Clausewitz called war a chameleon. Our present wars are particularly protean and elusive in their nature. At least so they appear to the American military, especially the Army, and to a lesser degree the Marines, who must wage them on the ground. Indeed, one of the main problems we have had is actually understanding these wars, thereby violating a fundamental Clausewitzian precept that a commander’s first task is to understand the nature of the war that he is fighting. The sheer number of names we have created to categorize or label such wars underscores the conceptual confusion that still grips our civilian and military leaders who lately have been forced to concede many of the mistakes that they made in Iraq.2
Within the last generation U.S. officials and analysts have categorized these wars in the following ways: small wars, guerrilla wars, irregular wars, unconventional wars, three-block wars, insurgencies or, from our standpoint, counterinsurgencies, constabulary operations, stability operations, stability and reconstruction operations, post-conflict operations, small-scale contingencies, stability and support operations (SASO), wars of the third kind, fourth generation warfare (4GW), peacekeeping, or peacemaking, or peace enforcement operations, Chapter VI or VII (of the UN charter) operations, operations other than war (OOTW), low-intensity conflict, etc. And this list is incomplete.
Enmeshed in protracted wars and so called stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon now advocates a new strategy to overcome the shortcomings in its prior strategy and capabilities that engendered this situation. The current battles in Falluja, Mosul and even Baghdad underscore the failure of our strategy in Iraq, clearly derived from our faulty understanding of what the nature of that war would be. Indeed, a 2003 conference of former Defense Department officials, independent and government analysts observed that:
All agreed that SASO should be an integral part of any combat and peacekeeping operations, and that it is a serious mistake to focus only on the offensive military phase of such operations. All acknowledged that no clear agreement exists about how responsibility for the stabilization and support (S&S) phase of a peacekeeping operation (which can last much longer than offensive military operations) should be split between the DoD and other government agencies responsible for public safety, health, infrastructure, and civil government. One participant noted that S&S is not an assigned mission and is without a concept of operations.3
While this oversight was apparently corrected in mid-2004, it came after we were already engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and clearly lacked many of the capabilities, including sufficient manpower, needed to prevail in those wars. Thus we went to war with a highly flawed strategy.
So grievous a miscalculation of strategy and of the nature of contemporary war impels a reconsideration of first principles. Thus the Pentagon advocates a deeper understanding of the need to wage counterinsurgencies and conduct these variously called operations, greater inter-agency coordination in planning such operations, and urges the acquisition of new intelligence and combat capabilities to confront these contingencies.4 Not surprisingly, Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld seeks to redirect the military’s attention to new threats: irregular, catastrophic, disruptive, and conventional, so they can produce concepts for force sizing and employment to meet those threats.5 Similarly the Army has now published a field manual for counterinsurgency operations like those now underway in Iraq and Afghanistan, indicating officially that such operations merit equal status with so called major theater wars (MTW) or contingencies.6
These actions implicitly concede the earlier failure to provide for a sufficient post-conflict political and strategic dimension in Iraq. Furthermore, this unprecedented publication of a field manual for counterinsurgency suggests that only now are we beginning to confront the war that dare not speak its name, or which consistently eludes our understanding. For, as the plethora of names listed above suggests, we have been unable and often unwilling to come to terms with these kinds of operations, if not wars, or to provide for them in our military planning.
Many analyses of U.S. strategy acknowledge the military’s fundamental organizational and cultural or cognitive unwillingness to accept that such missions are inherently part of contemporary war or to plan on that basis. Certainly the Bush Administration took power determined to avoid the expansion of these operations that characterized the Clinton Administration. Its leaders openly derided them and the commitment of valuable military resources to them.7 Ironically, and due to the attacks of September 11, the Administration and the Pentagon now realize that they must embrace such missions. Having disdained strategic realities, particularly in Iraq, we now confront the possible breakdown of security in Iraq that threatens our vital interests.
