We have pictures of you as a lieutenant in the Gulf. What is the
likelihood that there will be pictures of some young lieutenant in a war like
that in the future?
He is a former Army captain and a former staff member of the Commission on
National Security, a congressionally appointed independent committee set up to
examine national security issues in the 21st century. He has been a
defense policy adviser to the Bush 2000 campaign.
The likelihood is a lot smaller for that new lieutenant than it was for me. .
. . Desert Storm . . . was really the last conflict of the twentieth
century--the last conflict of the industrial age, as opposed to the first
conflict of the information age. It had some components of the information
age, like precision guided munitions, real time video, long-range precision
strikes, and those sorts of capabilities. But it really was a classic
industrial age conflict. Huge armies were massed against each other with big
industrial platforms, all playing by understood rules. Those kinds of
conflicts are going to happen less frequently for the US in the future, simply
because what adversary is going to fight the United States on its terms?
Nobody will. In fact, nobody can even think about it. We so far outstrip
potential adversaries in industrial age warfare, it would be insane to try it.
So they're going to try different means. They're going to try different
locales, different modes, different styles of warfare. So the kinds of wars a
new lieutenant is going to get involved in will undoubtedly be very different
than those in the past.
A lot of people say Kosovo and Somalia will be the rule, not Desert
In terms of military culture, we like to think that Desert Storm and World War
II are the norm, and that peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and the
backstreet brawling in Mogadishu are the exceptions. But it's really quite the
opposite. The United States has used military force overseas over 200 times
since the birth of this nation. And we've only been in five declared wars.
We've only had another five, perhaps, that fit the classic definition of a war.
And yet, from those rare instances where we fight those types of wars--the type
we saw in World War II or Korea or Desert Storm--those are the ones on which we
base military culture--the values and the traditions of the service.
When you look back at any period in American history, whether it's the
eighteenth century or the early nineteenth century, or right up through the
twentieth century, the military is actually involved much more often in the
Haitis, in the Bosnias, in the Kosovos, and the Somalias. Yet they don't
imprint themselves on the military's consciousness in the same way that the big
The Hart-Rudman commission just came out and said that we can't overextend
ourselves in commitments around the world. Is that saying that we should be
retreating from peacekeeping operations?
The commission was very aware of the attendant strains that have been put on
the US military today by having to do so many different kinds of missions
around the world; missions for which there's little warning; missions for which
there is not much advance planning. And we've had to do these while, at the
same time, having to do enough of the old missions that we know about in 50
years after we fought in Korea. We're still deterring North Korea from
crossing the same parallel they crossed in June of 1950. Almost ten years
after the Gulf War, we still have that same mission to deter the same enemy we
defeated. Those types of classic Cold War missions require enough resources
that you have to spend a lot of time paying attention to them.
At the same time, on an average of every nine weeks or so in the post-Cold War
era, we've had to pick up and go somewhere to do something, ranging from
assisting in the Mozambique floods, right up through fighting a virtual little
war in Kosovo and then doing peacekeeping. And the commission recognizes that
the smaller missions put a very real strain on the military. Yet, at the same
time, it's the military that can't afford to drop the old missions and just
move to the new ones. I think the real tension for America's political
leadership is how to balance these things . . . because CNN thrusts them onto
your consciousness. Kosovo, Bosnia, humanitarian disasters, humanitarian
crimes, Rwanda, these sorts of things. And other conflicts that may seem very
far off, like the North Korean invasion, an Iraq or an Iran doing something, an
India-Pakistani war--they seem so far off.
But they're ultimately more consequential than the smaller missions. So how do
you balance the important, which happens far less frequently, with the urgent,
which happens with great frequency? That's the real strategic challenge, and
I don't think the commission will have a formula or an answer for that. But
they recognize that this will always be the strain and the challenge, and that
this is something the president is going to have to balance almost daily.
. . . Do we get rid of peacekeeping so that we can fight the big one, or do
we do something else?
The real challenge is balancing between the big conflicts that can be so very
consequential to our national security and the little conflicts that are
important today and have to be dealt with in some manner. The big challenge is
not whether we do one versus the other, but where we put our focus. We're
probably going to get pulled into all of them. . . . Very few other powers can
project military power to deal with these sorts of things, ranging from
humanitarian systems right on up through deterring a major hostile power. Only
the US can really do that. So we're going to get pulled into them in some way,
shape or form.
Nonetheless, that doesn't prohibit smart planning about where you put your
focus. And I agree that the focus of the uniformed US military must always be
the big stuff, simply because you have to train to the large conflicts with a
sense of urgency, and a sense of focus that really requires 24/7 attention. At
the same time, you're going to be pulled willy-nilly into the smaller conflicts
in most instances. And you have to do those. Where we need to go in the
future is to recognize that, while America as a nation needs to apply
instruments of national power to a lot of different conflicts, it doesn't
always need to be the military in the lead. For instance, in a conflict like
Haiti, it is the uniformed military of the United States, including some of its
best combat troops. You remember we had the Eighty-second Airborne and the
Tenth Mountain Division going in there first. Are they the right kind of
instrument for fixing a problem like Haiti, which was largely a political and
economic problem, not a military one?
So the commission is trying to help map out and evolve new ways to project
American power where you are not faced with this simple equation. We must do
something. We must do something far away. And we must do something that
requires a lot of resources. What's the only American agency that can do that?
It's the uniformed military. Therefore we must do these missions. That
calculus is a very self-limiting calculus, and once we get out if it, then
we'll start to make progress. When we're able to project other kinds of
American power to these things, it will free the military up to focus on
security challenges in a more classical sense, and not get tied down in the
peacekeeping. But for now, we really don't have anybody else who can do it.
There's a famous expression from a military sociologist that "Peacekeeping is
not a soldier's job, but only a soldier can do it." And for right now, those
are the self-imposed constraints that we adopted for ourselves.
. . . How will big wars increasingly be fought in the future?
The National Training Center at Fort Irwin is intended to train the army for
the fights of what some people call the big battalions. Very classic fights,
with a big army clearly identifiable as an army lined up on one side and
another big army, in different uniforms and with different equipment lined up
on the other side. And then they'd fight in a somewhat antiseptic environment.
There are no towns or cities or not too many civilians around, perhaps some
bothersome ones, but not a very big deal. And they fight according to rules
they both know.
It's a lot like a sports match. There's a field of play, there's referees and
there are two teams that both agreed to rules before it started, and they're
both generally equipped with the same sorts of things. The big fight of the
future may have some elements of that. But it's less likely to be like that in
the big fights of the future, precisely because America is so good at those
kinds of fights. . . . Who would fight us that way? You have to ask yourself
that, especially after Saddam Hussein made the attempt to fight us that way.
He lost very badly, and the rest of the world took note. So, in terms of the
big fights of the future, there will be elements of a lot of different kinds of
future warfare. High tech, low tech, big battalions, small battalions,
low-intensity conflict, high-intensity conflict. But I think there will
definitely be less of these sort of classic battles of the plains of Europe or
the plains of North Africa that we've seen during the twentieth century.
What will we see more of?
More of the sort of thing you saw in Mogadishu in October of 1993. More of the
sort of thing you saw with the World Trade Center bombing just a few years ago
in the United States. Now we're going to see new modes of warfare, terrorism,
guerrilla operations, and low-intensity conflicts. The rules will change.
There won't be the old rules about "You're a soldier and I'm a civilian and
therefore this is my game and not yours." Soldiers and civilians will be
intermixed. And the adversaries fighting the US won't care about the old
rules. In fact, they recognize the old rules are a construct that give the
advantage to the United States--so why play by them?
We went to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk in
Louisiana. Does it speak more to the kinds of conflicts that we're going to
The JRTC at Fort Polk incorporates many more of the elements of future warfare
than the National Training Center right now. They have different purposes.
