excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with
frederick w. kagan | andrew f. krepinevich | chuck spinney | richard cheney | john hillen | lawrence korb | ralph peters | general eric k. shinseki
Some people say if we get rid of the 2MTW strategy, we can get this force
down to four or five divisions.
I don't really believe there is such a thing as a one MTW strategy. Think
about what you're telling the president of the United States if you are the
chief of staff of the army or the theater commander who says, "I need to use
our MTW capability against this enemy over here." What you're telling him is
now, "Mr. President, you need to understand that we have no capability to
respond anywhere else in the world if anything bad should happen."
It's not that I think we would necessarily lose that one major theater of war;
I think it's unlikely that we would even go. You are requiring the president
of the United States to take a tremendous risk in not being able to protect our
alliances around the world, not being able to fulfill our obligations, and not
being able to respond to aggression. And I don't see a president taking that
risk. So I would argue that a 2MTW strategy is really the minimum, and a "One
MTW" strategy is really a "No MTW" strategy.
The National Defense Panel said that we should scrap 2MTW. More recently,
the Hart-Rudman Commission said that 2MTW is getting in the way, and that we
should get rid of it. You don't agree with that?
. . . The 2MTW strategy, the aggressive engagement, focuses on maintaining a
peaceful world order, and avoiding the creation of power vacuums in important
regions. We make it clear to potential aggressors that not only do we oppose
them in spirit, but that we can and will oppose them with force if they try
anything. As my father likes to say, the strategy needs to be not just "Don't
park here," but "Don't even think of parking here." Don't even think of
attacking us. Don't even think of attacking our allies. We'll be all over
If you do that, you can maintain the current period of peace and stability for
a long time. The people who are saying, "Trash the 2MTW strategy," are really
saying, "We'd like to draw the armed forces down to a minimum point . . . that
we find pleasing, and we will simply wait until there's a threat out there. And
then we'll respond to it." That's basically what the NDP says.
But critics like John Hillen say that 2MTW is not a true strategy--that it
prevents modernization, and it prevents us from addressing the real needs of
It seems to me that a modernized army of five divisions is fully as
incapable of meeting a national military strategy as an unmodernized
army of ten divisions is. You have to balance. It's hard for me to answer
Hillen indirectly. I would ask him, "What's your strategy, John? How are going
to keep the peace? How can we come up with an alternative proposal that sees
America as central to maintaining peace and stability in the world, that sees
the American armed forces as the decisive arbiter that will deter aggression?"
Come up with a strategy that doesn't involve the capability to meet two major
adversaries at the same time, and I'll sign onto it.
But when you look at those kinds of strategies, they all start off by saying we
mustn't be the world's policeman, that mustn't be overly involved, that we must
pick and choose our fights. And that misses the point of what our role in the
world should be. Our role in the world should be to be the world's
policeman--should be keeping conflict down and deterring conflict.
The other problem with it is that you can't decide what your national interests
are. You can't set up a presidential panel and say, "Okay, tell me what our
national interests are," because when an American student is ripped apart by a
mob in some random country, oh my God. All of a sudden you've got a new
national interest. When something really horrific goes down and CNN goes and
starts reporting massacres in country X or country Y, and the American people
start getting excited about why we aren't doing something about it, you
suddenly have a new national interest.
You can't determine what your interests are. Your interests are what they are.
And almost all of the discussions that I've seen that talk about downsizing and
changing our strategy all presuppose that we can define a set of national
interests, and then, that's it. And that's just not the way the world works. .
Why is it a good idea to get rid of 2MTW?
The people who look at the 2MTW posture say we are over-investing in a very
low-probability event. What we have here is a very low risk in the near term
that a war will erupt in the Gulf and in Korea. Above that, if a war does
erupt in the Gulf, we probably have too much war structure, because there is no
version of the Republican Guard there today. It's a pale shadow of what it was
in 1990. If you look at Korea, the problem is different. It's not likely that
you're going to get those five army divisions into Korea in time to win
quickly, decisively and antiseptically.
So, number one, you're over-insuring against the risks. Number two, you are
buying the wrong kind of insurance. You've got too much insurance in the Gulf.
