Strategic thinker, part II

Posted by lex, on March 19, 2007


Last week I shared the first few notes and thoughts I’d collected on strategic thinker T.P.M. Barnett. Picking up where we left off:

Barnett notes that there are two different mental models for future warfare, Network Centric Warfare and 4th Generation WarfareThe Navy has been heavily investing in the NCW until recently, when we nodded in the direction of the alternative strategy by standing up the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command. Fans of Richard McKenna’s book “The Sandpebbles” (or the movie starring a young Steve McQueen, will recognize that shift as going “back to the future.”

Compared and contrasted:

NCW 4th Gen Warfare
High Tech Asymmetric
Peer Focused Unequal Foes
Bloodless Bloody

“Bloodless” in the NCW model doesn’t mean that no one gets killed, it means that our dominance of the battlespace is so complete that relatively few or none of our guys get killed. “Peer focused” means looking towards a “peer” competitor, which, ever since the Soviet Union’s atomization has meant China – Barnett points out here and elsewhere that “We love our China. We love it just like it is,” since, from his perspective, the potential emergence of a peer competitor helps us frame our military acquisition strategy and defend our large capital budget expenditures. He also points out that we get excited about 18% annual increases in the transparent parts of the PRC’s military budget – but even given those increases that the Chinese military outlay is only a fraction of that spent by the US. (He also acknowledges that there are great chunks of Chinese military spending moving under the radar.)

He has some valid points, but there are significant pieces he leaves out. For better or worse, the US is a global power with global responsibilities that help to stabilize the international system. Abandoning those responsibilities would create a dangerous power vacuum which regional actors might feel pressed to fill with unpredictable consequences. The price of maintaining a global influence is at least partly a military force structure that can react not merely to what a potential adversary – peer or otherwise – might want to do now, but also to what he might be interested in doing in the future. In the complex calculus of pol-mil interaction, a marked increase in any regional player’s combat power vis-a-vis that of the current “balancer” – that’s us – means that the temptation might inevitably arise to change the underlying rule set in their own national interest. Barnett is going to argue eventually that this needn’t be a zero-sum game, but he never quite gets around to articulating why it must necessarily be the win-win alternative either.

An increasingly significant element of our national interest lies in the emergently vibrant economic milieu of the Asian/Pacific Rim. China would clearly like to be the dominant economic, political and military power in that region, believes that regional hegemony is not merely a kind of destiny but also a Middle Kingdom birthright – one that has been frustrated since the time of European colonialism. Along with an exuberant excess of military-aged males – many of whom will find getting a date an increasingly frustrating experience. China also will be gifted in any future conflict with the military virtue of interior lines, while the US – racing to support beleaguered allies in the region – faces an oceanic tyranny of distance.

In any case, and returning for now to the point at hand, Barnett states that the NCW/4GW dichotomy is a false one, the idea being that NCW belongs to Leviathan, and 4GW being the domain of SysAdmin.

This brings him into a brief discussion of Iraq: Barnett says that asymmetric warfare is the hallmark of a thinking enemy. Peoples understand that they cannot stand up to Leviathan, so their armies melt away to re-emerge as insurgents whose goal is only to kill 2-3 American soldiers per day until we get tired of it and leave, knowing that all the world is watching. We won the war, but have been losing the peace. Rumsfeld was right about using the economy of force principle of warfare to win the war, but Shinseki was right about his force estimate to keep the post-conflict peace. Classic military doctrine calls for a ratio of 25 occupation forces to 1000 occupied people – we’ve been using a ratio of 6:1000. The “surge” brings us up to 6.1:1000. I’m not sure of Barnett’s doctrinal citation, but the implications here if he’s right are rather sobering. We simply don’t have 4x the current force structure to sit out in Iraq, especially not on any kind of rotational basis. Also, most of the current problem is in Bagdhad and Anbar, and the tide is shifting in our favor now, with Ramadi-based sheiks breaking with Al Qaeda. Still, one wonders where we’d be now if we’d pursued the current policy of increasing security through presence with greater power back when we still had the national will, vice the previous policy of going on raids to capture and kill insurgents before returning to cantonment. Hindsight, and all that.

Barnett says that creating the Department of Homeland Security is the only real mistake the US has made in the GWOT. The DHS is “Oprah,” the typical American perspective of thinking it’s “all about me,” when in reality the problem is not us, it’s Them.

His next topic is the “Three ‘D’s”, Defense, Diplomacy and Development. Of the three, defense is working pretty well, diplomacy is lagging – USAID should be stripped from State – and Development is laboring mightily. Development means jobs, and jobs are the exit strategy. This jibes with what I read through the service pipe: Senior commanders are frustrated because they know that they’re at war, but feel like they’re the only part of government that is.

Well, this is getting long again, and I’ve still got to get to Iran as well as quite a bit more on China. More later.

Part III

Back To The Index 


Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, International Affairs, Neptunus Lex, Politics and Culture

2 responses to “Strategic thinker, part II

  1. Pingback: A strategic thinker | The Lexicans

  2. Pingback: Too clever by half | The Lexicans

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