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April 30, 2006

Strategy In An Age Of Devolution

In his book New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy author Ralph Peters refers to the current time as an "age of devolution." In an era of change defined by the ascent of the information age and the passing of the industrial age, Peters says it is also an age of the "breakdown, of the last dismantling of empires." He offers two engaging arguments.

First, is that the diplomacy used by nation states today to engage one another is a throwback to the nineteenth-century model developed by Europeans to maintain a monopoly of power over their colonial empires. As such, it is not adequate to twenty-first-century demands. To support his argument he offers as proof that, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, every war in which the United States has committed armed forces is a legacy of the devolution of the historical drawing of national borders by European nations in order to advance their own interests. He gives as examples Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as on a lesser scale Rwanda, West Africa, the Caribbean, Pakistan, and the Philippines. According to Peters "diplomacy is dead" in the twenty-first century.

So what of Peters' argument? And what of its effect on the current strategic environment of the United States?

The United States must now compete in an information-age world in which geography, military power, and time to react are no longer sufficient to guarantee its national security. It must transform its strategic thinking from the two traditional models of "inside the box" thinking and "outside the box" thinking to incorporate a third alternative of "there is no box." During the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union came to resemble one another and both sides sought the assurance of stability to avoid either nuclear or conventional confrontation. The struggle between the two superpowers took on the aspects of a ritualized dance, with highly routinized bureaucracy and predictability.

The challenge for the United States now is to transcend the industrial age environment of the Cold War and engage its potential enemies in the information age environment in which the War on Terror is being waged. The information age has resulted in the death of routine and the elimination of geography and time as security buffers. It has ushered in the concept of unrestricted warfare, which transcends the traditional notion of wars occuring only within or between nation states, and which incorporates the strategic thinking model of ?there is no box.? This environment is increasingly shaped by globalization and the pace of change.

In a sense, Peters is right. Globalization is transforming societies and redefining them in the form of communities held together by culture and common interests rather than geographic boundaries. The impact of the pace of technological change, and changes in the nature of threats, peace, warfare, force, and information is leading to the development of community clusters held together by self-interest, although they are not necessarily enlightened or democratic in nature. Instead, the motivation of communities is more likely to be driven by imperatives similar to those identified by Benjamin R. Barber in Jihad vs. McWorld: market imperatives which erode national societies and give rise to non-state entities; resource imperatives under which all nations need something another nation has, and some nations have almost nothing they need; information technology imperatives which lend themselves to surveillance as well as liberty; and ecological imperatives driven by the impact of globalization on ecology. As these imperatives clash with nationalism in various regions of the world, Barber predicts that they will lead to re-tribalization of large swaths of mankind. Regardless, the information age is bringing about the inevitable diminishment of societies, as described by Peters above, and the rise of communities -- and adversaries -- in new, unimagined forms.

Over time, the United States must transform its definitions of diplomacy, to include all the elements of national power; and of war, to include all the means of force - both military and non-military, to engage its new potential adversaries. The new definitions must be unrestricted and must reflect the Nation's ruthless self-interest. The Nation must be prepared to respond to the arrival of non-state entities as well as tribes with flags as capable competitors with nation states upon the international scene. Failure to engage these new arrivals on the international scene will have grave strategic consequences for the United States, to include gradual but inevitable decline from its current position of global leadership.

April 13, 2006

When Generals Speak Out

Civilian control over the military has been a staple of the United States Constitution for more than 200 years, since the forming days of the Republic. It is one of the guiding principles which has allowed the American form of government to remain free from fear of military attempts to overthrow it, yet to maintain a military strong enough to respond to external threats.

Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of professional American military officers to recommend appropriate military strategies to civilian decision-makers. As former Army Chief of Staff, General Fred C. Weyand once said on the subject,

“As military professionals we must speak out, we must counsel our political leaders and alert the American public that there is no such thing as a ‘splendid little war.’ There is no such thing as a war fought on the cheap. War is death and destruction. The American way of war is particularly violent, deadly and dreadful…The Army must make the price of involvement clear before we get involved, so that America can weigh the probable costs of involvement against the dangers of noninvolvement…for there are things worse than war.”

This issue has come to the public’s attention as a chorus of retired generals has made known its opposition to the war in Iraq. A year ago a half dozen retired generals, men of renowned accomplishments, publicly called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a result of his handling, or in their opinions mishandling, of the War in Iraq.

Unlike former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinsecki, who was essentially sacked by Rumsfeld in 2003 for testifying before Congress and publicly questioning the adequacy of the Bush Administration’s preparations for the War in Iraq, these former generals have made their comments from the safety and security of retirement. The question for these former generals is whether they offered such candid advice to the civilian leadership of the military prior to their retirements from the military, and during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.

