“The Army is creating an experimental combat unit to develop new tactics for lethally fast-paced future battlefields.
While small, it will have capabilities not found in the building block of today’s Army, the 4,000-strong brigade.
The Multi-Domain Task Force will be “a relatively small organization…1,500 or so troops,” the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told the Future of Warfare conference here this morning. “That organization will be capable of space, cyber, maritime, air, and ground warfare,” he said, extending its reach into all domains of military operations to support the Air Force, Navy, and Marines.
“It’s got a bunch of capabilities, and that’s what we’re going to play with to figure out what’s the right mix,” Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the deputy chief of staff for operations (G-3/5/7), told reporters at last week’s Association of the US Army conference. “It’s got some aviation. It’s got some maneuver. It’s got signal. It’s got cyber.” In English, that means it has helicopters, infantry and/or tanks, communications troops, and technical troops to protect (and perhaps attack) computer networks. By contrast, a typical Army brigade today, a much larger formation, has maneuver and signal, but no helicopters or hackers.
The eventual goal of this experimentation may be permanent units that are so self-sufficient. The old Cold War-era Armored Cavalry Regiments had their own in-house helicopters, as well as tanks, signallers and supply to conduct reconnaissance at high speeds over large areas in the face of armed opposition. Army reformers from Doug MacGregor to H.R. McMaster, both veterans of ACRs, have seen these self-sufficient units as a potential model for future forces. The Army recently explored reviving them, but “we don’t have the stuff to build it,” in particular the helicopters, Anderson said.
“There’s still not consensus about what this thing” — the revived ACR or Reconnaissance-Strike Group — “should look like, how big it should be,” said Anderson. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to keep striving to build that kind of capability….I think in the meantime this Multi-Domain Task Force may provide pieces, parts, of what that RSG was going to be.”
Why the drive for smaller units with a wider range of capabilities? The Army increasingly worries that big units will just be big targets. Russia and China, in particular, have developed their own smart missiles, plus the sensors to find targets and the networks to coordinate strikes. These Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) systems have the range and accuracy to potentially make wide areas of Europe and Asia — including the territory of allies like the Baltics, Poland, and South Korea — a deadly no-go zone for conventional US forces.
“There are several nations around the world who have developed very complex, very sophisticated Anti-Access/Area Denial sort of capabilities,” Milley said. “Obviously Russia and China, to a lesser extent Iran and North Korea…. That A2/AD structure is highly lethal and operating inside that structure, in large formations, will also get you killed.”
“So smaller dispersed, very agile, very nimble organizations — that are networked into other lethal systems that delivered by either air or maritime forces — will be essential to rip apart the A2/AD networks,” Milley said. “These organizations would be highly lethal, very fast, very difficult to pin down on a battlefield.”
The Army can’t maneuver this way today, emphasized Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, the logistician heading the Europe-based 21st Theater Sustainment Command. “We don’t have the mission command capabilities that can do that. We don’t have the sustainment capabilities,” he told me at AUSA. “But where we’re getting the reps in is widely dispersed operations at the company level, sometimes at the platoon level, training with our allies, and we’re learning the vulnerabilities of our heavy formations (i.e. tank units). Their internal logistics are designed to operate in battalion sectors… So all that is informing what we need to do in the future.”
Not everyone is excited. At the AUSA conference in Huntsville, an analyst, historian and top aide to Milley’s predecessor, retired Col. David Johnson, warns we may have already overloaded Brigade Combat Team commanders with too many capabilities that once were managed by divisions or even corps. “The BCT has become the division… the focal point of just about everything. We ought to challenge that assertion,” Johnson said. “Should we keep pushing capabilities down to the BCT or relook the role of divisions and corps, and focus the brigade on the close fight?”
The head of Training & Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Gen. David Perkins answers: “You’re (still) going to have to have echelons of command that synchronize and deconflict. That won’t change — but how those responsibilities and authorities are divided may have to. A whole generation of Army leaders grew up with Airland Battle doctrine’s clear demarcations between the close fight, conducted by short-range weapons; the deep fight, conducted by Air Force strikes, attack helicopters, and ATACMS missiles; and the supposedly safe rear area.
“A lot of it was determined by range of weapons. It was determined by physics, it was determined by geography, (e.g.) here’s a bridge crossing, who’s in charge of it?” Perkins told me at AUSA. “What we’re finding with multi-domain battle (is) that construct doesn’t work…. What’s the range of cyber?…You can’t define the battlefield framework by the range and/or limit of your weapons.”
“What we tried to do with a two-dimensional construct, AirLand Battle, was impose some order on the chaos that is battle(:) I own this part of chaos, you own this part of chaos,” Perkins said. “Now… instead of trying to control chaos, we have to thrive in it.”
