Academic journal article Parameters

Landpower and American Credibility

Academic journal article Parameters

Landpower and American Credibility

Article excerpt

Abstract: The US Army is under pressure. If trends persist, it will soon shrink to its smallest size in nearly 70 years. While there are sound arguments for the current drawdown, reasonable policies can still yield unintended consequences. In particular, we argue American landpower helps make America's conventional and nuclear security guarantees credible. Since these guarantees stabilize alliances, deter aggression, and curb nuclear proliferation, landpower's relative decline could have serious implications for the broader security situation of the United States.

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The US Army is under pressure. Shifting strategic priorities, especially the rebalance to East Asia, necessarily emphasize naval and JL air power. (1) Budget constraints make it tempting to substitute manpower with technology. (2) Domestically, Americans have little appetite for putting "boots on the ground" after years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beyond geography, economics and politics, an even more potent threat looms: many strategists believe precision weapons are revolutionizing warfare in ways that diminish landpower's usefulness. (3) Although armies have often been the most important source of military power, because they alone have the ability to defend, conquer, and occupy territory, precision weapons threaten to turn that capability into a liability. (4) As the argument goes, on future battlefields, slow-moving armor, artillery, and infantry units will have nowhere to hide as precision-guided munitions (PGMs) rain down upon them.

American defense planners have responded to these trends by shifting resources away from the Army. (5) There are certainly sound arguments behind the current drawdown, including the Asia-Pacific Rebalance and a strong aversion to large-scale counterinsurgency. Nevertheless, even reasonable policy decisions can sometimes yield unintended consequences. Specifically, we argue as geopolitical priorities, technological advances, and budgetary constraints undercut American landpower, allies and adversaries may increasingly question America's conventional and nuclear security guarantees. Since these guarantees stabilize alliances, curb nuclear proliferation, resolve security dilemmas, and deter aggression, landpower's relative decline could have serious implications for the broader security situation of the United States.

We proceed as follows. We first explain why landpower makes American threats and promises more believable. It does so in two ways. The first is well understood: ground troops signal the United States has "skin in the game." However, strategists have largely overlooked our second observation: American troops reassure allies because allies think American troops can punish, compel, and ultimately defeat an undeterred adversary. (6) Put simply, forward deployed soldiers and marines are more than just trip-wires and hostages. Allies do not have faith in American commitments because American troops might die; they have faith because American troops can kill and win. If deterrence and assurance were simply about having "skin in the game," America could signal its commitment on the cheap by deploying unarmed conscripts. (7)

We also identify three policy recommendations that flow from our analysis. First, the United States should halt further cuts to Army force structure. Our analysis suggests the United States must retain a sizable forward-based presence in Europe and East Asia. Although budget cuts make it tempting to replace forward-based troops with rotational training and prepositioned equipment, attempts to reassure allies "on the cheap" are unlikely to work in a world where precision and anti-access/ area-denial (A2AD) threats make it hard to introduce ground forces once the shooting has begun. Moreover, events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate the United States must retain its ability to wage counterinsurgency operations despite its desire to avoid them. (8) Second, the Joint Force must prove to American allies it has a doctrine that allows it to seize and hold ground in an A2AD threat environment. …

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