the future of war
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interview: 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.
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?

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 Storm.

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 wars do.

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.

Urban warfare is a very labor intensive,  inefficient style of warfare,. The U.S. military will have to prepare for it much more seriously than they have done to date. 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 see?

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 warfare.

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 big fights.

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 opposition force.

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 mechanized forces.

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 charge.

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 succeed.

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 force?

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 dilapidated facilities.

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 irrelevant.

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 force.

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 weeks.

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 brigade?

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 Force Hawk?

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 question.

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 book.

. . . 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 it to.

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 different future.

What do you mean when you say it's not "a real strategy policy" of the future?

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 another?

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 tanks.

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 behind them.

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 by.

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 force.

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 take?

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 last.

. . . Was "new equipment for a new army" put forward for political reasons as well?

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 in peacetime?

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 environment.

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 catastrophic.

Admiral Rickover has remarked, "You prepare in peacetime, or you pay later in war."

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 admirals see.

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 complacent?

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 fight."

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 period.

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. It's true.

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 army?

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 there.

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 paid.

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 ground.

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 change.

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'tre 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 from changes.

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