Small Wars Journal

Thoughts on the Profession of Arms, by General Peter van Uhm

An excellent talk from General Peter van Uhm, Chief of the Netherlands Defence Staff, on the meaning of the Profession of Arms.

 

Comments

Move Forward

Mon, 12/05/2011 - 8:05am

In reply to by Bill M.

Your Panama point illustrates that although our Army presence was somewhat reduced (I think) from the 70's due to Carter's treaty to eventually hand over the canal in 1999, we had a near-brigade forward presence that enabled a more effective 1989 invasion.

The Panama presence and US troops in Europe were not inordinately expensive because they had sea access and established infrastructures. Only Afghanistan and Iraq present extraordinary costs of forward presence. When I was in the Sinai, a U.S. Infantry battalion was on a small base on the ocean with larger forces elsewhere and dispersed OPs all along the coast and inland. This shows that a US Army infantry battalion and its OPs could fit on some of the small Spratly Phillipine islands, particularly with a supporting air base (and amphib or carrier barracks), and HSV and helicopter resupply. Troops could rotate there from Korea just as they rotated to the Balkans from Germany.

Forward presence deters aggression and accelerates response if conflict occurs. The Marines, and Navy/Air Force are not the sole instruments of US policy in the Pacific. The issue is not choosing between offensive, defensive, and stability operations. The reality is that all occur simultaneously with some having primacy at different phases of operations. It is reasonable to believe if North Korea fell apart or was defeated in combat, that some sort of stability operations would be necessary afterwards. It might require a four-way Chinese-Russian-South Korean-US based multi-national coalition, but it would require something.

It also would involve simultaneous combinations of stability ops and continued warfighting...just as in current conflicts.

Bill M.

Mon, 12/05/2011 - 12:32am

In reply to by Move Forward

MoveForward, we overthrew Noriega in DEC 89 and at that time we still had forces stationed in Panama, even the SOUTHCOM HQs which planned and commanded the operation was located in Panama. U.S. forces weren't occupying Panama, we had bases there, so we didn't have a lot of say about who ran the country unless we got our hands dirty. We didn't start leaving Panama until the mid 90s (long after Noriega was overthrown, and I think 1999 was when the last of the forces pulled out.

I still don't follow your logic on how occupying a nation or conducting stability operations will stop a rogue non-state or state actor from conducting future terrorist attacks against the U.S.? We can't occupy the whole world, and we can't effectively control what we do occupy. If we based on our national security on your assumptions, we would be broke.

As for Venezuela, while definitely not an expert on Latin America, there appears to be a collective sense from many of the nations there of being tired of U.S. hegemony. The new influence, as a much as I dislike the phrase, will be soft power, rather than employing U.S. forces in sizable numbers, which will only build more resentment towards the U.S.. Stability can be achieved many ways without using the military, but as the General stated in the video there are times when the military is necessary, but I think you're trying to make a case based on an extreme assessment of the risk if we don't intervene.

Don't forget it was mostly a conventional war that stopped the Nazi's, not the subsequent occupation. It was a conventional war that ousted Saddam, and largely a conventional war (aided by irregulars) that ousted the Taliban, and conventional war that defeated the Imperial Japanese, stopped the communists from taking over S. Korea, etc. Do you really think it is crazy to retain our ability to win those conflicts?

Move Forward

Sun, 12/04/2011 - 10:17pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M, fair and valid comments with some caveats.

Bill M said: <i>"these days" meaning WWII when the Germans gased the Jews and the Japanese experimented with biological warfare in Japan? Or did you mean Saddam employing chemical weapons against his own people in the 80s and 90s? What exactly is new about "these" days?</i>

If we had stayed out of WWII as originally intended, the Germans may well have developed the atomic bomb before us...making our safe ocean-protected location not so safe. Atrocities cited were horrid, but today's possibility of a terrorist or Iranian nuclear weapon going off in Tel Aviv or New York City would rapidly equal the 6 million Jews killed by Hitler, particulary after the Israeli and U.S. counterresponse.

I would add that we hardly pulled out of either Japan or Germany following those wars. Call it occupation. Call it stability operations. The only difference appears to be that we imposed military rule in WWII, and tried to get the host nation to elect a government today. The latter could have been a mistake, but the resemblance of an occupation in a Islamic land probably would have made the foreign fighter problems all the worse.

Bill M said <i>One can argue that our involvement with conventional forces in Vietnam and SE Asia as a whole, minus Thailand, resulted in thousands getting killed that wouldn't have been killed otherwise. What happened in the end? They became communists</i>

Korea and Vietnam were wars between near-peers fought by proxies. Nuclear weapons make direct war between superpowers unlikely. A safe bet would be that the absence of a WWIII is due to nuclear weapons. Yet there have been plenty of smaller proxy land wars. Why would that suddenly change and see us fighting China directly?