“THE MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”
“The Infantry has a weight problem. The amount of weight soldiers or Marines are asked to carry has grown exponentially while their ability to carry that load has not. This issue was brought to the forefront recently when retired Army Col. Ellen Haring wrote an opinion piece for the Marine Corps Times in which she was critical of the requirement for Marine Corps infantry officers to carry a load of up to 152 pounds for more than nine miles, at a twenty-minute-per-mile pace—a standard that Haring argues is unrealistic and prevents women from successfully completing the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course. At first glance this may seem like a reasonable argument: 152 pounds seems like more than most humans can carry.
Many of the rebuttal articles, including one on Tom Ricks Best Defense blog by former Marine infantryman Aaron Ferencik, state that not only is this a realistic requirement, it happens regularly in Afghanistan. Ferencik writes that he was required to carry almost 200 pounds of gear, armor, and weapons.
Despite the robust back-and-forth argument related to the 152-pound Marine Corps standard that was spawned by Haring’s piece, one fundamental question was never answered: What is the right amount of weight an infantryman should be reasonably asked to carry? And how do we get these loads down to a reasonable weight that allows the infantry to be a flexible and agile force?
How did we get here?
From the ancient Greek hoplite all the way up through the American Civil War infantryman, the overall weight carried by a foot soldier changed very little, holding steady at about forty pounds. Infantrymen didn’t see a significant jump in their load until the beginning of the twentieth century. During World War I infantry loads increased by 50 percent, up to over sixty pounds. World War II saw those loads increase again, to 80–100 pounds, depending on the type of weapon system the soldier carried.
Soldier loads stayed pretty constant from World War II through Vietnam. In the last thirty years, however, loads have skyrocketed. During the operation in Grenada soldier loads went unchecked by leaders, resulting in soldiers carrying over 120 pounds. In their paper Load Carriage in Military Operations, Joseph Knapik and Katy Reynolds quoted one soldier in Grenada: “My rucksack weighed 120 pounds. I would get up and rush for 10 yards, throw myself down and couldn’t get up. I’d rest for 10 or 15 minutes, struggle to get up, go 10 more yards, and collapse. After a few rushes, I was physically unable to move and I am in great shape.”
The story hasn’t changed much since then. In the video below, a soldier steps up on a scale to illustrate how much he carries on a two-day mission. With weapon, body armor, and pack his gear weighs in at over 130 pounds.
The British Army has had similar problems. In 2011, a senior British Army officer wrote that the Taliban refer to British soldiers as “donkeys” who move in a tactical “waddle” because of the weight they carried in Afghanistan, which averaged 110 pounds. The officer continued, explaining that “our infantry find it almost impossible to close with the enemy because the bad guys are twice as mobile.”
What should a combat load weigh?
How much should a soldier carry? Many studies have been done on this subject by both the Army and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps Combat Development Command’s 2003 Combat Load Report cites S.L.A. Marshall’s book Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation as the go-to source on the subject. Marshall concludes that a soldier could optimally carry 33 percent of his body weight. The same Marine Corps study determined the average weight of a Marine male was 169 pounds and the average female’s was 130 pounds. This would put their combat loads at 56 pounds and 42 pounds, respectively.
The Army field manual on foot marches, FM 21-18, which has not been updated since 1990, does not take into account individual body weight. It prescribes a fighting load of no more than 48 pounds and an approach march load of 72 pounds. There is, however, a caveat to those weights. The manual states, “The primary consideration is not how much a soldier can carry, but how much he can carry without impaired combat effectiveness—mentally or physically.” This essentially bases a determination about the amount carried on individual capabilities.
Bridging the Gap
Soldiers today are consistently carrying loads into combat that weigh 70–100 pounds more than what Marshall or the Army field manual prescribes. This over-burdening has significantly hindered soldiers’ and Marines’ ability to effectively maneuver on the battlefield. So how do we get soldier loads closer to these prescribed weights?
There are two potential technological solutions to this problem. The first is to provide assistance in carrying the weight. Up until World War I, armies used beasts of burden to assist in carrying some of their equipment. With the advent of the combustion engine armies turned to trucks and other combat vehicles. The problem is these solutions tie the infantryman to roadways, restricting movement. Getting the infantry away from roads is vital to their ability to effectively maneuver against the enemy requiring innovative solutions.
Several companies are working on robots that can follow behind a maneuver formation. These robots would carry the packs of several soldiers, leaving the infantrymen to carry only their basic combat load of ammunition and body armor. Reducing soldiers’ carried weight to this basic combat load would significantly increase their maneuverability on the battlefield and survivability in a fight.
Another concept under development is a wearable exoskeleton. This would allow soldiers to continue to carry their own loads but with the load-bearing assistance of a hydraulic-powered system attached to a soldier’s legs. Infantrymen would thus retain the same equipment they currently carry on the battlefield, but the exoskeleton would reduce fatigue and the consequent erosion of combat effectiveness.