Articles in professional military literature now admonish the officer corps and their civilian leaders that U.S. forces must quickly develop deeper cultural understanding of current and future operating environments.8 This advocacy reflects several factors that betray the insufficiency of the American approach to Afghanistan and Iraq. Previous U.S. strategy divorced operations from strategic objectives. It shunned “nation building’, a bad term redolent of Vietnam, but one which captures in some sense the need to build stable postwar states in war-torn countries. Instead, commanders expected to be able to pass that supposedly non-military task on to someone else, either within our government or abroad, and then reduce their forces until they could depart. Only now are we beginning to learn that, “the art of state building will be a key component of national power, as important as the ability to deploy traditional military force to the maintenance of world order.”9
The notion that war and its political outcome could be bureaucratically separated has deep roots in American military culture, but is utterly astrategic and wholly misconceived. For example, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State-designate Condoleeza Rice argued in 2000 that humanitarian intervention robs our military of its needed high-end combat skills and somehow occurs in a strategic void. Therefore “the military cannot, by definition, do anything decisive in these ‘humanitarian’ cases,” and runs the inherent risk of mission creep, i.e. military operations that escalate beyond a sustainable level and absent any discernible strategic ends.10 However, in logic, we cannot speak of global American interests and then contend that our armed forces are inherently incapable of resolving today’s wars and conflicts. Indeed, our military strategy since September 11 goes too far in the opposite extreme. To argue that operations in failed states like Afghanistan are inherently “less than vital” means postulating global ends for the United States while depriving it of the very means necessary to confront contemporary conflicts.global ends for the United States while depriving it of the very means necessary to confront contemporary conflicts.
Undoubtedly Clausewitz would have found this incomprehensible if not ridiculous. Certainly it belies the British analyst Liddell Hart’s observation that the objective of war was a better peace, i.e. a positively transformed political situation which engendered a stable, enduring, and legitimate postwar order. Both would say such thinking is intrinsically biased against conceiving of strategic-level outcomes or objectives for which a campaign is fought and focuses excessively on purely military capabilities to the exclusion of those capabilities needed to conduct stability operations or whatever else they are called.
Failure to understand that these scenarios, whatever they are called, comprise different parts of the same war, and are avoidable only if the political and strategic dimensions are fully considered in military planning, blinds us to the importance of those political and strategic factors. This failure permits our enemies to attack us where we are most vulnerable, i.e. cognitively. Believing that war and its political outcome are discrete unrelated phenomena, we forget the crucial fact that force, to be victorious, must be have legitimacy among its targets. If the military outcome is regarded as illegitimate because the authorities have failed to think through the political dimension, tactical military victory will not yield strategic victory or a legitimate order. In Iraq, our toleration of violence and looting in the aftermath of victory told Iraqis that nobody was in control of the situation. And the myriad failures to establish a credible and viable post-war political order there reinforced that perception while generating growing hostility to our occupation of Iraq. The use of force, to bring about a decisive victory and a better peace, must create conditions where force no longer is necessary because the war’s military-political result has been achieved and the defeated party accepts the new status quo.11 If nothing else, Iraq should teach us that.
Another shortcoming of U.S. strategy is the universally conceded fact that the American intelligence is gravely deficient, particularly in Muslim countries, but also in assessing threats to American interests in ways that provide an accurate and unbiased picture of strategic realities. While intelligence failures are not uniquely American; they are no less dangerous, and not only because if you do not know the threats you face, you are likely to be to be gravely and tragically surprised by them. Absent a soundly functioning intelligence system, it the threats you face, you are likely to be to be gravely and tragically surprised by them. Absent a soundly functioning intelligence system, it is impossible to foresee what the nature of the war will be and how the enemy will respond to our moves. We relearn this bitter lesson every day in Iraq.
Another consideration is that sound tactical, operational, and strategic intelligence is an essential and necessary precondition for victory in our current wars. Whereas in Afghanistan, America successfully corrected its policies in 2002-03, enlisted tangible support from NATO and Pakistan, and implemented new tactics and policies; in Iraq such support has not materialized. Thus America fights this war largely alone except for the much smaller British contingent (the other members of the coalition normally do not take on a fighting role) and, to judge from numerous accounts, all too often in the dark about its enemies.12 Given the domestic clamor for intelligence reform, it is hardly surprising that the Pentagon, led by an outstanding bureaucratic player in Secretary Rumsfeld, would use this crisis to enhance the military’s capabilities and to shield the Pentagon’s intelligence capabilities from other potentially encroaching institutions. Nor is it surprising that the CIA as an agency is now undergoing a state of almost constant turmoil and unending politicization, a process that could easily lead to future, if not greater, intelligence disasters.