Second, Vietnam, despite the historical controversy, had casualty numbers illustrating an enemy-centric "fail." That was the lesson lost. The latter part of the war saw greater effort at Vietnamization. Operation Phoenix also showed a more effective alternative. The latter two strategies largely parallel current efforts in Afghanistan with the surge and pop-centric coverage of wide areas while simultaneously performing night raids and attacks across borders as the enemy-centric component. Contrast the enemy-centric casualties of the Soviets in Afghanistan versus the COIN dual-strategy casualties of the ISAF.

Bill M said <i>As for our involvement in Latin America I'm challenged again for specifics on where we "successfully" deployed a large number of ground troops outside of our invasion of Panama (which was well done, and didn't result in a large occupying force for 10 years).</i>

As you recall, the Army was based in Panama for years. It was after our forces left that the Noriega problems got worse. Recall Nicaraugua, El Salvador, Honduras, as well. Grenada and Columbia also ring a bell. Now, of course, the problem is Venezuela, but cancer may cure that.

Bill M said <i> Where else did we intervene with large numbers to promote stability. Um? Lebanon and Somalia, both excellent examples of success. Well worth the blood and treasure spent there, right?</i>

Or were Lebanon and Somalia examples of giving up too soon and leaving chaos in control? Notice that the Israelis were not having many problems with Lebanon until they left. Also, recall the continued successful peacekeeping in the Sinai by a multi-national brigade.

Bill M said <i> The reality was that both Saddam and the Taliban were the stabilizing factors in those countries and we removed them, so I guess that obligated us to remain, but having experienced our efforts in Iraq much more than Afghanistan, I don't think we limited the violence with our presence, there were still thousands of Iraqis killed due to internal conflict. In sum we didn't intervene to conduct stability operations, because stability already existed. We created the instability.</i>

We created instability because of demonstrated capabilities and willingness to use WMD by Hussein, and allow terrorist training by the Taliban. The Taliban lacked control of all of Afghanistan back then. Only the parts they controlled were the problem. Little has changed in that respect. At some point we may need to choose sides in that civil war should Pakistani Taliban join forces with Afghan Pashtuns to attempt to retake control of all of Afghanistan when we depart. Let's hope Congress has the good sense not to pass an ammendment prohibiting use of airpower to defend the northern alliance should that be necessary.

However, without the training provided the ANSF throughout years of economy-of-force operations, followed by a concentrated effort under LTG Caldwell and the recent surge, the ANSF would not be up to task even with our airpower support. A relatively small number of SOF/SF could not have secured all of Afghanistan, nor could they have trained hundreds of thousands of ANSF.

Bill M.

Sun, 12/04/2011 - 8:18pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward, I enjoyed the presentation also, but find your response to it illogical.

quote: "Whatever you call it, however you do it, insurgencies and other conflicts must be resolved or genocide results. These days, that genocide can involve WMD."

"these days" meaning WWII when the Germans gased the Jews and the Japanese experimented with biological warfare in Japan? Or did you mean Saddam employing chemical weapons against his own people in the 80s and 90s? What exactly is new about "these" days?

Quote: "The US Army and other coalition ground forces (such as the Netherland's General's forces, British, Australian, German, Japanese, and ROK partners) have been involved on the ground as partners in Vietnam throughout the 70s, Central America in the 80s, in the Middle East and Balkans throughout the 90s until today. Coalition ground forces have been in Europe since the 40s, and in Korea since the 50s precluding war there."

One can argue that our involvement with conventional forces in Vietnam and SE Asia as a whole, minus Thailand, resulted in thousands getting killed that wouldn't have been killed otherwise. What happened in the end? They became communists, and then magically without a deployment of our conventional forces they transformed themselves and reintegraed with the world economically and politically and continue to do so (Laos is still behind the power curve, but they're not employing WMD against their own people or others). Vietnam wasn't a failed a state, so this example leaves me questioning what you're getting at.

As for our involvement in Latin America I'm challenged again for specifics on where we "successfully" deployed a large number of ground troops outside of our invasion of Panama (which was well done, and didn't result in a large occupying force for 10 years). You may consider Haiti a success, I wouldn't. Our Cold War ventures were successful in some regards, but now the communists/leftists are coming to power democratically, so at least we may be able to take partial credit for enabling a peaceful/legal transition, but those were not stability operations.

Where else did we intervene with large numbers to promote stability. Um? Lebanon and Somalia, both excellent examples of success. Well worth the blood and treasure spent there, right?