You've got the wrong kind of insurance for Korea. And not only that, but the
real danger, the big risk, is long term. What we're talking about here is
power projection, whether you're talking about the Persian Gulf or Korea or
someplace else in the future. And the longer you hang onto these forces that
do power projection the Desert Storm way, the longer you give your adversaries
to frustrate them on a power projection, specifically by going after base
access in the future.
Begin to transform your force now. Take on some increased risk. Rearrange
your insurance portfolio. If you don't do those things, you're going to defeat
the purpose of strategy, which is to minimize the near term and the long-term
risk. You're going to get to that future with a heritage Desert Storm force
that would be great if only you could go back to 1990. And it's going to be
less and less relevant as you get to 2010 and 2015.
You seem to be saying that we may have to fight two wars and that we do need
to prepare for that possibility--but that there is an old way of preparing and
doing it, and a forward-looking way of doing it.
It's not only that. . . . In Desert Storm, we used 7 percent of our munitions
with precision-guided weapons. Right after that war, we started to increase
our inventories of PGMs. Then, in Kosovo, even after the carpet bombing toward
the end of the war, over 30 percent of the munitions used were precision
guided. In Desert Fox, it was almost 100 percent precision guided.
So, in that respect, we were a much more effective force, even though the force
structure was a bit smaller. . . . If there had been an issue when inspecting
the Iraqi plants in 1994, we could have done that. . . . If there was a danger
of war then, obviously one reason that the Iraqis backed down is that they
understood that that the American giant wouldn't have to do a lot of heavy
weapons to be a weakened version of what it had obliterated in 1991.
A key issue that's come up in this readiness debate is the issue of the
overall defense strategy--the two major theaters of war scenario. How
important is this strategy to our national defense?
The two-war strategy is a good example of a strategy that developed, in my
opinion, to justify decisions that have already been made. If you look over
time at how strategy has evolved in the United States military, we started off
with a two-and-a-half war strategy in the 1950s and early 1960s--a major war
against the Soviet Union, a major war against China, and a secondary war--or a
major theater war, if you will--against North Korea. That shifted under the
Nixon administration to a one-and-a-half war strategy--the Soviet Union plus
the Persian Gulf or Korea. At the end of the Cold War, it shifted again to a
two-war, two major theater war strategy.
If you look what was happening, those were essentially ex-post facto
justifications for shrinking forces that were being driven by the cost growth.
The cost growth is what caused the forces to shrink. You can see that, if you
examine statements that were made before the fact. When they were advocating
buying certain weapons, particularly during the Cold War, we were outnumbered
and outgunned. We wanted to have more forces and better forces. Then when
forces shrank, we said they were better.
So there's movement now afoot to go to a one-war strategy, perhaps a
one-and-a-half. One regional contingency strategy, and maybe some other
peacekeeping-type contingency as well. This should be viewed as part of a
long-term trend. . . . I think what you're going see is increasing pressure to
go to a one major regional contingency strategy, or perhaps a strategy
involving one major regional contingency and . . . some mix of other
The important thing to understand here is that this is part of a long-range
trend that you can see going back to the 1950s, when we had the two-and-a-half
war strategy; the late 1960s, when we transitioned to the one-and-a-half war
strategy. At the end of the Cold War, we went to a two-half war strategy. And
now we're talking about doing one half-war and one quarter-war, for want of a
better term. In the end, you have to ask yourself, how has this changing
strategy affected the technology making up our forces? And the answer is that
The National Defense Panel is coming out with a recommendation that
basically says they don't feel that 2MTW is adequate for today's world. They
may even come out and say that it should be scrapped.
It depends on what you replace it with. I worry that if you scrap the
two-theater war scenario, it really would be a cover for reducing the forces
even further; that it would simply be used--by those who don't believe we need
a robust military--as a rationale or justification for even further cuts in the
defense budget. And frankly, I think that would be a disaster. So to some
extent, it's a bulwark against unwise action.
But there are other areas that badly need to be addressed. I would agree that
there are important things we need to begin thinking about in terms of future
threats and future defense capabilities.
