Is there a choice that has to be made between peacekeeping and war
He teaches military history at West Point and is the co-author of While
America Sleeps--Self Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace
Today. He believes the US military is being seriously underfunded and
compares America today to England in the 1930s.
You have to be prepared to do both. If you don't undertake peacekeeping
operations in some of these places, conflict would spread and widen. More
states would become involved. For example, in Bosnia, it would involve
When you talk about these commitments, you use the phrase "pseudo
So far, going into Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti, we have attempted to
make the argument that it was going to be a limited, short engagement--that we
were going to use the smallest force possible, and we were going to get them
out as rapidly as possible. That's putting constraints on what you were going
to accomplish, which may or may not suit what you need to do.
The time scale is in generations in the conflict in Bosnia. Our five-year
involvement there is not likely to turn the tide if we pull out very soon. I'm
also not sure that the 5,000 Americans there are enough. Obviously, we pulled
out of Somalia far too soon, and that has degenerated again into chaos. It's
looking like we pulled out of Haiti too soon. And that is also looking like
it's going to cycle down. We're starting to get Haitian refugees coming across
by boats again.
That's the sort of pseudo engagement that I mean--where you do just enough to
make it unpopular. You do just enough to harm the combat efficiency of the
organization. You do just enough to give all the critics of engagement
ammunition, but you don't actually accomplish the mission.
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. .
We almost have a topsy-turvy situation. We have the Democratic
administration saying that we've got to keep up the defense spending, and the
Republican candidate saying we can't afford to do that. Why not skip a
generation of weapons? Where do you stand?
You need dramatically more defense money than anyone is even willing to talk
about at this point. It's an increment that has to be measured in apercentage
of GDP. We're not talking about $10 billion or $20 billion here. I figure
that we're probably talking more on the order of $60 billion to $100 billion
annually in an increase to the defense budget over what it currently is. That
increase would bring it up to what was the historical average during the Cold
War, in terms of four to four-and-a-half percent of the GDP. That's not an
outrageous amount percentage of your national wealth to be spending on keeping
the world safe and not having to fight wars in the future.
As far as why we can't skip a generation of weapons, well, you can go back and
look. The British tried that, and it didn't work. The problem is that we
don't have systems in existence that are those leap-ahead systems. We have to
go build them. You can do one of two things. You can build them and not field
them--build prototypes and be ready to field them when you're ready to go. Or
you can just build the prototypes, decide that you like the way it looks, and
field the whole force that way. The second way is the right way to go. The
problem is that you're going to get it wrong, for sure. The history of the
development of military technology tells you that the first generation of the
leap-ahead system is not going to be the one that wins the next war. It's
going to be the one that loses the next war, if somebody actually fields it in
Why do you think the US military is underfunded?
. . . I love the statistics about how much we spend compared to our other
competitors. Again, that ignores the single most important thing that we're
trying to get across. America is not just another state. America is a state
with the capability and the interest in maintaining the current peaceful world
order. France doesn't have that. Germany doesn't have that. Russia doesn't
have that. Only we have that. And so it's really irrelevant how much we spent
compared to this, that or the other state. The only thing that matters is, can
we or can we not accomplish that mission? If we can't, then we're not spending
enough. If we can, we are. It's that simple. . . .
But the military just got its biggest budget increase since the end of the
It did. I haven't looked in tremendous detail at what that is. My
understanding is that a lot of that was pay increase and addressing quality of
life issues. I'm not aware that a lot of that was addressing force structure,
or research and development, or fielding the new forces. And all of that just
goes to support the thesis that, if you're thinking in terms of the numbers
that were just passed, it's hopeless.
You really have to be talking about another $60 billion, another $100 billion.
Of course, we need the pay increase. There are still soldiers living on food
stamps. Of course, we need the quality of life improvements. The quality of
life on a lot of army posts is unbearable. I can't imagine how the American
people could think that it is reasonable to expect people to live that way. Of
course it's a recruitment problem, and of course it's a retention problem.
Those are critical issues. So you have to do what we did.