The National Training Center is still meant to train the big battalions for the
big fight, which looks remarkably like the fights of the past. The JRTC
incorporates some new elements--different players on the battlefield, such as
civilians, guerrillas, partisans and terrorists. It's not just uniformed
military. It's uniformed military in a different environment. It's not just
an antiseptic environment, where there's only military, and not much else.
There are urban environments. There are civilians on the battlefield. There
are things to work around that you can't fight through.
It incorporates the press, which is another challenge to twenty-first century
militaries, especially the militaries of democracies where all of this is
beamed back instantly. . . . It incorporates what we call complex
contingencies. Something may look like a war, but at the same time it's a
peacekeeping exercise, or a humanitarian relief exercise.
In conflicts of the future, as the Marine Corps is fond of saying, you could
have the "three-block war." On one block, you have soldiers feeding babies.
On another block, you have soldiers acting like police officers and keeping the
peace. On the third block, all up in the same section of the same city, you
can be fighting a virtual war of the sort we fought in October of 1993 in
Mogadishu. That will all happen within the same conflict. That's the sort of
complexity of the environment and challenges and threats that you won't see at
National Training Center (NTC) for some time, until they change.
I asked General Bob Scales of the Army War College about the value of the
JRTC. He was a bit more dismissive of it, saying basically, "Stay out of
cities. Don't go into them and if you get in, just cordon them off."
The army has been a bit naïve, to date, about the role that urban warfare
will play in the future. One thing we recognize on the commission as a clear
trend of the future is a growing urbanization of the world. So much of the
world's wealth and power, even in developing countries, is solely concentrated
in these urban areas. And wars have always been, and always will be about
centers of power. It does no good to attack the capillaries. . . . You have to
attack the heart of the problem, whether it's peacekeeping or war fighting.
The heart of the problem will lie in these large urban areas. We're only
beginning to see what they'll look like. Lagos in Nigeria and Mexico City are
just precursors of this war. We may see megacities emerging over the next half
century. The American military will have to prepare for it much more seriously
than they have done to date. And that will be painful, because urban warfare is a very labor-intensive and very inefficient style of
Would you say that the army, in particular, is in denial about the kinds of
conflicts it's going to face in the future? Is there a certain nostalgia for
the Cold War type of Soviet-style warfare?
Any institution, especially any successful institution, wants to operate in its
comfort zone. That's the zone for which its systems were built, the zone under
which its culture was formed, the zone for which its people were trained and
educated. And I don't fault the Army or any of the other services for wanting
the future to look a lot like the past, because they were good at the past.
They were very good at it.
But the one clear lesson of history that we know is that tomorrow won't look
like yesterday. Yet the shape of tomorrow is not very clear. But what is
clear is that it will quite possibly, and more than likely, involve
environments in which the army is uncomfortable fighting--and understandably
so. One of those environments is the urban environment. I don't think the
army is in denial about the fact they may have to fight in urban environments
in the future, but I do think it's clearly uncomfortable with the idea of
having trained the army for urban environments. And therefore I don't think
they're pushing ahead with the vigor with which they might.
What about being in denial about fighting a non-Cold War threat? In other
words, fighting the little guys instead of the big guys?
I think the army's attitude towards training for future conflicts is
understandable. Its attitude right now is, "We really hope the future
conflicts look a lot like the kinds of conflicts we're prepared for and that
we're very good at." That's understandable for a couple of reasons, and not
just because institutions tend to like to operate in the same ways. Change is
painful and it's often hard to see. But there's another reason.
Strategically, the big battles, the big wars between big armies, are the
conflicts that the army cannot afford to lose. You can mess through and muck
up . . . dozens of Somalias and Haitis and Bosnias. We've seen nothing out of
Somalia and we got nothing out of Haiti, and there have been no consequences
for the nation at all. But if you mess up one big war, there are very serious
consequences for the nation. And the army is that force that is meant to win
the nation's wars. The Marine Corps will fight a lot of the small battles,
whether it's peacekeeping or other environments. But the army is meant to win
the wars of the nation. And so I can understand their desire to focus on those
I think what they need to do, within that vision of the big fight of the
future, is to accommodate the dynamics that are changing the nature of the
international security environment. They need to accommodate the dynamics of
new technologies, of new modes of warfare, of new styles of warfare, of new
rules of engagement. That's something they can work on at NTC in a way that
they haven't yet done in a very vigorous manner. They're still much more
comfortable with the past and so they've kept the National Training Center as a
place where you really train for the industrial battles of the past--perhaps
with a sprinkling of the future.
When you're at the National Training Center, it's very scripted. Because it's
a learning environment, the actual battles are not scripted. That's very
fluid. It's as close to combat as you can get. In fact, the reason the United
States Army won Desert Storm so handily is precisely because of the National
Training Center. It brilliantly prepares armies for large mechanized scripted
warfare of the industrial age sort.
So what you'll see when you're there is both sides set each other up in a very
scripted fashion. The enemy does this in a very predictive, doctrinal way
leading up to the battle. Once the battle starts, things are a little bit more
fluid. The friendly force does its planning in a very doctrinal scripted way,
and a template follows. If it's on the defensive, it pulls out page seven of
the book and it goes by the template. If it's on the offensive, it pulls out
page five. It goes by the template. And they set these things up in a very
organized hierarchical industrial way, like an industrial age corporation that
goes by the book.
I think what we're going to see in the future is enough elements of different
kinds of warfare that you're going to want to throw out the book. Yet, at the
same time, there's going to be a small place for retaining the kind of
organizational rigor that you had in industrial age warfare. But it's
certainly going to be increasingly less relevant as an element of warfare, even
in the big fight. Therefore we need to change the way we train and accommodate
the new elements of warfare.
But you went out there recently and saw pretty much what you had seen back
in the 1980s--the notion that what you're getting is the Soviet-style
For the most part, the National Training Center in the year 2000 trains for the
same sorts of scenarios it trained to 20 years ago. You're fighting the big
battalions of the Soviet Army. The commander of the opposing force will even
refer to the units in his force in a classic Soviet lexicon, like the advance
guard main body, which is a classic Soviet combat formation. . . . So the
Americans are still structured largely along the lines of what we call
"air-land battle," a very successful doctrine introduced in the 1980s into the
American military. So you're really saying that, in many ways, the best
battles of the mid-1980s are still being fought out there today as planners of
the mid-1980s would have liked to have imagined them--the big battle on the
plains of Germany between the Soviet mechanized forces and the American
What's wrong with that?
It's only wrong insomuch as that is the alpha and the omega of the National
Training Center. Thus far, they have changed only at the margins. They have
added some civilians onto the battlefield, they have mixed up and perhaps made
a little more fluid the tactics of the opposing force, so it's not so rigidly
doctrinaire by the old Soviet book. But it's only changed at the margins. The
essential construct is still that of the US against the Soviets. I think they
need to move to a much more creative set of scenarios, an ever-changing script
for different styles of warfare, then run the units through. You can
understand they don't change because they want to have a constant yardstick by
which you measure many different American units. In the lifetime of a
commander commanding an American unit, he gets to NTC once, and that's the
capstone of his command. So they want a constant yardstick.
So the reason for keeping it the same is that everybody can be judged against
the same player. That's not the way wars are fought. For my money, I'd like
to see a little bit more mixing and matching of very different kinds of
scenarios with a lot of wild cards thrown in. And right now there are not very
many wild cards at NTC, because they want to judge everybody going through the
same hurdles and gates.
You said that even hawks should be troubled by the latest increases in
defense spending. Why?