It is equally foreseeable that Secretary Rumsfeld’s new directives call upon the Army, which is the service of choice and necessity for these so called stability or post-conflict operations, to transform itself further and assign more resources to preparing for such operations. He also directed the other services and the Pentagon to develop and acquire more intelligence and warfighting capabilities to fight terrorism and insurgencies, and capabilities to prepare for operations like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile senior military officials acknowledge that the Army and the Marines are approaching the limits of their manpower capabilities by keeping some 130,000 troops in Iraq for over 20 months.13
Toward the Future
In future contingencies our forces will have to adopt this enhanced cultural sensitivity to their theater and also gain new political and organizational-administrative capacities for effecting a transition to a stable, enduring, and legitimate political order. Such missions are a stable, enduring, and legitimate political order. Such missions are necessarily protracted ones that tie down large numbers of men. If they are cognitively unprepared for such missions, these wars cannot end sooner rather than later, and will probably spread and/or worsen. Those outcomes would place insupportable material, manpower, political, and strategic burdens upon an American military force that has sought to substitute technology and firepower for manpower believing that society would not tolerate either high casualties or prolonged warfare. Thus not only are we organizationally and cognitively unprepared for the kinds of war we are now fighting, we are also probably structurally maladapted. Our forces are splendidly structured to win quick wars, but face long-term structural under-investment in the manpower and skill sets or core competencies needed to end them and win the peace.14 Although Congress and the pressure of events have forced the Pentagon to increase the Army’s ‘end strength’; the war in Iraq - a war of choice - has become a second front for terrorists in the GWOT, i.e. an acknowledged diversion from the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.15
Hence the reason for the Pentagon’s newly found awareness of the need to prepare in every conceivable way for these elusive operations as part of its regular war planning process. Contemporary war cannot be successfully prosecuted absent a true understanding that the aftermath of major operations almost invariably requires the victorious forces to stay on as state builders to use the Soviet and more appropriate term. Indeed, an understanding of what is required to transform operational and tactical victory into lasting strategic victory shows that shock and awe, the watchwords of the Bush Administration’s earlier strategy, count for little. Our opponents will not fight our war for us. Shock and awe will dissipate over time while the war degenerates or evolves into a protracted insurgency where the psychological burden is increasingly transferred to the occupier, i.e. the Americans.
President Bush and his Administration interpret his re-election in providing a mandate or political capital for continuing the current policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even so, this newest transformation of American strategy stems from the previous strategy’s failure to deliver victory, a failure that places U.S. forces in a potential quagmire, or at any rate a wholly unforeseen situation. As any chess player knows, once you are “out of the books” and cannot rely upon prepared variations or a quasi-mechanical transposition from earlier games, it is much harder and disorienting to regain the upper hand. The Administration is determined to do so and avert future surprises. But this determination, though it might yet prove successful, cannot negate the fact that in Iraq, although less so in Afghanistan, we are now very much “out of the books.” This does not mean that we are irretrievably lost, but our chessboard has been transformed beyond our previous comprehension. Therefore we must make a corresponding transformation of potentially epochal significance. Only by implementing the new policies now advocated by Secretary Rumsfeld can we learn to what degree this transformation in strategy and capabilities is being effected. But we cannot doubt the urgent necessity of making this transformation before it is too late.prepared variations or a quasi-mechanical transposition from earlier games, it is much harder and disorienting to regain the upper hand. The Administration is determined to do so and avert future surprises. But this determination, though it might yet prove successful, cannot negate the fact that in Iraq, although less so in Afghanistan, we are now very much “out of the books.” This does not mean that we are irretrievably lost, but our chessboard has been transformed beyond our previous comprehension. Therefore we must make a corresponding transformation of potentially epochal significance. Only by implementing the new policies now advocated by Secretary Rumsfeld can we learn to what degree this transformation in strategy and capabilities is being effected. But we cannot doubt the urgent necessity of making this transformation before it is too late.
Remarks on Contemporary Warfare
Much of our current failure lies not only in the causes of our defeat in Vietnam but also in the effort to forget Vietnam and think only of large-scale wars that typified Cold War military thinking.16 This author remembers a case in a class that he and his colleagues at the Air War College taught in the late 1980s where an Air Force veteran of Vietnam complained that we were not allowed to fight the war we knew how to fight and wanted to fight. We then had to reply that this was precisely the strategic point of Vietnam and one of the most important strategic lessons of war, namely to deny the enemy, in this case the United States, the luxury of fighting “by the book”. As Mao Zedong pithily said, “You fight your war and I’ll fight mine”.
This mindset that war only involved large-scale conventional units acting conventionally against similarly inclined enemies inhibits the realization of our effectiveness in these small wars no matter how great our tactical proficiency. All the myriad names for the war that dare not speak its name, listed some pages back, reveal a deep-seated belief that these conflicts are somehow not really war. Or else they may be war, but what comes afterwards is purely political and hence the military’s role should be reduced as quickly as possible with a view to its rapid, complete, and eventual termination.