Unfortunately, none of these systems are ready for combat. Problems with noise, the ability to traverse rugged terrain, maintenance, and the amount of actual weight they can carry have prevented these systems from being issued to combat units. Noise was the biggest concern for Marines. They felt, and rightfully so, that a robot with a lawn mower engine following behind their formation would easily give their position away. Until the noise and other problems are solved, these systems will remain impractical for soldiers on the battlefield.
The other way to attack this problem is to reduce how much the things a soldier carries weigh. On today’s battlefield the two main culprits are batteries and body armor. Almost everything a soldier carries today requires batteries, which can add almost 20 pounds to their load—a problem soldiers have only contended with in the past generation. One solution to the problem is the use of solar panels like the Marine Austere Patrol System being developed by the Office of Naval Research. These lightweight panels would allow soldiers to recharge batteries on the go and reduce the total amount of batteries needed per mission.
Body armor is another area where the military is looking at to reduce weight. The current Improved Outer Tactical Vest weights over 30 pounds. The Army is planning to begin issuing a new system of body armor in 2019 that weighs in at around 23 pounds. Additionally, plates can be removed to tailor the system to the mission, potentially reducing weight even more.
Where do we go from here?
The potential solutions identified above are great starting points but more can be done. Many of these technologies are still in their infancy and not quite ready for combat. While not as sexy as a new fighter jet or aircraft carrier, more resources should be allocated towards the objective of reducing a soldier’s load. Doing so will directly impact battlefield performance. A fighter jet cannot seize and hold terrain, but then neither can infantrymen who are so overburdened that they can’t maneuver effectively on the battlefield.”
“WAR IS BORING”
“There’s no draft — and only one percent of the U.S. population is in the military.
Most of these missions are classified. U.S. citizens and lawmakers should shake off fears of appearing unpatriotic to challenge the government’s unchecked, unilateral and covert military activities abroad.
The government isn’t levying special taxes or issuing bonds to pay for the fighting. This “war” — drone strikes, Special Forces deployments, air strikes and aircraft carrier deployments — is happening with little public scrutiny.
More than 8,000 U.S. soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan right now. Military advisers are overseeing the war against the Islamic State and the battle to retake Mosul, backed up by American military equipment. Drones launch from bases in Africa and the Middle East to conduct targeted killings against high value targets from Djibouti to Pakistan. U.S. Special Operations Forces operate across the globe in various capacities.
This week on War College, we sit down with Rosa Brooks to figure out how America barreled head long into a permanent war without defining the terms or thinking about the consequences. Brooks is a former U.S. State Department official and the author of the book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon.
Brooks argues that U.S. citizens and lawmakers should shake off fears of appearing unpatriotic to challenge the government’s unchecked, unilateral and covert military activities abroad. If that doesn’t happen soon, she says, the United States may have to pay for the dangerous example it’s setting for Russia and China.”
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR:
Those of us in the Military Veteran Community, as well as those among us who have worked for years with the federal government, have become concerned in recent years about the public view of the Office of the President.
Below are selected excerpts from a classic article by George Friedman, prior to the 2012 National Election. It is our hope that the content will continue bringing reality to American citizen expectations on the eve of the 2016 election.
STRATFOR GEOPOLITICAL WEEKLY
“The American presidency is designed to disappoint.
What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him or her.
Each candidate must promise things that are beyond their power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him.
So candidates promise great, transformative programs. Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers’ point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.
Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president’s power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president’s power, just as the country’s founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time — and this is the main paradox of American political culture — the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance.
The president has somewhat more authority in foreign policy, but only marginally so. He is trapped by public opinion, congressional intrusion, and above all, by the realities of geopolitics. Thus, while during his 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush argued vehemently against nation-building, once in office, he did just that (with precisely the consequences he had warned of on the campaign trail). And regardless of how he modeled his foreign policy during his first campaign, the 9/11 attacks defined his presidency.
Similarly, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to redefine America’s relationship with both Europe and the Islamic world. Neither happened. It has been widely and properly noted how little Obama’s foreign policy in action has differed from George W. Bush’s. It was not that Obama didn’t intend to have a different foreign policy, but simply that what the president wants and what actually happens are very different things.
The power often ascribed to the U.S. presidency is overblown. But even so, people — including leaders — all over the world still take that power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening. The thought that no one can control something as vast and complex as a country or the world is a frightening thought. Conspiracy theories offer this comfort, too, since they assume that while evil may govern the world, at least the world is governed. There is, of course, an alternative viewpoint, namely that while no one actually is in charge, the world is still predictable as long as you understand the impersonal forces guiding it. This is an uncomfortable and unacceptable notion to those who would make a difference in the world. For such people, the presidential race — like political disputes the world over — is of great significance.
Ultimately, the president does not have the power to transform U.S. foreign policy. Instead, American interests, the structure of the world and the limits of power determine foreign policy.
