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analyses: 2mtw: Since the Soviet Union collapsed, U.S. national defense strategy has been based on an ability  to fight  two  regional wars (2MTW) nearly at the same time.   Critics say the strategy is a relic of the Cold War and no longer feasible given the increasing and time-consuming peacekeeping deployments.  Defenders of 2MTW maintain  that elmininating this  strategy would compromise America's military pre-eminence and ability to deter aggressors

excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with
frederick w. kagan  |  andrew f. krepinevich  |  chuck spinney  |  richard cheney  |  john hillen  |  lawrence korb  |  ralph peters  |  general eric k. shinseki
Frederick W. Kagan

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 U.S. military is being seriously underfunded and compares America today to England in the 1930s.

read his full interview >

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 you.

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 the army.

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. . . .

Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.

He is executive director of the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and also served as a member of the National Defense Panel. The Panel was set up in 1997 by the Secretary of Defense to re-evaluate changing military needs in the new post-Cold War environment..

read his full interview >

Why is it a good idea to get rid of 2MTW?

The people who look at the 2MTW posture say we are over-investing in a very low-probability event. What we have here is a very low risk in the near term that a war will erupt in the Gulf and in Korea. Above that, if a war does erupt in the Gulf, we probably have too much war structure, because there is no version of the Republican Guard there today. It's a pale shadow of what it was in 1990. If you look at Korea, the problem is different. It's not likely that you're going to get those five army divisions into Korea in time to win quickly, decisively and antiseptically.

So, number one, you're over-insuring against the risks. Number two, you are buying the wrong kind of insurance. You've got too much insurance in the Gulf. You've got the wrong kind of insurance for Korea. And not only that, but the real danger, the big risk, is long term. What we're talking about here is power projection, whether you're talking about the Persian Gulf or Korea or someplace else in the future. And the longer you hang onto these forces that do power projection the Desert Storm way, the longer you give your adversaries to frustrate them on a power projection, specifically by going after base access in the future.

Begin to transform your force now. Take on some increased risk. Rearrange your insurance portfolio. If you don't do those things, you're going to defeat the purpose of strategy, which is to minimize the near term and the long-term risk. You're going to get to that future with a heritage Desert Storm force that would be great if only you could go back to 1990. And it's going to be less and less relevant as you get to 2010 and 2015.

You seem to be saying that we may have to fight two wars and that we do need to prepare for that possibility--but that there is an old way of preparing and doing it, and a forward-looking way of doing it.

It's not only that. . . . In Desert Storm, we used 7 percent of our munitions with precision-guided weapons. Right after that war, we started to increase our inventories of PGMs. Then, in Kosovo, even after the carpet bombing toward the end of the war, over 30 percent of the munitions used were precision guided. In Desert Fox, it was almost 100 percent precision guided.

So, in that respect, we were a much more effective force, even though the force structure was a bit smaller. . . . If there had been an issue when inspecting the Iraqi plants in 1994, we could have done that. . . . If there was a danger of war then, obviously one reason that the Iraqis backed down is that they understood that that the American giant wouldn't have to do a lot of heavy weapons to be a weakened version of what it had obliterated in 1991.

Chuck Spinney

An analyst in the Pentagon's Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, he's been an outspoken critic of military spending issues dating back to the early years of the Reagan administration. He authors an email column that is widely disseminated within and outside the Pentagon.

read his full interview >

A key issue that's come up in this readiness debate is the issue of the overall defense strategy--the two major theaters of war scenario. How important is this strategy to our national defense?

The two-war strategy is a good example of a strategy that developed, in my opinion, to justify decisions that have already been made. If you look over time at how strategy has evolved in the United States military, we started off with a two-and-a-half war strategy in the 1950s and early 1960s--a major war against the Soviet Union, a major war against China, and a secondary war--or a major theater war, if you will--against North Korea. That shifted under the Nixon administration to a one-and-a-half war strategy--the Soviet Union plus the Persian Gulf or Korea. At the end of the Cold War, it shifted again to a two-war, two major theater war strategy.

If you look what was happening, those were essentially ex-post facto justifications for shrinking forces that were being driven by the cost growth. The cost growth is what caused the forces to shrink. You can see that, if you examine statements that were made before the fact. When they were advocating buying certain weapons, particularly during the Cold War, we were outnumbered and outgunned. We wanted to have more forces and better forces. Then when forces shrank, we said they were better.

So there's movement now afoot to go to a one-war strategy, perhaps a one-and-a-half. One regional contingency strategy, and maybe some other peacekeeping-type contingency as well. This should be viewed as part of a long-term trend. . . . I think what you're going see is increasing pressure to go to a one major regional contingency strategy, or perhaps a strategy involving one major regional contingency and . . . some mix of other smaller-scale contingencies.

