The New Normalcy

Today’s security environment can be described as “the New Normalcy.”[1] Robert Kaplan has a fine article in the April 2006 Atlantic Monthly titled “The Coming Normalcy?” But his use of the future tense is a bit optimistic. In the New Normalcy we already face an implacable, cunning enemy who is completely ruthless, constantly learning and altering his tactics to secure any advantage he can. We have to be prepared to face this adaptive enemy, and be equally prepared to out-think and out-adapt an elusive opponent. There are no simple solutions or templates against such adversaries. Rigid approaches and non-adaptive institutions fare poorly against this protean form of enemy.

This is a committed enemy. He is serious in his beliefs and his willingness to die for them. He is not a backward or distant threat, nor is he going away any time soon. There can be no doubt that this dangerous form of Islamic extremism will characterize our future for some time, perhaps a decade or more. This opponent is dedicated to his cause as much as we are to preserving freedom. He will continue to look for vulnerabilities, and if he can get his hands on some form of weapon of mass destruction, he will try to use it, possibly here in the United States. This is what we face and why we must succeed.

Looking further out, in the mid-range we need to be concerned with future Afghanistans and other under-governed areas. Today and tomorrow, failed or dysfunctional states can become harbors and potential breeding grounds for modern terrorists, or serve as catalysts for interstate conflicts. The CIA forecasts a coming “perfect storm” of intrastate conflict caused by demographics, youth bulges, higher unemployment, ethnic strife, and religious intolerance. This perfect storm will become the future petri dish for the next Bin Laden or the future home of the international network of jihadists who slink off after Iraq. But they will leave the battlefield much smarter, more lethal, and with far more credibility to the next generation of extremists because of their experience against us.

The New Normalcy also contains states of concern like Iran and Pakistan that could seriously disrupt regional peace due to their admixture of internal instability and lethal arsenals. The interplay of domestic politics, weak controls, and dangerous weapons could be an explosive cocktail

The internal weakness of certain states is now explicitly recognized in U.S. national security circles as a strategic problem almost equal in importance to state competitors. The President’s National Security Strategy notes, “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.” The Pentagon’s QDR recognizes the importance of preserving stability and the need to proactively shape and build up the ability of friends in unstable areas to govern and secure themselves.

The coming storm will highlight the need for a broader set of skills and tools in our security toolbox. The British historian, Niall Ferguson, now up at Harvard, speaks of the “American Terminator”-i.e., we are really good at destroying things but less capable of building up states or other societies. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that we need to become an imperial power or establish a colonial affairs office, but I do agree with the notion that we need to develop underdeveloped strategic skills sets and build up capacity in our non-military agencies of government. We do need to be able to conduct preemptive operations, but not just strategic raids or punitive strikes. We need to match our capacity for overwhelming destruction with the ability to swiftly bring more constructive means to bear.

We must adapt our security agencies to become more than merely a one-armed Cyclops. Too often we look at the world through a single lens, a military lens. This perspective, along with our well-developed single military arm, distorts our ability to advance all of our security needs. We do need our military might, but we need more than a military lens to anticipate future threats and secure our interests. We also need a strong State Department, with the capacity to help foreign governments build adequate forms of governance and the institutions to serve their people. We need law enforcement experts, people who can help with economic development and infrastructure, and for we Americans who know how to reestablish the rule of law and judiciary mechanisms in foreign countries that lack experience with these fundamentals. Until we do this, we’ll just be a one-armed Cyclops, and we’ll continue to win many battles, but never establish a better peace anywhere.

We need to be able to anticipate and conduct preemptive stability operations with the same devastating effectiveness with which we drove into Baghdad in 2003. We need to be able to plan and execute multi-agency operations using the combined arms effects of diplomacy, law enforcement, civic aid projects, and educational programs in fragile states.

Prof. Frank Fukuyama may have gotten it wrong with his End of History argument, but I do strongly agree with his conclusion in his recent book, State Building. “The ability to conduct state building missions will be as important to our futures as the ability to project military power across the oceans.”

Thus, the most significant implication of the current security environment is the need to develop a broader national security (vice Defense) perspective that can strategically orchestrate and operationally apply all elements of national power-not just our awesome military power. The military may still be the senior partner, but we need capable partners from the civilian agencies that now comprise critical parts of a larger national security community, as well.

For that reason, I am pleased to note the recent efforts of the State Department. They have created a new office for a Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction. This office has designed a program and garnered some support from Congress to improve our nation’s capacity for planning, deploying and conducting the kind of interagency operations I’ve described for both pre- and post-conflict situations. More importantly, the secretary of state has launched a transformational diplomacy initiative to energize our diplomatic clout. All of these efforts have the support of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. John Hillen, now the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, is working to implement the Secretary’s intent. These efforts will ensure that tomorrow’s State Department is not merely an observer of events or a prisoner in our embassies, but a full partner in resolving conflicts.

This initiative is a natural outgrowth of today’s environment and the need for an expanding breadth of missions and capabilities. It’s a logical component of the president’s strategy and the shift from a defense-centric strategy to a true national security approach. But it needs the support of all of us and our elected representatives in Congress to become a reality. The structures, priorities, and habits of the Cold War are not going to be changed overnight. Yet satisfying the demands for more constructive state-building skills is a necessary element for advancing peace and ensuring security in the New Normalcy.