Their dilemma as senior military officers was summarized by another former Army Chief of Staff, General Maxwell Taylor, when he said,

“Having made every effort to guide his civilian superiors in the direction which he believes is right, the Chief of Staff must accept the decisions of the Secretary of his service, of the Secretary of Defense, and of the President as final and thereafter support them before Congress. The alternative is resignation.”

General Shinsecki stated his candid opinion on the preparations for the war in Iraq, and he did not resign, but he was fired by Rumsfeld for speaking out. The former generals who have voiced the courage of their convictions from the safety of retirement clearly were not fired from their positions, nor did they resign in opposition to the handling of the war. They are not on the public record for having spoken out critically on the war while they were still active officers. Whether they spoke their opposition to the handling of the war in private is not known.

These retired generals symbolize the quandary faced by the professional military officer corps, many of whom will disagree with the war in Iraq, but will not speak out publicly. Whether their silence is out of respect for the civilian control for the military established by the United States Constitution, which may very will be likely, or whether they are simply avoiding professional career suicide is a matter of debate.

Any situation in which the military officers corps, including retired generals, is at odds with its civilian leadership is fraught with constitutional, as well as leadership, issues. Physical valor in war, and moral courage in peace, are two different things, and America needs both in its senior military officers. However, it is of note that while they are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country, the same does not hold true for their careers. Ultimately, the moral dilemmas of leadership are issues which each officer, and each general, must confront individually.

April 6, 2006

Does United States Policy Know Its Tools In Iraq?

In speaking of war as an instrument of policy, Clausewitz said, "Policy knows the instrument it means to use." United States policy for Iraq, as established by the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (November, 2005) is a nation that is "peaceful, united, stable, democratic, [italics added] and secure." (Page 3) The tools by which the United States means to achieve its policy, as laid out in the Strategy are political, security, and economic. Noticeably missing from the Strategy is the social tool, which includes culture and religion.

If we accept Clausewitz's supposition as true, then it is not self-evident in its application by the United States in Iraq. If policy knows the instrument it means to use then it appears that the United States has elected to use military means as its primary tool to establish the necessary political, security, and economic pre-conditions for democracy in Iraq. It does not seem to focus at all on the social pre-conditions for democracy. This is a problematic approach.

Much of United States efforts in Iraq from 2003-2005 have relied heavily on military occupation and counter-insurgency efforts to establish democracy. Thus far, they have produced very mixed results and it is not certain that the means being used -military- are the correct means at all. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has touched upon this issue. In Rethinking the Challenge of Counterinsurgency Warfare: Working Notes (November, 2005), he wrote, "Democracy is the last, not the first, priority [when fighting an insurgency]. Security, effective governance and services, rule of law and limits to corruption, education, health, and employment all have a much higher priority."

The proof of this assertion is in the results. From 2004-2005 the nature of the insurgency in Iraq - an insurgency which the Bush Administration had initially been reluctant to recognize - changed. During this period the number of American troop deaths in Iraq declined by 6% and the number of American troops wounded declined by 33%. However, this is not an indicator of progress in achieving the stated goal of a democratic Iraq. At the same time American casualties were declining the Iraqi experience reflected a different reality: Total insurgent attacks increased 29%, from 72/day to 94/day; car bombs increased 108%, from 1.1/day to 2.4/day; suicide car bombs increased 209%, from .4/day to 1.1/day; suicide vest attacks increased 857%, from a total of 7 to a total of 67; and IED attacks increased 95%, from 15.4/day to 30/day. The Center for Strategic and International Studies indicates that, by one media estimate, for every United States soldier killed in Iraq at least thirteen Iraqi civilians are killed. Its conclusion is that the trends indicate "cycles in an evolving struggle, but not signs that the struggle is being lost or won...There have, as yet, been [no] decisive trends or no tipping points: simply surges and declines." These conditions hardly seem conducive to convincing the Iraqi people that democracy is working for them. (Iraq's Evolving Insurgency: The Nature of Attacks and Patterns and Cycles in the Conflict. Working Draft, Revised. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., February 2, 2006.)

If the military and security conditions for achieving democracy in Iraq remain uncertain, the political , economic, and social conditions are even less so. In a 2003 article titled Democracy? In Iraq? (Hoover Digest, 2003, No. 3, Summer Issue) Chappell Lawson and Strom Thacker of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, concluded that, while United States efforts are not completely hopeless, "Iraq is unlikely to sustain democratic institutions, even given protracted U.S. occupation." They base their conclusion on a couple of empirical studies that indicate that "Iraq has few of the success factors associated with democracy, such as a high degree of economic development and a Western cultural tradition."