The emphasis on a rapid decisive victory or rapid decisive operations is not just to spare casualties. It also owes much to the Pentagon’s long-standing belief that neither the American public nor the armed forces could tolerate a protracted war. For example, the 1997 National Military Strategy stated,
Everything is staked on a short, decisive war. As a global power with worldwide interests, it is imperative that the United States be able to deter and defeat nearly simultaneous, large-scale, cross-border aggression in two distant theaters in overlapping time frames, preferably in concert with regional allies. - In this regard, a particularly challenging requirement associated with fighting and winning major theater wars is being able to rapidly defeat initial enemy advances short of their objectives in two theaters in close succession, one followed almost immediately by another. Maintaining this capability is absolutely critical to our ability to seize the initiative in both theaters and minimize the the amount of territory we and our allies must regain from aggressors. Failure to halt an enemy invasion rapidly would make the subsequent campaign to evict enemy forces from captured territory much more difficult, lengthy, and costly. Such failure would also weaken coalition support, undermine U.S. credibility, and increase the risk of conflict elsewhere.17
That “elsewhere” includes at home because such strategic failure will supposedly immediately trigger huge public and congressional outcries against our leadership. Hence the imperative of rapid, decisive operations, which, due to our profound strategic errors rarely are rapid or decisive.
Since we must relearn what modern war is, we must look beyond our own borders and avoid ethnocentric and triumphalist solutions based on technological prowess alone.
“As Clausewitz above all recognized, the elemental truth is that call it what you will - new war, ethnic war, guerrilla war, low intensity war, terrorism, or the war on terrorism - in the end, there is really only one meaningful category of war, and that is war itself.”18
Consequently, the reality for which we prepare and train and the capabilities that we need to foster must include what Australian analyst Michael Evans and Marshal M.A. Gareyev, President of Russia’s Academy of Military Sciences and Russia’s leading military thinker, call multivariant war.19 As Evans observes,
British, French, and Russian defense experts now speak of the rise of multi-variant warfare. They speak of a spectrum of conflict marked by unrestrained ‘Mad Max’ wars in which symmetric and asymmetric wars merge and in which Microsoft coexists with machetes and stealth technology is met by suicide bombers. Chinese strategists, meanwhile, have developed the theory of unrestricted warfare in which they state, ‘there is no territory that cannot be surpassed; there is no means which cannot be used in war; and there is no territory or method which cannot be used in combination’.20
Such warfare comprises simultaneous engagements involving widely disparate forms of operations and points along the spectrum of conflict. As Evans writes,
The merging of modes of armed conflict suggests an era of warfare quite different from that of the recent past. Fighting in the future may involve conventional armies, guerrilla bands, independent and state-directed terrorist groups, specialized anti-terrorist units, and private militias. Terrorist attacks might evolve into classic guerrilla warfare and then escalate to conventional conflict. Alternatively, fighting could be conducted at several levels at once. The possibility of continuous, sporadic, armed conflict, its engagements blurred together in time and space, waged on several levels by a large array of national and subnational forces, means that the reality of war in the first decade of the twenty-first century is likely to transcend a neat division into distinct categories, symmetry and asymmetry.21
Richard Harknett of the University of Cincinnati agrees, stating that,
My basic argument is that twenty-first century conflict must be understood as multidimensional in character. There are new security consequences related to the globalization of information and military technologies that pose serious challenges for traditional national security models of defense and deterrence and, by extension, challenges the basic security organization of the international system the state. The critical factor in multidimensional conflict is the combination of existing and new forms of organization with existing and new forms of destructive capability. In assessing these combinations, I suggest that a multi-dimensional threat environment requires a multidimensional response.22
Consequently militaries everywhere must be physically and cognitively prepared for every possible kind of attack. The following Indian example points in the correct direction but does not go far enough regarding readiness for wars encompassing theater conventional and even nuclear operations.