In addition to that, that the army needs to be bigger. We need to have a very,
very aggressive research and development program. We need to think about
fielding brand new forces, which are not off the lab shelf, are not
off-the-shelf wheel vehicles, are not things that are slightly fixed; but
brand-new armored vehicles that have the right characteristics. And this can't
be in 20 years, but in 10 or 7 or 5 years, because that will be the first
generation for that. We'll need to have another generation after that. That's
the kind of generational cycle that you have to look at if you're going to
transform the army.
If you don't have the equipment, everything is just a thought experiment. We
can write arbitrarily wonderful doctrine and arbitrarily wonderful training
procedures. But if nobody can actually take a unit out into the field and run
it against a similarly equipped unit, then you don't know what's going to work
and what's not going to work. Then you can't see what the revolution in
military affairs is actually going to bring.
Is there a readiness crisis?
I can't give you a straight answer, since I don't have access to all of the
reports. I can tell you that, anecdotally, there seems to be a readiness
crisis. If you talk with soldiers, if you read the testimony before the
congressional committee on readiness, there seems to be real readiness problem
in the army.
Here's the problem with readiness. You only know that when you're not ready
when soldiers start dying. For people to make light of the readiness issue is
really rather callous, and it really misses the point. It's hard to tell
whether you're ready when it's peacetime. A unit that looks real good in
peacetime and has figured out the game at NTC and figured out how to go in
there and do well can perform abysmally in wartime. You won't know until you
try, which means that you have to try as hard as you possible can. Failure to
do so is going to involve soldiers being killed who didn't need to be killed.
What do you think of the medium brigade . . . and of General Shinseki's
efforts to change the army?
There is absolutely no doubt that the army has to be more deployable. And
there is no doubt that it is a very, very urgent thing, so I'm very reluctant
to criticize it.
There's been a lot of focus on the equipment issue.
It's got to focus on the equipment, because if you've identified the problem as
deployability, what limits deployability is equipment. . . . General Shinseki
has really identified that single thing--deployability--as the primary problem
that he's going to solve. I think there's something to that.
It puts a whole host of other issues aside, such as the transformation to a
digital force; the development of new doctrines for fighting; the development
of new organizational structures to take care of information technology. All
of that gets shoved aside in favor of this debate over deployability. I wish
we could have a coherent package that really addressed all of these issues
simultaneously, and could come to good answers about them. But if you're just
going to talk about deployability, then you have to talk about the equipment.
What about the M-1 and the issues surrounding it?
In a certain sense, the M-1 is a metaphor for backwards thinking. It is very
clear to me that in 2020, and probably as soon as 2015, war is not going to be
fought with tanks like M-1s charging at each other across the open desert or
across the European plains. That's not what it's going to be about.
Increasingly, we're seeing battlefields that are dominated by precision-guided
munitions. So the tank is going to have to change.
But you have to ask, "What are the fundamental characteristics of a tank, and
are we still going to have to have them?" Its fundamental characteristics are
that it is a weapons system with high mobility, a high degree of protection,
and a high degree of firepower--all in one system. You have to look at that,
if you're going to continue to need systems on the battlefield which fulfill
those requirements. I don't know if there's a tank or a hovercraft or a motor
scooter with missiles. But you need to have something that fulfills that role
on the battlefield.
How do you get there? You can only get there by fielding successive
generations of systems--seeing how they work with the other weapon systems of
the time--with war as it is at the time. You just can't predict in advance
what war is going to look like. You can't know. So if your time frame for
replacing the M-1 is 20 or 25 years, I can virtually assure you now that
you're going to get trumped. In a revolutionary period of change, if it's
going to take you 25 years to replace a system, war will have changed
unpredictably in that interim. But if that's how long your R&D and
deployment cycle is going to be, there's no way you're going to keep up.
. . . But if you're going to go for a future system, go for it. Why do we
have to keep recapitalizing the Cold War legacy weapons?
If I'm the president and the chiefs and congress all together, I don't do that.
What I do is an aggressive R&D program. You've got five years. Give us
the best you've got. We're going to start recapitalizing the force again. . .
