Yeah, we’ve got it permalinked on the blogroll. But I want to mention here that Phil has been exceptionally good lately, so if you haven’t checked out his coverage of defense issues, please do so, and you will become a regular visitor.
This recent piece, War game’s outcome stuns decisionmakers, blew me away.
To summarize, the military had a wargame and then they were surprised that “Our overwhelming conventional superiority is bound to trigger a massive, unconventional, asymmetric, possibly terroristic response.” This causes Lex to scratch his head. Open and obvious sources, e.g. well-publicized books and articles on the Internet, have been saying plainly, for years now, that this is the type of approach America’s enemies are going to take. So how is it possible that senior military personnel who participated in this exercise were surprised, let alone stunned, by these results? Can it be that these senior military personnel are so out of touch with basic reality which is openly available to the entire world? Can it be that they don’t understand the fundamental nature of the world we are entering and the threats we are facing? Or, is it that they are willfully blind to that reality? Why are they preparing to face a non-existent state-based threat? Because that is all they know how to do?
Damn. Not good.
I am thinking more and more that any “state-based-threat”, in the tanks-planes-howitzers category, is a mirage — North Korea and China being partial exceptions. Cynically, I wonder why the anti-war crowd argue more forcefully that we attacked Iraq because it is the only country on earth inept enough to fight us in a fashion we are able to handle?
The many people out there who want to destroy America are short on means, other than willpower and brains, so they are doing some innovative thinking. If we don’t match that innovative thinking we are going to suffer unnecessary disasters before we rally and respond. We have abundant human and material resources to identify, engage and preempt, deter or destroy any possible threat. We need to employ these vast capabilities wisely. (Speaking of rallying, responding, etc., be sure to see this tour d’horizon by den Beste.)
A first step might be to stop thinking about and talking about “asymmetric threats” at all. Let’s just look at threats. A threat is only asymmetric because we have not yet developed a “symmetric” capability to address it. The Wehrmacht was an asymmetric threat in 1938, as far as America’s tiny army was concerned. We acquired the human and material means to deal with the threat, period. It stopped being asymmetric when we understood it and spent the time, effort and money to acquire the needed “symmetric” capability. Then we hammered the Third Reich into the dirt, with a little help from the Red Army’s tank armada.
The key thing here is that terrorism used to be primarily a nuisance from a military standpoint. For fifty years our former friend the Red Army’s tank armada was the monster symmetric threat we had to worry about. We could survive the loss of Vietnam. (We did.) But we could not survive the loss of Western Europe.
But those days are long gone. Now terrorism is the major threat because the means of destruction the terrorists are likely to obtain are so enormously powerful. This is a novel situation. We need to look carefully at military history to cull out any the lessons which are pertinent to this current situation, and to “fill the box” to deal with asymmetric challenges. We must not suffer a nuclear Pearl Harbor before we figure out what the real threats are. That would be a catastrophe, and it would be positively criminal if it occurred as a result of bureaucratic inertia.
(This Intel Dump piece about the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly is spot on. The essay about JFK’s dealings with the military, and the rotten advice they kept giving him, strongly support Eliot Cohen’s thesis, in his book Supreme Command — i.e., the military must be subject to strict scrutiny and control by the civilian leadership but, unfortunately, skillful or even competent civilian leadership in this area is rare. A quandry. Anyway, a discussion of Cohen’s book, and other historical and contemporary examples, merits a long post in itself. Too many topics, too many books, too little time.)