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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Toward a Dual-Track American Military

In the wake of nearly thirteen years of counter-terror and anti-terror efforts -- which includes the invasions of two states, now nearly concluded, and ample counter-insurgency efforts abroad -- the United States military is now facing the decision of how to best form itself for future engagements.  Historically, the American armed forces have demobilized and downsized at the conclusion of any major effort, returning to whichever military posture most contemporarily comfortable.  However, in a modern era where symmetric warfare has occurred less frequently than asymmetric warfare, the question stands as to whether the latter has been sufficiently addressed, so as to prevent its recurrence, and whether the former will remain unseen.

The response to both inquiries is, resoundingly, in the negative.

Given that asymmetric warfare is now frequently and vigorously employed by all manner of entities -- including both state and non-state actors -- that perceive themselves to be downtrodden, disenfranchised, and destabilized, it is exceedingly unlikely that this form of war will wane, now that the United States has effectively dissolved its original target, Al Qaeda proper.  In fact, asymmetric warfare would seem to be more frequently employed than ever before as a force multiplier intended to better equalize any two opposing forces, attempting to intelligently distribute what few resources there are for maximum effect.  For every region that faces large socio-economic or political disparities in its populace, asymmetric warfare is now a realistic possibility, as it has been proven effective in its objective to win through the attrition and disinterest of the enemy, as well as the asymmetric combatants' continued, however minor, existence.  As such, most of the Middle East and Africa can expect this form of warfare in the coming years, as can large swaths of Asia and Eastern Europe -- all locales where traditional, symmetric, heavy-force warfare is difficult, at best.

This is not to say, however, that the more traditional forms of Western war -- heavy forces exerting massive effort in military engagements designed to overwhelm and overcome enemies in any applicable theatre through the maximum expenditure of resources -- will not occur in the foreseeable future.  Although there has not been a traditional war since the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War, there is no reason to believe this precludes any to yet occur:  in the execution of war, past is not necessarily prologue.  Any state that seeks to expand its territory, claim ownership of certain resources, or take advantage of the weaknesses of another state will inevitably employ a more traditional form of warfare to do so; in fact, traditional and asymmetric warfare are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as a traditional engagement can incorporate elements of an asymmetric nature in order to better execute the grand strategy.  Even lacking any indicators of imminent hostilities, certain states -- Russia, China, and, to a much lesser extent at the present, Iran -- remain possible actors requiring engagement in such a scenario.

As such, it would be extremely foolish for the United States military to focus solely on a preferred form of warfare or downsize, once more, in the absence of any imminent threat or sizeable threat actor.  A substantial amount of effort, lives, and funding have been invested in repurposing the armed forces to better address asymmetric warfare, but this was the consequence of need, rather than intention.  Now that the United States has a better idea of how to combat small forces that do not engage in a traditional fashion, the developments and lessons of these conflicts -- assuredly hard-won -- should not be abandoned or forgotten.  Extending the value of the previous thirteen years into the future, more effectively addressing asymmetric forms of warfare, regardless of the specific actor's goals or locale, should be a primary goal of both strategic planning and force development.

However, the traditional form of American might should not suffer as a result of an increased focus on asymmetric threat engagement, and it should continue to develop itself as it always has:  to be stronger, better equipped, and more effective than any possible foe.  Even if the United States has developed its military to a point where its overwhelming capabilities seem to have guaranteed domination in a traditional engagement and, consequently, prevented any actors from seeking such interaction, this must continue.  A dominating, worldwide threat response capability is a necessary part of deterring other actors from engaging in another devastating and destructive war; moreover, the United States must be ready, if one, presently unlikely, were to occur.

These two needs -- an asymmetric response force and a more traditional military -- would initially appear to be in conflict with each other.  However, there exists a way in which both can effectively be developed and employed without emphasizing one over the other:  a dual-track American military.  Within each branch, all non-administrative forces could be split between an asymmetric group (to include all things cyberwarfare) and a traditional group, creating an intentional duplication of each branch's efforts and specialties.  This would allow all units within each group to be specifically trained and prepared for the form of war they are expected to conduct, with weapons programs and strategies carefully crafted for the stated mission.  Many of the resources would be the same between groups, but the way in which they are used would be very different.

In creating a dual-track military, the burden of asymmetric warfare response is removed from both the special operations units as well as the ill-suited traditional forces.  This would, inherently, come as an increased budgetary expense -- although research and development costs could be streamlined through multi-purpose programs, where appropriate -- but it is an expense that would quickly justify itself.  Retrofitting the military for asymmetric engagement and counter-insurgency came at a great expense and took years to properly undertake; however, a consistently and marginally higher cost would avoid the need to reactively adjust to a newly declared enemy, as well as any related unplanned, impromptu, and unfunded budgetary allocations.

Undoubtedly, such a reorganization of the military would be difficult, particularly in terms of organizational reluctance, but it would be unquestionably beneficial in an environment that will continue to present two very different forms of threat.  Without specializing, separately, in both forms of warfare, the United States leaves itself vulnerable to the threat of lesser emphasis.  Proper planning and focus adjustment, particularly in a time where it may appear certain costs and needs have lessened, will provide for a stronger, more effective American military in the years to come -- one ready and able to address all forms of threats and all types of threat actors.