Academic journal article Military Review

Learning from Our Modern Wars: The Imperatives of Preparing for a Dangerous Future

Academic journal article Military Review

Learning from Our Modern Wars: The Imperatives of Preparing for a Dangerous Future

Article excerpt

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

SINCE RETURNING from my second tour in Iraq in December 2006, I have had time to reflect on how our collective experiences in that war, along with those in Afghanistan and our wider War on Terrorism, have affected our military, government, and Nation. Although we are still heavily committed in all of those operations and continue to adjust our approaches to ultimately achieve our objectives, I believe it is time to start looking more broadly at how our experiences in modern warfare should help shape our national security institutions in the years to come. This essay highlights the most significant lessons I have learned in the post-9/11 world and how I think they could be applied to better prepare us for the full range of challenges we will likely encounter in the future.

This article began as an effort to identify challenges the U.S. Army must prepare to face, but I soon realized that many of those challenges are connected to the other armed forces, the interagency, and the broader U.S. Government. Therefore, I address elements of our national power beyond just the military. The complexities of today's national security environment demand that we reevaluate missions across the U.S. Government, embrace the requirements for full-spectrum operations, and preserve our most important military principles while adjusting our organizations and values development to best meet the challenges ahead. This article is in no way an effort to propose answers to all of our potential challenges; rather, it is an attempt to join the conversation.

How We Got Here and Where We Should Go

The rapid diffusion of technology, the growth of a multitude of transnational factors, and the consequences of increasing globalization and economic interdependence, have coalesced to create national security challenges remarkable for their complexity. . . .

-General Charles C. Krulak.1999(1)

As the cold war faded into memory and new security challenges emerged at the beginning of the 21st century, military visionaries were promoting a view of future warfare characterized by increased complexity, unpredictability, and ambiguity. Others, less prescient, viewed concepts such as low-intensity conflict, operations other than war, and nation-building as anathema to our military's warrior culture. Despite repeatedly conducting such operations in the 1990s, we tended to quickly revert our intellectual capacities back to our traditional core competencies of synchronizing combat power on a symmetrically aligned battlefield.

The inevitable result was that the United States, even after an extraordinary round of initial military transformation efforts, entered the War on Terrorism after the 9/11 attacks with armed forces well suited to defeat opposing armies and topple political regimes, but significantly lacking the depth suited to the longer term requirements of stabilizing and rebuilding nations. In essence, we went to war with a military and interagency construct that was not prepared for the imperatives of full-spectrum operations and counter-insurgency warfare.

Since 9/11 and our experiences on the modern asymmetric battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has learned hard lessons and forced itself to make significant generational leaps of adaptation. Meanwhile, much of our government and interagency seems to be in a state of denial about the requirements needed to adapt to modern warfare. Collectively, we must internalize and institutionalize the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure they truly become "learned" rather than merely "observed." We must also broaden our scope to include imperatives across our government-imperatives that will help us prepare for a future in which we will almost certainly encounter situations of equal or greater complexity than those we face today. …

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