In the broadest sense, current U.S. foreign policy has been in place for about a century. During that period, the United States has sought to balance and rebalance the international system to contain potential threats in the Eastern Hemisphere, which has been torn by wars. The Western Hemisphere in general, and North America in particular, has not. No president could afford to risk allowing conflict to come to North America.
At one level, presidents do count: The strategy they pursue keeping the Western Hemisphere conflict-free matters. During World War I, the United States intervened after the Germans began to threaten Atlantic sea-lanes and just weeks after the fall of the czar. At this point in the war, the European system seemed about to become unbalanced, with the Germans coming to dominate it. In World War II, the United States followed a similar strategy, allowing the system in both Europe and Asia to become unbalanced before intervening. This was called isolationism, but that is a simplistic description of the strategy of relying on the balance of power to correct itself and only intervening as a last resort.
During the Cold War, the United States adopted the reverse strategy of actively maintaining the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere via a process of continual intervention. It should be remembered that American deaths in the Cold War were just under 100,000 (including Vietnam, Korea and lesser conflicts) versus about 116,000 U.S. deaths in World War I, showing that far from being cold, the Cold War was a violent struggle.
The decision to maintain active balancing was a response to a perceived policy failure in World War II. The argument was that prior intervention would have prevented the collapse of the European balance, perhaps blocked Japanese adventurism, and ultimately resulted in fewer deaths than the 400,000 the United States suffered in that conflict. A consensus emerged from World War II that an “internationalist” stance of active balancing was superior to allowing nature to take its course in the hope that the system would balance itself. The Cold War was fought on this strategy.
Between 1948 and the Vietnam War, the consensus held. During the Vietnam era, however, a viewpoint emerged in the Democratic Party that the strategy of active balancing actually destabilized the Eastern Hemisphere, causing unnecessary conflict and thereby alienating other countries. This viewpoint maintained that active balancing increased the likelihood of conflict, caused anti-American coalitions to form, and most important, overstated the risk of an unbalanced system and the consequences of imbalance. Vietnam was held up as an example of excessive balancing.
The counterargument was that while active balancing might generate some conflicts, World War I and World War II showed the consequences of allowing the balance of power to take its course. This viewpoint maintained that failing to engage in active and even violent balancing with the Soviet Union would increase the possibility of conflict on the worst terms possible for the United States. Thus, even in the case of Vietnam, active balancing prevented worse outcomes. The argument between those who want the international system to balance itself and the argument of those who want the United States to actively manage the balance has raged ever since George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in 1972.
If we carefully examine Obama’s statements during the 2008 campaign and his efforts once in office, we see that he has tried to move U.S. foreign policy away from active balancing in favor of allowing regional balances of power to maintain themselves. He did not move suddenly into this policy, as many of his supporters expected he would. Instead, he eased into it, simultaneously increasing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan while disengaging in other areas to the extent that the U.S. political system and global processes would allow.
Obama’s efforts to transition away from active balancing of the system have been seen in Europe, where he has made little attempt to stabilize the economic situation, and in the Far East, where apart from limited military repositioning there have been few changes. Syria also highlights his movement toward the strategy of relying on regional balances. The survival of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime would unbalance the region, creating a significant Iranian sphere of influence. Obama’s strategy has been not to intervene beyond providing limited covert support to the opposition, but rather to allow the regional balance to deal with the problem. Obama has expected the Saudis and Turks to block the Iranians by undermining al Assad, not because the United States asks them to do so but because it is in their interest to do so.
Obama’s perspective draws on that of the critics of the Cold War strategy of active balancing, who maintained that without a major Eurasian power threatening hemispheric hegemony, U.S. intervention is more likely to generate anti-American coalitions and precisely the kind of threat the United States feared when it decided to actively balance. In other words, Obama does not believe that the lessons learned from World War I and World War II apply to the current global system, and that as in Syria, the global power should leave managing the regional balance to local powers.
As I have argued from the outset, the American presidency is institutionally weak despite its enormous prestige. It is limited constitutionally, politically and ultimately by the actions of others. Had Japan not attacked the United States, it is unclear that Franklin Roosevelt would have had the freedom to do what he did. Had al Qaeda not attacked on 9/11, I suspect that George W. Bush’s presidency would have been dramatically different.
The world shapes U.S. foreign policy. The more active the world, the fewer choices presidents have and the smaller those choices are. Obama has sought to create a space where the United States can disengage from active balancing. Doing so falls within his constitutional powers, and thus far has been politically possible, too. But whether the international system would allow him to continue along this path should he be re-elected is open to question. Jimmy Carter had a similar vision, but the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan wrecked it. George W. Bush saw his opposition to nation-building wrecked by 9/11 and had his presidency crushed under the weight of the main thing he wanted to avoid.
Presidents make history, but not on their own terms. They are constrained and harried on all sides by reality. In selecting a president, it is important to remember that candidates will say what they need to say to be elected, but even when they say what they mean, they will not necessarily be able to pursue their goals. The choice to do so simply isn’t up to them. There are two fairly clear foreign policy outlooks in this election. The degree to which the winner matters, however, is unclear, though knowing the inclinations of presidential candidates regardless of their ability to pursue them has some value.
