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April 11, 2007

Why Grow the Army?
Posted by Gordon Adams

What do Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, Bill Richardson, and Gen. Pete Schoomaker, among others, have in common?  They all think the U.S. military is on the verge of breaking and the solution is to make it bigger.  Yet, none of them have told us why it should grow.  Every one of them has put the expansion cart ahead of the strategic horse.

There is no compelling reason to expand the land forces of the United States; in fact, there may be reasons to make them smaller.  Our national security is not facing and existential risk today, and making sure it does not tomorrow will require a different mix of capabilities, one that relies as much on our statecraft, policing, assistance, and intelligence as it does on our land forces.

To be sure, our current land forces are vastly overstretched in Iraq, occupying the country and struggling in the middle of a civil war the administration failed to anticipate and for which they were unprepared.  Rotating active and guard land forces in and out, cutting at home time, extending the stay of deployed units, cycling the equipment, all causes serious wear and tear, and stresses the force.

Expanding the ground forces will not solve this problem.  Since it takes 3-5 years to train, equip, and make new forces ready, the 92,000 the administration wants or the extra 100,000 Mitt Romney has called for will not be ready until well after Iraq is done.  The solution to the Iraq problem was laid out by Rep. John Murtha 18 months ago – bring them home and let the Iraqis solve their civil war.

Once they are home, the big question the President, the Army Chief, and the candidates have not answered is “what would you grow the Army and Marines to do?”  What is the mission?

Is the mission to fight a major land war with another regional power that threatens our national security?  If so, none of the politicians has identified the adversary they expect to invade.

Iran?  Doubtful these folks all support such an invasion; the country is bigger and the terrain a lot more difficult than Iraq; and the adversary is better armed and trained than Saddam Hussein’s greatest.  If we were going to do anything military with Iran, it would be from the air and sea; few are seriously contemplating an invasion. 

Pakistan?  Unlikely – well-armed, highly difficult terrain, huge population, none of whom would welcome such and invasion; most of whom would resist it with their lives.  Keep those plans on the shelf; they are a road to total disaster.  Military option for those Sunni nuclear weapons: a special forces mission, with air support, in and out.

North Korea?  That was the other contingency, in the old two Major Regional Contingency operations contemplated in the national strategy (and still alive today).  But that is also the location of one of the best armed and most capable allies we have – the South Koreans.  No quick invasion there, but, if needed, a lot of air power in support of a South Korean rollback of Kim Jong Il’s finest.

The Washington Post last December proposed China as the potential adversary.  Those serving officers ready to contemplate a land invasion of China, please stand up.  Not going to happen; the U.S. Army and the Marines would be overwhelmed.

Expansion is not about the next big land war.  Is it about occupation, stabilization and reconstruction?  There is a very big push underway at DOD to beef up this mission, implementing a directive approved in November of 2005.  But this is partly the same problem – who will the U.S. occupy, stabilize and reconstruct?  Another 24 million person country, a bigger one, a smaller one?  And has the U.S. military demonstrated the capacity to stabilize and reconstruct another country?

If Iraq and Afghanistan are any example, we are struggling both with stability and reconstruction.  And do the American people want the military to accept as its global mission fighting insurgents wherever they appear? Is this an appropriate mission for the U. S. military?  We’re not asking that question, let alone answering it.  Once again, the goal of forced expansion is out ahead of the strategic discussion.

Or are we talking about a counter-terrorist mission?  If the Arm is chasing Al Qaeda (and not every terrorist organization around the globe) – and that may be a very good thing to do – do we need more ground forces, or do we need different ground forces.  Ones that look like the Special Forces – small, agile, covert, and lethal?  That’s not a requirement that leads to adding to the existing force.

The mission is unclear; the cost is clear.  It will not be cheap to grow the force.  Perhaps $120 b. over the next six years to add the 92,000; then $20-25 b. a year in higher defense budgets to keep them.  The crunch will come after Iraq, when emergency supplemental budget requests no longer protect the Pentagon from the fiscal consequences of its failure to set priorities.  When budgets go down after Iraq, the bite will come out of the Navy, the Air Force, and buying the next generation of technology.  The Pentagon will be stuck with more troops it is not sure how to use, but has to support.

The case for force expansion has not been made.  For some supporters, growing the ground forces smacks of seizing the moment because the Congress looks willing to spend the money, regardless of the rationale.  For others, it looks like political safety – rather than tell the American public how we should engage the world and what the role of the military should be in that engagement, let’s just grow the military and we’ll look “tough on defense.” 

Perhaps it is time to stop, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves how we want to engage the world once the forces are safely back from Iraq, and whether expanding the ground forces is truly the best vehicle to ensure our long term


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Wow. Is this the same Mr. Adams who once casually talked about occupying Indonesia? I don't know who you really are, sir, but I like the new you.

America's foreign policy elite often seems incapable of re-examining their starting assumptions. Thank you for asking these fundamental questions.