We have a formula right now in defense spending whereby, no matter how much
money we allocate to the Pentagon, the inmates get to decide where the money is
spent on the new prison. So you're really asking the inmates to design the new
payroll system in the new prison. And the inmates aren't supposed to be in
But we don't have a national security strategy in the post-Cold War era that is
compelling enough, concise enough and understandable enough so that the
military can design a new military for new missions in a different age against
a very much changed set of threats. . . . It should be recognized that the
money in the Department of Defense goes almost purely through military
channels, not through the civilian political appointees. It goes straight from
the Office of Management and Budget to the military services. They decide what
to spend the money on. Eighty-five percent of the Pentagon's budget is spent
by the uniformed services, with almost no interference from the civilian
authorities. Legally, they could interfere, but they tend not to.
And so the military looks back for strategic guidance from the president, the
National Security Counsel, and the secretary of defense. If they don't see
anything so different that would cause them to change, they buy more of the
same. And so here we are a decade into the post-Cold War world. . . . We
recognize that there are very different threats, that there are very different
missions, that the whole environment has changed and the marketplace is
radically different. And yet when the military actually applies its monies to
programs, they tend to buy more of the same . . . better ships, better tanks,
better planes, but more of the same.
So this is why I think even hawks can worry about increases in defense
spending. If we don't change this system and harness it to a real national
security strategy, we're merely going to spend ourselves into a more gilded
irrelevance. We're going to have the best military of the industrial age when
the industrial age no longer applies.
What do you mean by "a death spiral?"
A death spiral is a cycle in military programs. Basically, you have these
expensive programs that have a shelf life. Aircraft carriers last for 35, 40
years, 50 if you stretch them. . . . Airplanes and tanks all have a shelf life.
We're getting to the point now where the last big round of military procurement
spending was during the Reagan buildup of the 1980s. And about 2010, the
wheels all start to come off on a lot of these systems. We're flying planes
past their retirement age. We're driving ships past their retirement age. And
because we're so busy around the world today, we're not really putting money to
the force of the future. We're mostly spending on today's operations.
Yet, if you just add monies for these same systems with no change in what they
should be doing, you get these incremental improvements. You only get a
slightly better system that's going to continue to spend into the same bit of
irrelevance, because it's being used more and more in a world for which these
systems no longer apply. And you get into this spiral, where it sucks up more
and more money, and you increasingly have an irrelevant force. At the end of
the day, you turn around and say, "My gosh, I'm spending $400 billion a year on
defense and I can't use it." I think that's what we're saying in a lot of
instances, such as in Kosovo. We have this huge terrific army, the best the
world's ever seen and we couldn't use it.
A lot of people have used Task Force Hawk--the army Apache helicopter
mission in Kosovo--as a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the army.
What does Task Force Hawk mean?
Task Force Hawk has become a metaphor for the army's relevance or irrelevance,
depending on how you look at it. It's a bit unfair, but nonetheless it's a
powerful political metaphor. There are two components to this. The first is
that it's not the army's fault that it's the political milieu in which Task
Force Hawk was deployed. They were asked to go to the region of Kosovo. . . in a show of strength to accomplish something without taking any risk,
and at the same time, take no casualties. That's an impossible mission. They
weren't given a real mission that could be distilled down into realizable
military objects. So they were put in a situation where they couldn't possibly
But at the same time, the army made it very hard on itself, because it couldn't
get there very quickly. Once it got there, it was disorganized. It couldn't
project relevant power in a way in which the Kosovo conflict demanded.
Unfairly or fairly, the army couldn't be relevant in Kosovo for both political
and military operational reasons. And so I think General Shinseki seized on
that, and it's an astute move to say that Task Force Hawk shows why we must
change. It's become a kind of rallying cry for why we must change. And as you
increasingly go along, the actual details of Task Force Hawk don't matter, and
a lot of people have the details wrong. But what's important is it's become a
political totem. It's a symbol for why the army must change to stay relevant
to the new world.
Now you mentioned the Eighty-second Airborne, your old unit. . . . In the
exercises at JRTC, they got creamed because their tanks got lost in the
minefields. . . . General Shinseki has actually used that in congressional
testimony as a justification for the medium brigade concept. Tell me about the
Eighty-second and its predicament. Why can't we rely on them as the strike
The army's basic problem is not that it can't get somewhere quickly; it can.
The Eighty-second Airborne Division can be anywhere in a matter of days, in a
matter of hours. I've served with them. You load up, you jump out, you're in.
It's a very formidable force, but it's not a sustainable force, and that's the
army's problem. It can get places quickly, but it can't move decisive military
power across the world quickly and sustain it without a huge industrial effort
that must then follow along. The effort needed to sustain the initial forces
is very slow in coming. It's very cumbersome and very unwieldy, and that's
where the problem is.
So you can send the Eighty-second to Kosovo. They could have jumped in and
they could have secured the Pristina airfield in Albania. They could have
established what we call a lodgment in the same way they do in the exercises at
Fort Polk and moved out from there. But then what? After 30 days there, how
do you resupply them? How do you move in heavy armored forces if you don't
have continued access to that airfield? Or, as in the case in the airfield in
Albania, it can't hold very much equipment at the actual airfield, since it has
So General Shinseki's vision is to try to balance these two tensions. On one
hand, get somewhere quickly, but at the same time get there with decisive
combat power that can be sustained over time and sustained quickly. And that's
a real challenge. For the most part . . . about 90 percent of the force is in
that big mountain of metal that has to be moved by ship across the world and
put into very sophisticated infrastructure. If we don't have that
infrastructure there or the time it takes to move it there, the army is
General Shinseki and many people say . . . that we need to get there "the
fastest with the mostest." And Shinseki's answer is the medium brigade. Is
that the answer?
The answer is a medium-weight force that the army can get someplace quickly,
and yet one that has enough of its own combat power to be a decisive offensive
force and sustain its operations for a long period of time. I don't know
whether the medium-weight force, as stipulated by the army now, is that
What's wrong with it as they stipulate it now?
The army's vision for change right now--General Shinseki's vision--is
absolutely the right one. But when you get down into the details, it's very
incomplete. About four or five facets of a transformation of that sort need to
change together, and really only one or maybe two of them are changing under
the current plan. Right now, we're very focused on what the new piece of
equipment is--what's the new tank, is it wheels or is it tracks? Does it have
a big gun, does it have a small gun? Is it long range, is it short range, is
it stealthy? . . . Ninety percent of the energy in this transformation effort
is focused on that. In fact, a real transformation--a radical
transformation--in a military organization would allow you to take advantage of
technological changes and apply them in revolutionary new ways, and then give
you exponentially more efficient operations. It has to be accompanied by a
very radical change in organization, a radical change in structure, a radical
change in operational concepts and a radical change in doctrine. It's not just
about the equipment. I would even say the equipment is the least important
part of it. It has to happen within a more holistic sense of change.
Let me give just one historic example, although there are many like it. In the
spring of 1940, the Germans and the French had essentially the same kinds of
equipment--the same kinds of tanks, the same kinds of planes. Some historians
say the French equipment was better. But the Germans used it in an entirely
different way, and that made all the difference, not just a small difference.
It made a big difference, and the entire French military collapsed in six
So if you want an extraordinary result from change, if you really want to
transform the military organization, it has to happen on many different levels.
And I think, thus far, that the army vision, while going clearly in the right
direction, is incomplete in that sense. They haven't really addressed
fundamental organizational, doctrinal, conceptual and even cultural change.
Are you saying that what's missing is a doctrine to go along with the medium
A lot of components are missing from the current vision. We haven't talked
seriously about doctrinal change yet: . . . the way you do business, your modus
operandi. You have to educate and train your officers and men differently. If
you're going to have a different doctrine, a whole different professional
military education system needs to be put into place. When General Starry and
the others came up with the air-land battle doctrine, they knew that wasn't
just going to be a change at the very end of the line. They needed to change
the whole line that produces the leaders who use that doctrine. And it made
for a very different army education system. It made for different values, and
it made for a different culture among the leaders.
