Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Price Paid by the Military

The Price Paid by the Military

The strategic landscape of the new millennium is enshrouded in the “fog of peace.” While there is no immediate threat to the United States and the fear of major wars has diminished, turmoil and conflicts between and within states have increased. Moreover, the ethnic, religious, and nationalistic roots of such conflicts and the changing patterns of state-to-state relationships are difficult to separate from humanitarian issues. International terrorism, drug cartels, and threats created by information-age technology add to the turmoil. The task of defining national interests and issues of national security has thus been complicated not by immediate threats, but by the unpredictable, uncertain, and confusing characteristics of the international arena.

In such an environment, the role of the “lone superpower” is especially challenging. American efforts to promote democracy, freedom, peace, and stability in the world raise a fundamental question: if the United States uses its military power to accomplish these objectives, what are the possible consequences for the U.S. military itself? Based on the evidence of recent history, the clear answer is that the commitment of the U.S. military in humanitarian crises not only diminishes military readiness, but also requires a mind-set and operational doctrine contrary to the military’s raison d’etre and organizational system. Moreover, at the operational level the role of U.S. ground troops in humanitarian intervention is, in the main, contrary to the training, skills, and rules of engagement for ground combat. Also, the support of the American people is contingent upon the military’s adherence to the principles of the American way of war. Thus, when committed, the military must operate within these principles following the “just war” tradition, even when there is no war. It follows that the military must remain within the “orbit” of the American political-social system while operating across the whole spectrum of conflict. In such circumstances, “the U.S. military faces a dual dilemma: How to respond to the uncertainties of the domestic and strategic landscapes, nurture a proper relationship with society and yet retain its raison d’etre.”

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