I think about the whole need for homeland defense. If there is an area where
we have not done nearly enough in terms of thinking about our vulnerability as
a society--thinking about how an adversary might want to come at us and attack
us--it's in the whole area of vulnerability that we find here inside our
continental borders. That's really a new thing for us to think about,
especially within the context of the Defense Department. The military
historically has not had a significant role in terms of homeland defense.
We've always been concerned, because of posse comitatus and other
concerns, that we not allow the military any domestic role. We're very careful
about how we use even the National Guard. The National Guard, when it's
operating domestically, is under the control of the state governors, not the
But think about the possibility of somebody bringing a weapon of mass
destruction into the United States, or detonating a nuclear weapon inside the
United States, or releasing biological or chemical agents. It's not a
traditional kind of attack from an adversary from enemy territory, but it's
something that is internally generated. Or think about attacks on our
intelligence or energy infrastructure. It is important for us to begin to
think about how do we defend against that.
Do we still need to keep the 2MTW strategy?
Let's look at American military strategy, the pillar of which right now is the
2MTW strategy. The question you have to ask is not whether Korea is likely to
be fought again or whether Iraq is likely to be fought again. The question
isn't if they are fought again, are they very important to attend to quickly?
The answer is "Yes" to all of those. They could happen. And America needs to
be able to respond quickly and decisively to them, should they happen.
But in my mind, that's a secondary question. When you're looking at American
military strategy for the future, the question of first principles asks, "What
will the very serious conflicts of the future look like?" There are a lot of
things we don't know about the future. But one of the things that we do know
is that a diminishing rogue power--North Korea--and an emasculated
dictator--Iraq--are not going to be the big threats of the future. They're
serious enough. When you stand on the DMZ in Korea or when you're in Kuwait,
as I recently was, they look very serious. But they are not the alpha and the
omega of the big security challenges for the next 50 years. . . .
The real point is that those are not the wars that will really matter in the
future. The Korean scenario and the Iraq scenario diminish in their threat and
importance with each passing day. Even considering the potential weapons of
mass destruction factor, they diminish in their important to the real security
challenges of the future. Rogue states of the 1990s are a challenge of the
past. We need to attend to them. It's important, and we spend a lot of
resources on making sure they don't blow up. But they're not the challenge of
the future. And so if you ask the military to only be prepared and spend 95
percent of its resources on Korea and Iraq--conflicts of the past--that's
precisely what it will do. It will prepare you for those two past conflicts,
except it will fight them a little bit better this time.
In the meantime, all the dynamics of shaping the international security
environment are changing at a radical pace, and we're not asking our military
to change in a way that can accommodate them. For instance, everybody is
getting weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. Large parts of the
world are falling apart and fracturing in ways that will require the American
military to get involved. We're not preparing the military for any of those
new kinds of threats, because we're locked in a death embrace with the
requirements of 2MTW. . . .
In expending extraordinary additional resources to meet these two
contingencies, all you do is prepare yourself for today's and yesterday's
threats. You haven't transformed the force at all to meet the threats of the
future. So we have to ask ourselves, do we want to throw good money after bad,
and just keep pumping money into marginally improving the best Cold War force
the world has seen, to refight two wars of the past? . . . I'm not saying the
2MTW concept has no relevance. But I'd like to carve out a portion of our
energies and of our resources and move them towards the threats of the future.
This is clearly is what the Hart-Rudman commission reflected in its report. Not
that the 2MTW concept is illegitimate, but that it is so restrictive that it
won't allow the military to change for what everybody recognizes is a very
Recently the army opposed changing 2MTW as a military policy. Why?
The Pentagon reviews its strategy every four years. In its last quadrennial
defense review, there were some documents floated earlier on that, which
basically said, "Do we really want to keep planning for two major theater of
wars? Because what we're ending up with is this unbalanced force. And maybe
what we ought to do is, rather than saying two major theater of war,
simultaneously sort of back off a bit and say, 'We'll handle one and be able to
hold in the other.'"
The army argued vociferously against it, saying that we couldn't be a great
power if we didn't do that, and that we would send the wrong signal to the
enemy. And we actually went public with this, through leaks to the press,
because if you adopt that strategy then I can't justify a ten-division heavy
division army. And they raised such a ruckus about it that the civilian
leadership and the Pentagon backed off, because they did not what to have a
confrontation with the army over this situation.
