Small Wars

This Week at War: General Casey's Doubts

What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.

Afghanistan and some unmentioned strategic risks

Left unmentioned in all the discussion of America's interests in Afghanistan are several risks that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional soldiers, if implemented, would create. McChrystal is asking for a permanent escalation in Afghanistan that would commit U.S. ground forces to a larger open-ended effort. Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, fears that the size and duration of this commitment could eventually break the all-volunteer Army. One strategic risk is that the United States would not have enough ready ground forces for another sustained contingency elsewhere. Finally, the funding that is diverted to sustaining ground-force intensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could be creating risks in the space, air, and naval dimensions that will unpleasantly appear in the next decade and beyond.

The Bush administration's surge in Iraq was a strategic gamble. The increase from 15 to 20 brigades in Iraq tapped out the last of America's ground combat power. In addition, the required deployment schedule -- 15 months in combat followed by 12 months back home -- was considered a temporary, emergency measure. It was for this reason that the Iraq "surge" was a temporary measure -- it was not feasible to indefinitely sustain 20 brigades in Iraq.

In these terms, McChrystal's troop request is not a surge but an escalation. McChrystal's initial assessment does not define a discrete time period during which he would need the additional troops -- the request is open-ended.

In May, prior to the Obama administration's latest review of Afghan policy and McChrystal's report, Casey declared the current deployment practice of "12 months deployed, 12 months home" unsustainable. The Army now considers a routine of 12 months deployed, 24 months home sustainable in the long run. The Army believes it can implement this routine if it limits its commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq to no more than 10 brigades.

But according to this open-source estimate of the current U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan, one Marine and six Army brigades are currently serving in Afghanistan. These seven brigades are part of the 68,000 U.S. troops in the country. McChrystal's 40,000-soldier increase would bring the U.S. brigade count in Afghanistan to at least 11 and probably more.

Assuming the U.S. really does evacuate all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Army and the Marine Corps would find a way to sustain the larger effort in Afghanistan while also increasing home-station time -- assuming that this would be McChrystal's final escalation of the war.

But the other strategic risks would remain. U.S. ground combat power would be unavailable for another sustained effort elsewhere, unless force generation planners were again willing to risk reducing home-station time down toward 12 months. Casey wants to stop this gamble on the Army's future.

Second, McChrystal's open-ended commitment to Afghanistan would mean that ground-force operations, paid for with either regular or supplemental budgets, would continue to divert funds away from space, air, and naval modernization. Given the very long leads times involved with these programs (along with some deteriorating trends I mentioned last week), President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates should ponder what strategic legacy they will leave to their successors and how that measures up to the current effort in Afghanistan.

Gates finds frustration in Tokyo

This week Defense Secretary Robert Gates tended to some business in East Asia. On Oct. 21, he arrived in Japan only to encounter a headache, caused by not by jet lag but by his Japanese interlocutors.

In 2006, after over a decade of negotiations, the United States and Japan reached a deal on restructuring the U.S. military presence in Japan. The deal will shift U.S. forces on Okinawa and Japan's home islands, close some bases, build new facilities, and move 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Now the new government in Tokyo, led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), wants to reopen the deal. Gates refused, adding, "It is time to move on." Just to make sure his Japanese hosts understood, Gates turned down invitations to a welcome ceremony at the Defense Ministry and dinner with Japanese officials.

The new Japanese leaders have their reasons for wanting to reopen the 2006 basing deal. Although Japan has long depended on the presence of U.S. military forces for Japan's defense, the U.S. presence has become an increasing irritant, especially on Okinawa. Second, now that they are finally in power, DPJ leaders feel they have a strong mandate to scrutinize the commitments made by their Liberal Democratic predecessors. Finally, while facing its own budget burdens, the basing deal requires Japan to pay for most of the new facilities, both on Okinawa and Guam.

From a strategic perspective, Gates and the U.S. military want to get on with a retreat from Okinawa to Guam. In the past, Okinawa, located so close to China's coast, was an important U.S. outpost, both for intelligence collection and for force projection. However, China's massive and continuing buildup in short and medium-range ballistic missiles is making it an increasingly risky place to be. The U.S. wants to retain Okinawa as an important forward base, but moving many of the Marines to Guam will reduce friction with Japan and improve the strategic flexibility of Marine forces in the Pacific. Even better for the U.S. if Japan pays for much of the move.

Japan's new leaders have decided that they do not have to play the diplomatic game with the U.S. the same way Japan played it in the past. Gates will have to develop options or leverage should Japan's leaders persist with their new-found obstinacy.

Gates may be working on this. Next stop was South Korea, where in a speech to South Korean military leaders, Gates called for the South Korea military to regularly participate in regional and global security missions. Beyond reorienting South Korea away from just the North Korean threat, the U.S. has also been reorienting its military posture in South Korea. Continuing a program begun when Donald Rumsfeld was defense secretary, U.S. ground forces are withdrawing from Korea's demilitarized zone and repositioning to central South Korea. From there, these and other U.S. forces would have the flexibility to deploy to missions elsewhere in the region. The complex of U.S. bases in central South Korea will become a supplementary option to those the United States uses in Japan.

