Changes to Military Strategy, in Time for the Next War

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Changes to Military Strategy, in Time for the Next War


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


* It is a Pentagon cliche that the military is always preparing for the last war.

Iraq is far from over, but the Defense Department--and notably the Army--already are rewriting military doctrine so that forces are adequately trained and ready for another Iraq-like conflict years or decades from now.

Just during the past year, a new Pentagon policy and a revamped Army operations manual have officially made nation-building and post-war reconstruction primary duties for the military.

These so-called "stability operations" are now on equal footing with traditional combat, which means the Pentagon expects the military services to train and equip forces for such missions.

The Army's recently published field operations manual, the FM3-0, constitutes a major endorsement of this new policy. It is the guidebook that the Army probably wished it had written a decade ago, so it would have been better prepared to cope with the chaos and violent insurgency that followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Although it could take years to turn this new policy into actual changes to the military's force structure and budgets, observers are rather impressed that that the Army is choosing to go in this direction, rather than stick to its traditional focus on preparing for big all-out wars.

"We are seeing the Defense Department and the Army doing something that's never been done before--elevating stability operations," says Roger D. Carstens, a senior military analyst at the Center for a New American Security.

It is still unclear how the Army plans to move forward as it tries to carry out this new doctrine. Some factions within the Army are advocating the creation of a permanent "advisory corps" that would specialize in training foreign troops. But the service's senior leadership so far have resisted the idea, arguing that the Army is now too stressed and overcommitted. In the near term, the Army will study and test several "prototype" advisory team arrangements, says Maj. Gen. David A. Fastabend, director of strategy, plans and policy.

The Defense Department's policy--known as directive 3000.05--does not specifically tell the services how to go about training and equipping forces for stability operations. "Directive 3000.05 is a policy-setting instrument, not a roadmap with a checklist," says Celeste Ward, deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations capabilities.

The Army general who oversaw the writing of the field manual says that he expects some pushback from those who view stability operations as a distraction from war fighting.

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