In the end, though, the U.S. presidency was designed to limit the president’s ability to rule. He can at most guide, and frequently he cannot even do that. Putting the presidency in perspective allows us to keep our debates in perspective as well.”
George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs. He is the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, an online publication that analyzes and forecasts the course of global events. Prior to founding Geopolitical Futures, Friedman was chairman of Stratfor, the private intelligence publishing and consulting firm he founded in 1996.
“WAR ON THE ROCKS”
“Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy.
We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way.
On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.
The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should. Policymakers have an obligation to carefully weigh the most momentous decision that they are ever asked to make. These criteria can help.
Any nation with vast power will be tempted to use it. In this respect, the United States is exceptional because its power is so immense. Small, weak countries avoid fighting in distant disputes; the risk that troops, ships, or planes sent elsewhere will be unavailable for defense of the homeland generally keeps these nations focused on more proximate dangers. The U.S. government, by contrast, doesn’t have to worry that deploying U.S. forces abroad might leave America vulnerable to attack by powerful adversaries.
There is another factor that explains the United States’ propensity to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy: Americans are a generous people, and we like helping others. We have often responded favorably when others appeal to us for assistance. Many Americans look back proudly on the moments in the middle and latter half of the 20th century when the U.S. military provided the crucial margin of victory over Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union.
But, in recent years, Americans have grown more reluctant to send U.S. troops hither and yon. There is a growing appreciation of the fact that Washington’s willingness to intervene abroad – from Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, to Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, to Libya and Yemen in the present decades – has often undermined U.S. security. We have become embroiled in disputes that we don’t understand and rarely can control. Thus, public anxiety about becoming sucked into another Middle Eastern civil war effectively blocked overt U.S. intervention in Syria in 2013, notwithstanding President Obama’s ill-considered red line warning to Bashar al Assad.
But while the American people are unenthusiastic about armed intervention, especially when it might involve U.S. ground troops, most Washington-based policy elites retain their activist instincts. They believe that U.S. military intervention generally advances global security and that the absence of U.S. leadership invites chaos. The essays in this series, “Course Correction,” have documented the many reasons why these assumptions might not be true. The authors have urged policymakers to consider other ways for the United States to remain engaged globally – ways that do not obligate the American people to bear all the costs and that do not obligate U.S. troops to bear all the risks.
But the authors do not presume that the United States must never wage war. There are indeed times when it should. Policymakers should, however, keep five specific guidelines in mind before supporting military intervention, especially the use of ground troops. Doing so would discipline our choices, would clearly signal when the U.S. military is likely to be deployed abroad, and could empower others to act when the United States does not.
Vital U.S. National Security Interest at Stake
The United States should not send U.S. troops into harm’s way unless a vital U.S. national security interest is at stake. Unfortunately, the consensus in Washington defines U.S. national security interests too broadly. Protecting the physical security of the territory of the United States and ensuring the safety of its people are vital national security interests. Advancing U.S. prosperity is an important goal, but it is best achieved by peaceful means, most importantly through trade and other forms of voluntary exchange. Similarly, the U.S. military should generally not be used to spread U.S. values, such as liberal democracy and human rights. It should be focused on defending this country from physical threats. The military should be poised to deter attacks and to fight and win the nation’s wars if deterrence fails.
The criterion offered here is more stringent, for example, than the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, which held that U.S. troops should not be sent overseas “unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies.” By effectively equating U.S. national interests with those of our allies, it allowed for a range of interventions that would not be considered automatically valid under the guidelines spelled out here. Policymakers should not risk the lives of U.S. troops to protect others’ interests as though those interests were our own.
Clear National Consensus
The American people must understand why they are being asked to risk blood and treasure and, crucially, they must have a say in whether to do so. The U.S. military should not be engaged in combat operations overseas unless there is a clear national consensus behind the mission.
Although modern technology allows constituents to communicate their policy preferences easily, traditional methods are just as effective in ascertaining whether the American people support the use of force. We should rely on the tool written into the Constitution: the stipulation that Congress alone, not the president, possesses the power to take the country to war.
As Gene Healy notes in this series, Congress has regularly evaded its obligations. Although the U.S. military has been in a continuous state of war over the past 15 years, few in Congress have ever weighed in publicly on the wisdom or folly of any particular foreign conflict. Some now interpret Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty or United Nations Security Council resolutions as obligating the United States to wage war without explicit authorization from Congress. This is unacceptable. The president may repel attacks against the United States, but the authority to deploy U.S. forces abroad, and to engage in preemptive or preventative wars of choice, resides with Congress — and by extension the people — of the United States.
