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February 2, 2012

Update: We Can Still Fight Everyone, So Why Deny It?

by Mike M

More Defense officials are piling on to reassure the world that, indeed, America can fight lots of wars.

Within the last couple of days, Michele Flournoy took to the stage at the Reserve Officers Association to argue that “We are retaining full capability to confront more than one aggressor anywhere in the world even if we are engaged in large scale operations.  We will be able to quickly deny the objectives of an opportunistic adversary or impose unacceptable costs.”  Which of course is true; and it makes sense for her to counter bad impressions sent out by the “less than X wars” capability planning constructs.  In fact we could confront two, three—any number of aggressors, depending on which ones, what they were doing, and how we chose to respond.

Which again makes the whole “one plus a basket of cheese” standard for planning rather pointless, and reinforces its risks.

The continuing confusions of such an approach jump out later in that same report, from Defense News.  “We could be trying to break a blockade in the South China Sea, we could be reopening the Strait of Hormuz, and go after a terrorist cell in Somalia all at the same time,” the report quotes Todd Harrison from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.  “It’s different capabilities; it could be a bunch of different things.”

Which amounts to saying we could fight three wars at the same time.  And the very next paragraph then says this:  “But that being said, the United States never actually had the ability to fight two major regional wars to begin with since the end of the Cold War, he added.”

Uh … what?  Of course Harrison’s two claims do make sense, but only if the actual requirements of each conflict are completely contingent and subjective.  Which, in the real world, they will be.

Which means:  End the practice; develop new criteria for force sizing (it can be done); tell the world what Flournoy just did–we will do whatever we feel we need to do, at a given moment; and move on.  No one will shed a tear, apart perhaps for the manufacturers of some very advanced color copiers.

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