Thanks in part to the experiences of Afghanistan and of Iraq’s bloody insurgency, there is much less talk in Washington about skipping a generation of technology, Revolutions in Military Affairs, and transformation. The nature of our transformation program in the Pentagon was a reflection of our own mirror imaging and an illusion that we could dictate the conduct of war on our own terms. The enemy has a vote, and clearly is not going to engage in what we call style as “conventional” warfare.

This will require a reconceptualization of the American Way of War. The American Way of War is sort of like a football game. We have a view that looks at war as something that is conducted by trained teams, wearing similar uniforms, and symmetric equipment and tactics. We expect clearly demarked fields and a distinction between spectators and players, fixed goal posts at then end of the field to denote victories, and a commonly understood and observed set of rules. We envision that both sides accept the rules and the distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable kinds of play, with umpires to throw yellow flags if the rules are violated.

But the real world is not like that. The enemy does not have to play the same game or obey the same rules. Nor do they have quadrennial defense reviews, embrace technology or RMA theories, or have lobbyists or a defense industrial base to maintain. They just live by their wits and on an ideology of hate. They are not going to play by the same rule book and they may not accept any rules at all.

Our conventional superiority creates a logic for states and non-state actors to move out of the traditional mode of war and seek an advantage in an unconventional way. In fact, they have created what the military analyst Ralph Peters calls the “Counter Revolution in Military Affairs,” targeting the inherent weaknesses in the illusions our Pentagon was following up until 2001. The latest QDR acknowledges the greater probability in the rise of “irregular challenges.” Irregular methods-terrorism, insurgency, guerrilla war, or coercion by narco-criminals-are increasing in both scale and sophistication and will challenge U.S. security interests. Such irregular challengers seek to exploit tactical advantages at a time and place of their own choosing, rather than play by our rules. They seek to accumulate a series of small tactical effects, magnify them through the media and weaken your resolve.

Neither Roman legionnaires nor nineteenth-century British troops would find today’s insurgencies an entirely new or incomprehensible threat. But American military officers often do. In every decade of the twentieth century, the American military establishment has learned, forgotten, and subsequently regained the hard-learned lessons of Irregular Wars at great expense. As the late Russell Weigley once quipped. “Each new experience with irregular warfare,” by American forces, “has required that appropriate techniques be learned all over again.” Hopefully, this “sine wave” phenomena will end. The QDR reflects a serious effort to eliminate it. For far too long this area has been “the orphaned child of strategy” in some professional military institutions. The ferocity and frequency of Irregular Wars can no longer be ignored.

Future conflicts will not present the sort of neat distinctions between conventional, irregular, catastrophic or disruptive challenges. Future enemies look at these four boxes as a sort of menu and will select a combination of approaches that are appealing to them. They will orient on whatever set of tools they think we are most vulnerable to. We do not face a range of different or separate boxes, but a combination or blurring of forms and means of war, an unprecedented synthesis that Marine Lt. General James Mattis, calls “Hybrid Warfare.”

In Hybrid Wars we can expect to simultaneously deal with the fall out of a failed state that owned but lost control of some biological agents and missiles, while combating an ethnically motivated paramilitary forces, and a set of radical terrorists who had been parasites in that state and have now been kicked out of their beehive. We can also expect to face conventional armed countries who chose to focus on unorthodox attacks or means like Iraq did with its fedayeen units. We can also expect non-state actors to acquire means we used to associate only with states, who may attack critical infrastructure or our transportation networks in this country. In these hybrid wars we will simultaneously combat an insurgency, train indigenous military forces, conduct combat operations, and build schools and other forms of critical infrastructure. Hybrid Wars will significantly challenge the one-armed Cyclops. They will highlight the need for the other arms of government in order to simultaneously wield our constructive and destructive tools in areas where existing state institutions are too fragile to maintain order or meet the needs of the people.

Kipling once quipped that the history of conflict is audited in red ink. We as a nation have been audited over the past few years. The audit’s red ink, regrettably, is reflected in casualty lists that are longer and far more costly then estimated or needed.

But there is no doubt about the outcome of this protracted conflict. It may be nasty, brutish and long, but it will come to a resolution of our design. In my trips to Iraq, to places like Ramadi and Fallujah, I have seen what we have accomplished so far. Over time, and at great risk, you should feel proud that our sons and daughters have once again proven that each generation of Americans is capable of stepping up to the challenge of preserving freedom and securing this great nation’s interests.

This challenge does not end with Iraq. All of us, the American citizens and our elected representatives, need to understand the nature of the New Normalcy. We need to be steeled as to the costs and consequences of dealing with an implacable enemy and prepared to face an even more deadly foe, not just in the Middle East but at home as well. While I question our government’s ability to adapt quickly enough and appropriately to the New Normalcy, I have no doubts about the mettle of the American people or our capacity to endure great sacrifice. Because of this, I am confident that the New Normalcy does not present a crisis that the United States cannot rise above.

[1] See, e.g., Ronald Brownstein, “America beginning to embrace `new normalcy’,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 5 2001; Simon Serfaty, “The New Normalcy,” Washington Quarterly, Spring 2002.

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