The End of the Short War Fallacy

By Hawkins, William | Army, December 2007 | Go to article overview

The End of the Short War Fallacy


Hawkins, William, Army


Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on September 26, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. casey Jr. made a statement that finally turns around nearly two decades of ill-founded thinking about the state of world affairs. He told the members of Congress, "We live in a world where global terrorism and extremist ideologies are real threats. As we look to the future, national security experts are virtually unanimous in predicting that the next several decades will be ones of persistent conflict-protracted confrontation among state, nonstate and individual actors that use violence to achieve their political and ideological ends. Adversaries will employ propaganda, threat, intimidation and overt violence to coerce people and gain control of their land and resources. ... Many of these conflicts will be protracted-ebbing and flowing in intensity, challenging our nation's will to persevere."

Gen. casey's words describe the normal state of the world throughout history. America's leaders forgot about the lessons of the past in the afterglow of the demise of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. As late as 1999, with trouble already brewing in many hot spots around the world, President Bill Clinton claimed that "perhaps for the first time in history, the world's leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory. The world clearly is coming together."

In most quarters, the attacks of September 11, 2001, were a wake-up call from this dream world but did not fundamentally change "assumptionbased planning" derived from the "short war" fallacy that had been in vogue since the "100-hour" Gulf War of 1991. The details don't need to be repeated here regarding inadequate Iraq planning, or secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's dogged resistance to rebuilding the armed forces.

That heavy combat units could be withdrawn fairly quickly once Baghdad fell was in keeping with "swing strategy" concepts drawn up in the 1990s and which envisioned units fighting multiple short wars in rapid sequence. Both the country and its soldiers continue to pay a high price for these airy notions about how wars should be fought, as opposed to how they need to be fought.

The error of believing that all wars will be short and that the troops will be "home before the leaves fall" is as old as war itself. The spread of industrialization, however, has deepened the economic capacity of even secondary powers to sustain military operations, while the heightened spirit of nationalism (often drawing on ethnic or religious fervor) has bolstered the willingness of people to fight on, even under adverse conditions.

A renewed sense of realism in military planning should extend to economic planning as well as to force levels. Over a decade of short war (or no war) thinking left America with an inadequate defense industrial base that had trouble responding to the demands of war.

The Army Transformation Industrial Base Study, released in April 2003-the same month that Baghdad fell to American forces-concluded: "Collectively, contractor-owned facilities and Army ammunition plants have the capabilities to meet current and Future Force requirements." Yet when the Iraq insurgency materialized, it became necessary to import ammunition from Canada and Israel, as well as find new domestic suppliers. Existing domestic production had been maxed out.

Two years into the war in Iraq, the Pentagon's 2005 Annual Industrial Capabilities Report to Congress was still saying that "DoD policy generally is to fight with the weapons on hand," a posture that made concern for the size and responsiveness of the industrial base irrelevant. Yet the same report stated:

Support to current warfighting operations requires adding armor protection to unarmored vehicles and fighting positions. Throughout 2004, the Army assessed domestic armor production capacity as at least adequate to meet all military requirements. …

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