Secretary Robert Gates, effectively the national security bridge between the outgoing/incoming administrations, wrote an article published today detailing present and future requirements for the Defense Department. Anyone who has read his recent speeches will not be surprised by the points brought up in this Foreign Affairs article, but they are reassuring for those concerned about how the United States National Security Apparatus assesses ts role in the world:
The [National Defense] strategy strives for balance in three areas: between trying to prevail in current conflicts and preparing for other contingencies, between institutionalizing capabilities such as counterinsurgency and foreign military assistance and maintaining the United States’ existing conventional and strategic technological edge against other military forces, and between retaining those cultural traits that have made the U.S. armed forces successful and shedding those that hamper
their ability to do what needs to be done.
The United States’ ability to deal with future threats will depend on its performance in current conflicts. To be blunt, to fail — or to be seen to fail — in either Iraq or Afghanistan would be a disastrous blow to U.S. credibility, both among friends and allies and among potential adversaries.
It would be irresponsible not to think about and prepare for the future, and the overwhelming majority of people in the Pentagon, the services, and the defense industry do just that. But we must not be so preoccupied with preparing for future conventional and strategic conflicts that we neglect to provide all the capabilities necessary to fight and win conflicts such as those the United States is in today.
Support for conventional modernization programs is deeply embedded in the Defense Department’s budget, in its bureaucracy, in the defense industry, and in Congress. My fundamental concern is that there is not commensurate institutional support — including in the Pentagon — forthe capabilities needed to win today’s wars and some of their likelysuccessors. What is dubbed the war on terror is, in grim reality, a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign — a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation. Direct military force will continue to play a role in the long-term effort against terrorists and other extremists. But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory. Where possible, what the military calls kinetic operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance, economic programs that spur development, and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit. It will take the patient accumulation of quiet successes over a long time to discredit and defeat extremist movements and their ideologies. . .
But no one should ever neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of warfare. War is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain, and it is important to be skeptical of systems analyses, computer models, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. We should look askance at idealistic, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to transcend the immutable principles and ugly realities of war, that imagine it is possible to cow, shock, or awe an enemy into submission, instead of tracking enemies down hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”
In world affairs, “what seems to work best,” the historian Donald Kagan wrote in his book On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, “. . . is the possession by those states who wish to preserve the peace of the preponderant power and of the will to accept the burdens and responsibilities required to achieve that purpose.” I believe the United States’ National Defense Strategy provides a balanced approach to meeting those responsibilities and preserving theUnited States’ freedom, prosperity, and security in the years ahead. [EMPH ADDED]
These are just highlights, read the whole thing. Secretary Gates also repeats his call to expand the role of other government agencies, particularly State and USAID; he includes in that expansion a recommendation of increasing the ranks of these agencies’ personnel (ie foreign service officers) far beyond the meager amount who currently serve.
Gates’ recognition of the role the military finds itself in (ie the Balkans being the norm, and Desert Shield/Storm the outlier) provides a pragmatic framework for the DOD to balance its role and resource its missions; the Secretary’s call for a re-evaluation of the military promotion system to reflect the requirements of the post cold war world is equally timely as well.
Secretary Gates stopped short of calling for interagency and national security command system reform, though, as I have written about before; perhaps the new national security advisor will tackle that one.
Post Script: Secretary Gates also did not mention the issues the United States has with Strategic Communications, as demonstrated during the past week’s Nato ISAF PSYOP imbroglio; a topic for another time, perhaps?