Small Wars Journal

Secretary Gates on "Next-War-Itis"

Tue, 05/13/2008 - 5:11pm

Remarks to the Heritage Foundation (Colorado Springs, CO)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Tuesday, 13 May 2008.

Excerpts (Emphasis by SWJ):

... There is a good deal of debate and discussion -- within the military, the Congress, and elsewhere -- about whether we are putting too much emphasis on current demands -- in particular, Iraq. And whether this emphasis is creating too much risk in other areas, such as preparing for potential future conflicts; being able to handle a contingency elsewhere in the world; and over stressing the ground forces, in particular the Army.

Much of what we are talking about is a matter of balancing risk: today's demands versus tomorrow's contingencies; irregular and asymmetric threats versus conventional threats. As the world's remaining superpower, we have to be able to dissuade, deter, and, if necessary, respond to challenges across the spectrum.

Nonetheless, I have noticed too much of a tendency towards what might be called "Next-War-itis" -- the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict. This inclination is understandable, given the dominant role the Cold War had in shaping America's peacetime military, where the United States constantly strove to either keep up with or get ahead of another superpower adversary...

But in a world of finite knowledge and limited resources, where we have to make choices and set priorities, it makes sense to lean toward the most likely and lethal scenarios for our military. And it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms -- ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank -- for some time to come. The record of the past quarter century is clear: the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Israelis in Lebanon, the United States in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Smaller, irregular forces -- insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists -- will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular militaries. And even nation-states will try to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities in an asymmetric way, rather than play to our inherent strengths.

Overall, the kinds of capabilities we will most likely need in the years ahead will often resemble the kinds of capabilities we need today.

The implication, particularly for America's ground forces, means we must institutionalize the lessons learned and capabilities honed from the ongoing conflicts. Many of these skills and tasks used to be the province of the Special Forces, but now are a core of the Army and Marine Corps as a whole...

For years to come, the Air Force and the Navy will be America's main strategic deterrent. We need to modernize our ageing inventory of aircraft, and build out a fleet of ships that right now is the smallest we've had since the late 1930s. These forces provide the strategic flexibility we need to deter, and if necessary, respond to, other competitors...

A few words about global risk -- the threats we face elsewhere in the world while America's ground forces are concentrated on Iraq...

Today's strategic context is completely different. While America's military was being bled in Vietnam, a superpower with vast fleets of tanks, bombers, fighters, and nuclear weapons was poised to overrun Western Europe -- then the central theater in that era's long twilight struggle. Not so today...

Full transcript.

Gates Urges Military to Focus on Current Wars - Josh White, Washington Post

Gates Says New Arms Must Play Role Now - Thom Shanker, New York Times

Gates Urges Focus on Needs in Iraq, Afghanistan - Julian Barnes, Los Angeles Times

Gates on Low-Intensity Warfare - Max Boot, Contentions

That's Why Abu Muqawama Loves You, Bobby - Abu Muqawama

Gates' Speech at Colorado Springs - David Betz, Kings of War


Rob Thornton

Tue, 05/13/2008 - 9:03pm

Last week at UQ 08 we discussed the acceptability of the process the SAMS students had brought up to Carlisle to create an operational framework - it was a slightly different take on SOD (Systemic Operational Design)that they were calling ODP (Operational Design Process). There was some discussion about the suitability of the process for the various echelons of command - it made me consider that we may be confusing an echelon of command with the tasks, functions and missions those units are performing today in war. The break was generally along the field grade level - those who'd been in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had performed a full range of missions over a year to fifteen months were generally more cognizant of the blurring of lines and the requirement to conduct a full spectrum of operations at any given time - the conditions of the operational environment require it. This led them to see the utility in ODP as a way to better visualize, understand and communicate the OE before committing to planning or action as a valuable tool.

This made me consider the difference in how an Army views itself in a "peace time" environment, vs. a "war time" environment, how what passes as normal in one, may not in another. The two are different. The excerpt from Secretary Gate's speech below I think sums up that thought in the personnel arena:

"Going forward we must find, retain, and promote the right people - at all ranks, whether they wear stripes, bars, or stars - and put them in the right positions to see that the lessons learned in recent combat become rooted in the institutional culture. Similarly, we shouldnt let personnel policies that were developed in peacetime hurt our wartime performance."

I also think SWC member Ken White is onto something about "outcome based training" over "task list" training. The former (outcome based) I think may put and keep us in a training paradigm that better equates the conditions in war, and mitigate some of the hard delineation we'd built into our training over time. I think that is one of the biggest problems with the latter (task list), it creates a double standard where DOTMLPF processes and decisions are driven and made based on self imposed artificialities that while better for peacetime efficiencies and management, are not representative of wartime conditions, place us at a disadvantage, and in the end are not only less effective, but by virtue of potentially protracting the war, or risking the political objective to which military force was committed are actually less efficient. I think this speech by the Secretary captures much of this.

Best, Rob