Understanding of the Costs—and How to Pay Them
We must also understand the costs of war and know how we will pay them before we choose to go down that path. We cannot accurately gauge popular support for a given military intervention overseas if the case for war is built on unrealistic expectations and best-case scenarios. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is certainly no such thing as a free war.
Deficit spending allows the federal government to pretend otherwise. Politicians make promises, with bills coming due long after they’ve left office. But we should expect more when it comes to the use of force. Advocates for a military intervention should be forced to frame their solution in relation to costs and benefits. The debit side of the ledger includes the long-term costs of care for the veterans of the conflict. Hawks must also explain what government expenditures should be cut – or taxes increased – to pay for their war. The American people should have the final say in choosing whether additional military spending to prosecute minor, distant conflicts is worth the cost, including the opportunity costs: the crucial domestic priorities that must be forgone or future taxes paid.
Clear and Obtainable Military Objectives
We cannot compare the costs or wisdom of going to war if we do not know what our troops will be asked to do. The U.S. military should never be sent into harm’s way without a set of clear and obtainable military objectives.
Such considerations do not apply when a country’s survival is at stake. But wars of choice — the types of wars that the United States has fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere — are different. Advocates for such wars must demonstrate not only that the fight is necessary to secure vital U.S. interests, that it has public support, and that it has funding, but also that the military’s mission is defined and attainable.
Military victory is rarely sufficient, however, as our recent wars and interventions demonstrate. In the case of regime-change wars, ensuring that a successful transition to a stable, friendly government occurs can take a considerable amount of time and resources. Whatever replaces the defeated forces must represent a marked improvement in order for the war to advance U.S. vital interests. U.S. leaders, therefore, must not only define the military objective, but also detail what the resultant peace will look like, and how we will know the mission is complete.
It is easy for Washington to start wars, but we cannot leave U.S. troops on the hook for ending them. Policymakers must account for the tendency of war to drag on for years or more, and they must plan for an acceptable exit strategy before committing troops.
Use of Force as a Last Resort
The four criteria above are not enough to establish a war’s legitimacy, or the wisdom of waging it. After all, modern nation-states have the ability to wreak unimaginable horror on a massive scale. That obviously doesn’t imply that they should. Thus, the fifth and final rule concerning military intervention is force should be used only as a last resort, after we have exhausted other means for resolving a foreign policy challenge that threatens vital U.S. national security interests.
This point is informed by centuries-old concepts of justice. Civilized societies abhor war, even those waged for the right reasons while adhering to widely respected norms, such as proportionality and reasonable protections for noncombatants. War, given its uncertainty and destructiveness, should never be entered into lightly or for trivial reasons.
America has an exceptional capacity for waging war. U.S. policymakers therefore have a particular obligation to remember that war is a last resort. Precisely because no one else is likely to constrain them, they must constrain themselves.
U.S. foreign policy should contain a built-in presumption against the use of force. That does not mean that war is never the answer, but rather that it is rarely the best answer. Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy. We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way. On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.
The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should.”
“FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION”
“Social media started out as a technological innovation but has become a social phenomenon.
Intelligence agencies appreciate the importance of social media and its role.
In a recent PBS Newshour interview, Nick Rasmussen, of the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) just outside Washington DC, explained how, in the context of searching for a terrorist threat, “increasingly what ‘connecting the dots’ means to me is dealing with the huge volume of publicly available information. The work we’re doing now often doesn’t involve really sensitive intelligence; it involves looking at Twitter, or some other social media platform, and trying to figure out who that individual is behind the screen name.”
Since the early 2000s Facebook has become indispensable for families and friends to stay in touch, and people and organizations with large numbers of Twitter followers are able to carve out virtual mini-media empires. Clicks and ‘follows’ are the new version of voting with your feet. The more readers or followers one has, goes the logic, the more influence one wields.
To turn it around, people who actively use social media for every day, non-political reasons are also subject to being targeted.
One of the vulnerabilities (or advantages, to a combatant wishing to recruit people) is that social media accounts usually expose users to invasive scrutiny. Facebook and LinkedIn profiles can carry enough information that, shared with the wrong person, can be used to compromise that person or uncover confidential information about his/her job. Many countries’ military members are now routinely required to not specify their location or activities.
As the years passed of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, jihadi groups increasingly began to recruit through social media. Stories now abound of young adults of Middle Eastern heritage and origin, living in western Europe and the US, who have been contacted by Islamic State through social media and convinced to move to Raqqa, the Islamic State’s purported capital. Some 60 young women from the UK, aged 20 and below, are thought in the past several years to have traveled to Raqqa.
The huge growth in cell phone cameras and the ease of posting pictures to social media has also played a role in tracking and finding various targets. Of recent note, investigative organizations were able to track operatives and military equipment in eastern Ukraine primarily through personal pictures posted to social media and publically available imaging, including open source tracking of the apparent missile launcher used to destroy Malaysian Airlines flight 17 in 2014. This has also been a method to discover the location of various actors in the labyrinthine war in Syria.