Japan's new leaders are attempting to protect Japan's interests, as they see them. As with any negotiation, they are testing to see which side has more bargaining power. By developing his alternatives, such as those in South Korea, Gates is enhancing his bargaining power with the Japanese. Maybe that's the best cure for a Japanese headache.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Small Wars

This Week at War: China Rules the Waves

What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.

Learning to share the oceans with China

On Sept. 22, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a report, China's Arrival: A Strategic Framework for a Global Relationship. Journalist and CNAS senior fellow Robert Kaplan, wrote a chapter in the report called "China's Two-Ocean Strategy" (see page 45).

Kaplan asserts, "China is in the midst of a shipbuilding and acquisition craze that will result in the People's Liberation Army Navy having more ships than the U.S. Navy sometime in the next decade." Since 1945, U.S. diplomatic and political strategies in Asia have been predicated on U.S. naval domination in the western Pacific and Indian oceans. The U.S. Navy's control of seagoing lines of commerce from the Middle East to all points in Asia has been a major component of America's alliance system in the region and its relations with potential adversaries. Kaplan's essay reminds us that over the next decade or so, the rise of China's naval power will scrap the assumptions underlying the United States' Asian diplomacy.

According to Kaplan, the collapse of the Soviet Army in the 1990s removed China's most significant land-based threat. With its territorial security established, China's leaders could afford to spend money on naval forces. This shift coincided with the massive expansion of China's international trade. Kaplan reminds us that China's energy imports from the Middle East -- which travel across the Indian Ocean, through the Strait of Malacca, and up the western Pacific -- will double over the next decade or two. China's ocean-going commerce currently receives protection from the U.S. Navy and its allies in the region. But as an arriving global power, China's leaders are not likely to tolerate this vulnerability to potential U.S. leverage. China's naval shipbuilding program indicates China's response.

According to Kaplan, by 2015 China will surpass South Korea and Japan to become the world's most prolific shipbuilder. China will achieve this position because its growing shipbuilding expertise will combine with its labor and capital cost advantages to make it the preferred shipbuilding vendor. China's cost advantages in "metal-bending" industries will compare very favorably against U.S. naval shipbuilders who are best known for gross cost overruns, long delays, and problem-ridden deliveries. U.S. military acquisition officials have hoped that U.S. technological advantages will offset an adversary's numbers. But such a focus on technology might be part of the problem, rather than the solution. Looking out over the next two decades, military shipbuilding trends do not favor the United States.

The solution is expanded diplomacy. Kaplan discusses how the United States and China will find common interests protecting shipping from piracy, terrorism, and natural disasters. In addition, China and the United States share an interest in keeping open the ocean's lines of communication -- both countries are highly dependent on trade and energy imports from the Middle East. With many common interests, China's arrival as a naval power need not result in conflict.

But will the United States be able to maintain its Asian alliance system if its naval hegemony comes under challenge? Will America's friends in Asia drift into China's orbit if the U.S. military cannot maintain its investment in naval power? This decade's land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have absorbed huge sums that might have otherwise gone into naval recapitalization. The looming fragility in America's position in the western Pacific might be the best reason for it to wind up its affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pakistan under siege

Over the past 11 days, Islamist militants have conducted six major attacks in urban areas of Pakistan, killing scores of security personnel and civilians. On Oct. 16, militants conducted a suicide attack on a police station in Peshawar, killing at least 11 people. Just one day earlier, militants attacked three police facilities in Lahore, in Pakistan's Punjab heartland. These events followed an Oct. 10 attack on the Army's headquarters building in Islamabad, which resulted in a 20-hour hostage siege.

For almost two months, the Pakistani government has promised a large ground offensive against suspected Taliban support areas in South Waziristan. If the government was actually serious about such an offensive, it remains a mystery why it would choose to forfeit the element of surprise. Even if the military carries out the attack, we can be sure that it will now yield little.

Instead it is the militants who are on the offensive, and not just in the frontier and Pashtun areas of the country. The Islamists are in no position to seize control of the national government; indeed, the latest string of attacks has very likely energized the urban middle class to demand harsh action against the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda. Assuming that militant leaders anticipated this reaction, what is the objective of this latest urban terror offensive?

First, they may hope to boost the morale of their supporters in South Waziristan and elsewhere, hoping to steel their resolve before the looming Army offensive. Second, the militants might be hoping to deter the offensive, or at least persuade the government to make it a halfhearted affair. Finally, they may hope that the attacks sap the morale of the government's soldiers, reducing their performance on the battlefield.

Pakistan's deteriorating internal security is an extremely unwelcome development for U.S. policymakers. Some smart analysts have argued that one of the best reasons for the United States to make a large commitment to Afghanistan's stability is to prevent a possible collapse in Pakistan, a far more strategically significant country. Yet it seems that the more the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan escalates, the worse things get inside Pakistan.

Correlation is obviously not causation. Should the United States dramatically scale back its effort in Afghanistan, it is hard to imagine that this would have any significant influence on Pakistan's problems. The solutions to Pakistan's internal security lie within Pakistan and not Afghanistan. Perhaps the latest wave of attacks will motivate Pakistani society to now face these problems head-on.

Guang Niu/Pool/Getty Images