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May 15, 2005

How to REALLY Transform our Military

Max Boot has an interesting essay in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs discussing the need to further transform the US military to better fight the types of wars required to suppress global terrorism. He makes some interesting points, particularly on personnel policy, where the government needs to rethink its mania for frequent duty rotations that prevent soldiers from developing deep local knowledge and undermine unit cohesion. Boot also (and in my view, correctly) advocates more use of foreign troops trained and led by American officers, like the French Foreign Legion or the British Gurkhas.

While helpful, I don't think that the incremental reforms he advocates will be sufficient to adequately prepare US forces for the challenges they will likely face in the future wars against terror (or "asymmetrical conflicts" as the military prefers to call them).

Global Islamist terror groups (like our pals at Al Queda) need sanctuaries where they can train personnel and plan operations. Since they are unlikely to be able once again gain the support of a nation state (as they did in Afghanistan before 9/11), they will probably seek areas under weak governmental control where they can expect some sympathy from the local muslim population. Examples would include the autonomous tribal areas of Pakistan (where bin Laden is believed to be hiding), areas that already have a muslim insurgency (like southern Thailand, the Phillipines or parts of Nigeria), or failed states like Somalia, where there is no effective central government.

As I have long argued (see posts from Nov02, Apr03, Jul03, or May04), the US needs a new branch of the armed forces that would specialize in conducting military operations other than combat. Like Thomas P.M. Barnett's "system administrators", these soldiers would be trained to move into an area without functioning infrastructure and re-establish order.

This type of mission is a difficult, expensive, and thankless task. Until 9/11, it was also thought to be largely irrelevant to the US' national security interests. That is why, traditionally, political conservatives have been opposed to the concept of "nation building." (Remember Dubya's famous rejection of nation building during his second debate with Al Gore during the 2000 election?) Of course, the events of 9/11 provided a dramatic demonstration of the linkages between US national security and the need for stable governments and civil order in the world's backwaters like Somalia or Afghanistan.

Similarly, the US military's difficulties in managing the post-war occupation and reconstruction of Iraq highlight the need for the military to develop new capabilities in the area of SASO ("stability and support operations") and managing complex civil reconstruction projects.

But rather than pile another mission requirement onto our existing military services, I would suggest that a better approach would be to establish a completely new branch of the military service dedicated to the execution of peacekeeping, reconstruction and disaster relief missions. This Reconstruction Corps, for want of a better name, would not be trained and equipped for combat against organized military forces. Regular Army or Marine units would be used if those capabilities were needed. But the Reconstruction Corps (or "RC") soldiers would be armed and capable of defending themselves and imposing order upon civilians. Unlike the traditional military, whose "military occupational specialties" are oriented towards combat duties like infantry, armor, artillery, air defense, etc., the RC soldiers would specialize in policing, restoring essential infrastructure (e.g., water, power, waste disposal, communications), food distribution, medical services and rebuilding/establishing civil administrative capacity.

I won't bother to spell out all the details here, but go back and read my earlier posts fleshing out the concept and rationale for establishing a Reconstruction Corps. (Nov02, Apr03, Jul03, or May04.)

May 15, 2005 at 12:47 PM | Permalink

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