There's another element. Right now, the transformation of the army will take
place, in a broad sense, within the same industrial age organization--a
fighting force based on divisions, an army structure based upon corps and field
armies stationed in predictable places around the world. The last element that
is really different is operational concepts--the strategic link between
doctrine and strategy. Your operational concepts change. How are you going to
use the force, and within what context? General Shinseki has to address this
within a joint context. The army can't have its own operational concepts.
They have to be part of a joint force with all the other services. So it's
almost self-defeating for one of our services to try to transform of its own
accord. It can only have a revolutionary transformation in terms of a radical
improvement in the way it's used militarily if the transformation is within the
context of the other services and what they're doing.
So why has General Shinseki stuck his neck out and tried to change it all? .
. . Is it simply a short-term response, as some people have said, to Task
I think Shinseki's transformation vision is a very astute political move in the
sense that it says to Capitol Hill, to the president, and to America at large,
"I want an army that's relevant. I want your army to be able to serve the
needs of the nation." That's a good message to have, and he should be
applauded for that. Moreover, he should really be congratulated for finally
making it okay to say the word "change." In the army, that's an important
step. Any business leader, any institutional leader who's tried to radically
change an organization . . . is going to promote a culture where change is
acceptable. So he's initiated a tremendous step, and it's been almost solely
through his own energies.
But at the same time, the army is a corporate institution . . . and it makes
unanimous decisions. You can't really radically transform an organization if
you're always looking for unanimity among the board of directors, who are
General Shinseki's fellow four-star officers. So I think that corporate sense
is probably going to slow down and dilute the actual realization of the vision.
On the one hand, I think General Shinseki will always be remembered for the guy
who made it okay to change. At the same time, I don't think the vision is
complete enough, so that you'll see that change manifested either in his tenure
or even his successors' tenure.
General John Starry (retired) feels that if you tweak air-land battle, your
doctrine is fine--that is. if it's not broke, don't fix it. Do you agree?
I agree in part that air-land battle could be a big part of the answer for the
future. Where I would probably differ from General Starry is how often it is
applicable to conflicts of the future. Air-land battle is not a bolt out of
the blue. It is a modern update. It's a very classic and a very successful
operational concept, the likes of which Alexander the Great used, as did Robert
E. Lee and Rommel. They're very classic concepts. And it's precisely for this
reason that professional military education spends so much time on military
history. You can get air-land battle from the Peloponnesian wars. You could
pick up some of the elements. It's still applicable in terms of some of its
principles of warfare.
And yet at the same time, modes and styles and locales of warfare are going to
radically change over the next half century. Classic air-land battle as
practiced in the 1980s will become less relevant, because it's simply going to
be less applicable in many different kinds of conflicts. How do you do
air-land battle against Osama bin Laden? That's really going to be the
You also mentioned organizational restructuring. Colonel Doug MacGregor
suggests that this is the solution to the problem. Do you agree?
Breaking the Phalanx, Doug MacGregor's book, is a solution. It's
probably not the only solution. I don't think any one author or any one effort
can come up with the solution for the army and the way it needs to be in the
future. In fact, like almost all successful military revolutions, I'm sure the
army is going to need to go through a painful but productive process of
experimentation and then failure--picking itself back up and doing something
entirely different and trying all sorts of experimental methodologies.
But I think Doug MacGregor's vision has all the right elements for the ways the
army needs to change in the future. For instance, it recognizes that
technology allows much smaller units to accomplish more on the battlefield. So
if that's the case and the army generally recognizes it, why would you continue
to stay organized in very cumbersome, unwieldy and hierarchical units that
don't allow for much freedom of action for smaller units on the battlefield?
It's the same sorts of dynamics that have reshaped business in the advent of
the information age. Flattened hierarchies . . . Let smaller units execute,
because they can do more because of technology and other changes. That's
essentially one of the core parts of Doug's vision, and he's got that right. I
think there's enough difference in the details that really only an army planner
would be interested in. . . . But they'd be foolish to not recognize the bigger
principles, the bigger operational concepts, the bigger points about doctrine
and organization that MacGregor makes, because they are precisely the ones that
need to be made for the future. I think that MacGregor succeeded, because both
General Shinseki's vision for the medium-weight force and a program called the
"Army After Next" essentially accommodate and validate the ideas in MacGregor's
. . . If the army must act through consensus, will we only get
evolutionary--and not revolutionary--change?
General Shinseki is a bit of a rebel within his own corporate group. Both he
and maybe with one or two other allies among the army's board are the main
proponents for a more adventurous and vigorous set of changes than the rest of
the board would like to see. Even so, precisely because the army makes
decisions in such a corporate way, no chief runs roughshod over his four stars.
It doesn't happen. There are no dissenting votes. So the dynamic among the
army leadership will tend to dilute the more adventurous aspect of change.
That makes it a little more predictable--a little bit more evolutionary, rather
than revolutionary. And it probably also stretches out the length of time that
it will take. The army will transform much more slowly than people would like
Can we afford the army's slow transformation?
We cannot afford for the military not to change. We're trying to break out of
a historical American pattern, and the pattern is that the US really only
reacts to radical changes in the military environment. In almost every
American war, we have lost the first battle or at least been surprised, whether
it's Pearl Harbor, the Kasserine Pass in World War II, Task Force Smith in
Korea, the first battles of World War I, or the Battle of Manassas in 1861. We
tend to lose the first battle. Only then do we realize the new shape of the
security environment and then change in a very American way with great
industrial and technological vigor. Then we conquer this new market.
. . . But we can't afford that pattern any more. To lose the first battle of
the next war might be to lose the war, given weapons of mass destruction with
the vulnerability of the homeland, with the ability of new actors who never
before were important players on the world stage to wield incredible
destructive power. If we lose the first battle, it may be a capital disaster
of the first magnitude. So what we in the national security establishment are
trying to do on the Hart-Rudman commission, and in other forward-thinking
elements of the government, is to beat surprise to the punch. We want to
actually change the military for a new security environment before the
environment forces itself on America and surprises us, which has always
happened in the past. So the question is, can we be ahistorical from our own
history? I don't know.
General Shinseki sent ten copies of the book America's First Battles
to every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. When you read that
book, you see that in 1939, we were getting ready to fight the war of 1918. Do
you think that the services are . . . preparing for and getting ready to fight
the last war?
It's always an old and true historical saw that the military is prepared for
the last war. In terms of American national security strategy, we've done that
one better. We're preparing to fight the last two wars. In fact, America's
military strategy is based on a concept called the "2MTW," which is the "two
major theaters of war" concept. We're supposed to be prepared almost
simultaneously to fight Korea again and the Gulf War again. . . . Because of
this very restrictive strategic construct, it's very hard underneath that for
the military to change from very different kinds of warfare. They have to
expend an incredible amount of energy and resources to satisfy the national
security demand of fighting those two Cold War conflicts over again. . . .
It's also very hard to change an organization that's eminently successful. And
who has been more successful than the American military during the Cold War and
in the post-Cold War world, in terms of core military functions? Sure, we've
had problems in some of the smaller missions. But those are excessively
problematical, and we probably misapplied a very good tool to them. It's very
hard to change a successful organization. Political leaders are still asking
the military to do those two old Cold War tasks. . . . General Shinseki could
convince political leaders that we need a radical transformation of a
successful military. He'd have to convince them that the next conflict is very
different, very consequential and that the next conflict must be fought by an
American army that looks very different than it does today.
West Point instructor and military historian Fred Kagan very strongly argues
we need the 2MTW strategy. He points to a situation in 1994 in Korea, when we
almost went to war while we were still worried about Saddam Hussein. . . . Is
he right? 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. . . .