. So we continue the R&D program. And another five, ten years down the
line we recapitalize it again. We keep doing that iteration. . . . It will
require that you throw away and mothball a lot of the equipment that you never
use, because it is superceded by the next generation. That is an unfortunate
fact, but that is the way that military revolutions occur.
So, yes, if your time frame for replacing the M-1 is 20 or 25 years, you'd
better upgrade the M-1, because it's not going to make it that long. But I
would say that there's error in both directions here. You should be
recapitalizing faster. That would save you the trouble of upgrading this
legacy weapons system.
You've mentioned the lifespan of a tank, versus where the M-1 is today.
We've upgraded the gunnery, we've upgraded the navigation and we've upgraded a
variety of other things in the M-1 system. But in terms of its main
performance characteristics--armored protection, gun mounting, and radius of
action--it's a 20-year-old system.
Historically, no tank has ever lasted for 20 years as a predominating system.
Now the M-1 has lasted, which is a measure of how far ahead of its competition
it was then. It's not that far ahead any more. . . . The Germans and the
British have tanks that are close to being as good. The Russian tank is close.
They're worryingly close. In other words, tank technology seems to be catching
up with the main performance characteristics of the M-1 as a tank. It remains
to be seen what advantages we have with our situational awareness and the
digitization and all that stuff. But as a weapons system, the M-1's main
performance characteristics are not that uncommon any more.
You're looking at maintaining that as your main force for another 10, 15 or
maybe 20 years. You're going to be using the B-52--something that's 40 years
old in terms of its main performance characteristics. The B-52 is fine as long
as nobody's shooting at it. But it's no longer capable of really penetrating
contested airspace. It's no longer capable of performing a lot of really
important missions, because its performance characteristics just don't support
that any more.
So what is your recommendation for the M-1?
My recommendation is to develop and field a successor for it as rapidly as we
possibly can. . . . It is a wonderful weapons system today, and probably will
continue to be a wonderful weapons system for the next five years. After that,
it's very hard to tell what's actually going to become of it on the
In your book, you draw a parallel in it between Britain in the 1920s and
America today. Your remark about this was, "Strong nowhere, weak everywhere."
In 1919, Britain faced three theaters. The British had to be prepared to fight
potentially major conflicts in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. They did
not have the forces to do any one of those very well, and they certainly did
not have the forces to do all three of them.
Today, America faces major security obligations in Europe, in the Middle East
and in East Asia. So I think the parallel is very strong. In Europe, if you
actually look at what kind of forces are required to maintain peace in the
Balkans--if that situation should begin to spiral seriously out of hand--you'll
find that they add up to about another major regional conflict's worth of force
structure. Not that it's high-intensity conflict--there's a big armored force
out there. But you need that that type of force . . . to maintain the peace in
that region. If things really start to go south, it's going to be a very, very
heavy manpower requirement.
In the Middle East, the threats are there. They remain. Iraq is very weak
now. If we open the spigot even more and let them sell all the oil they want
to sell, Iraq will rapidly start acquiring serious capital. I doubt strongly
that the Iraqis will attack us before they have fixed their forces. I'm not
sure how prepared we are to meet an up gunned Iraq that is really gunning for
It's hard to tell how things play out in Korea. It is said that the North
Koreans are so weak, that they're on the verge of internal collapse, and are
incapable of conducting war. The fact that they're on the verge of internal
collapse makes them dangerous. The woods are full of people who were wrong,
thinking that their enemies on the verge of collapse were also incapable of
fighting war effectively. We think we're ready to take them. . . .
The more pessimistic estimates show that we would have a pretty hard time
actually defending that peninsula with the forces that we have today. So it
looks to me as though we are also facing at least three visible theaters in
which we have vital interests. We're going to have to be prepared to protect
those interests. We probably can handle any one of them reasonably well,
although it depends on the theater, and then on your assumptions. We certainly
can't handle all three, and we would be hard-pressed to handle two.
