Geopolitics, Strategy and Military
Recruitment: The American Dilemma
The United States Army has
failed once again to reach its recruitment goals. The media, which have noted
the problem in maintaining force levels in a desultory fashion over the past few
years, have now rotated the story of this month's shortfall into a major story.
In other words, the problem has now been noticed, and it is now important. Of
course, the problem has been important for quite some time, as Stratfor noted
There are, therefore, several dimensions to this problem: One is
military, the other is political. But the most important is geopolitical and
strategic, ha ving to do with the manner in which the United States fights wars
and the way in which the U.S. military is organized. The issue is not
recruitment. The issue is the incongruence between U.S. geopolitics, strategy
and the force.
The United States dominates North America militarily
against all but two threats. First, it cannot defend the homeland against
nuclear attacks launched by missile. Second, it cannot defend the United States
against special operations teams carrying out attacks such as those of Sept. 11,
2001. The American solution in both of these cases has been offensive. In the
case of nuclear missiles, the counter has always been either the pre-emptive
strike or the devastating counter-strike, coupled with political arrangements
designed to reduce the threat. The counter to special-operations strikes has
been covert and overt attacks against nation-states that launch or facilitate
these attacks, or harbor the attackers. Contrary to popular opinion, launchin g
small teams into the United States without detection is not easy and requires
sophisticated support, normally traceable in some way to nation-states. The U.S.
strategy has been to focus on putting those nation-states at risk, directly or
indirectly, if attacks take place.
Apart from these two types of attack,
the United States is fairly invulnerable to military action. The foundation of
this invulnerability falls into three parts:
The United States is
overwhelmingly powerful in North America, and Latin America is divided,
inward-looking, and poor. A land invasion of the United States from the south
would be impossible.
The United States controls
the oceans absolutely. It is militarily impossible that an Eastern Hemispheric
power could mount a sustained threat to sea lanes, let alone mount an
amphibious operation against the United States.
The primary U.S. interest is
in maintaining a multi-level balance of power in Eurasia, so that n o single
power can dominate Eurasia and utilize its resources.
In terms of preventing
nuclear strikes and special operations against the United States and in terms of
managing the geopolitical system in Eurasia, the United States has a tremendous
strategic advantage that grows out of its geopolitical position -- U.S. wars,
regardless of level, are fought on the territory of other countries. With the
crucial exception of Sept. 11, foreign attacks on U.S. soil do not happen. When
they do happen, the United States responds by redefining the war into a battle
for other homelands.
This spares the American population from the rigors
of war while imposing wars on foreign countries. But for the American civilian
population to escape war, the U.S. armed forces must be prepared to go to war on
a global basis. Herein begins the dilemma. The American strategic goal is to
spare the general population from war. This is done by creating a small class of
military who must bear the burden. It also is accomplished through a volunteer
force -- men and women choose to bear the burden. During extended war, as the
experiences of the civilian population and the military population diverge
dramatically, the inevitable tendency is for the military to abandon the rigors
of war and join the protected majority. In a strategy that tries to impose no
cost on civilians while increasing the cost on the military, the inevitable
outcome is that growing numbers of the military class will become civilians.
This is the heart of the problem, but it is not all of the problem. The
American strategy in Eurasia is to maintain a balance of power. The basic role
of the United States is as blocker -- blocking Eurasian powers from adding to
their power, and increasing insecurity among major powers so as to curb their
Thus, a strategic dilemma for the United States is born. On a
grand strategic scale, the United States controls the internation al system --
but at the strategic level, it does not choose the time or place of its own
military interventions. Put very simply, the United States controls the global
system, but its enemies determine when it goes to war and where, and the nature
of these wars tends to put U.S. forces on the tactical defensive.
the 1990s, for example, the United States was constantly responding to actions
by others that passed a threshold, beyond which ignoring the action was
impossible. From 1989 onward, the United States intervened in Panama, Kuwait,
Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, not counting lesser interventions in places
like Liberia or Colombia. Nor does it count the interventions and deployments
throughout the Muslim world and contiguous areas since 2001.
strategic configuration means that the United States does not hold the strategic
initiative. The time and place of U.S. intervention is very much in the hands of
regional forces. In some cases, th e intervention is the result of
miscalculation on the side of regional forces. In other cases, U.S. intervention
is shaped by some regional player. For example, Iraq did not expect a U.S.
response to its invasion of Kuwait in 1990; Saddam Hussein miscalculated. In the
case of Kosovo, a regional actor, Albania, shaped U.S. intervention. In both
events, however, given the operating principles of grand strategy, American
military involvement is overwhelmingly responsive and therefore, from the U.S.
point of view, unpredictable.
