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Facing the Hydra: Maintaining Strategic Balance while Pursuing a Global War against Terrorism

Authored by Dr. Conrad C. Crane. | May 2002

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SUMMARY

Arguments to maintain strategic balance while fighting the global war on terrorism usually fall on receptive ears in the Pentagon. Although some are ready to disengage internationally to focus on fighting terrorists, most clearly see the value of continuing activities that deter crises and assist tremendously in the resolution of conflict when deterrence fails. Fewer seem to realize that maintaining strategic balance will require more than just better guidance, planning, and training. Increased force structure?accompanied by revisions in the makeup of that structure and by reallocation between the Active and Reserve Components?will be required to enable the Services to win both operational and strategic victory in the war on terrorism, while also keeping the peace in other parts of the world.

Following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review Report told the Army and the other services to focus their efforts on conducting major combat operations, strengthening homeland security and force protection, and accelerating transformation. However, the Army must simultaneously continue its operations along three other axes. It must remain committed to day-to-day assurance, dissuasion, and deterrence activities around the world; sustain its capability to execute peace operations and other smaller-scale contingencies (SSCs); and remain ready to conduct other major combat operations. If the Army fails in these critical missions, operational ?victory? in the war on terrorism will be replaced by strategic failure as regional instability increases around the world.

To meet its concurrent obligations, the Army will have to reshape and expand its force structure. Several factors? including an increase in the number of SSCs, which highlighted shortfalls in the Active Component?s combatsupport and combat service support force structure?were stretching the Army operationally even before September 11. The new demands of homeland security, force protection, and transformation acceleration will only exacerbate the situation. Peace operations resulting from the war will also require heavy engagement of Army forces, no matter how involved they have been in combat operations thus far. Although the Active Component may be the first priority for expansion and reshaping, the Reserve Components will also need to be reconfigured to provide better support for homeland security; their roles in SSCs and warfighting missions will have to be reexamined in light of the new geostrategic environment. These changes will require a reevaluation of Total Force policies that have been in existence since the 1970s. To protect against overcommitment of ground forces, further expansion of the war against terrorism must be minimized, at least until adequate forces are built up.

The Army must adapt to the changed circumstances of September 11, but it cannot allow a focus on the battles against terrorism to allow it to lose its perspective on the broader strategic issues in play, particularly world-wide engagement and transformation. The Army?s long-term vision remains viable, and the course to reach it must be maintained.

Conclusions.

The war against terrorism is only one of many essential missions the Army must perform. It must be very forthright with Congress and the Bush administration about the additional forces needed to conduct its myriad of important duties. The Army Staff should immediately develop plans and gather support to begin the process of expanding and restructuring the Total Force. Recruiting, training, and equipping new soldiers and units will take years. While large scale Army Reserve and Army National Guard mobilization and some limited economy of force efforts might suffice in the short term to meet Army requirements, these arrangements cannot be maintained for a long period without debilitating the force and raising the risk for long-term missions.

In summary, maintaining strategic balance will require more than just better guidance, planning, and training. Increased force structure?accompanied by revisions in the makeup of that structure and by reallocation between the AC and RC?will be necessary to enhance the Army?s ability to fight the war against terrorism while also keeping the peace in other areas. The simultaneous and ongoing demands for homeland security, anti-terrorist strikes, peace operations, and deterring war will require more land forces, especially in the AC, and mostly in the areas of CS, CSS, and Special Operations Forces.55 Increasing intelligence assets will be especially crucial. Forces will need to be reapportioned between the AC and RC. RC units will have to be reconfigured to handle new and existing long-term requirements. At the same time, the Army cannot become so focused on current operations that the momentum and direction of transformation are lost. The world changed on September 11, 2001, and the Army must adjust accordingly. But its long-term vision remains viable, and the course to reach it must be maintained.

ENDNOTES

55. However, it will be difficult to expand SOF very quickly because of the time and effort required to develop and train such soldiers. In the meantime, SOF missions will have to be carefully controlled, or ways must be found to utilize regular forces instead.