Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Editor’s Corner Spring 2014

Editor’s Corner Spring 2014

In These Pages

Recent actions by China, including its declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that includes areas in dispute with Japan, have generated a great deal of concern by China’s neighbors. Arthur Waldron argues that the reaction of East Asian countries to the unilateral declaration of the ADIZ is typical of what China may expect in the future. The fact is, contends Waldron, that while China’s military “rise” is a reality, the People’s Republic of China has adopted an unrealistic strategy of intimidation that is already eliciting counter-reactions, which will make achieving its apparent goals increasingly difficult. As a result of this strategy’s likely failure, China will confront unwelcome choices about how far to take her use of force. Thus, the “rise” of China is now encountering turbulence that may undo it.

Nicholas Khoo analyzes two academic non-realist theses that purport to explain Asia’s recent foreign policy. He contends that a careful examination of the academic debate on Asia’s international relations over the past decade demonstrates the futility of attempts to reconcile non-realist theories of international relations with the actual policies of Asian states.

Here, in the first of a three article cluster on the Middle East and Islam, Barak Mendelsohn argues that U.S. decision-makers must rethink their strategy for the region, given the uncertainty arising from the Arab Awakening and the apparent inability of the United States to shape the process of transition.  He contends that American interests in the Middle

East are best achieved by reducing U.S. involvement in the region and letting the dust settle.  At the same time, since the risk of negative externalities that accompany transition must be kept in check, the United States, together with other powers, should lead the international community in reviving the principle of “state responsibility,” as a productive way to reduce spillover of conflicts and even provide incentives for actors in the region to limit violence.

David T. Jones examines the dismal record of American attempts to broker a peace between the state of Israel and Palestinian Arabs. The most recent effort by the Obama Administration illustrates the wisdom of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s adage that a second marriage represents the triumph of hope over experience. Although the Middle East is hardly the only divided land—Korea remains divided as does Cyprus—“peace” is not a trivial accomplishment. Many Israelis and Palestinian Arabs would gladly settle for something along the lines of both the Korean peninsula and Cyprus in the hopes of achieving something more permanent.

Anthony N. Celso argues that Islamist terror is driven by irrational forces. He analyzes jihadist values and the doctrines that animate Islamic revolutionaries, contending that jihadist movements go through a cycle of mobilization, extremism, implosion and re-creation. Using the cases of Iraq and Algeria, he assesses the prospects for jihadist revitalization, extremism, and decline in Syria and the Sahel.

Since the end of the Cold War, much has been written about “asymmetric threats.” This is sometimes hard to fathom. After all, there are only two types of strategy: asymmetric and stupid. No strategy worth the name does anything other than attempt to pit strength against weakness, the very essence of asymmetry. Fighting on the enemy’s terms, scoring short-term wins at unjustifiably high costs in lives, treasure and lost opportunities is simply unacceptable. Lani Kass and J. Phillip London drive this observation home by examining the ways and means by which the United States could exploit the asymmetric battle-space and win against the ever-changing array of threats posed by both states and non-state actors in the international arena.

Since the end of World War II, America’s steadiest and most loyal ally has been Great Britain, to the extent that the Anglo-American alliance has been described as a “special relationship.” While the United States can ill afford to lose the loyalty of any ally, it can least afford to lose one that has proven itself over and over again. Yet according to Alan Dobson and Steve Marsh, this appears to be exactly what is happening with regard to the United Kingdom. The United States must do more to nurture this alliance, which is, indeed, a special one.

Edward M Roche and Michael J. Blaine argue that the United States is currently engaged in a cyber arms race, analogous to previous arms races: the naval arms races of the early twentieth century and the nuclear arms race and space race of the Cold War. In order to avoid miscalculations and escalating costs, the authors recommend the creation of an international convention to govern the use of cyberspace. 

Finally, Frank Hoffman reviews a new book that reexamines the generalship of William Westmoreland in Vietnam, reminding us, as did the fall 2013 issue of Orbis, that debates about that unhappy conflict continue unabated.

Impromptus and Asides: The Revenge of Force Planning

A decade of war has obscured the importance of “force planning,” a complex, interactive, inter-temporal art intended to ensure that today’s operational and strategic demands are being met while preparing for a future that may resemble the present or differ from it in unexpected ways. The objective of force planning is to create a future force structure of the right size and the right composition (force mix) to achieve the nation’s security goals, in light of the security environment and resource constraints. In essence, the force planner must answer two questions. First, what capabilities do we need to fulfill the requirements of our strategy, in light of the security environment? Second, what is the appropriate size of the force—in other words, how much is enough?