That leaves aside other theaters, such as whatever the Chinese might choose to
do in Taiwan or elsewhere. Any issue on the Indian subcontinent . . . could
suddenly go nuclear. There is all the more reason for us to be actively
engaged in seeing to it that major war doesn't break out. Latin America, South
America, Africa . . . There are various other places where interests that we
didn't even know we have suddenly pop up and bite us. We have no reserve for
that. And so I think we are not as weak everywhere as the British were, but we
are by no means strong everywhere. And we are really not adequate in terms of
force structure to cover all of the visible obligations that I think we
So, in short, are we ready?
No, I don't think that we are ready to fight any war that's likely to come.
We're ready if the Iraqis attack us as they are. We may be ready to destroy
the North Koreans if they attack us as they are now. I don't understand why we
assume so cavalierly that our enemies will be stupid. It's reasonable to
believe that neither one of those states will attack us until they're ready to
do so. I don't think we're ready to meet that challenge.
And the argument is made that, "Well, if the Iraqis start building up, we'll
start building up, too." That's the most dangerous delusion. The event that
convinces the strategic planner to start building up is so far away from
anything that you could take to a liberal democratic public and say, "Now we
need to start building up." It never happens that way.
What's the historical perspective that we're stuck with in this issue of
military strategy and planning?
We're clearly stuck with the historical perspective of the Cold War, and we're
having a very hard time ridding ourselves of that. That means that we can't
really imagine that anyone can really hurt us, other than a state that looks
like the Soviet Union. So, regardless of 2MTW, 1MTW, or whatever, let's take
advantage of this window of opportunity. There's no peer competitor now. But
we're forgetting that, in the grand sweep of history, there have been very
small periods of time when we don't have a peer competitor.
We are in an unusual situation. We should not sit around and wait for a new
peer competitor like the Soviet Union to emerge, so then we'll know what to do.
We should be changing ourselves, breaking out of that Cold War mindset that
looks for the big divisions, the big tanks, and asks where the enemy is coming
at us. We shouldn't get bogged down in the details of the day-to-day
operations, saying, "Well, the main mission of the day is counterterrorism, or
peacekeeping operations," or any operations other than war. That's all we have
to do now.
The mission of the United States armed forces is what it always has been:
deterrence. We need to deter aggression around the world. We need to have a
set of capabilities that make it possible to do that. We shouldn't be aimed at
a peer competitor, or aimed at seeing to it that there will not be a peer
competitor. When we put this out, people start talking about American
hegemony, and then the Russians got all upset. Then congressmen start saying,
"Well, why should we be (in that position)?" . . . And the answer is, "Because
if we are hegemonic, the world will be peaceful, because that is what is in our
interests." If other states are hegemonic, the world will not be peaceful,
because it is in their interest to rip things up.
Why did you feel the need to write your book While America
History doesn't tell you what to do, but history can give you some very
powerful insights into the present. . . . Churchill called the 1920s "the years
the locusts ate." By that, he meant that was time when England missed an
opportunity. If England had chosen to expend the resources that were necessary
to maintain armed forces that could maintain the peace, all the tragedy of the
1930s and the 1940s could possibly have been avoided. But the costs fell upon
England's head, the empire was lost, and millions of people were killed.
I'm afraid that we're living through locust years too. I'm afraid that this
era of constrained military resources in a time of unprecedented prosperity
is going to look very tragic when we look back on it. I'm hoping that we can
change the direction of American policy sometime before the next major
catastrophe befalls us. . . . A chapter in my book ends with London in flames.
For the first time, England really is subjected to a determined, powerful,
horrible air attack. They suffer horrible casualties, industry is disrupted,
morale is almost broken, and there are images of London in flames.
In the world as it is, before the decade is out, the likelihood is that our
enemies will be able to develop and field ballistic missiles that can reach the
United States with both nuclear and precision-guided munitions warheads. I'm
afraid that the immunity of the American homeland from the effects of our
miscalculations may be over. And so I'm afraid that there may be a parallel
between that scene of our book with London in flames. I'm afraid that
situation may befall us, if we really allow things to get out of control and
don't make proper preparations.
How likely is the book to reach the broader American public?