I do wonder, however, about your faith in our Special Forces. Could they really be helicoptered into Pakistan to secure 50- 100 nuclear weapons? Based on public sources, we're not even sure how many nuclear weapons Pakistan has, and it seems reasonable to assume that we don't know where all of them are. This sounds like another Operation Market Garden, only with mushroom clouds.

excuse me what do you americans enjoy destroying you knwo how many innocent children you awould endanger...but its typical american MALE behavior, they speak only through war and violence...leave us alone...and stop threatening our innocent women and children...this article is disgusting...americans dont value human life at all..this article proves it...i want to personally than gordan adams for only confirming the stereotypes that we have of american men in pakistan---they are clearly nothing but warmongers

excuse me what do you americans enjoy destroying you knwo how many innocent children you awould endanger...but its typical american MALE behavior, they speak only through war and violence...leave us alone...and stop threatening our innocent women and children...this article is disgusting...americans dont value human life at all..this article proves it...i want to personally than gordan adams for only confirming the stereotypes that we have of american men in pakistan---they are clearly nothing but warmongers

America wants to rape and enslave Pakistan, you have turned us into your slaves...if youre incompetent and Afghanistan is a country full of dumbasses its not our fault....We pakistanis are focusing on the economic future not i dont hate americans but its article like these that makes me want if evil is in the nature of the american male... you cant bomb everything...learn some humanity..

The notion that the US Army is not too small is absurd. That the US military has any problem deploying around 150,000 troops for an extended period of time in support of national policy is a disgrace.

One can desire a full pullout of all US forces from Iraq but this does not change the reality that someday somewhere the US will also need the option of using military force. Either there are enough arrows in the quiver or not.

One can also point out the Pentagon wastes billions every year on basic structural problems and that fixing these would more than pay for an expansion of the US Army. Take half the US Air Force and give it to the USN and US Army and get rid of the other half. Add 50 to 100% more transports, bombers, A-10's, and F-22's, and get rid of the F-16's and all US Air Force F-35 replacements. Now you can get the US army up to 14 divisions and still fully fund the VA.

Real structural change not nickel and dime stuff. Cut one of the services. If not the Air Force then make a case for another. The Air Force does not provide enough transport missions to the other services forcing them to expand their own transport fleets, does not provide enough recon forcing them to deploy more UAV's, demands control of all UAV's by all services so Air Force officers can fly them instead of warrants and NCO's, will not provide enough FAC's, will not provide enough CAS nor replace the A-10 with a new plane, wished to retire the A-10 and only stopped when the Army said they would take them over, etc., etc., etc.

Congress might also have stopped the insanity in the US Army in it's extremely wasteful new brigade structure. Ticket punchers wet dream.

Of course if one is actually against the US being able to do anything then having an army too small to do anything serves that purpose well but not the nation.

You know, this site used to have some fairly substantial defense think-pieces - now it's degenerating into a common attack blog. As Lane points out, if your goal is to limit the size of the military in order to prevent a long-term deployment of troops in future combat, well, sure, then you've made your statement. But say so up front.

There are countless articles by serious defense think-tanks, on the right and left, not to mention defense analysts in the government who will be glad to show you why the current force of less than 1.5 million active-duty military is inadequate for today's security posture. There are numerous potential examples of future conflict - Cuba or N. Korea regime collapse, minor conflicts in South America or the Pacific islands, the ever-brewing Middle East conflicts, not to mention the responsibility for homeland defense and potential emerging superpowers like China or India or (re-emerging) Russia. The case studies and analyses are out there.

In any given time-period, you can count on one-third of the active duty military being deployed overseas, one-third being in training or schools, and one-third returning from deployments and resting up. This isn't a case of saying, well, what are all those people doing? Surely we have enough. Yes, if we deployed a significant amount of Reservists and National Guard units, as we are doing now. But that's only supposed to be required for long-term sustained combat. We still have lots of responsibilities all over the world.

If your real issue is the defense budget, hey, we all agree. Acquisition programs are out of control. The budgeting and accounting process within DOD is broke. Congressional special interests impact our ability to make logical and defendable decisions on closing bases, medical care, and acquisition programs. The Air Force is agressively pushing to expand its personnel against any and all rational cases to the contrary. Sure, there's a need for serious defense policy and recommendations, and that's why no candidate or government official today will even look at any suggestion on not growing the ground troops strength. We know it's broke.

Yes, it's going to take time. Yes, starting the increase in authorized billets won't help Iraq. But your rationale for not growing the force is flawed. You can do better than this puff-piece.

I appreciate the comments, so far. Neither "j," who chooses to conceal his or her identity, nor Lane, bothered to do more than assert a need, without providing a strategic or mission justification; they have not escaped the box we are in today. All the think tanks in Washington could be mistaken on this, or simply have decided to crowd around the "received wisdom" current in DC. And this is only secondarily a budget issue; if a larger force had a true strategic justification, it would be affordable. Having said that, anyone who has ever had anything to do with the defense business knows, that in reality, defense options and the risks one is prepared to bear are, and always will be, resource constrained. The price for not thinking this issue through could be even more damaging, once we are out of Iraq.

I regret the readings from Pakistan; I was not supporting any intrusion into Pakistan, but rather sayind, in military terms that if a military were planning to intervene in a Pakistani crisis, they, not I, would choose to do so in a much more limited way than a full ground invasion. The wisdom or folly of any such intervention is a separate issue and I get what they are saying.