Fred Kagan would simply say, "That's exactly why I need twice as many army
divisions--up to 18--and twice as much budget--about $400 billion.
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
What do you mean when you say it's not "a real strategy policy" of the
The 2MTW concept is a tool for accountants and clerks to decide how many forces
you need to fight wars, based upon what are called illustrated planning
scenarios. The computer assigns values to military forces. A North Korean
solider is worth one 1.6 of a South Korean. If a North Korean plane flies 14
hours a month in training, it's worth this much in war. If it flies four hours
a month, it's worth this much. And the computer generates these requirements.
. . . Everything is quantified and stuffed into formulas. It's not a bad tool,
but it's only a tool, and it's an accountant's tool to determine how much force
you need. It doesn't say anything about the nature of threats in the future.
The accountants need to work for the strategists, not vice versa.
Right now we have it backwards. We've taken the accounting tool and we've
elevated it to the level of national strategy. In fact, we need a strategy
that says, "This is America's purpose. These are the threats and challenges in
the world that may deter us from that purpose, and this is the way we should
operate to maintain that purpose." Only then do you ask for a force-sizing
tool to give you the kinds of forces you may need. But right now I think we've
got the process backwards.
One critic says that the goalposts keep being moved in coming up with a
two-war policy. At first it was fighting two wars, but then it was fighting
two wars nearly simultaneously. Then it was fighting two wars simultaneously
within 100 days of each other. Then it was fighting two wars simultaneously
for 100 days without any allies.
A cynic might say that the 2MTW requirements are merely there to justify a
large and expensive Cold War force. I don't think that's necessarily so. I
think it's an honest, misguided mistake by the Department of Defense to stick
with these. I don't think there's a nefarious reason and some sort of
conspiracy between industry and the old generals and admirals to keep merely a
bigger post-Cold War force together and looking the same.
But at the same time, the requirements are fungible, and they change over
time. Do we factor in allies? Do we not factor in allies? Do we take into
account the fact that North Korea is starving, or do we still pretend to treat
it as if they're ten feet tall? Do we recognize the fact that we actually
destroyed a third of Saddam's armies in the Gulf War? Or do we continue to
hold him up to a very high standard, which you couldn't possibly hope to
actually realize with the forces he has?
All these things are changeable. But we've held the entire American military
strategy hostage to the Cold War requirements. What is changing everywhere is
the way in which you measure military power. Today we only need one bomber to
do the work that 100 bombers did 25 years ago. But we haven't changed all the
metrics yet to reflect that. And that's what needs to be changed and updated.
That's why I personally am a proponent of downgrading the 2MTW force-sizing
construct to a construct, and moving it out of the realm of strategy.
So where do you basically disagree with Fred Kagan?
My disagreement with Fred is not over whether big wars in the future are
important or where they might happen. We both agree that America needs to stay
focused on the big things. And the American military needs to be uncommonly
prepared for the big things, and not spend too much time on the Somalias and
the Bosnias and the Kosovos. Where I differ with Fred is on what is
politically realizable, in terms of getting extra resources for defense. The
next two or three presidents of the United States could raise defense spending
20 percent or so over what we see now.
Even so, I'd like to see that entire 20 percent and more go to transforming the
military for very different kinds of wars in the future, rather than merely
backfilling the best Cold War military the world has seen. It is becoming
increasingly less relevant to do old Cold War tasks. I don't want the best
tanks, ships and planes that engineers in the 1950s and 1960s could
imagine--even if we have lots of them. We need to design a very different
military, and that takes energy. It takes resources. It takes a very, very
clear sense of focus. And if we just keep pumping marginally improved Cold War
forces into an industrial age structure meant to fight two wars of the past,
we'll never transform the military.
Is there a certain sense of nostalgia for, as you said before, the "comfort
zone" of Cold War threats?
Much of the refusal to change is based on the fact that the Cold War was
something that was easily recognizable. It was easily quantifiable. We have
formulas for it. We have planning scenarios. We don't have illustrative
planning scenarios for Osama bin Laden's stepson, you know, for the next
generation of Osama bin Ladens. We don't know how to size our force
structure for Chechnya. So this is what I mean when I say we need to make the
tools work for the strategists, not the strategists work for the tools. And I
think that right now the military, understandably so, is very comfortable with
the tools of the Cold War. And the point needs to be made again that we were
very good at that sort of thing.
So change is painful, not only for those reasons, but also for the fact that
it's not very clear what the future is going to look like. I may have one
version of the future. Another commentator or scholar may have another.
Political leaders may have an entirely different one. It's not clear, and
taking this big step into the unknown, and changing an institution to suit
several unknowns is a very risky proposition.
You criticized the desire to hang on to tools of the Cold War. And you say
that the army, in particular, says it wants to be less cumbersome, not so
heavy. Yet, the lion's share of the budget you have mentioned goes into
certain weapons. Does the army wants to be one thing but clings to
The army and the other services are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
It's talking the talk of changing environments. It's talking the talk of
different threats. It's talking the talk of needing to radically reshape the
military to succeed in those different environments. But when you look at
what's important to a large bureaucratic institution and you search for clues
as to what reflects that importance, you follow the money. Look at what is it
spending its money on. And the army and all the other services are still
spending their money on marginal improvements of Cold War systems, such as the
upgrades to the best tank in the Cold War, or a new artillery piece that is the
best artillery piece soldiers of the Cold War would want. That's where the
money's going. There are a lot of good ideas floating around out there, but
the ideas don't have money behind them. Therefore, they don't have programs
behind them, and therefore they can't be realized in a very real sense.
I went to war in an M-1 tank, and I commanded those tanks. It's a brilliant
weapon system. It was perfect for Iraq. But I don't think it is the be-all
and end-all of future conflicts, the kind of future conflicts the army would
like. So we need some evidence that the army is serious about changing.
You're not going to find the evidence in speeches. You're not going to find
the evidence in rhetoric, and you're not going to find it in the television
commercials. You're going to find it when you look down their budget chart and
you see that a very significant amount of money . . . shifted from Cold War
programs to post-Cold War programs. . . . Then I think transformation will
become a reality. But there's no evidence of that right now.
There are two points of view about the M-1 tank. General Paul Funk, a
retired armor guy, says to the army, "Put my son in a tank, and I want him to
stay in one if he's going to be protected. There are 104,000 tanks in the rest
of the world." But General Glen Otis says that the tank is about where the
horse was in 1935. Can you elaborate on either one of those positions?
General Otis probably has a clearer vision of the tank's utility in the future.
For years and years and years--for most of the tank's lifetime around World War
I up through Desert Storm--it was recognized that the best killer of a tank is
another tank. And this was very true in Desert Storm. Most Americans tend to
think that aircraft depleted the Iraqi army and that artillery played a big
role. But studies show that it was really done on the ground, tank to tank.
It's the best way to get through the Iraqi army--killing their tanks with our
In the future, I can't see how that would apply. With precision-guided
munitions, with the incredible leap ahead in surveillance and reconnaissance
and intelligence technologies, I can't see why you would want to only attack
another enemy armored force with your own armored force at close range. This
comes from a guy who was a soldier in one of the last great tank-to-tank
battles. Gun tube to gun tube, our engagements were 500 meters or less. And
I'm not one of these people who thinks that high-tech solutions are the
solution to everything. I think warfare will always retain a large element of
face-to-face, very dirty combat. But at the same time, I consider it
tremendously inefficient in the face of new technologies and new operational
concepts and doctrines to only put into the field a large armored force with
the intent of finding another large armored force. In reality, in the
twenty-first century, that adversary's large armored force is nothing but a
series of big targets that can be hit from much greater ranges and with much
greater accuracy than putting four 19-year-olds in an American tank to drive
into the adversary's armor.