We're hoping that it starts a debate. We're hoping that the people who
disagree with us will come out and shoot at us. Obviously, we would like to
have our recommendations implemented. Most of all, we'd like to rejuvenate the
discussion in this country about what our national strategy is--what kind of
armed forces are appropriate, what our foreign policy should be, what our place
in the world is. Most of all, we're distraught that these things seem to be
being decided by default, with very little interest or input from the American
public. That's very, very unfortunate. It's going to be impossible to do the
right thing unless you can interest the American public, at least to the extent
of getting them to support what must be supported.
. . . One of the dangers in an era of international peace and an inter-war
period--which this surely is--is that the army will become fixated on the
missions that it is currently performing, and decide that those are the be-all
and end-all of its mission; that that's all that it has to do. I'm afraid that
the army has done that, to the extent of identifying some peacekeeping
operations, antiterrorism, cyber war, and a variety of other trendy issues
right now as being all that we have to handle.
It's interesting that the British did the same thing in the inter-war years.
They were performing peacekeeping operations all over the place, a brigade
here, a brigade there, doing policing, doing peacekeeping and so forth, and
they identified those missions as their biggest problem. And other issues were
really shunted aside. You have a force that is inadequate--not large enough,
not equipped, not trained--to perform those missions well enough, and those are
the missions that it's performing.
. . . The danger is that you can focus so narrowly on those missions that you
lose sight of the fact that those are only your missions now, because things
are peaceful. But if things go down, you're going to have other missions that
are much more important in terms of national priorities than these missions.
It is dangerous and wrong-headed to sacrifice your ability to fight a major
theater war in favor of your ability to conduct peacekeeping operations, and
that's what we're doing right now. If we lose a peacekeeping mission, the
consequences of that are infinitely smaller than the consequences of losing or
even not doing well in a major theater of war. You have to find some balance
between the threat that's almost over the horizon--but that will be devastating
if you don't meet it--and the threat that you're currently dealing with--that's
really relatively small in terms of the consequences of defeat. I'm afraid the
army doesn't have that balance right.
What's at stake to the country on the army transformation?
It is absolutely critical that we get this transformation right, that we do
what we need to do in order to get it right--even if that means fielding
successive generations of equipment and then throwing it away. We must field
a ballistic missile defense system, whatever the cost may be. We must do what
we need to do to defend ourselves.
This transformation is extremely important to the country, and the cost will be
very high if it fails. We are undergoing a revolution in military affairs,
which is going to change warfare fundamentally. Historically, there have been
a number of revolutions in military affairs. The nations that have adapted the
best have succeeded in the war to come. The nations that have adapted the
worst have failed. The cost of failure is very high when you're talking about
large-scale war. It is particularly high when you're talking about war in
which it is likely that American cities and population centers will be
targeted. The cost is very, very high indeed.
The consequence for getting it wrong is having American cities come under
attack, or having American forces in the field who not able to respond to their
enemies effectively, or losing vital American interests around the world. It
is absolutely critically important to resolve this, whatever it takes to do
that. The consequences for not doing it are absolutely ghastly.
What about our national military strategy as it stands now?
In terms of what's written down, our American national strategy is mostly
pretty good. You will find in there the 2MTW requirement for national military
strategy, plus peacekeeping and other things. You will find documents on
engagement and enlargement, the need to continue to shape the international
environment, the need to deter aggression and, and all of that stuff. I think
you'll find it documents a pretty solid strategy for America. That's been
pretty consistent since the Bush era.
The problem is, when you look at how the foreign policy implements that, and
how the army is resourced, the foreign policy doesn't really do what we say
we're going to do. We're not really being fully engaged, not really deterring
aggression as thoroughly as we should, not being as forward-minded as we need
to be. But most of all, you'll find that the armed forces are just totally not
resourced to support the national military strategy that they've been given.
There's a lot of the strategic confusion. . . . The statements of strategy are
so clearly beyond the bounds of what is feasible within the constraints of
current budgets. The services are almost forced to define strategy that they
can achieve, and to address issues that they can address. They simply don't
have the resources to address the issues that the national strategy says that
they should address, and that common sense says they should address. There is
a critical disjunction between the nominal strategy and the resource
allocation. That is far more a problem than the strategy itself.
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