Though others determine the general time
and place of U.S. intervention, the operational level remains in the hands of
the United States. But here too, there are severe constraints. U.S.
interventions suffer from a core paradox: The political cycle of an intervention
frequently runs in days or weeks, but the time it takes to bring major force to
bear is measured in months. That means that the United States must always bring
insufficient force to b ear in the relevant time period -- in a kind of holding
action -- and contain the situation until sufficient force for a resolution
becomes available. Thus, U.S. interventions begin with CIA paramilitaries and
U.S. Special Operations Command. At times, these forces can complete the
mission. But sometimes, all they can do is prepare the ground and hold until
relieved by major force.
Very rapidly, the United States finds itself on
the tactical defensive -- lacking decisive force, at a massive demographic
disadvantage, and frequently suffering from an intelligence deficit. Even after
the main force arrives, the United States can remain in a defensive tactical
situation for an extended period. This places U.S. troops in a difficult
The entire structure creates another strategic problem. The
United States does not control its interventions. It is constantly at risk of
being overwhelmed by multiple theaters of operation that outstrip the size of
its militar y force or of its logistical base. Between the tactical defensive
and the strategic defensive, U.S. forces must scale themselves to events that
are beyond their control or prediction.
The unexpected is built into
U.S. grand strategy, which dictates that the U.S. armed forces will not know
their next mission. U.S. strategy is reflexive. U.S. operational principles do
provide an advantage, but that can bleed off at the tactical level. In the end,
the U.S. force is, almost by definition, stretched beyond what it can reasonably
be expected to do. This situation is hardwired into the U.S. geopolitical
The U.S. force was never configured for this reality. It was
designed first to cope with a general war with the Soviet Union, focused on
central Europe. After the collapse of the Soviets, the technological base
remained relatively stable: It remained a combined arms force including armor,
carrier battle groups and fighter planes. All of these take a long time to get
to the theater, are excellent at destroying conventional forces, and are weak at
Donald Rumsfeld has identified the problem: The force is
too slow to get to the theater in a politically consequential period of time.
Getting there too late, it immediately finds itself on the defensive, while the
brunt of the early battle focuses on Special Operations forces and air power.
The problem that Rumsfeld has not effectively addressed is that occupation
warfare -- which is what we have seen in Iraq for the past few years -- requires
a multi-level approach, ranging from special operations to very large occupation
Put this differently: The U.S. invasion of Iraq required
everything from an armored thrust to strategic bombing to special operations to
civil affairs. It required every type of warfare imaginable. That is indeed the
reality of American strategy. Not only is the time and place of military
intervention unpredictable, but so is the fo rce structure. Any attempt to
predict the nature of the next war is doomed to fail. The United States does not
control the time or place of the next war; it has no idea what that war will
look like or where it will be.
The United States has always built its
force around expectations of both where the next war would be fought and how it
would be fought. From "Air-Land Battle" to "Military operations other than war,"
U.S. military doctrine has always been marked by two things: Military planners
were always certain they had a handle on what the next war would be like, and
they were always dead wrong.
The military structure that was squeezed
out of the Cold War force after 1989 assumed that wars would be infrequent, that
they would be short, that they would be manageable. Building on these
assumptions, U.S. military planners loaded key capabilities into reserve and
National Guard units, cut back on forces that didn't fit into this paradigm and
then -- even when re ality showed they were wrong -- they tried to compensate
with technology rather than with restructuring the force.
Wars have been
more frequent since the fall of the Soviet Union than they were before. They
occur in less predictable places. They tend not to be brief, but to be of long
duration and to pile up on each other -- and they frequently are unmanageable
for an extended period of time. The United States does not have tactical
advantages with the forces provided.
As a result, the force is deployed
far more than planned, troops are forced to rotate too rapidly through
assignments in combat zones, and they operate in environments where operational
requirements force them too often into tactically defensive situations. That all
of this is managed with a force that is drawn heavily from reserves is simply
the icing on the cake. The force does not match the reality.
We began by
pointing out the goal is -- and should be -- to protect the American public from
war, with volunteers placing themselves between home and war's desolation. This
strategic goal, while appropriate, creates a class of warriors and a broader
class of indifferent civilians. Given the situation, it will follow that
sensible warriors, having done their duty in their own minds, will choose to
join the ranks of civilians, while civilians will avoid service.
has been talk of a draft. That is a bad idea for technical reasons: It takes too
long to train a soldier for a draft to solve the problems, and today's soldiers
need to be too skilled and motivated for a reluctant civilian to master their
craft. Moreover, this is not a force that would benefit from the service of
19-year-olds. Many of the jobs in the military could be done by people in their
40s and 50s, who would bring useful skills into the military. We would support a
draft only if it included all ages of men and women who had not previously
served. There is no reason that an accountant in civilian life could not provide
valuable military service in Afghanistan, maintaining logistics inventory. The
United States does not need to draft children.
Since that isn't going to
happen, and since the United States does not have the option of abandoning its
strategy, the United States must reshape the force to meet the single most
important reality: The United States will be at war a lot of the time, and no
one really knows where or when it will go to war. The challenges in military
retention or inability to meet recruiting goals mean that the United States
continues to recruit children, as if this were the 19th