Really the only example you gave that relates to your argument is the Balkans, and in my opinion our painfully slow touchy feely response there was shameful. Bill Clinton acted cowardly, and his threats to intervene earlier without follow through led to an escalation in the violence, but ultimately the operations did save thousands of lives. History will tell if they provide long term benefit to the region.

I'm not anti-stability operations, I think they are sometimes necessary for strategic reasons as the General stated in the video, but we need to accept that we're not good at them, and as offensive as it may be to us, it may be best to let the UN lead these and we support. More than likely our "large" scale interventions are more than likely to make the situation worse despite good intentions. I'm still in general agreement with the speaker, but we must accept the limits of what we can influence (limited largely by our bureaucratic system) and set realistic aims prior to engaging.

As for leaving Iraq and Afghanistan after acheiving our initial objectives, you're right no one knows what would have happened. The reality was that both Saddam and the Taliban were the stabilizing factors in those countries and we removed them, so I guess that obligated us to remain, but having experienced our efforts in Iraq much more than Afghanistan, I don't think we limited the violence with our presence, there were still thousands of Iraqis killed due to internal conflict. In sum we didn't intervene to conduct stability operations, because stability already existed. We created the instability.

Quote: "It therefore seems incredulous that AirSea advocates believe the need for stability operations and deterrence using ground forces will be less critical in our future."

That is an opinion shared by many, but in my opinion if our military ever degrades to the point that it can't win decisively in a conventional battle, then we'll rediscover what national security priorities should be. Stability operations may or may not be more likely than war with a State actor, but we have a track record of failed efforts with stability operations, and our security is not threatened because of these failures. I think that shoots holes in your argument that it is critical to our national security. As for the likelyhood of conventional war with a trading being low, that was the same argument made in 1913 before the outbreak of WWI.

Move Forward

Sun, 12/04/2011 - 3:25pm

Watched this in total when you posted it on Twitter. It is exceptional, and offers lessons regarding why stability operations encompass so much more than arguments over COIN's effectiveness. Whatever you call it, however you do it, insurgencies and other conflicts must be resolved or genocide results. These days, that genocide can involve WMD.

The US Army and other coalition ground forces (such as the Netherland's General's forces, British, Australian, German, Japanese, and ROK partners) have been involved on the ground as partners in Vietnam throughout the 70s, Central America in the 80s, in the Middle East and Balkans throughout the 90s until today. Coalition ground forces have been in Europe since the 40s, and in Korea since the 50s precluding war there.

It therefore seems incredulous that AirSea advocates believe the need for stability operations and deterrence using ground forces will be less critical in our future.

As costly and distasteful as war and stability operations are, the uncertainty of not following through on the ground has too many problematic probabilities. Stability is not fostered by armed masses with different agendas and ethnicities seeking control through force of arms. I offer the following questions:

1) What would have happened if the U.S. immediately had pulled out of Iraq following President Bush's "mission accomplished" speech on May 1, 2003:
* Would Saddam Hussein have been captured in Dec 2003?
* Would more incidents like the Fallujah 2004 hanging of contractors resulted since they would have been the only game in town securing the state department and USAID?
* What would have happened if then MG Dempsey's armored division had not been "present" to get turned around to retake Shiite-militia areas in 2004?
* How would the elections of 2005 fared?
* How much worse would the genocide have been following the destruction of the mosque in 2006? Would al-Zarqawi be alive and leading al Qaeda if we had not gotten him in June 2006?
* Would the Anbar Awakening have continued without the 2007 surge and departure from FOBs to more local COPs?
* How would a green zone full of nothing but state department and civilians have responded to Sadr City rocket and mortar attacks in March 2008?
* Would Iraqi security forces have been trained if we had departed in 2003?

2) Apply similar questions to Afghanistan, if ground forces had departed in 2002? Even Texas and California have over 70,000 police officers to handle their 26-30+ million populations in peacetime. How would a similarly-sized and populated Afghanistan fared with only a few thousand special operators and airpower without cued targets over vast expanses? How did that 90s no-fly zone work out? How about those cruise missiles launched at Afghan terrorist training camps? Even Libya had rebel ground forces...will those rebels always be on our side?

The truth is nobody knows. However, it is likely things would be nowhere near as peaceful as we depart today...as they would have been if we departed in 2003? The Arab Spring may not have occurred without coalition examples of bringing democracratic attempts to Muslim friends.

You men and women that fought in Iraq then and in Afghanistan today, or in the Balkans in the 90s can take credit for more success than critics will ever attribute to you.

It's unfortunate that the rewards of a greatful nation will be asking many Soldiers and Marines to find new jobs as hypothetical (but unlikely) war with our biggest trading partner becomes our nation's new focus. What's wrong with that picture?