Any future war in the subcontinent is likely to be a hybrid of the industrial age of warfare and post-industrial age type of warfare, with an emphasis of RMA/MTR (Military-technical revolution-author) technologies and information warfare. It is less likely that a major conventional war will occur and very likely that limited local wars will continue to occur. The subcontinent is also witnessing internal conflicts due to sectarian divisions, insurgencies and proxy war where first wave actors are battling industrial age state actors. The acquisition of third wave forms of warfare weapons (i.e. precision weapons, information age weapons) by first wave actors (e.g. militants, insurgents, terrorists) would again add to the complexity of the nature of war and conflict in the subcontinent. Thus, the Indian political and military establishment needs to be prepared for a wide bandwidth of war and conflict ranging from highly intense local/limited wars to low intensity conflicts and proxy wars.23
Iran is building a nuclear weapons capability that could be ready by 2006-07 and missiles that can deliver them to encompass all of Israel and much, if not all, of Turkey as well as its other neighbors. It also is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and has been connected to al-Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents before and after September 11. Along with its visceral anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic policies, which routinely include threats to incinerate Israel, Iran has also been a major sponsor of Palestinian terrorism. Thus, as of 2002 it had sent at least two major consignments of conventional rockets and other weapons designed to expand the scope of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. It also had provided Hizballah in Lebanon with between 8-12,000 short-range ballistic missiles and UAV’s with which to threaten Israel and has repeatedly spoken of extending deterrence to it against Israeli reprisals for Hizballah terrorism against Israel. More recently, and in conjunction with its impending nuclearization, numerous reports of threats by Israel to strike preemptively at that program have occurred along with Iranian threats to strike preemptively in return either at U.S. targets or at Israeli ones, including the nuclear reactor at Dimona.24
We must also take account of Iran’s ongoing conventional rearmament. According to testimony from the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Admiral Thomas Wilson, and his successor Admiral Lowell Jacoby, Iran already can block the Persian Gulf to outside traffic for brief periods of time. Iran’s weapons acquisition program stresses naval, air, and air defense systems and clearly aims to deny us access to the Gulf. Iran even boasts that it can indigenously produce all the anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) it needs to defend its territorial waters against attack and seeks to do so with regard to air-launched weapons. Iran also now offers to export the Shahab-3 intermediate range ballistic missile.25
Lastly, in conjunction with the threats from Israel and America to its nuclear program, Iran is reportedly delivering surface - to - surface missiles of 250-300 KM range and UAV’s to Hizbullah in Lebanon through Syria (with Syria’s active collaboration). These missiles are intended to be able to hit any target in Israel in retaliation for or to preempt what Iran and Syrian sources report are imminent threats of an Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear reactors via Jordanian, Iraqi, and Turkish skies. This report also stated that should Israel attack those sites,
Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon overseeing the development and maintenance of thousands of missiles of various ranges would fire those missiles at cities in the Hebrew state, which could expand the aerial attacks on the nuclear, chemical, and biological installations and uranium-enrichment plants in Iran, such that the attack would also include Syria and Lebanon.26
This scenario, ranging from terrorism all the way to nuclear attacks or attacks on nuclear, chemical, and biological installations, incarnates multivariant war in its purest form. The capabilities required to fight it are immense and almost beyond imagining. Nor can we imagine that this would only include Iran and Israel. It is unlikely that we could remain aloof from a conflict that developed in this manner.
Alternatively if a major Indo-Pakistani conflict erupted in South Asia, that too could lead to comparable threats and risks. Here as well, we can easily imagine a conflict that comprises the entire spectrum of conflict right up to nuclear war. Because these smaller-scale conflicts cannot be separated from the possibility of interaction with either conventional theater scenarios like the 1999 Kargil fighting or earlier Indo-Pakistani wars, or even escalation to nuclear war with Pakistan, these three levels of possible and even actual war represent the three basic levels of India’s security concerns. More recently, Retired Lt. General V.R. Raghavan, President of the Centre for Security Analysis in Chennai and Director of the Delhi Policy Group, writes that,
A new set of regional dynamics thus emerged as a result of tectonic changes in strategic relations after September 11. First, the prospects of a nuclear exchange were believed to be credible through an escalatory process of conventional military conflict. Second, 2002 showed that conventional war could start as a result of terrorist acts. Third, both Indian Prime Minister Atal Behar Vajpayee and U.S. President George W. Bush faced similar challenges: the two elected leaders of liberal democracies had to respond to public pressure and the expectations of determined and decisive action in the face of major terrorist acts.27
Given such credible possibilities for future multivariant wars, prudent planners must plan for the capabilities necessary to prevail throughout the spectrum of conflict, even if only to deter such wars. These wars are not special or unique kinds of conflict or non-conflict situations, although they do require special training and capabilities. Whatever else future wars bring, they will bring these multivariant operations along with them. When that happens our forces will have to resist those threats, but then they will be fighting real, as opposed to notional and abstract, enemies.