Per the previously mentioned PBS Newshour article, many Islamic State fighters simply do not disable the geo-location feature on their phones, which allows those with the right technology to track them.
Intelligence agencies of major world powers now seem to appreciate the importance of social media and its role in ‘information operations,’ a military term that infers the ability of messaging to affect the viewpoints of a target population. Just looking through listings for ‘intelligence analyst’ on several Washington DC—based job boards, foreign language specialists are widely sought for social media and social networking positions.
Of course, it is not only parties to the worlds’ trouble regions that are looking to abuse social media to their advantage. For even a longer time, social engineers and hackers have tried to gather personal information by establishing links online.
If you are uncertain about that LinkedIn invitation you just got, try to verify the person through a known contact. If you are doubtful, ‘ignore’ or ‘delete’ works just fine. If he or she happens to be a colleague whom you meet at the next social, you can safely add them, and actually have a face-to-face conversation, something social media, unfortunately, seems to increasingly discourage.”
“The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released the first in a series of reports imparting lessons from the 15-year, $115 billion Afghanistan reconstruction effort.
The core lesson: establish an anti-corruption strategy before plunging into nation-rebuilding.
The report, Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan, is a review of how effectively the US government—primarily the Departments of Defense (DoD), State, Treasury, and Justice, and the US Agency for International Development—responded to corruption in Afghanistan reconstruction spending. SIGAR identifies six key lessons that will hopefully inform future contingency operations, and makes recommendations for executive and legislative action.
The report defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted authority for private gain,” as exemplified by such acts as bribery, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, and nepotism. It asserts that, while certain forms of corruption have been a part of Afghan culture for centuries, the problem grew to epic proportions after 2001. SIGAR faults the US-led reconstruction effort in three respects: by rapidly injecting billions of dollars into the Afghan economy without adequate oversight, by failing to recognize the scope and severity of corruption, and by subordinating anticorruption efforts to short-term security and political goals.
The recommendation that seems most sensible (to provide the most bang for the buck, if you will) is for the agencies to establish a “joint vendor vetting unit” to more carefully screen contingency operation contractors and grantees. For reconstruction missions to succeed, international aid money must be kept out of the hands of what SIGAR calls “malign powerbrokers”—those who thrive off corruption, such as local warlords, crooked government officials, and insurgents. Robust screening of recipients will also help ensure reconstruction funds aren’t lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
The United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan for several more years, and it will likely embark on relief efforts in other war-torn countries as well. It is therefore critical that the government heed the lessons collected over the years by its watchdogs: the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which ceased operations in September 2011, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which closed its doors in October 2013, and SIGAR, which will carry on until appropriated funding for the reconstruction drops below $250 million.”
Photo: Shawn Thew, epa
“It’s a pace of killing unknown to most Americans and a source of national shame.
In one narrow category — 18- to 24-year-old male veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and were VA patients — the suicide rate was 10 times the national average for all people.
Of 20 veteran suicides daily, just six were enrolled in VA health care. A 46-page suicide analysis released by the Department of Veterans Affairs last month reveals just how swift this current of self-destruction is flowing, particularly for young veterans fresh from war.
A veteran is choosing death every 72 minutes, and the VA could be doing more to keep that person alive. When veterans manage to ask for help, too many of their calls are not getting through to VA’s suicide hotline (800-273-8255). The agency isn’t offering enough veterans the kind of cutting-edge treatment therapies that researchers are finally uncovering.
The statistics tell the tragic story. Veterans in 2014 were killing themselves at three times the rate of civilians and at a quickening pace, up by a third from 2001 to 2014. Most self-destructive are young male veterans in their 20s, who are dying at four times the rate of their civilian peers. Female veterans were 2.4 times more likely to choose suicide than civilian counterparts.
The dying is relentless. Iraq War veteran Tom Young, 30, lay down on Illinois train tracks last year after failing to reach someone at the VA hotline. Former police officer and Navy veteran Peter Kaisen, 76, shot himself in the parking lot of a veterans hospital on Long Island last month.
Young died at a time when some calls into the VA hotline were actually going tovoicemail, a problem since repaired. But too many calls today still roll over to less-prepared backup centers outside the VA.
The agency’s mammoth bureaucracy, second only to the Pentagon, has been slow to embrace new ideas, chief among them managing the urge to commit suicide and not just treating underlying illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
When this kind of skills training is tailored to the individual veteran, it can be extremely effective in reducing suicide, according to Craig Bryan, head of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, and other scientists. The VA needs to move faster on this science, and on fresher ideas such as behavioral health clinics devoted to managing coping skills, much like dialysis centers manage kidney disease.
To be sure, the issue is complex, and VA has made progress: expanding mental health care staffing; developing computer algorithms to single out hardcore suicidal cases for special care; and pushing private doctors to query veterans about the emotional impact of their military service.