So would you agree with the equine analogy?
I don't think the tank's going to go quite the way of the horse, because it's
going to evolve and become something different. You're still going to need to
project power across land in some sorts of formations, and you're going to want
protection while you do that. So something like the tank will continue to
exist, although hopefully, it will be lighter and more mobile. Hopefully it
will need much less sustainment and not need the huge amounts of fuel and
mechanical support that current tanks need. But you'll need the tank, because
you'll need to continue to project power on land. People don't live in the air
and people don't live in the sea. So you're not going to be able to do
everything from far away. But at the same time, you want to do it smart, in
terms of new technology. So there's going to be a place for the tank of the
future. But on the other hand, to say that the M-1A-2 or some modern Cold War
tank with a computer on board can do new types of warfare with old types of
technologies--that's merely hanging electric lights on the horse cavalry.
We're about to develop three tactical fighters at some astronomical cost
over the next five or ten years. That seems ironic. . . . The army itself says
that we've got short time on training because this equipment costs so damn
much. . . .
The story of the American military's plan to upgrade its tactical aircraft is a
very good example of this death spiral, which is going to take hold in the
Department of Defense over the next 10 or 15 years if we don't do something
about it. And it's also a good example of how the nature of future warfare is
not reflected in the way in which the Pentagon is preparing to wage it. We
know, for instance, that in the future American military, bases are going to be
very vulnerable to all sorts of adversaries armed with weapons of mass
destruction. And so we are told that you need to design systems that don't
need all these intermediate bases, like the old American style of warfare where
you move a big mountain of metal to a base close to the conflict and then you
launch into the conflict.
We did this in Desert Storm. If the Saudis didn't have these terrific
airfields and ports, I don't know what we would have done. But we needed to
move a lot of stuff there for six months before we were ready to do anything.
That's the old style of warfare, and we know it's threatened by the
vulnerability of those bases. So, clearly, the imperative is for the military
to design systems that don't need intermediate bases--long-range systems,
self-sustaining systems--systems that don't need a big logistics footprint
And yet, in terms of tactical aircraft upgrade, we're going to buy three
different systems over the course of ten years at a combined cost of $350
billion. And all three systems need bases close by. They're not long range.
All three are meant to fight a very modern industrial age enemy. But they're
still essentially the best aircraft engineers that the 1960s and 1970s could
imagine. So the lion's share of the defense budget for new programs is going
to go into even better Cold War Systems. And Cold War systems fly in the face
of what many defense thinkers think is the reality of future war fighting. So
it's one good example of how we could spend ourselves into irrelevance if we
merely update a Cold War force that loses its relevancy as every day goes
The defense dollars go right from OMB to the Pentagon, where they spend the
money. There's some money, though, that the Pentagon doesn't even ask for.
It's almost jammed down their throats. . . . it's some $20 billion in the last
six years that the Pentagon did not ask for. . .
Defense pork and democracy go together like pork chops and applesauce. It's
inevitable. When the first six frigates for the US Navy were built, they were
built in six different cities. This was not an accident. Everybody wanted a
piece of the action. I tend to be one of those defense analysts and thinkers
who is not so concerned about pork, because many times in the recent past,
Congress has forced programs on the Department of Defense that it hasn't really
wanted, and they've turned out to be some of the best--like the Cruise missile.
The Pentagon didn't want Cruise missiles in the quantity or in the exact
concept that Congress thought it should have. And it turned out to be the
right move. . . . Then, on the other hand, you're going to have programs that
really are pure pork, like ships being built in the districts of the various
committees' leaders or other political leaders. That's just going to happen.
. . . Some people say that we should skip a generation of weapons. Can we
afford to do that?
Skipping a generation of weapons is not quite as extreme as it sounds. What it
basically means is that, instead of spending billions and billions of dollars
over a decade on slight improvements to the Cold War M-1 tank, I'm going to put
some of those monies into the next kind of tank, which may be very different.
Or the next kind of land warfare platform, which we might not even call a tank.
If you only spend on marginal improvements to existing systems, it siphons off
and dilutes the energy and resources for actual change. We're entering a period
now where technology allows us to have revolutionary changes--not just mere
improvements to the ways we've done business in the past--but revolutionary
changes. Business has experienced it through the information revolution. The
military has not yet experienced it. It's still a very high-tech industrial age
There are some instances where you may be able to move to entirely different
platforms and not waste money improving. In another example, we know we can
build better aircraft carriers every time we build one. And they cost a lot of
money--five or six billion dollars apiece--plus the money for everything that
goes with it with the air wing. We know we can build better aircraft for these
aircraft carriers. But if technology affords us the opportunity to build a
cheaper naval vessel or series of vessels of some sort that can project the
same kind of power as an aircraft carrier, maybe we should allocate some energy
and resources to look at that, instead of just continuing to improve existing
systems. That's what we mean by skipping a generation of weapons systems.
It's not naïve, it's not fantastical, and it's not a science fiction plot.
It's a very real business phenomenon. And America, at this point in time, is
in the perfect position to experiment with it.
Here we are--the only global power--and we're not facing any major conflicts.
We do have some chores around the world that require attention and deterrence,
not just in the Persian Gulf and North Korea, but elsewhere with growing powers
like China. And we have to guard against a revanchist Russia. But at the same
time, we need to cut ourselves some strategic space, so we can afford to
experiment and change for the future. The bigger concern is that we continue
to just be the muscle-bound, well-prepared power of the industrial age. We
could expend our energies and resources on that, instead of preparing for a
very different future.
General Shinseki has stated that he wants the future combat system to be
developed, and he's even working with other people to help design it. . . .
He's kept the Crusader. He would love to resurrect the Wolverine and the
Grizzly. If you were prescribing what he should be doing in terms of these
weapons . . . Is there some desire to have both in this plan?
If you don't take bigger risks, you don't get bigger rewards. Transformation
of any sort is a risk-reward proposition. The army may go forward with plans
for transformation, while at the same time investing a lot of new monies on old
Cold War upgrades like the Crusader and other systems. . . . If it goes forward
in this way, this is an example of diluting the vision, and an example of
siphoning off the focus you need for your energies and your resources to really
achieve the vision. There's a term that that describes a potential period of a
revolution in military affairs. For revolutionary change, that implies a
breakthrough moment. And you can't get a breakthrough moment if you continue
to creep along as a resource-starved institution, trying to "have your cake and
eat it, too" the whole time. There's no such thing as a risk-free
transformation. But at the same time, there are scales of how much
transformation you can expect to have. And if you don't risk, you certainly
won't be rewarded.
. . . If it were a real risk-taking transformation, would you have to give
up the Crusader, or the M-1A-2 upgrades, or what? Is that what it's going to
One man's bold and aggressive business plan is another man's impetuous risky
scheme. So this is a relative judgment. Because the army is a corporate body,
because it is a large bureaucratic institution, it's going to hedge on the side
of caution in peacetime. The army doesn't have a culture that rewards risk
taking that might fail. That's one of the problems that the chief and
everybody else recognizes. And yet, at the same time, how can you expect to
really radically transform a hidebound institution? . . . You could realize
incredible new efficiencies because of the changes you've made. If you don't
take significant risks, it could very well fail.
If I were chief of staff of the army, I would probably proceed at what might be
considered a more vigorous pace for change. That would entail dropping many of
the Cold War systems like the Crusader, the Wolverine, and the Grizzly. But
then again, I certainly can't see the army as a corporate body making those
sorts of decisions. Those of us who think more like Doug MacGregor in terms of
how the army should change are criticized--mostly for the idea that we want to
move too quickly and take too many risks.
My vision of change for the army doesn't differ so much at the political
margins with the chief of staff as it does at the operational margins.
