Small Wars Journal

Odierno: Changing World Requires New Look at Army’s Size

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 1:20pm

Odierno: Changing World Requires New Look at Army’s Size

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2014 – The Army is going to shrink, the service’s chief of staff said here today, but leaders must be careful that cuts aren’t draconian.

Speaking to NPR’s Tom Bowman at the Defense One Summit, Gen. Ray Odierno said events around the world have added their own pressure as leaders debate what ultimately will be the size of the force.

Next year, the Army’s active force will drop to 490,000 soldiers. Given budget realities, leaders have said the service likely will drop to 440,000 to 450,000 in the future, with some estimates putting the number at 420,000 if sequestration spending cuts resume in fiscal 2016.

Odierno has warned repeatedly that dropping the size of the force too low increases military risk.

“When we developed the new defense strategy in 2012, we all agreed that 490,000 was the right strength to execute the strategy,” the general said. “Then what happened on top of that was sequestration, which has caused the Defense Department to make more difficult decisions.”

Force Cuts Mean Increased Risk Level

Reviews after sequestration spending cuts kicked in said the Army still could execute its assigned missions, he added, but would increase the level of risk.

But the world has a say. When leaders made those assessments, Russia hadn’t annexed Crimea and threatened the rest of Ukraine. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant hadn’t invaded northern and western Iraq. Ebola hadn’t metastasized in West Africa.

Today, the United States has an Army brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, in Europe to demonstrate U.S. resolve to defend the region.

“We had also made the assumption that we wouldn’t go back into Iraq,” Odierno said. “We have 1,500 soldiers [in Iraq] now, and another 1,600 that will go in in the next 30 to 45 days, and we believe that is something that will go on for some time -- years, not months.”

And the United States deployed the 101st Airborne Division to West Africa to fight Ebola.

‘We Should be Very Careful’

“The world has changed since we made those [force reduction] decisions,” Odierno said. “Since that time, I have come out and said I have some concerns because of the changing environment. I think we should be very careful and mindful of the decisions we’re making.”

When the strategy was formulated, the general said, the thought was the use of the Army would go down. That has not been the case, the general told the audience. “I still have 55,000 soldiers deployed around the world,” he said. “I still have another 80,000 stationed in 150 countries around the world.”

The Army has soldiers participating in named operations on five continents, the Army chief of staff noted. “That hasn’t happened before in my career,” he said.

Odierno said the “velocity of instability” is increasing significantly, and he doesn’t see a downturn in the use of the Army. Sequestration will cripple the service’s response, he added, forcing leaders to cut the service to 420,000 soldiers.

The general said he will go to Congress to explain the situation again and ask for relief.


The idea of a "changing world" -- and how this effects our military -- needs, I believe, some further explanation; which I shall attempt below.

We do have a problem/dilemma -- and it is of our own making:

a. Post-the Cold War, we redoubled our efforts to transform other states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines; in this manner, hoping to gain greater power, influence and control over the world's human and other resources. Our "weapons of choice" in this endeavor were (1) our own unique history and period of greatness and (2) the perceived "universal appeal" of our corresponding way of life and way of governance.

b. This approach, however, appears to have backfired, as various states and societies today, formally and informally, have joined forces to prevent the United States/the West from achieving its such political objective (identified above). Herein, these states and societies using, as their preferred (and most logical?) "counter-weapon of choice" (1) the "local appeal" of periods of greatness from their own past and (2) the "local appeal" of ways of life and ways of governance somewhat more commensurate with these earlier times. (Examples: The Russian Empire; the Islamic Caliphate; China's long period of greatness.)

Thus, the size and shape of our military forces today must be determined, in some regard, in consideration of:

a. The "changing/changed world" (described above) that we have, post-the Cold War and via our actions, birthed and nurtured. And

b. The consequences -- for the West -- of this such a changed/changing world.