Many believe the sole purpose of the United States military is to fight and win this nation’s wars, that warfighting is the sole raison d’être of the uniformed services. As recently as this week, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, warned that the tempo of operations in
And yet, over the last two centuries, the nation employed its military continually during what was otherwise characterized as times of peace, in operations where medicine, engineering and policing were equal in value to firepower:
BarbaryWars from 1801-1805
- The Boxer Rebellion in 1900
- In the
, from 1899-1902 Philippines
and Cuba Central America, from 1898-1914
from 1916-1924 Haiti
from 1926-1933 Nicaragua
from 1983-1990 El Salvador
, the Balkans and Haiti , throughout the 1990s the 1990s Somalia
, from 1997 through the present El Salvador
- In the Horn of Africa, from 2002 through the present
- In the Phillippines, from 2002 through the present
The aforementioned military operations are merely vignettes of the military’s long history conducting so called small wars, and these scant examples neglect to mention the countless other stability operations that have been conducted over the years. The outcomes vary greatly from case to case.
Critics often disdain so called nation building operations arguing that it is not in the national interest to have American soldiers and marines employed in any other manner than that of the gravest national security. The oft-lauded Powell Doctrine itself is a veritable argument against the case for small wars:
- Is a vital national security interest threatened?
- Do we have a clear attainable objective?
- Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
- Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
- Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
- Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
- Is the action supported by the American people?
- Do we have genuine broad international support?
Nonetheless, again and again, an infantry company commander finds himself in a sit-down meeting, settling neighborhood disputes between Serbs and Ethnic Albanians; or a Civil Affairs officer is vaccinating livestock on Basilan Island in the Philippines; or a Special Forces Officer is training a Kenyan mortar section outside of Nairobi; and soldiers from an anti-armor section are guarding a polling station in Kabul. Meanwhile combined task forces execute battalion and brigade sized combat operations in
Can soldiers and marines do all of these missions and still be prepared for conventional wars that may suddenly appear on the horizon? Put simply, the military of the 21st century must be able to do all of these missions, and the force requires the skills and flexibility to execute them simultaneously.
Nearly every corner of the developing world is rife with instability, insurgents, militias narcotrafficking, and failed states. Neither the State department, intelligence agencies, NGOs, nor any other component of the government or private organization possess the level of organization and operational reach to achieve effects in these environments like the military. The military is very often the only element of the government that can have an impact in this environment either as a lead or supporting agent.
The Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 effectively arrayed the Department of Defense to deal with the exigencies of the 21st century. That act organized the military into geographical combatant commands (ie CENTCOM), and created the Special Operations Command. The combatant commands are often at the forefront of policy efforts in their respective areas. USSOCOM, meanwhile, has trained, resourced, and employed forces that are critical enablers across the globe.
Most of the other elements of the government, meanwhile, have languished in the aftermath of the cold war. The intelligence agencies rely heavily on their technical platforms, but lack the human intelligence capabilities that are so urgently needed now. The State Department likewise has failed to evolve in a matter reflecting the emerging requirements of the post 9/11 world; there are likely more State Department personnel at work in the capitals of
Only the military, time and again, has been able to evolve and respond decisively to all manner of foreign policy requirements, and with dramatic effects.
The five decades of the Cold War, where the
Those who would garrison the military until a conflict arises fail to see the world as it is today.
Post Script. Two great books to read on this subject are: