Military Refocusing on Winning Peace

Mark Sappenfield has an interesting piece on the front page of today’s CSM that provides more information on a recently announced shift in emphasis at the Pentagon:

With little fanfare during the past few weeks, the Pentagon has rolled out one of the most significant changes to military doctrine since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The policy directive recently signed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declares that the job of planning and training to win the peace after a war is now virtually as important to the military as the conflict itself. The document marks a sea change from the ideals of the past, when the military was loath to take on any responsibility beyond waging and winning wars. Indeed, it suggests that the Pentagon increasingly sees Iraq and Afghanistan as templates for wars of the future, with success hinging not only on military superiority, but also on the ability to reconstruct failed states.

In some respects, it is the closest that military leaders have come to acknowledging that such comprehensive planning was absent from the Iraq enterprise. Yet experts warn that the solution is profound – and problematic – in its implications. By essentially asking the Army in particular to temper its deeply ingrained warrior ethos with a new and more nuanced set of responsibilities, it places yet more expectations on a service already stretched thin and perhaps not designed for the task.

“War is not just about major combat anymore, it’s about stability,” says Seth Jones, an analyst at RAND Corp. in Arlington, Va. “The challenge will be taking a conventional Army that has so far not shown itself capable of doing these sorts of stability operations and retraining them.”

Both inside and outside the Pentagon, there is a mounting sense that this must be done – and on many levels. In fact, the Pentagon’s directive is just one part of the administration’s emerging strategy for dealing with what happens after the military phase of a war is won. On a parallel path, President Bush announced a separate plan Wednesday to put Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in charge of an effort to identify corrupt states and coordinate future postwar stability operations with the Pentagon.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, though, this is easier said than done:

The Pentagon has so far rejected the idea of special stability-operation units in favor of plans for a more general indoctrination of all troops. And that should not interfere with the military’s dominance on the battlefield, writes Mr. Nadaner: “The effort to improve the balance between stability and combat operations should not undermine the warrior ethos, which is the foundation of armed forces.”

But especially at a time when the Army is accepting more recruits who make substandard scores on aptitude tests, some analysts wonder whether the new approach asks too much. “There is a point beyond which it isn’t practical to expect so many different things from the same group of people,” says Loren Thompson, a defense expert at the Lexington Institute in Arlington.

Already, the Army has been asked to become more flexible, more agile, and more intelligent to make up for the decreased size of the force since the end of the cold war. The new directive could call on it to fundamentally change its culture and training: Each new hour of stability-operations training could mean an hour of combat training lost. No longer are they simply machines of war, grinding toward some military objective. Now, they are to be intermittent instruments of peace, as well.

The problem, suggests Dr. Thompson, is that “people who are good killers tend not to be good mediators.” To his mind, the directive is an unlikely cause, more show than substance. The lesson of Iraq, he says, is to avoid wars like Iraq. Yet as US foreign policy focuses more intently on regions of the world fretted by autocratic regimes and lawlessness, there is a sense among many military officials that some sort of stabilization force is necessary. The test of their resolve will come as the Pentagon attempts to overcome institutional inertia and move its ideas into the realm of on-the-ground reality.

While my instincts are the same as Thompson’s, the bottom line is that nation building exercises have been the modal military application since the end of the Cold War and that trend is likely to continue for some time. Absent a peer competitor, “major combat operations” will be short with U.S. victory virtually assured. It’s what happens after the regime is toppled that determines whether we truly “win,” though, as achieving the nation’s political objectives, not defeating the opponent’s military, is the true aim of war.

Related: Pentagon Makes Nation-Building Equal to Combat

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.