Politically, I think he's in exactly the right place. He's convinced that the
institution needs to change. He's convinced the rest of the political
establishment the army needs to change. He's even managed to sell the army as
an innovative place that's going to take some risk and hopes to reach some
rewards. Politically, that's a great place to be in.
But operationally, I would not take this concept forward based solely on the
idea of new equipment for a new army with slightly different organizational
structures that only affect a part of the army. I would take this vision
forward within a whole concept that includes the entire structure of the army.
Everything has to be on the table--the doctrine, the operational concepts, the
organizations, the structures, the culture, the professional military education
system. The equipment piece of it is one of the least important and can come
. . . Was "new equipment for a new army" put forward for political reasons
Using equipment as the centerpiece of the army transformation could be a way to
use it as a wedge issue to convince everybody about the transformation. Also,
it's recognizable. What's going to be the new tank? But the executive energy
on the chief's part and the patience of the corporate board that runs the army
is going to be invested in this question of what's the new tank. And they're
not going to get to the much more important questions, like the concepts and
doctrines and culture. There's no energy going into that right now; none to
compare with what's going into the question about what's the new tank. So if
anything, I think it's quite possible that this tactic, successful thus far,
can end up being very short-lived and shortsighted.
Where is the army actually going to find the heart to change?
Change in the military almost always comes from the middle ranks. And it
usually comes from the middle ranks that are engaged in the business of the
military, and thus, change in militaries tend to happen in a very compressed
way. It happens at an extraordinary rate during times of actual conflict, and
then there's this huge period during peacetime where there's absolute stasis.
So they're very different organizations in wartime or in peacetime. But
nonetheless, the change agent is usually what we might call the middle manager.
The middle manager is down where the rubber meets the road, and recognizes a
new and innovative way to do business.
As it currently exists, the army does not have a culture that appreciates
innovative middle managers. In fact, some people might say that it has a
culture that suppresses innovative middle managers. So it's going to be very
hard for the army to really take advantage of some of the older ideas about
change, because the army really doesn't want to change unless all those
elements of change have been embedded through the corporate system and less
from the top. And that's a very cumbersome way to run a transformation.
We talked about George Marshall taking over and firing 300 generals. But
that was before World War II, just before America's first battles as a reactive
power. Is the problem here that General Shinseki is trying to change an army
General Shinseki's got two challenges. He's trying to change an army in
peacetime. A peacetime army is, for the most part, nothing more than a large
complex bureaucracy that is heavily engaged every day in very martial tasks.
But it is a bureaucracy. The most popular book in the army right now is
the reissue of an old novel called Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer. The
protagonist is the bold warrior who is operating in wartime and has the virtues
of warfare. He's innovative; he's bold; he's audacious. The antagonist is the
classic manipulative bureaucrat. And their story is the story of the struggle
for the soul of the army. It's the innovative, bold wartime army versus the
bureaucratic peacetime army, which is static, defensive, protecting its turf,
and doing none of the things that allow people to succeed on the battlefield.
So that's one challenge--managing bold innovative change in a peacetime
Another challenge is trying to have a transformation with the same set of
corporate leadership that is essentially non-transformative. You almost never
get radical transformation in a corporate leadership model in which all those
leaders rose to the top doing business the old way. . . . I have a hard time
seeing how the army can change in the context of its current leadership and
their cultural values.
Given that we have a strategic peace, could we be squandering something
pretty precious if we don't change?
There's huge opportunity costs if the army doesn't change radically and pursue
this vision of General Shinseki's with vigor under a whole new leaderships
structure. That's critical for the vision to succeed. And the opportunity
costs are that you continue to remain an institution uniquely prepared for the
past, and not the future. You squander the opportunity during a time of
relative peace to innovate and change for a new security environment. The
ultimate opportunity costs are hard to imagine, because they could be quite
Admiral Rickover has remarked, "You prepare in peacetime, or you pay later
This really is the crux of the issue. There's no single event or dynamic out
on the world stage now, shaping this new international security environment.
There's not a single threat . . . that's powerful enough to compel the military
to think along a unified vision of change for the future. The future's too
murky; it's too uncertain. My future is different from somebody else's future.
General Shinseki's future is different from the future that other generals and
The military changes best when it can clearly see the nature of the problem and
the problem crystallizes in people's minds. That's why, in the American
tradition, we've always changed best after an event. We react well, but we're
not very good at being proactive ahead of events. And that's the real
challenge, and that's what many of us in the national security community are
trying to do right now--get ahead of events, and see the future before it
happens. Then the hardest part of all is to convince institutions to change
for a future that's not yet occurred. That is very difficult.
Is it the problem for military leaders and civilians . . . that the future
is so murky? Or is it that the past was so successful, so they feel
It's both. The future is murky, and there's nothing out there that is clear
enough to compel everybody to follow a certain path towards preparing for the
future. But the past represents success. We were eminently successful, so why
fix it if it ain't broken? And between these two dynamics, it's very hard to
even start change, let alone carry it through successfully. That's why General
Shinseki has really stepped forward out of the pack, and he might go down in
history for that act alone. But now I feel that we need to really accelerate
the pace of change, and commit ourselves to the vision. That's going to be a bigger challenge in the end than just starting the vision.
Or else--what will happen?
Or else we submit once again to the tides of history that have always overcome
us. We suffer some calamitous defeat at the beginning of a war, when we
couldn't see the features of it. The dynamics are totally different than the
way in which we prepared. And then, after a lot of pain and catastrophe, we
expend extraordinary amounts of energy and come late to the fight, but we come
prepared. The problem is that history is accelerated, and time is sped up.
And you may not have a chance for round two in the next one.
How do you envision the future?
War is a very disorderly environment. Everybody's scared. People are dying.
There are incredible amounts of stress, and it's an extraordinarily complex
task to be accomplished in this very disorderly environment. So over the
course of time, rules and ways of doing business have evolved to bring some
sense of order to this most chaotic of environments. They range from things
like the laws of land warfare, which set out clear rules about who can hurt
who, and when. There's rules about the difference between civilians and
military, rules about surrendering, giving up all those sorts of things, and
there's also another set of rules to bring order to this environment, what we
call standard operating procedures--methods of doing business.
All of this is meant to bring order to an environment. Over the course of a
couple of centuries, we got very good at determining those rules. We got even
better at playing within them. We're the best at playing within those rules,
and we know how to use them.
All the rules will be different in the future. You can even see that in a
situation like Kosovo, where we sent in the Eighty-second Airborne with a set
of rules that didn't apply. When a crowd came and threw snowballs and stones
at the Eighty-second Airborne Division, our most hearty warriors had two rules,
neither of which fit the situation. They could retreat, or they could shoot to
kill. Neither was allowed. And so what happened was a sort of embarrassing
combination of a little bit of force used improperly, and then having to pull
out completely. A great military superpower like the United States frittered
away a lot of capital in that one instance. It's because we had a military
that wasn't prepared for an entirely different set of rules.
Something similar happened in Mogadishu in 1993. Many similar things are going
to happen in the future. Each case will be different, and we're not
necessarily preparing for them. This isn't just a criticism on the American
military. It's hard to determine what the future rules are going to be when we
don't know what they are. But one thing that we do know for certain is that
they will increasingly look less like the rules of the past. . . . And yet
still our planning centers are operating within the context of those rules that
we know and with which we're familiar. We need to shift a significant amount
of our energies towards preparing for the uncertain conflicts of the future in
which we're going to have to figure out the new rules right along with
everybody else. And we're going to have to take that and shift it away from
the conflicts of the past.
It seems almost unfair. We're telling the army and the other services,
"We're not going to tell you who you're going to fight, when you're going to
fight or where you're going to fight. You tell us how you're going to
It's much harder in the future. When I came into the military during the
waning years of the Cold War, it was quite simple: us good, them bad. Any
questions? And then I was handed a playbook, and they put me on the border in
Germany. They said, "Okay, Lieutenant, here's your playbook. When the Soviets
do this, you do that. And you're going to do it within this great construct.
