Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Us Military Force Sizing for Both War and Peace

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Us Military Force Sizing for Both War and Peace

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

To plan the size of the US military, Pentagon officials rely on what is known as a force-sizing construct, which reflects the upper limits of what the military is able to do. Most famously, in the wake of the Cold War, Pentagon planners relied on the two-war standard, which called for a military sized to fight two near-simultaneous wars if necessary. But in recent years, the two-war standard has been watered down even as demands on US forces have grown. Not only has it been scaled back, but the force-sizing construct also diminished after it was exposed as inadequate to meet the demands placed on the military in the aftermath of 2001 in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet returning to a true two-war standard is a necessary but insufficient step to create a modern force-sizing construct. Rather than only incorporating demands for forces in wartime, the Pentagon's construct must also include regular peacetime demands on US forces. While steady-state demands such as forward presence abroad, training missions with partner militaries, and rotational deployments do not rise to the magnitude of major contingency operations, they form the backbone of day-to-day US military activities. Moreover, they serve a vital role in shaping the international environment to advance American interests, preserving a norm-based international order, reassuring allies, and deterring potential aggressors.

These peacetime missions represent the most cost-effective and preferred use of American military power. They magnify all other aspects of American national power while upholding stability in vital regions. Only by moving to a force-sizing construct that allows the United States to fight and win two near-simultaneous major wars--while also conducting the multitude of everyday operations that promote global stability--can defense planners more accurately size and budget for the demands on the US military.

US Military Force Sizing for Both War and Peace

While the pace of America's drawdown in Afghanistan is currently under review, several thousand troops are expected to return home in 2015. It is tempting to view the US withdrawal as an opportunity to reap defense savings, but the reality is that those in uniform are only getting busier. Even in the absence of another protracted conflict, the regular engagement, partnership-building, and forward-presence responsibilities of the US military ensure there will be no letup in activity.

The strategic assumptions of the Obama administration's force planning have not become reality, including that Europe would remain at peace, that the US was overcommitted across the Middle East, and that a "pivot" to Asia could be achieved without a notable increase in forces. As the bipartisan National Defense Panel concluded last year, the administration has been "widening the disconnect between America's strategic objectives and the realities of ... available forces." (1) To be fair, previous administrations of both political parties have made other rosy assumptions that have not been borne out, while justifying force reductions, smaller budgets, and diminished strategic aims regarding the use of force.

With demands on US forces growing and new crises emerging because of disease, terrorism, and great-power aggression, the time is ripe for defense planners to incorporate the totality of military demands--and responses to smaller contingencies--into America's force-sizing construct. Rather than being shaped exclusively to fight two major wars, or some variation therein, the military should be sized to fight two major wars and conduct everyday operations worldwide, including responding to multiple smaller contingencies at once. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that the military was too small and underresourced to fully meet the two-war standard. Today's smaller, less-capable military cannot therefore be expected to meet current war plans and provide enough capacity to carry out the majority of US operations overseas, which are short of war and intended to keep the peace. …

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