The important thing to understand here is that this is part of a long-range trend that you can see going back to the 1950s, when we had the two-and-a-half war strategy; the late 1960s, when we transitioned to the one-and-a-half war strategy. At the end of the Cold War, we went to a two-half war strategy. And now we're talking about doing one half-war and one quarter-war, for want of a better term. In the end, you have to ask yourself, how has this changing strategy affected the technology making up our forces? And the answer is that it hasn't.

Richard Cheney

He served as Secretary of Defense in the George H. Bush administration, 1988-1992 and is the Republican vice-presidential candidate in the 2000 election.

read his full interview >

The National Defense Panel is coming out with a recommendation that basically says they don't feel that 2MTW is adequate for today's world. They may even come out and say that it should be scrapped.

It depends on what you replace it with. I worry that if you scrap the two-theater war scenario, it really would be a cover for reducing the forces even further; that it would simply be used--by those who don't believe we need a robust military--as a rationale or justification for even further cuts in the defense budget. And frankly, I think that would be a disaster. So to some extent, it's a bulwark against unwise action.

But there are other areas that badly need to be addressed. I would agree that there are important things we need to begin thinking about in terms of future threats and future defense capabilities.

I think about the whole need for homeland defense. If there is an area where we have not done nearly enough in terms of thinking about our vulnerability as a society--thinking about how an adversary might want to come at us and attack us--it's in the whole area of vulnerability that we find here inside our continental borders. That's really a new thing for us to think about, especially within the context of the Defense Department. The military historically has not had a significant role in terms of homeland defense. We've always been concerned, because of posse comitatus and other concerns, that we not allow the military any domestic role. We're very careful about how we use even the National Guard. The National Guard, when it's operating domestically, is under the control of the state governors, not the Defense Department.

But think about the possibility of somebody bringing a weapon of mass destruction into the United States, or detonating a nuclear weapon inside the United States, or releasing biological or chemical agents. It's not a traditional kind of attack from an adversary from enemy territory, but it's something that is internally generated. Or think about attacks on our intelligence or energy infrastructure. It is important for us to begin to think about how do we defend against that.

John Hillen

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.

read his full interview >

Do we still need to keep the 2MTW strategy?

Let's look at American military strategy, the pillar of which right now is the 2MTW strategy. The question you have to ask is not whether Korea is likely to be fought again or whether Iraq is likely to be fought again. The question isn't if they are fought again, are they very important to attend to quickly? The answer is "Yes" to all of those. They could happen. And America needs to be able to respond quickly and decisively to them, should they happen.

But in my mind, that's a secondary question. When you're looking at American military strategy for the future, the question of first principles asks, "What will the very serious conflicts of the future look like?" There are a lot of things we don't know about the future. But one of the things that we do know is that a diminishing rogue power--North Korea--and an emasculated dictator--Iraq--are not going to be the big threats of the future. They're serious enough. When you stand on the DMZ in Korea or when you're in Kuwait, as I recently was, they look very serious. But they are not the alpha and the omega of the big security challenges for the next 50 years. . . .

The real point is that those are not the wars that will really matter in the future. The Korean scenario and the Iraq scenario diminish in their threat and importance with each passing day. Even considering the potential weapons of mass destruction factor, they diminish in their important to the real security challenges of the future. Rogue states of the 1990s are a challenge of the past. We need to attend to them. It's important, and we spend a lot of resources on making sure they don't blow up. But they're not the challenge of the future. And so if you ask the military to only be prepared and spend 95 percent of its resources on Korea and Iraq--conflicts of the past--that's precisely what it will do. It will prepare you for those two past conflicts, except it will fight them a little bit better this time.

In the meantime, all the dynamics of shaping the international security environment are changing at a radical pace, and we're not asking our military to change in a way that can accommodate them. For instance, everybody is getting weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. Large parts of the world are falling apart and fracturing in ways that will require the American military to get involved. We're not preparing the military for any of those new kinds of threats, because we're locked in a death embrace with the requirements of 2MTW. . . .

In expending extraordinary additional resources to meet these two contingencies, all you do is prepare yourself for today's and yesterday's threats. You haven't transformed the force at all to meet the threats of the future. So we have to ask ourselves, do we want to throw good money after bad, and just keep pumping money into marginally improving the best Cold War force the world has seen, to refight two wars of the past? . . . I'm not saying the 2MTW concept has no relevance. But I'd like to carve out a portion of our energies and of our resources and move them towards the threats of the future.

This is clearly is what the Hart-Rudman commission reflected in its report. Not that the 2MTW concept is illegitimate, but that it is so restrictive that it won't allow the military to change for what everybody recognizes is a very different future.

Lawrence Korb

He is vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, 1981-1985.

read his full interview >

Recently the army opposed changing 2MTW as a military policy. Why?

The Pentagon reviews its strategy every four years. In its last quadrennial defense review, there were some documents floated earlier on that, which basically said, "Do we really want to keep planning for two major theater of wars? Because what we're ending up with is this unbalanced force. And maybe what we ought to do is, rather than saying two major theater of war, simultaneously sort of back off a bit and say, 'We'll handle one and be able to hold in the other.'"