Lawson and Thacker measured levels of democracy on a numerical scale during 1996-2000. Not surprisingly, Iraq under Saddam Hussein scored lowest on the scale along with other countries such as Afghanistan (under the Taliban), Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. From their data they concluded that richer, more literate, more egalitarian, and more homogenous societies do better at establishing and sustaining democracy. Petro-states, countries with high Muslim populations, and societies with little cultural affinity for the West tend to be less democratic. Iraq would likely not become a free society on its own.

Lawson and Thacker also looked at the impact of American occupation on the likelihood of a country establishing and sustaining democracy. In the last century the United States has occupied 19 countries with the goal of reshaping their political systems. They found that in about half the cases democratic institutions lasted, but in the other half they did not. At best, American occupation seems to be only a modest and indirect influence on the future long-term development of other countries. Those countries that became democratic following American occupation already had the necessary social, economic, and political pre-conditions that made them more likely to do so, and those that did not have those indicators were unlikely to make the transition.

If United States policy is to be successful, and if democracy is to have a chance to take root and flourish in Iraq, it will be necessary for United States policy makers to accept Clausewitz's dictum above: "Policy knows the instrument it means to use." In doing so, they must focus on all the tools available -- military, political, economic, and social. Of these tools, the military option offers the lowest probability of long-term success, particularly if wielded in isolation from the other tools. Unfortunately, there are signs that the Administration does not understand Clausewitz's dictum as it is scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to build democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups. According to the Washington Post (April 5, 2006, Democracy In Iraq Not A Priority In U.S. Budget) agencies such as the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute will see their grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development dry up at the end of April, 2006 leaving them only special funds earmarked by Congress last year. Similarly, the U.S. Institute of Peace has had its funding for Iraq democracy promotion cut by 60 percent, and the National Endowment for Democracy expects to run out of money for Iraqi programs by September, 2006.

Given the current outlook, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the future of democracy in Iraq remains uncertain.

April 4, 2006

America's New Strategic Reality

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 introduced the United States to a new strategic reality, one which will confront it for generations to come. No longer can it rely on the conventional protections of time and distance as a result of being surrounded by vast oceans and air space. Instead, non-conventional attacks may come with little to no notice, and they may occur against American citizens and interests at home as well as abroad. In the War on Terror, an existential war of ideas, future attacks on the United States may originate from within as well as from outside the Nation's borders.

Nor can the Nation rely on the time between wars to reconstitute itself and focus on future threats. Instead, the new strategic reality, the context in which the Nation finds itself in the War on Terror, is similar to that in which the Army finds itself, that war is now the norm, the steady state environment, and not the exception (as described in the Army 2005 Posture Statement). It is a protracted and continuous war of finite conventional resources arrayed against infinite asymmetrical threats. The implications of this new strategic reality are clear: America must come to understand the character of the threat it faces and adapt accordingly. Failure to do so could have grave strategic consequences and invite challenges to American political, economic, and military leadership throughout the world.

While most of the Nation's conventional military resources are postured to deal with traditional military threats the more immediate and likely threat, and that to which the United States is more immediately vulnerable, comes from unconventional threats from either state or non-state entities. This threat has been the greatest focus of United States efforts since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Ultimately, the greatest threat to the nation may not be military at all, but may come from non-military methods of waging war.

The national challenge for the Nation in the War on Terror will be to transform its approach away from industrial age concepts that focus on conventional, symmetrical military threats and responses; are based on hierarchical command and control; and which are geography-based across territory and space. Instead, it must adopt a network-centric multi-disciplinary approach based on the understanding that a fundamental shift of power has occurred from industry to information. The new paradigm must be rooted in information age concepts that focus on non-conventional, asymmetrical threats and responses, to include non-military methods of applying force to wage war, and non-hierarchical command and control. It must expand beyond the geographical base of territory and space, to defeat the threats to which the United States is most vulnerable.

Perhaps the most significant aspects of the new strategic reality are its persistent nature, resulting in a blurring of the familiar distinctions between war and peace, potential for elimination of the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, and erasure of the foreign-domestic divide. These are the by-products of the information age paradigm for waging war. The Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review Report (2006) acknowledges the nature of the new strategic reality in its opening statement, "The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war." It is a war in which there is no foreseeable end in sight.

In the War on Terror, there can be no time for a strategic pause to reset or to plan for the future. Instead, the time horizon to address the strategic gaps in preparedness and performance is now, while engaged. Traditionally, the strategic military planning time horizon has been measured in months, years, and even decades. The strategic time horizon in the War on Terror is measured in the seconds, minutes, and hours in which asymmetrical attacks can occur. These timelines are incompatible and must be reconciled in order to secure the Nation's future.