Although former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon attempted to both fight today’s wars and “transform” the force at the same time, the emphasis unsurprisingly shifted over time to the latter. Today’s force is not only worn out but also perhaps mismatched to an emerging security environment. Thus, as the wars of the last decade wind down, it is time to return force planning to its central place in overall defense planning.

In theory, force planning is a very logical process that flows from the choice of a strategy. To implement the chosen strategy, the force planner identifies the strategic requirements—the military tasks required by the strategy—that must be fulfilled to implement the strategy and the operational challenges—the obstacles—that must be overcome.  To overcome these operational challenges and fulfill the strategy-driven requirements, military planners develop operational concepts and identify the necessary military capabilities. These operational concepts and required military capabilities help the planner identify the characteristics of the force and drive the acquisition of forces and equipment.  Throughout the process, the planner must constantly evaluate any risk that may be created by a potential ends-means mismatch. 

Today, U.S. force planning is complicated by several factors: uncertainty about the future security environment; the lack of any real strategic guidance on the part of the Obama Administration to address this uncertainty, and the precipitous decline in U.S. defense spending. To paraphrase the Cheshire cat’s comment to Alice, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. A clear conception of strategic ends and the challenges thrown up by the security environment is necessary to minimize the adverse impact of declining resources for defense.

The uncertain security environment requires that the United States be prepared to confront a wide range of adversaries across the spectrum of conflict. At one end of the spectrum is the potential threat to U.S. security by the rise of China. Indeed, the similarities between the cases of Wilhelmine Germany and Great Britain at the turn of the twentieth century, and China and the United States today are compelling. At the other end of the spectrum lies what we confronted in Iraq and Afghanistan, an environment in which our opponents rely on asymmetric, low-tech tactics and networks of people rather than networks of state-of-the-art weapon systems

Notwithstanding the failure of the Obama Administration to provide strategic guidance, it is possible for planners to infer what must be done by turning to strategy in general as a guide to force planning. Strategy is designed to secure national interests and to attain the objectives of national policy by the application of force or threat of force. Strategy is dynamic, changing as the factors that influence it change. Potential mismatches between ends and means create risks. If the risks resulting from an ends-means mismatch cannot be managed, ends must be reevaluated and scaled back, means must be increased, or the strategy must be adjusted. Until the advent of the Obama Administration, U.S. presidents took it for granted that the goal of American strategy was to underwrite a liberal world order (free trade, freedom of navigation, liberal governance) by providing the “public good” of global security, while preventing the emergence of a rival seeking to undermine such a liberal world order.

At a minimum, the United States must maintain a force capable of accomplishing certain military tasks: to defend the territory of the United States and its strategic approaches against attack, seizure, or interdiction by protecting against a terrorist attack or missile strike against U.S. territory, and to threaten the sanctuaries of would be attackers, whether state or non-state actors. 

Thus, U.S. forces are required to project and sustain power at great distances from the continental United States, shape the security environment by means of forward presence, reassuring friends and allies and deterring adversaries, and in the event that deterrence fails, defeat an adversary in one or more theaters. The major problem U.S. planners face today is that the proliferation of militarily useful technology means that the operational environment will be far less permissive than it has been in the past.

Operational challenges that U.S. force are likely to face in the future include: confronting a wide range of adversaries in a complex battle-space; the absence of access to forward bases and the resulting “tyranny of distance” that U.S. force must overcome to project power; the likely adoption of asymmetrical anti-access strategies (area denial/ anti-access, or AD/A2) by potential adversaries resulting from the proliferation of militarily useful technology; maintaining our own information security while degrading that of an adversary; dealing with the effects of weapons of mass destruction/effects and the necessity of contending with mass population problems such as operations in urban terrain, refugees, and epidemics.

To overcome these operational challenges, U.S. planners need to develop operational concepts and military capabilities that will permit the United States to achieve its goals. For instance, to overcome the tyranny of distance and project power against an adversary’s sanctuary in the face of AD/A2 threats, the United States must be able to dominate the world’s commons, especially sea, space, and cyberspace and prevail in the world’s contested littorals. The U.S. military must be able to execute operations at intercontinental distances, conduct long-range precision strikes while protecting its forces against ballistic and cruise missile attack; continue to exploit stealth technology in order to perform operations based on stealthy, extended-range, unmanned system-dominated air warfare; and carry out distributed, deep-strike, non-linear ground operations, as well as submersible, distributed, sea-based power projection—both strike and amphibious. But flexibility is critical. As the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrated, the United States does not always get to choose the area of military competition.