We went up to West Point and interviewed Fred Kagan, who's coming out with a
book called While America Sleeps. The bottom line in terms of national
security strategy is that if you get rid of the two major theater war policy,
you're courting disaster. . . . How should we approach the 2MTW policy?
Many of the arguments about one major theater of war versus two, and what we
really need, become medieval theological arguments. I have read them so I know
what I'm saying, both the medieval arguments and the contemporary ones. Some
things are fundamental. We need a strong, robust, somewhat redundant defense.
I've worked within the system. The way we split things out in the 1990s, we
have never had a 2MTW capability. We simply couldn't have done it. It was all
smoke and mirrors. We had, at best, a reasonable 1MTW capability. That's just
My personal feeling is our forces, including the air force, are too small
today. We need somewhat larger defense budgets. And yet I am loathe to
increase them today, because you're giving Scotch to an alcoholic. You're
throwing money at somebody you know who just maxes out their credit cards. The
military services need to return to some notion of austerity, which is our
tradition. Austere forces. That being said, they also do need more resources
to slightly increase the size of the army and the Marine Corps. The air force,
rather than the high tech gold-plated aircraft it's buying for many of our
conflicts, needs more lower-tech aircraft. They certainly need more transport
aircraft to do the job. But the A-10 for instance, the tank killer aircraft
that they hate, is slow, and it's ugly. But boy, in Kosovo, had it been
permitted to do its job, that would have been perfect. It's not about
So I wish people would stop arguing about acronyms, 2MTW or anything else, and
go back to fundamentals and look at what this country really needs. We need
infantrymen. We need transport aircraft. We need military police. We need
vehicles that can get there and roll fast when they do get there. We need a
navy that can protect the sea lanes . . . but that can transport things safely
and project power ashore. Our navy's requirements today are closer to those of
gunboats on the Yangtze River in China in the1920s than the battle of Midway.
So overall, we're often arguing about the wrong things and, by the way, arguing
about them dishonesty. It's time to go back to fundamentals. First, throttle
back the services. No more gold-plated twentieth-century legacy systems. And
then let's judiciously increase budgets so that we can build the twenty-first
Is the two major theaters war scenario (2MTW ) getting in the way?
The two major theaters of war scenario is really a sizing function. It tells
us how many formations we need to be able to respond to the demands of the
regional commanders in chief who have to fight those wars for us. It's a
reasonable scenario, because it stresses us in our planning to go one direction
and then, with a brief 45-day period to go in another direction. It would
stress any institution.
There is some talk that 2MTW may be passé. Perhaps. Those discussions
are part of strategic decision-making. But for the time being, the 2MTW
scenario is the one that I have been asked to plan for. It makes sense. I can
execute it today with the forces that the army provides. The first one is a
moderate risk, the second MTW is at high risk. And I think all of us who sit
on the Joint Chiefs of Staff would come to the same conclusion. Whether it's
two major theaters of wars or a single major theater of war with multiple
complex contingencies. I guess it would come down to
definitions. . . And what do we specifically mean by a complex contingency? Is
it a Bosnia or a Kosovo? Is it a Somalia or is it a Desert Storm? We need
those defined, because those are the descriptions that will decide how much
capability is sufficient.
One requirement of our scenarios that has not been quite understood today is
the element of time.
In what way?
Time as a factor isn't really addressed in either the two major theaters of war
scenario or one-plus scenario. Time on the front end has the sense of urgency.
It's getting there with the right sufficient capability to be able to be
decisive quickly. The standing military force is about the only capability you
can rely on. Time on the back end of an operation has a different quality, and
it has to do with the longevity that goes with these deployments. We have been
in Kosovo now a year. We're coming up on five years in Bosnia. The Sinai
Desert is 18 years, and Korea is 40. Each mission begins to strip away
inventory and capability. So when you arrive at the point in time where you're
now talking about however many major theaters of war you're going to try to
provide forces for, that inventory has now been spread-eagled on a variety of
missions. We need to address what that element of time does to us on missions.
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