Transformation: Are the Goals off Target? Military Not Adequately Equipped for Nation Building, Says Former CENTCOM Chief

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Transformation: Are the Goals off Target? Military Not Adequately Equipped for Nation Building, Says Former CENTCOM Chief


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


When the Pentagon talks about the "transformation" of the military services, the implication is that transforming means becoming faster, lighter, more precise and efficient. But given what is going on in the world today, transformation should rather focus on better preparing and training U.S. forces for peacekeeping and nation-building duties, said retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, a State Department special envoy and former head of U.S. Central Command.

Ongoing events in Iraq and Afghanistan-where U.S. forces are engaged in urban guerilla warfare, while also saddled with police and humanitarian duties--only confirm that the political leadership is asking the wrong questions about U.S. military power and its future direction, Zinni said in a speech during a conference of the U.S. Naval Institute.

"We are wringing our hands about how many troops we have. How many divisions we have. What kind of rotations we are going to have to go through." Those issues are important, but they fail to address the underlying problem: No longer does the military just do the "killing and breaking," Zinni said. "It has to be engaged day in and day out, building alliances and coalitions, training others, supporting stability."

The services, however, do not have the resources or the training to adequately perform nation-building duties. That has to change, because, whether anyone likes it or not, the military is "stuck with this baby," said Zinni. "If you are going to make the military the governors, the proconsuls, the humanitarians, the reconstructors, then legitimize it in some way.... We can't go on breaking our military and doing things like we are doing now."

The Bush administration "came in with an idea of transforming the military into something, God knows what, lighter, smaller, quicker, whatever," Zinni said. That focus is misguided, because the U.S. military unquestionably is the world's best combat force. Instead, the Defense Department should figure out how to better train "our officers and leaders for a different kind of mission out there.

"I don't need someone who is only good at the killing and breaking. I need someone who has the breadth and educational experience and intellect to take on all the rest of these missions that he or she will be saddled with when the shooting stops. They are the ones who are going to count on the ground, more than anything else."

Transformation generally has referred to "finding better, remarkable ways to bring technology into our training and education, make our military more efficient and more powerful on the battlefield," Zinni said. "But that is not the problem, and it hasn't been."

The question that has to be asked is how can the military become better equipped to deal with the political, the economic and the information management areas, "if the others, those wearing suits, can't come in and solve the problem, can't get the resources, the expertise, the organization."

Military troops in Iraq are in an impossible situation, he argued. With one hand, they have to shoot people. With the other hand, they have to "feed someone, build an economy, repair the infrastructure, build the political system."

One notion worth considering for the future is to upgrade civil affairs units, so they can evolve from just a "tactical organization doing humanitarian care and interaction with the civilian population, into actually being capable of reconstructing nations," said Zinni.

"This is scary stuff," he cautioned. But "in my mind, that is the most important question we face."

In the years and decades ahead, he predicted, "we are going to continue to deal with this. We are going to be fighting fairly capable states that are sanctuaries for problems. We are going to try to rebuild nations. It's going to threaten our people and our property.

"And it's all going to be mixed into one big battle. …

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