Reversal of Readiness

By Dubik, James M. | Army, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Reversal of Readiness


Dubik, James M., Army


Postwar periods of reduction are always difficult. The one the nation is going through now is particularly hard. Why? First, we're not in a postwar period - we're still at war. Second, the nation seems to lack a common vision for the future, with respect to how our military should be used. We seem stuck on hope as our method. Drawdowns without a compelling vision end up budget-driven, not strategy-driven. In a world like ours, with so much ambiguity, so many varieties of war plausible, and so many continuing global interests and responsibilities, America needs a more complete public discussion of our military requirements and our ability to meet them. No one doubts the demands of our fiscal situation, but that shouldn't result in choices that may do more harm to U.S. interests in the long run.

-GEN Gordon R. Sullivan

U.S. Army retired

Tust five years after the U.S. Army J helped defeat the Axis powers in both the European and Pacific theaters, it was nearly pushed off the Korean Peninsula by a peasant army of North Koreans. No one anticipated this reversal of readiness, but it happened nonetheless. In The Korean War, Max Hastings writes, "[This reversal] was a direct consequence of [Defense Secretary Louis] Johnson's policies, approved by [President Harry S] Truman that by June 1950 ... divisions lacked 62 percent of their infantry firepower and 14 percent of their tanks . . . and ... the Army in Japan possessed only forty-five days' supply of ammunition." Many also believed that the high-tech weapons of the time (air power and atomic weapons) would offset the need for ground forces.

The Army will probably not suffer a reversal of readiness similar to that which followed World War II, but our senior military and civilian leaders are watching closely. For the past 12 years, the Army has been ridden hard and is now being put away wet. The risk of unintended consequences is real, especially given several misleading or outright false propositions that are increasingly part of the discussion on U.S. strategy and defense planning.

First among these misleading propositions is that our wars are over. America is confusing "withdrawing from a war" with "ending a war." The two are very different. A war ends when strategic objectives are met or an enemy is defeated and recognizes its defeat. In Iraq, the war continues - albeit at a level that the Iraqi security forces are, so far, able to handle and èie Iraqi government can manage. The growing instability in Iraq, spillover from the situation in Syria and Iranian influences all make Iraq a tenuous place. We hope to achieve sufficient stability in Afghanistan, but such a result is not a foregone conclusion - especially if we leave behind too few NATO troops to support and train the Afghan National Army, or if the Afghan government exacerbates internal and regional tensions instead of relieving them. We are shifting our strategy against al Qaeda from one defined as "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" to one that usesdrones, an occasional special operations forces raid, and surrogates to manage terrorism - meaning, in the words of David Sanger in Confront and Conceal, "a precise, directed economy of force ... that quickly runs into limitations." The drone approach is a de facto strategy of punishment and attrition with all the attendant assumptions and risks. Reducing readiness while at war is a dangerous strategy.

Equally dangerous is the United States' bias toward over-believing in technological solutions - for example, "lethal, fast and remote" solutions; "rapid, decisive" operations; and "light footprints." While the United States faces no overwhelming existential threat, most analysts agree that we do face significant ambiguity, with a reasonable probability of becoming involved in some kind of complex contingency operation that cannot be solved by relying on our technological advances.

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, published by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in December 2012, for example, states that our future holds a potential for increased conflict, both interstate and intrastate. …

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