And if you fail, it's okay, because the guy above you is a little bit more
experienced, and when they do this, he's going to do that. You'll be operating
within that context."
It was very structured, it was very orderly, and it was very hierarchical. And
the Soviets were going to play by the rules because they helped make the rules.
Now, in the future, what do you tell a young lieutenant, or a young corporal?
One week, they may be deciding whose chicken belongs to whom in Kosovo, and the
next week they may be running down an Osama bin Laden in the hills of
Afghanistan or in the streets of some city in Central Asia or Africa. What are
the rules? How do you train? It's very difficult. Then take this uncertainty
and turn around to the military and say, "Build your future upon this
uncertainty." I can see why the military is very resistant to change at this
Do we have a readiness crisis?
If the object of our military is to fight and win quickly and decisively at
little cost to ourselves in the two major theater of wars upon which our
planning is based, then we do have a readiness problem. Let there be no doubt
about it-- the United States military is absolutely not ready for the stated
purpose of the United States military. Everybody knows it. The chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff has testified about it ad nauseum before Congress.
And what does that really mean? What it means is that our military does not
meet the standards that the computer insists our military needs to fight these
two major theater of wars. We don't have enough planes to move stuff from one
place to another. We don't have enough soldiers to fill in the charts that the
computer says need to be filled in. And we don't have the levels of training
proficiency that are required to do these things by the old Cold War standards.
So that's clear.
The real question is whether those standards are relevant. I think it's
terribly important to be able to beat a North Korea that invades South Korea,
or to defeat a Saddam Hussein or counter a move by in Iran, or deter Russia
from doing something silly or to contain a growing hostile power in Asia. All
of that is very important. But the real question is whether the standards by
which we measure the military and its ability to do these things are relevant.
That's where I differ; that's where it's changing. . . . And so long as we get
wrapped around the axle about meeting Cold War-generated readiness standards or
procurement standards or policy standards, we will never be able to move and
change for the very different conflicts of the future. So are we ready? No.
Not according to the standards. But ready for what? That's the real question.
That's the one that needs to be answered.
It's been now nine years since the Gulf. We're pretty much completely the
same as we were. Has this been a wasted decade in terms of changing the
There have been a lot of missed opportunities this decade. We have the same
force we had in 1991, just smaller. It's a little different at the margins.
We've made some progress here, and we've made some progress there. But it's
essentially the same Cold War force, just smaller. In the meantime we've
squandered the opportunity to change. There are a couple reasons for this. One
is just purely the dynamics of trying to get a successful organization to
change towards an uncertain future. The other reason is that we have shown an
instinct to chase the crisis of the day around the world. And we have taxed
the military on various crises that have happened over the past ten years--some
of which we have nothing to show for our investment. In both Haiti and
Somalia, both of them are back to the situation that they were in before we
intervened. Yet we spent a lot of time and money and energy and resources
So I hope that this past decade and the choices we made don't come back to
haunt us. I think we still have time. I'm optimistic. We still have another
decade, perhaps, if we're lucky, to really trumpet the message of change and
the very serious consequences there could be if we don't change. But after
that, I'm not so sure. I think 2010 will be on us very rapidly. And if we're
the same force that we essentially were in 1990, there will be a price to be
Has the army been marginalized, or do we need it in the future?
Air power is a particularly seductive form of power for the American people. As
one author said, it's like American courtship. It offers instant gratification
without commitment. So it's always been popular. Americans have always liked
quick solutions that require industry instead of casualties. We'd rather send
a bullet delivered from afar than from a bunch of people close up on the
And now technology seems to offer the ability for America to engage the world
militarily in a range of conflicts at the push of a button without sending
anybody on the ground. That is a chimerical vision, because even high-tech
conflicts are going to be multi-dimensional. They're going to require the US
to have the ability to project power on the ground, in the air, by sea, by
space, by cyberspace and by non-military means as well. Even in high-tech
conflicts, you need a lot of options. For instance, in Kosovo, we had a 78-day
bombing campaign. It could have probably been a 17-day bombing campaign if in
fact Milosevic was worried about a ground option. But he wasn't, so he held
out, and so we ended up bombing for longer. So I would hardly consider that a
conflict where air power won the day. Air power won the battle of attrition in
the end for reasons that we still don't know. We still don't know exactly why
Milosevic gave up. And we won a very unattractive peace.
And you're likely to see conflicts like those in Somalia and Chechnya, which I
don't see how you're going to solve this from the air. The army's problem is
that its culture and its identity are so focused on winning the big battles and
the big wars for America, that it can't seem to want to make itself relevant to
other kinds of conflicts in which land power will be necessary in the future.
The army doesn't want to say that it's the force for Somalia, because it
doesn't want to become American's peacekeeping force. It wants to be the force
of last resort that wins the wars.
It's going to be very hard for the army to maintain relevance in the future
without those kinds of wars. We'll have them, but they're going to happen far
less frequently than in the past. So the army must come to some kind of
compromise with itself. That's going to require a real churning identity
crisis, and a lot of pain and institutional angst. But the army will have to
say, "In order for me to be relevant, I need to specialize in the messy
conflicts of the post-Cold War era." And that's going to require a huge
So the "messy conflicts" also pertain to peacekeeping?
The army needs to get heavily involved in the messy conflicts of the post-Cold
War world, but I also think peacekeeping is a poor role for the army. It's
going to have to do it most of the time. It's going to do it poorly,
sometimes. But I still think the army should not let peacekeeping become its
raison d'Ítre in the post-Cold War world, even if it's a peacekeeping
world, because the army simply cannot afford to fail at the missions of
consequence that will require focused, trained combat capabilities.
I've written a book on peacekeeping and I know about the dynamics of
peacekeeping. It can be done by others. If somebody asked me if we should
have a specially trained peacekeeping force, I'd say that we have one--they're
called the Canadians, and they're called the Swedes. They're good at it, and
better at it than we are. At a strategic level as a superpower, the US doesn't
make a good peacekeeping force. We take sides. That's the way America does
business. Peacekeepers can't take sides--they have to be neutral. America
takes sides, and for good reason. Down at a lower level, at the institutional
level with the army, the army's ability to win in combat . . . is too important
to be diluted by years and years of peacekeeping duty, and that will happen.
The army will be degraded?
It'll be degraded and diluted. The army cannot be good at both things over a
long period of time. It can be merely fair at both. But it cannot do
peacekeeping and war fighting and sustain first-rate competency in each field
over the course of decades. So I really think that America's army needs to
maintain a singular focus on combat capabilities. In the future, it is going
to be differently applied. It won't all be Desert Storms. It's going to be
very different kinds of combat--but combat nonetheless. The army cannot afford
to just become a peacekeeping force. It can do peacekeeping occasionally, as
long as it maintain this focus. But the only reason we have an army is to
prevent complex contingencies from falling apart, and then fight and win them
if they happen to do so. We can never afford to lose that talent. There is no
other agency in the government that can do that. . . .
What do you think of the criticism against General Shinseki that he's
building a peacekeeping force by building the medium brigades?
Calling the medium brigade concept a peacekeeping force is rubbish. The
medium-weight force clearly needs to be portrayed as a war fighting capability.
Of course, there will be instances where a medium-weight force gives you a good
capability to go in and do short-term peacekeeping or a peace enforcement
mission. It will have other applications. But it needs to be portrayed and
trained and structured as a war fighting force. That's why we're building
it--so we can get to places quicker with a more decisive offensive military
capability that can be used. That's an unfair criticism that probably is
rooted in both those who don't want to change, and those that will not profit
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