Friday, January 07, 2005

Part of a broader problem - we need to rethink the force structure

MSNBC - U.S. reserves nearly 'broken,' says chief

Lt. Gen. James Helmly, who heads the US Army Reserves, has raised complaints that the protracted deployments (currently 52,000 of the Army's 200,000 reservists are on active duty, 17,000 in Iraq and 2,000 in Afghanistan) and poor management of personnel are impairing the ability of the reserve component to meet other mission commitments including some related to Homeland Security.

Helmly's complaints need to be considered as part of a broader rethinking of how much and what kind of troops we require at this point in history and going forward. The regular Army is itself severely stretched at this time and the National Guard is suffering from similar problems. A great deal of effort has gone into bringing the reserves and guard units up to spec with the active force, having the same weapons, vehicles, etc. rather than cast-offs and obsolescent materiel that characterized much of the Cold War era. From what I have read, it appears that this effort did pay off in deploying large contingents of part-time soldiers to take a significant share of the load in the GWOT. But it may be time to re-examine the force structure.

After the elections scheduled for the end of this month in Iraq, there should be a slight reduction of troop strength in that theater, mostly units which had been planned to rotate back home last fall but were held over due to the increased tempo of the insurgency. But there will be a continuing need for large US forces there for several years.

As the Iraqi police and border guards are fleshed out, US forces can pull out of the cities and greatly reduce their interaction with the civilian population, putting "an Iraqi face" on the fight to consolidate the hold of the new Iraqi government. But, this is a dangerous neighborhood and it will take years before an indigenous Iraqi army and air force are ready to defend their country against possible threats from Iran and Syria. We have taken an important step in this direction by sending an Army reserve training division to Iraq.

The most important question, but seldom asked even by this administration's critics, is "What is the mission?" You can't do everything you would like to be able to do, certainly not all those things at one time, but is the 2.5 war scenario or something similar an adequate baseline? What commitments are we prepared to keep, what commitments might we be able to jetison.

My personal preference would be to get all US troops out of the Balkans. If the French, Italians, Germans, etc. can't keep a lid on it by themselves, maybe we ought to force them to try. This is not a renunciation of NATO, just an acknowledgement that the Balkan adventure was not the sort of thing the Senate had in mind when the North Atlantic Treaty was ratified. There are other strutures like the WEU or OSCE which could be used to organize it. In any event, we have a lot of investment in facilities in Europe and we will have a lot of troops there for a long time.

East Asia
For all the bluster from Kim Jong-Il, the chances are slightly higher that he will invade South Korea than that we would invade his hermit kingdom. The last time I checked, we had about 38,000 personnel in S. Korea including the joint US-ROK headquarters. We don't have the troops in theater to even think about an invasion and it would require a long build-up to get to that point - somebody would notice. That's the practical barrier, but the political barrier is even greater. The ROK is not going to risk devastating their economy and the massive civilian, as well as military, casualties that would result. There are, I believe, something like 10,000 artillery tubes in range of the South Korean capital of Seoul. Not only that, but Japan would not countenance an invasion of North Korea without extreme provocation because ports and airbases in Japan are critical to any sustained operations on the peninsula and Japan is in range of North Korean missiles. Since we no longer have a significant fighting force in Korea, as we did for decades after the 1953 Korean War armistice, it would be just as well to cut our forces there further. We also need to convince the ROK to move the joint HQ to Pusan or some other point more defensible than Seoul. Could we abandon our commitment to defend ROK? That would be a great mistake.
The other significant flashpoint in this region is Taiwan. We do not have troops there, and our contribution to the island's defense may well be limited to air and seapower assets. Better to sink PRC transport ships and shoot down their airplanes before they get to Taiwan than to fight them on the beaches.

This is an area that includes large zones of perpetual chaos and a few places that have strategic significance. Of greatest interest are the oil production of Nigeria and Angola, and possibly in the Bight of Benin. There has been discussion in some quarters of seeking an island base in this region which would function as a secure base for air operations in the South Atlantic as Diego Garcia does in the Indian Ocean.

Latin America
The war on drugs intersects the GWOT in many places, but none more so than in Latin America. Although there are places like Haiti where peacekeeping troops in limited numbers may be needed from time to time and there are ongoing drug interdiction and counter-insurgency training needs, there seems to be little prospect at present of any general war in this region that would require the US to even consider intervention. This might change, though, if Castro and Chavez are serious about their new Bolivarian revolutionary project. (See my earlier entry on the Havana-Caracas Axis.)

Homeland Security
Now we are back to Gen. Helmly's concern about not being able to meet Homeland Security related missions. Remember that there is more to the DHS mission than the GWOT. Not only does the department include customs and immigration functions, it also includes the disaster response functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Army assets, especially in the National Guard have an important role to play in those plans and if a major portion of a state's guard units are overseas when a disaster strikes, it is hard to see who will pick up the slack. In the current state of things, it might make more sense to leave the military out of those plans entirely since they cannot be relied upon to be there when needed.

My Recommendations
First, we ought to restore a constitutional militia according to Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 16. The Congress should provide that the militia may not be sent outside the country. There are important roles in disaster response, riot control, etc. where the states and localities rely on what we now call the National Guard and they ought to be organized in such a way that they will always be available if needed. The numbers may or may not need to be as large as at present. It may be prudent to shift some resources from the current Guard to the Reserves.
Second, The Army ought to be larger. How much larger is a matter for the experts, but we need a force that is large enough to do what we want it to do with only brief and infrequent resort to the reserve elements.
Third, we ought to go on record that Iraq is the last exercise in nation-building we will ever embark on. We ought to make a few points clear to people everywhere: (a) that in future we are only going into places where our interests are directly and immediately impacted, (b) that citizens of other countries should keep their own rulers on a short leash because pulling this lion's tail is dangerous for the fellow doing the pulling and anybody standing nearby, (c) we will no longer invade countries to arrest their leaders we will just destroy their ability to harm us. These principles will reduce future drains on our resources.


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