Post-Conventional War Army

Don Rumsfeld spent six years leading a transformation of the United States military to fight modern conflicts. His successor, Bob Gates, is going light years beyond that. Peter Spiegel and Julian Barnes have the report.

Absorbing the lessons of a troubled war, U.S. military officials have begun an intense debate over proposals for a sweeping reorganization of the Army to address shortcomings that have plagued the force in Iraq and to abandon some war-fighting principles that have prevailed since the Cold War. On one side of the widening debate are officers who want many Army units to become specialized, so that entire units or even divisions are dedicated to training foreign militaries. On the other are those who believe that military units must remain generalists, able to do a wide range of skills well.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is expected to weigh in today in a major address in which he will warn that the Army is unlikely to face a conventional war in the future and must reorganize to fight in unconventional conflicts. According to senior Pentagon officials who have been briefed on the speech, Gates will not take a hard position in the debate over training foreign militaries but is expected to emphasize that the task is important and could prevent future wars. His comments are expected to accelerate the debate within the Army about how best to prepare for the next phase of the Iraq war and for future conflicts.

Gates also will single out the need for changes in Army personnel policies to better recognize and reward young officers who show promise in less traditional areas, including those skilled in foreign languages and in advising foreign forces.

[…]

The view of the Army in the current debate is radically different than under the previous Defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld advocated a smaller Army with faster, more technological units that did not participate in nation-building activities. Rumsfeld considered training foreign militaries to be the duty of small numbers of special operations forces, not conventional Army units.

[…]

Most officers believe the Army will need to focus on training other foreign militaries in years to come, both in Iraq and in other countries. Some officers, including one of the Army’s most prominent counterinsurgency theorists, believe a designated force of trainers, or “advisor corps,” is needed. But others, including Gates’ senior military advisor, oppose creating specialized units. They argue that a more effective strategy would be to ensure that all military leaders are able to train security forces.

[…]

Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who oversees the Army schools and research institutes at Leavenworth, said the proposals would create a dedicated unit of trainers who could be assigned to each of the commanders of the worldwide regions. “The concept here is a very specific focus: They do not do direct action; they do not command and control combat forces; they are not a combat force,” Caldwell said. “Their mission is to do security-force assistance.”

[…]

The leading advocate of establishing a stand-alone advisor corps within the Army is Lt. Col. John Nagl, a co-author of the Army’s new counterinsurgency field manual who is considered a rising star within the service. In an article published in a policy journal in June, Nagl, who served as an operations officer in a battalion in Iraq three years ago, proposed a permanent force of 20,000 advisors. “It requires a different focus in training. It requires a different mind-set,” Nagl said in an interview. “Forces practicing advisory skills also need a particular way of looking at the world.”

As the number of combat troops in Iraq goes down, the demand for advisors will increase, Nagl expects. Under current plans, the Army’s strategy to expand by 65,000 soldiers would add new combat troops to traditional infantry brigades. However, some have argued that these new soldiers could be assigned to the advisory and training missions as well. “If we need advisory teams for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, it makes sense to build this force structure permanently,” Nagl said.

In his speech, Gates is expected to emphasize that such training missions could prevent future wars. The senior Pentagon official said Gates still believed the Army should continue training for conventional wars — skills that have begun to atrophy as it focuses on counterinsurgency missions in Iraq. But by emphasizing training and advisory missions, he appears to be aligning himself with reformers like Nagl. “We don’t want to do the fighting; we want our friends to do the fighting,” said Nagl, who trains military advisors at Ft. Riley, Kan. “And the better our training teams are, the more rapidly we increase the abilities of our friends and our allies.”

But the proposal has sparked disagreement. In an article in the current issue of the academic Army journal Military Review, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former day-to-day commander in Iraq who is now Gates’ military assistant, argued against the creation of a dedicated advisor corps.

[…]

“We simply don’t have the resources to divide the military into ‘combat’ and ‘stability’ organizations,” he wrote. “Instead we must focus on developing full-spectrum capabilities across all organizations in the armed forces.”

The articles in question: Nagl’s “Institutionalizing Adaptation: It’s Time for a Permanent Army Advisor Corps” (Center for New American Security, June 2007) and Chiarelli’s “Learning From Our Modern Wars: The Imperatives of Preparing for a Dangerous Future[PDF] (MR, September-October 2007).

This is a longstanding debate, dating at least to the early 1990s peacekeeping missions in Somalia and elsewhere. The most famous extension of this argument is Thomas Barnett‘s proposal to create a Leviathan Force and a Systems Administration (SysAdmin) force in The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. T.X. Hammes seems to take the “train everybody” view in The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century.

My preference, dating back to my graduate school days, is something in between: A downsizing of the combat arms assets on active duty and a radical increase in the number of troops equipped for Stability and Support Operations (SASO): military police, special forces, psychological operations, Middle East linguists, and the like.

Regardless, though, we need to revamp the personnel system to reward taking the less glamorous assignments like advisor duty and teaching. Currently, these are viewed as career killers, or at least a path to retirement at lieutenant colonel. That Nagl is widely considered a rising star is an encouraging sign in that regard.

Please follow and like us:
FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , ,
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.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Of course, if Clinton had not destroyed the military our intervention in Iraq would have gone swimmingly.

    Rummy and Gates are in the unenviable position of putting the military back together after Clinton’s effort to undermine it.

    If Hillary manages to steal the election next year all of the work that Rummy and Gates have done to strengthen the military will go down the gutter as Clinton 2.0 will disolve American military might in favor of the United Nations.

  2. Boyd says:

    Your satire is much funnier when you satirize something that someone actually said, Triumph. When you try to project positions onto your opponents without listening to them and having a clue where they really stand, your attempts fall flat.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Regardless, though, we need to revamp the personnel system to reward taking the less glamorous assignments like advisor duty and teaching. Currently, these are viewed as career killers, or at least a path to retirement at lieutenant colonel. That Nagl is widely considered a rising star is an encouraging sign in that regard.

    That’s absolutely right, James, but I’m concerned that it’s an unattainable goal. I have a hard time imagining the path to four star leading through military police or the Chief of Naval Operations coming up through the Seabees, vital as those areas are.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I have a hard time imagining the path to four star leading through military police or the Chief of Naval Operations coming up through the Seabees, vital as those areas are.

    Agreed. One’s probably not going to be a 4-star as a mission specialist. There’s a reason general officers are called general officers, after all. OTOH, one would think stints in SASO ops, including functional areas assignments, could be part of a well-rounded career path.