Small Wars Journal

What the Pentagon should learn from the Syrian rebellion

Writing for the U.S. Army's Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) "Flash Points" blog, Nathan Freier explains why policymakers and planners should keep the Syrian crisis in mind as they make decisions about rebalancing U.S. military forces.

An excerpt:

Indeed, Syria provides a frightening archetype for future conflicts that have the potential to go viral and could under the most grave circumstances call for U.S. intervention.  Consider these facts.  Syria sits in the middle of an enormously important region that for decades has been at the center of U.S. security strategy.  It is ruled by an authoritarian minority regime.  The ruling elite and its legitimacy are increasingly undermined by a capable but fractious majority opposition.  Syrian forces boast substantial military capabilities, including relatively modern ground and air combat capabilities, air defenses, ballistic missiles, and chemical weapons.   With increasing defections from the Syrian military, centralized control of these capabilities would undoubtedly collapse, leaving Syria (and its neighbors) vulnerable to the predations of a number of exceedingly well-armed factions; not to mention opening the prospect for proliferation of the most dangerous among these capabilities to hostile third parties.  Some form of horizontal conflict escalation is not only possible but probable.

Freier does not call for intervention. But he wonders whether force structure planners in the Pentagon are taking such scenarios seriously. If not, much-reduced U.S. ground forces may pay the price when policymakers throw them at a wicked problem for which they are not sized or prepared.

Please read the whole thing, and watch for future chapters at PKSOI Flash Points.

 

Comments

Ken White

Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:48am

Another poor selection of an archtype...

Quoth author Nathan Freier:<blockquote>"...one thing is certain: arresting foreign civil conflict will remain core DoD business. Further to that point, while the meltdown in Afghanistan grabs the attention of Washington policymakers, the Syrian civil war may tell us more about the kinds of civil conflicts U.S. forces are likeliest to be a party to over the next two decades."</blockquote>I suppose that's possible -- it may even be probable but the real questions the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute should be asking are "Is that desirable? Is it necessary?" I submit it is not. While we may be forced to be a party to such efforts, we should put a great deal of effort into avoiding such contingencies.

He also writes:<blockquote>"Indeed, Syria provides a frightening archetype for future conflicts that have the potential to go viral and could under the most grave circumstances call for U.S. intervention. Consider these facts. Syria sits in the middle of an enormously important region that for decades has been at the center of U.S. security strategy."</blockquote>I'm unsure why it would be considered frightening but whatever bothers him. I agree that ONLY "under the most grave circumstances" should there be a call for U.S. intervention. In the past we have not applied that condition to our interventions, none of which has been particularly successful and all of which have had a cost:benefit ratio that is terrible. We can and should do better in determining what, precisely, constitutes "grave."

Unstated in the article are two factors that merit study. Why is the ME an "...enormously important region that for decades has been at the center of U.S. security strategy?" The area is not really all that important to the US though it may be to some in this country. It has indeed been at or near the center of US security strategy -- whatever that is -- for decades. Those factors may be accepted wisdom but the question is should that be so and, if so, why? What might be better alternatives...<blockquote"...the mission may be limited in the objectives pursued -- seizure of WMD, protection of the most vulnerable populations, simple containment, etc -- the cost would still be enormous."</blockquote>Poor strategic choices are not aided by even more poor tactical choices. Why seize someone's WMD when their destruction is generally a simpler, far easier and better solution? Who or what, really, says we must protect vulnerable populations -- and who determines the degree of vulnerability? That 'responsibility to protect' chimera is itself responsible for much harm to many populations. Containment is a poor strategy as it is costly and requires an excessive amount of time and patience or excessive force to little good purpose.

Many people are spending much time trying to adapt flawed tactical -- and organizing / equipping / training -- solutions to poor strategies. Better to improve our strategic capabilities and efforts. Far better...