Of 20 veteran suicides daily, just six were enrolled in VA health care. The others either chose against going to the VA or were ineligible for its care.
Easy access to guns is another part of the problem. Two-thirds of male veterans who commit suicide use a firearm, compared with 52% of male civilians.
The answers to veteran suicides are “not meeting the demand,” says Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We often compare it to the early days of the AIDS crisis, when the gay community especially felt like their friends were dying left and right, and people weren’t paying attention.”
Attention must be paid, by the presidential candidates and everyone else.”
“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”
“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish.
We’ve reached the end of victory’s road, and at this juncture it’s time to embrace other terms, a less-loaded lexicon, like “strategic advantage,” “relative gain,” and “sustainable marginalization.”
A few weeks back, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker triumphantly announced the peace deal between the government of Columbia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). While positive, this declaration rings hollow as the exception that proves the rule – a tentative treaty, however, at the end, roughly 7,000 guerrillas held a country of 50 million hostage over 50 years at a cost of some 220,000 lives. Churchill would be aghast: Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.
One reason this occasion merited a more somber statement: military victory is dead. And it was killed by a bunch of cheap stuff.
The term “victory” is loaded, so let’s stipulate it means unambiguous, unchallenged, and unquestioned strategic success – something more than a “win,” because, while one might “eke out a win,” no one “ekes out a victory.” Wins are represented by a mere letter (“w”); victory is a tickertape with tanks.
Which is something I’ll never see in my military career; I should explain. When a government has a political goal that cannot be obtained other than by force, the military gets involved and selects some objective designed to obtain said goal. Those military objectives can be classified broadly, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz did, into either a limited aim (i.e. “occupy some…frontier-districts” to use “for bargaining”), or a larger aim to completely disarm the enemy, “render[ing] him politically helpless or military impotent.” Lo, we’ve arrived at the problem: War has become so inexpensive that anyone can afford the traditional military means of strategic significance – so we can never fully disarm the enemy. And a perpetually armed enemy means no more parades (particularly in Nice).
Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.
It’s a buyer’s market in war, and the baseline capabilities (shoot, move, and communicate) are at snake-belly prices. Tactical weaponry, like AK-47s are plentiful, rented, and shipped from battlefield to battlefield, and the most lethal weapon U.S. forces encountered at the height of the Iraq War, the improvised explosive device, could be had for as little as $265. Moving is cost-effective too in the “pickup truck era of warfare,” and reports on foreign fighters in Syria remind us that cheap, global travel makes it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to rapidly arrive in an active war zone with money to spare. Also, while the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba shut down the megacity Mumbai in 2008 for less than what many traveling youth soccer teams spend in a season, using unprotected social media networks, communication has gotten even easier for the emerging warrior with today’s widely available unhackable phones and apps. These low and no-cost commo systems are the glue that binds single wolves into coordinated wolf-packs with guns, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. The good news: Ukraine can crowdfund aerial surveillance against Russian incursions. The less-good news: strikes, like 9/11, cost less than three seconds of a single Super Bowl ad. With prices so low, why would anyone ever give up their fire, maneuver, and control platforms?
All of which explains why military victory has gone away. Consider the Middle East, and the recent comment by a Hezbollah leader, “This can go on for a hundred years,” and his comrade’s complementary analysis, that “as long as we are there, nobody will win.” With such a modestly priced war stock on offer, it’s no wonder Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with the insurgents, recently concluding, of the four wars currently burning across the region, the U.S. has “no prospect” of strategic victory in any. Or that Modern War Institute scholar Andrew Bacevich assesses bluntly, “If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win.” This is what happens when David’s slingshot is always full.
The guerrillas know what many don’t: It’s the era, stupid. This is the nature of the age, as Joshua Cooper Ramos describes, “a nightmare reality in which we must fight adaptive microthreats and ideas, both of which appear to be impossible to destroy even with the most expensive weapons.” Largely correct, one point merits minor amendment – it’s meaningless to destroy when it’s so cheap to get back in the game, a hallmark of a time in which Wolverine-like regeneration is regular.
This theme even extends to more civilized conflicts. Take the Gawker case: begrudged hedge fund giant Peter Thiel funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the journalistic insurrectionists at Gawker Media, which forced the website’s writers to lay down their keyboards. However, as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out – Gawker’s leader, Nick Denton, can literally walk across the street, with a few dollars, and start right over. Another journalist opined, “Mr. Thiel’s victory was a hollow one – you might even say he lost. While he may have killed Gawker, its sensibility and influence on the rest of the news business survive.” Perhaps Thiel should have waited 50 more years, as Columbia had to, to write his “victory” op-ed? He may come to regret the essay as his own “Mission Accomplished” moment.
True with websites, so it goes with warfare. We live in the cheap war era, where the attacker has the advantage and the violent veto is always possible. Political leaders can speak and say tough stuff, promise ruthless revenge – it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you can’t disarm the enemy, you can’t parade the tanks.”