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Facing the Hydra: Maintaining Strategic Balance while Pursuing a Global War against Terrorism


Authored by Dr. Conrad C. Crane.

May 2002

30 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The author analyzes the impact of the war on terrorism and the requirements of the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review on the many essential missions conducted by the U.S. Armed Forces. Focusing primarily on the Army, he highlights the requirements associated with combat operations against terrorists, accelerating transformation and the new emphasis on homeland security and force protection. At the same time, he points out that the Army and the other Services must remain involved worldwide in day-to-day assurance, dissuasion, and deterrence activities; execution of peace operations and other smaller-scale contingencies; and remaining ready for other major combat operations. The author asserts that these obligations require the Army to reshape and expand its force structure. Failure to do so places critical missions at risk around the world could lead to replacement of operational "victory" in the war on terrorism with strategic failure, as regional instability increases around the world.

Summary

Arguments to maintain strategic balance while fighting the global war on terrorism usually fall on receptive ears in the Pentagon. Although some are ready to disengage internationally to focus on fighting terrorists, most clearly see the value of continuing activities that deter crises and assist tremendously in the resolution of conflict when deterrence fails. Fewer seem to realize that maintaining strategic balance will require more than just better guidance, planning, and training. Increased force structure - accompanied by revisions in the makeup of that structure and by reallocation between the Active and Reserve Components - will be required to enable the Services to win both operational and strategic victory in the war on terrorism, while also keeping the peace in other parts of the world.

Following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review Report told the Army and the other services to focus their efforts on conducting major combat operations, strengthening homeland security and force protection, and accelerating transformation. However, the Army must simultaneously continue its operations along three other axes. It must remain committed to day-to-day assurance, dissuasion, and deterrence activities around the world; sustain its capability to execute peace operations and other smaller-scale contingencies (SSCs); and remain ready to conduct other major combat operations. If the Army fails in these critical missions, operational "victory" in the war on terrorism will be replaced by strategic failure as regional instability increases around the world.

To meet its concurrent obligations, the Army will have to reshape and expand its force structure. Several factors - including an increase in the number of SSCs, which highlighted shortfalls in the Active Component's combat support and combat service support force structure - were stretching the Army operationally even before September 11. The new demands of homeland security, force protection, and transformation acceleration will only exacerbate the situation. Peace operations resulting from the war will also require heavy engagement of Army forces, no matter how involved they have been in combat operations thus far. Although the Active Component may be the first priority for expansion and reshaping, the Reserve Components will also need to be reconfigured to provide better support for homeland security; their roles in SSCs and warfighting missions will have to be reexamined in light of the new geostrategic environment. These changes will require a reevaluation of Total Force policies that have been in existence since the 1970s. To protect against overcommitment of ground forces, further expansion of the war against terrorism must be minimized, at least until adequate forces are built up.

The Army must adapt to the changed circumstances of September 11, but it cannot allow a focus on the battles against terrorism to allow it to lose its perspective on the broader strategic issues in play, particularly world-wide engagement and transformation. The Army's long-term vision remains viable, and the course to reach it must be maintained.


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