The army argued vociferously against it, saying that we couldn't be a great power if we didn't do that, and that we would send the wrong signal to the enemy. And we actually went public with this, through leaks to the press, because if you adopt that strategy then I can't justify a ten-division heavy division army. And they raised such a ruckus about it that the civilian leadership and the Pentagon backed off, because they did not what to have a confrontation with the army over this situation.

Ralph Peters

A former Army Lt. Colonel and author of several books on the military, he initially was a skeptic of General Shinseki's efforts to change the Army. He is the author of Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?.

read his full interview >

We went up to West Point and interviewed Fred Kagan, who's coming out with a book called While America Sleeps. The bottom line in terms of national security strategy is that if you get rid of the two major theater war policy, you're courting disaster. . . . How should we approach the 2MTW policy?

Many of the arguments about one major theater of war versus two, and what we really need, become medieval theological arguments. I have read them so I know what I'm saying, both the medieval arguments and the contemporary ones. Some things are fundamental. We need a strong, robust, somewhat redundant defense. I've worked within the system. The way we split things out in the 1990s, we have never had a 2MTW capability. We simply couldn't have done it. It was all smoke and mirrors. We had, at best, a reasonable 1MTW capability. That's just reality.

My personal feeling is our forces, including the air force, are too small today. We need somewhat larger defense budgets. And yet I am loathe to increase them today, because you're giving Scotch to an alcoholic. You're throwing money at somebody you know who just maxes out their credit cards. The military services need to return to some notion of austerity, which is our tradition. Austere forces. That being said, they also do need more resources to slightly increase the size of the army and the Marine Corps. The air force, rather than the high tech gold-plated aircraft it's buying for many of our conflicts, needs more lower-tech aircraft. They certainly need more transport aircraft to do the job. But the A-10 for instance, the tank killer aircraft that they hate, is slow, and it's ugly. But boy, in Kosovo, had it been permitted to do its job, that would have been perfect. It's not about dogfighting anymore.

So I wish people would stop arguing about acronyms, 2MTW or anything else, and go back to fundamentals and look at what this country really needs. We need infantrymen. We need transport aircraft. We need military police. We need vehicles that can get there and roll fast when they do get there. We need a navy that can protect the sea lanes . . . but that can transport things safely and project power ashore. Our navy's requirements today are closer to those of gunboats on the Yangtze River in China in the1920s than the battle of Midway. So overall, we're often arguing about the wrong things and, by the way, arguing about them dishonesty. It's time to go back to fundamentals. First, throttle back the services. No more gold-plated twentieth-century legacy systems. And then let's judiciously increase budgets so that we can build the twenty-first century force.

General Eric K. Shinseki

Appointed Army chief of staff in June 1999, he is calling for an Army transformation that will better prepare it to fight the new 21st century wars. As part of this effort, he wants to put a brigade combat team anywhere in the world in 96 hours, a division in 120 hours and five divisions in 30 days.

read his full interview >

Is the two major theaters war scenario (2MTW ) getting in the way?

The two major theaters of war scenario is really a sizing function. It tells us how many formations we need to be able to respond to the demands of the regional commanders in chief who have to fight those wars for us. It's a reasonable scenario, because it stresses us in our planning to go one direction and then, with a brief 45-day period to go in another direction. It would stress any institution.

There is some talk that 2MTW may be passé. Perhaps. Those discussions are part of strategic decision-making. But for the time being, the 2MTW scenario is the one that I have been asked to plan for. It makes sense. I can execute it today with the forces that the army provides. The first one is a moderate risk, the second MTW is at high risk. And I think all of us who sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff would come to the same conclusion. Whether it's two major theaters of wars or a single major theater of war with multiple complex contingencies. I guess it would come down to

definitions. . . And what do we specifically mean by a complex contingency? Is it a Bosnia or a Kosovo? Is it a Somalia or is it a Desert Storm? We need those defined, because those are the descriptions that will decide how much capability is sufficient.

One requirement of our scenarios that has not been quite understood today is the element of time.

In what way?

Time as a factor isn't really addressed in either the two major theaters of war scenario or one-plus scenario. Time on the front end has the sense of urgency. It's getting there with the right sufficient capability to be able to be decisive quickly. The standing military force is about the only capability you can rely on. Time on the back end of an operation has a different quality, and it has to do with the longevity that goes with these deployments. We have been in Kosovo now a year. We're coming up on five years in Bosnia. The Sinai Desert is 18 years, and Korea is 40. Each mission begins to strip away inventory and capability. So when you arrive at the point in time where you're now talking about however many major theaters of war you're going to try to provide forces for, that inventory has now been spread-eagled on a variety of missions. We need to address what that element of time does to us on missions.

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