Academic journal article Military Review

National Will from a Threat Perspective

Academic journal article Military Review

National Will from a Threat Perspective

Article excerpt

Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home For lack of money, and it is all right. Places they guarded, or kept orderly, We want the money for ourselves at home Instead of working. And this is all right.

It's hard to say who wanted it to happen, But now it's been decided nobody minds. The places are a long way off, not here, Which is all right, and from what we hear The soldiers there only made trouble happen. Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

--From "Homage to a Government," Philip Larkin, 1969 (1)

THE ARMY TRAINING and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) intelligence office's Operational Environment document asserts that U.S. adversaries have identified national will as a historically critical vulnerability in U.S. national security posture. (2) Philip Larkin's poem quoted above speaks to the challenge military operations face when domestic support gives over to fatigue and impatience. Although Larkin wrote in 1969, the sentiments he describes are eternal, and the poem could just as easily be from 2010. National will in the modern age is an even more crucial aspect of military success. As U.S. strategic planners project outward, they must consider just how domestic popular and political support for a conflict (serving here as our definition of the term "national will") will become a target. Commanders in military operations can expect adversaries to consider U.S. troops not only a military target but also a proxy target for national will. Soldiers on the ground in turn must be made to understand how and why they are perceived as symbols, and be given the tools they need to put this knowledge to use in theater.

Although conventional warfare is always a possibility, the primary focus for American interests in the foreseeable future will be irregular warfare. If a decisive victory remains elusive, attrition will prolong the conflict and strain the resources and resolve of the Nation. This dynamic has happened in the past and is occurring again today. Such conditions highlight public approbation as a key element of achieving military aims.

Motivations, tactics, techniques, and procedures involved in future proxy attacks on U.S. national will are important to understand. Three main variables provide a framework for discussing them here: length of operations, the potential for U.S. involvement in ongoing low-intensity conflicts, and ways in which both the United States and its adversaries can target national will.

Duration of Operation

With the exception of Vietnam, the average length of U.S. engagement in a conflict did not exceed four years--from the American Revolution through the end of the 20th century. (3)

Among the challenges this history implies for U.S. policymakers is that political objectives can change over time. Such exigencies were certainly the case during World War I, as changing objectives corresponded to escalation of conflict. (4) A watchful adversary can attempt to synchronize attacks with a change in U.S. objectives, a change in administration, or in response to events on the ground. Adversaries can exploit opportunities to seed and perhaps prompt public doubt. This is especially true when the justification for foreign military involvement is morally questionable to the public. Generating bad news during a time when the conflict's objectives are unclear or in flux is likely to provoke questions about why the United States is expending blood and treasure on a doubtful conflict.

As the United States looks toward a future of continuing irregular warfare on foreign soil, an operation's duration becomes increasingly important. History says that time will be on the side of indigenous adversaries, and traditional notions of decisive victory or defeat become inherently elusive in such conditions. Recently, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General David W. Barno stated that the Taliban thinks it is winning the war in Afghanistan; the war is almost over, and they are merely running out the clock. …

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