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April 28, 2003

Learning from Iraq

As I wrote on these electrons last November, I think there is a demonstrable need for a new branch of the US armed services.

Last Thursday's WSJ had an article by Greg Jaffe asking the question "Does the Army Really Need Additional Military Police?".   (Subscription required, but if you really want to read it, I can email it to you.)   Jaffe was onto something, but I don't think that more military police is really any part of the solution.

What we need is an entirely new branch of the armed forces, specializing in military operations other than combat.   While these would be soldiers, men and women trained to observe military discipline, obey orders, and use small arms and, perhaps, even light armored vehicles, their mission would not include traditional combat against other armed forces.   Instead, they would strategize, plan, and train to respond to non-combat situations where, by default, conventional armed forces are currently pressed into duty. This would include (among many other things):

  • Natural disasters
  • Peacekeeping duties
  • Restoring and maintaining civil order (due to riots, insurrections, coups, invasions, etc.), and
  • Responding to massive terror attacks like 9/11 or the potential use of WMDs in a major urban area

The special skills and capabilities required to properly handle missions like these would include the abilities to:
  • Establish or restore medical systems capable of treating large numbers of civilian casualties
  • Operate effectively in a nuclear, biological or chemically contaminated environment
  • Mobilize engineering resources sufficient to repair or jury-rig urban infrastructure like power, water, sanitation, and communications
  • Identify, transport and distribute the necessary supplies to the crisis scene in the shortest possible time and in the appropriate sequence. (For example, water and medical supplies are usually needed first.   In some situations, like earthquakes or large scale explosions, heavy rescue equipment and urban search teams may be required.   Blankets, tents and foodstuffs will almost always be needed, but lives will not be lost if their arrival is delayed by a few days.)
  • Restore or maintain order in urban settings without resorting to the use of deadly force, including tactics and training to cope with unruly crowds, looters, political demonstrations, etc.
  • Develop and maintain working relationships with the NGOs and international organizations that traditionally participate in expeditionary disaster relief, like, for example, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Médecins Sans Frontières, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, etc.
  • Prenegotiate arrangements with civilian contractors and engineering firms that will be needed to restore essential services like water, sewer, power, and telecommunications, including training with these firms to ensure that the appropriate resources can be mobilized on a timely basis.
Why can't traditional Miilitary Police units handle these jobs?

Well, there are at least two problems.   Firstly, the basic mission of MPs is to handle enemy POWs on the battlefield, maintain force security, corral drunken GIs, and conduct criminal investigations.   These are important responsibilities (especially when you consider that the folks they are "policing" are typically 19 years old and spend a lot of their time playing with high explosives, live ammunition and costly military equipment), and there are limits to the amount of training you can reasonable conduct in a given enlistment cycle.   Secondly, and probably more importantly, the Military Police is not a particularly prestigious "community" within the armed forces because they are a support function, they don't have any sexy, high tech equipment, and few officers expect to earn their general's stars by having a brilliant career in the MPs.   As a result of this lack of bureaucratic status, MPs are always going to struggle for budget allocations, high quality manpower, and training resources.  

How would a new military service be more effective?

Creating a new, independent military service devoted exclusively to less-than-combat (or "LTC") operations would ensure that sufficient resources are devoted to preparing for these vitally important, but very unsexy, missions. In this new service, LTC ops would be the only thing that mattered. Virtually all of the command and staff resources would be focused on planning, training, and carrying out these types of missions. There would be no threat of diverting attention or budgets to more interesting or politically rewarding efforts like equipment procurement or traditional war-fighting capabilities.

The key to success in these operations would be planning and staff work.   In the traditional military, there are war plans for almost every conceivable contingency that the country could face.   What I am proposing is that we develop similarly detailed plans for how to deal with natural or man-made disasters.   Having a thorough, fully thought-through plan on the shelf before a crisis happens could save days or even weeks in fashioning an effective response.

Anyway, I've spent enough time on this for now.   I'm sure it is a topic to which I will return in the future.

April 28, 2003 at 05:35 PM | Permalink

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