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July 26, 2003

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld...

As I have previously written here and here, I think its time that we created a new branch of the armed forces (to complement the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines).   This new service, the Reconstruction Corps, for the sake of discussion (anyone else have a catchier name to suggest?), would specialize in peacekeeping, disaster relief, and nation building...   Exactly the kinds of mission that we have been dropping the ball on in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and (potentially) Liberia and the Congo.

Why do we need a specialized force to carry out these missions?   Well there are many reasons, but first and foremost is that the challenge facing any peacekeeping or stabilization force are very different from the missions that our armed forces are trained for.   Furthermore, the task of rebuilding a war-torn society is very difficult, even under the best conditions, and requires special skills, attitudes, and capabilities not often found in our existing service branches.

These capabilities are becoming more important for protecting US national security. As the world's only "hyperpower", the US will increasingly be called upon to intervene in foreign conflicts (witness Kofi Annan's recent calls for US intervention in Liberia).   Prior to 9/11, it was far from clear that "nation building" (as the abortive humanitarian mission in Somalia had been termed) was in the US national interests.   However, post-9/11, it is clear that failed states and power vacuums are vital sanctuaries for international terrorists.   To protect NYC and Washington (not to mention London or Bali) from Al Queda and its other nihilist allies, the US is going to be forced to ensure that effective governments committed to fighting international terror are in place throughout the world.   Unpleasant and costly though this effort may be, it is imperative if we want to have a chance of preventing another major terrorist attack on a Western city.

Secretary Rumsfeld is right when he argues that modern military technology, innovative tactics, and judicious use of air power have reduced our need for the traditional heavy armored divisions that were the mainstay of the Cold War era military.   However, as the recent debate over necessary troop levels in Iraq, and the limited resources currently available to relieve the troops on duty in Iraq, release the reservists called up to active duty, maintain the peace in Korea, and respond to new challenges in Liberia or elsewhere, there is a need for more "boots on the ground".   But, I would argue, the boots we actually need are not those belonging to soldiers from the heavy, expensively equipped, war fighting units like the 3rd Infantry Division.

Instead, a manpower and skill intensive infantry force, lightly armed but heavily trained, would be far better suited to the constabulary duties required for peacekeeping.   Such a force, staffed by an officer corps that has dedicated their careers to the specialized duties of peacekeeping and reconstruction, would be much more effective in restoring order and essential services in areas where they were assigned.

Because this Reconstruction Corps would train and "war game" realistic scenarios similar to post-war Iraq or Liberia, they would be faster off the mark in responding than would conventional forces.   Similarly, since they can anticipate needing to coordinate with other nation's forces, NGOs, and specialized civilian contractors (for example, telecommunications providers and suppliers of specialized help in restoring or establishing adequate water, sewer and energy supplies, etc.), procedures and working arrangements would be developed before they needed to be put into operation.

From a domestic political perspective, the Administration might face opposition to requests for funding to, say, reactivate an additional Army or Marine Corps division.   However, creating a non-combat oriented service, dedicated to humanitarian service and peace keeping, would be much more popular among the traditional left than would traditional military spending.   Recruitment for this all volunteer force might also be easier among people who might otherwise be reluctant to join a war fighting branch of the service.

Finally, this Reconstruction Corps would develop and refine capabilities that would be sorely needed to adequately respond to a major domestic terror attack.   For example, the fast responding medical and logistic resources of this Corps would be invaluable in a chemical or nuclear attack on a major US city.   While other similar resources exist in the conventional armed services, non of them train to respond to mass casualty scenarios in a domestic setting.

Mr. Secretary, the Reconstruction Corps is an idea whose time has come, and you are just the sort of visionary leader that can help make it a reality.

July 26, 2003 at 10:05 PM | Permalink

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