American Defense Transformation: A View from Ukraine

By Polyakov, Leonid I. | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, September 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

American Defense Transformation: A View from Ukraine


Polyakov, Leonid I., Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


I want to present a Ukrainian perspective on US defense transformation. I can suggest two reasons why such a perspective might be of interest. The first reason is that the past decade of experience in US/Ukrainian military cooperation within the framework of American "peacetime engagement" programs has shown that our nations share a converging interest in both parties having a robust defense. The United States has consistently been the most active foreign advocate and supporter of Ukraine's independence. So, we think that you care about us, and we care about your strength. We consider your defense capabilities as one of the cornerstones of continued American support to Ukraine. In other words, we care about your future as a kind of guarantee of our own future.

The second reason is that experience in recent years (NATO implementation forces [IFOR], stabilization forces [SFOR], and Kosovo forces [KFOR]) also demonstrates that Ukrainian troops have been and continue to be a potential coalition partner with the US Army in future contingencies. Therefore, it is not unthinkable that the success of our future combined operations to some extent could depend on how we shape our interoperability now.

First, I will cover some considerations concerning the general operational dimensions of American defense transformation in an era of peace and prosperity. Then I will discuss some aspects of interoperability between the United States Army, a "high-tech info age force" and the Ukrainian Army, a "low-tech industrial age force."

An Example from History

To illustrate the possible effects of transformation on US military forces and to highlight potential dangers, I offer this example from 2,000 years ago.

In the year 9 AD, the Roman General Varus led three Roman Legions (a force equivalent to a US Army Corps today) on an expedition to punish rebelling native tribes in Germany. The Romans had the best military technology, the best doctrine, and the best training available in the whole world at that time. Their army had not been defeated in battle in 100 years. The Romans were led on their march by friendly German troops who knew the region, allies who had sworn allegiance to Rome forever and were interoperable within the framework of the Roman military system. The allied scouting party was led by Arminius, a German prince who had been made a Roman officer and citizen because of his demonstrated intense loyalty to Rome.

Arminius led the three Roman legions into the dense forests and swamps of the Teutoburger Wald. When the Roman legions were deep into the woods, their German allies suddenly disappeared. Then other German warriors attacked the Romans on three sides. The Romans were not able to deploy into their normally deadly combat formations because of the thick forest and swampy ground. They were faced with an asymmetric battle that they had not been trained for, and they could not adequately adapt to the unfamiliar conditions. All three legions were destroyed.

On a larger scale, the German victory in this battle changed all of European history. Afterwards, the Romans withdrew behind the Rhine and never again colonized much of Germany except below the Danube. Initially they did launch a punishing strike against the German tribes in revenge for the loss of their legions, but the Romans soon had to withdraw because they now had too few troops to occupy the area. Their response resembled a modern Tomahawk cruise missile attack against Iraq, or terrorists, today. Such actions hurt your enemy for a few days or months, but if you do not occupy the ground, you get only some momentary satisfaction and never solve the problem. Because Rome failed to occupy Germany, the modern world was faced with one of the great rivalries of our day France versus Germany. Had Rome occupied both areas, perhaps they could have developed in ways that would have prevented World War I and World War II. …

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