To the best of my knowledge, I never once in my entire life called for an occupation of Indonesia - talk about a hopeless mission...

Mr. Adams,

Glad to see you post. I happily observed to Guy the other day that I saw you on the contributor list and he mentioned you'd been there for some time. Since this is the first of your posts I've noticed since I put two and two together, I thought I'd say hi.

I tend to buy your arguments on both the question of land wars and special forces. I disagree a bit on occupation, stabilization and reconstruction. The issue has come up fairly regularly for America - the Phillipines; Japan and Germany after WWII; Vietnam; humanitarian interventions such as Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo; and most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other operations such as Panama there wasn't a stabalization component and as a result there were serious problems with rioting that may well have been avoidable. I also think some of those cases were serious mistakes, notably the Phillipines, Vietnam, and Iraq.

However, regardless of our strategic planning, we seem to find ourselves regularly in occupation, stability, and reconstruction operations. The globalized post-cold war environment seems to regularly present opportunities for such interventions, regardless of the wisdoom of taking those opportunities. This isn't to say I see any credible invasion scenarios coming up, I don't, not on the security side (e.g. Iran or Pakistan) or the humanitarian side (e.g. Darfur). Nor do I think that global counter-insurgency is a managable idea, let alone a good one.

However, the process of actually building a force that can do a good job of handling such scenarios, be they security or humanitarian side, will take a long time. I actually don't tend to think the Army and the Marines should take the lead on that question, so I do agree that this isn't really a question of military land forces as such. The Europeans are often better suited for this sort of work, however I think our troubles in Afghanistan show that we can't rely exclusively on them.

Of course, this gets to the issue of the strategic questions following behind the force implementation questions. I believe that's your main point and I think you're absolutely right there. However, I think it's worth pairing this argument to the need to build up our civilian-side capacity to do this work.

In essence, I think the OS&R question isn't "who will the U.S. occupy, stabilize and reconstruct?" but "why are we focusing on military numbers when the main build up we need is on the civilian side." It of course would be best if sound strategic thinking did come first, but I think right now most of the strategic planning of candidates is reasonably focused on how to handle Iraq. If we're lucky they're also thinking of Afghanistan. I'm afraid that thoughtful consideration of our larger strategic doctrine probably won't happen until there's more agreement on how to handle our massive immediate problems.

Also, for the record, these are strictly my personal opinions. I'm in no way speaking for my think tank.

The US military can not exist to deal with a specific perceived threat for two reasons: Firstly, threats change as do who is a potential enemy and ally; More importantly of course is the historical truism that we often do not know the future threat and prepare for the wrong one.

After WWII we assumed less need for military force due to the new strategic nuclear reality. Sounded excellent and some of your current think tanks began life at this time. The reality is we were not prepared for a conventional conflict in Korea. Preparing to fight the USSR on the plains of Germany did not serve us well in Vietnam. Going back to a conventional posture and turning our back on much of the special forces lessons from Vietnam gave us Desert One.

The job of the military is provide a force that meets the nations needs over a period of decades. The B-52 is 55 years old and will fly for another 35+ years. It turned out to be a good investment for the nation because Boeing built one hell of a sturdy plane even though it's never performed it's main intended role- delivery of nuclear weapons against an enemy.

One structures a military in part to perform certain missions and functions whoever and wherever the enemy might be. One does not buy F-22's because country X might require them if we had a conflict with them but rather because the first, secound, and third essential aspect of warfare for the US is air superiority and we can not afford as a nation to take risks in this area.

We do not need more Army divisions because one can hunt down a specific threat report to satisfy the skeptic but simply because providing 125-150,000 or so troops over a period of years is such a strain on the US military it can not be endured and it's difficult to not imagine the US needing to put 125,000+ troops somewhere else between tomorrow and the decades to come.

In any case if one is against more forces then one will always be able to lower a threat analysis. That is exactly what Sec Def did vis a vis planning for Iraq. You rarely get to fight who you plan to fight nor do get to know what the enemy is going to do.

Korea, Lebanon, Haiti, Panama, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, etc. All of these were failures of planning and strategic intell. The US as a nation does not do fortune telling very well. However, based on history it's an excellent bet that somewhere the next generation will have to deploy somewhere.

There are any number of ethnic conflicts and weak states that could benefit from more peacekeepers / stabilization forces (Darfur and Somalia come to mind). These scenarios have little immediate impact on our national interests, but we may wish to get involved anyway, e.g. because of humanitarian reasons or because we have concerns about a weak state becoming a haven for terrorists, drug traders, etc.

I think it's a valid question to ask if these are actually valid scenarios for the US military. EU or regional peacekeepers may be better at this, and there's much more of a need for police forces, development experts, and "field diplomats" than military force per se. I definitely agree with Greg that there's a need to build up the civilian side of this. You could attribute our difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan to overemphasizing the military component (the Dutch are a nice counter-example to this).

Even if this isn't strictly a military mission though, we need to expand our capacity to deal with these scenarios. The debate should be how and organizationally where we do this.

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