A terrorist operating out of a tent in Afghanistan may do more to spur change in the U.S. armed forces than several decades’ worth of blue-ribbon panels, commissions, reports, and initiatives on military reform. For even if the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines remain unsuited to taking the lead in disrupting shadowy terrorist networks, ...
A terrorist operating out of a tent in Afghanistan may do more to spur change in the U.S. armed forces than several decades' worth of blue-ribbon panels, commissions, reports, and initiatives on military reform. For even if the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines remain unsuited to taking the lead in disrupting shadowy terrorist networks, the sight of a passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon has once and for all replaced the vision of Soviet tanks bursting through Eastern Europe as the free world's Nightmare Number One. Will fundamental changes in U.S. military strategy, tactics, and budgets follow? As fate would have it, Foreign Policy had long planned a roundtable discussion with FP Editor Moisés Naím and four of America's most distinguished retired military leaders for September 12 -- one day after the terrorist attacks on American soil. The participants' cumulative 100-plus years of military experience include enforcing the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia, commanding the U.S. 6th Fleet, serving as deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European Command, and heading the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Delivered in the heat of crisis, their prescriptions for responding to the attacks are thoughtful and wide ranging. And their views on everything from the obstacles to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's reform efforts and the amount of waste in the defense budget to the military's remarkable technophobia are, in many ways, as unexpected as they are provocative.
A terrorist operating out of a tent in Afghanistan may do more to spur change in the U.S. armed forces than several decades’ worth of blue-ribbon panels, commissions, reports, and initiatives on military reform. For even if the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines remain unsuited to taking the lead in disrupting shadowy terrorist networks, the sight of a passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon has once and for all replaced the vision of Soviet tanks bursting through Eastern Europe as the free world’s Nightmare Number One. Will fundamental changes in U.S. military strategy, tactics, and budgets follow? As fate would have it, Foreign Policy had long planned a roundtable discussion with FP Editor Moisés Naím and four of America’s most distinguished retired military leaders for September 12 — one day after the terrorist attacks on American soil. The participants’ cumulative 100-plus years of military experience include enforcing the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia, commanding the U.S. 6th Fleet, serving as deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European Command, and heading the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Delivered in the heat of crisis, their prescriptions for responding to the attacks are thoughtful and wide ranging. And their views on everything from the obstacles to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s reform efforts and the amount of waste in the defense budget to the military’s remarkable technophobia are, in many ways, as unexpected as they are provocative.
FOREIGN POLICY: We are meeting one day after the most serious attack on the United States — one of the largest losses of human life in a single day — in the history of this country. What is the appropriate military reaction to this, General Nash?
Maj. Gen. William Nash: I think it’s important for the United States to pursue a course that’s low in rhetoric and measured in development. We also need to keep in mind that we cannot defeat the determination of terrorists to die for their country with unmanned attack systems, because we will never win the psychological superiority necessary to defeat the leaders of such efforts.
Adm. William Owens: The worst thing we can do as a military and as a country today is to put in place pinprick measures that aren’t strategically effective and that don’t take advantage of the sense around the world that something needs to be done about international terrorism. This is a war. We need now to focus with our friends around the world — and there are a lot of them — in doing something about this that is profound and strategic.
FP: General Boyd, what are the most likely mistakes that the United States can or will make in responding to what happened?
Gen. Charles Boyd: What worries me most is the character of the response. I have more fear at this point of an overreaction — if there can be such a thing as an overreaction to the single most tragic day in the history of this country. Nonetheless, to strike out in a spastic, reflexive way, maybe with excessive use of force against an uncertain target, could have terrible consequences for our nation. Let’s use the resources that we have. Let’s figure out exactly how to respond and against whom. And let’s not allow the inevitable pressure that’s going to come from Congress and the media to do something quickly to overcome our judgment.
FP: Who should be held accountable for the failure of intelligence that led to yesterday’s events?
Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper: The immediate scapegoat is always the intelligence community. This was not necessarily an intelligence failure. It was an operational failure. What we ought to do is look at who was responsible for security, right down to the individuals who checked these terrorists through the airports, if we can identify them. The intelligence community does a damn good job. It troubles me that people always speak in terms of operational successes and intelligence failures.
FP: Admiral Owens, where does the main responsibility for yesterday’s events lie, other than with the perpetrators?
Owens: I’m not going to point a finger at a particular fall guy. The real issue here is how an open, transparent democracy should respond. We’ll never develop a 99 percent effective defense against these sorts of attacks, but we can perhaps do better. I prefer to leave a discussion of who is responsible to the investigative process that will take place over the months ahead.
FP: Should authority be given to the president of the United States to assassinate those who have been identified as the culprits?
Boyd: I think the president of the United States or some elected political body — or the president in consultation with the leadership of Congress — should have that option. Absolutely.
Van Riper: Yes, I believe it should. That is, the president should have the authority with very specific regulations and legislative provisions. The legislation on the books now, I believe, needs to be rolled back.
FP: Admiral Owens, is this course of action the way to reduce such threats in the future?
Owens: I don’t think so. I think we should never lower our standards to the standards of others. In this context, I don’t think we should legitimize the assassination of even the worst war criminals, but we should bring them to justice. That is also important from the standpoint of not making them martyrs.
Van Riper: This is a cancer. What we’ve tried to do in the past is simply strike a portion of it. This has got to be excised completely. First, we need to make clear to those who harbor these criminals and terrorists what the results of their actions may be. If that doesn’t work, then we position our forces and finally strike with all the power we can bring at both the terrorists and at the nations that harbor them.
FP: General Nash, do you agree with what General Van Riper just said?
Nash: Yes. I disagree with him on the issue of assassination. But I do agree with what he said about our proposed response.
Van Riper: It’s hard for me to see the difference between a sniper taking out a battalion commander of an enemy unit and a precision weapon taking out the head of an organization like those that were involved in this.
Nash: I think one of the dangers of this approach, aside from the issues that assassination raises, is that it encourages the nation to think that such operations are the solution to the problem.
FP: Did yesterday’s terrorist attacks prove that missile defense is a useless initiative?
Owens: I believe it puts the impetus upon policymakers to put national missile defense in proper perspective as a part of homeland defense — but perhaps not the only or not the most important part of homeland defense.
Nash: Because of yesterday’s attacks, the American people now have a better understanding of the likelihood of the delivery of weapons of mass destruction to the United States. The larger issue of homeland defense is more of a reality today than it was before. Missile defense at some point becomes a part of that, but I think yesterday’s events will push it down the priority scale.
FP: General Boyd, do you think that yesterday’s events are going to change the priority given to missile defense?
Boyd: I should think so. I put much more emphasis on the kinds of threats that are not delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles.
FP: General Boyd, you were executive director of the Commission on National Security/21st Century (the Hart-Rudman Commission), and one of the most provocative statements in that commission’s report was a recommendation that the United States should explore the possibility of responding to chemical and biological threats with nuclear weapons. Does this mean it may be time for America to reexamine the circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons?
Boyd: The notion that deterrence is or still can be an effective concept in the post–Cold War era is arguable. The commission members agreed that unless you can make it clear to potential users of biological and chemical technologies that they will face a nuclear response, there might not be any other way of deterring such an attack. They weren’t talking about an individual or a private organization like that of Osama bin Laden. They were talking about nations like Iraq. But the whole issue here — and one I think is worthy of thinking about — is what value we will place on deterrence in this period in our history.
FP: Can you predict or anticipate the changes we will experience as a result of yesterday’s attacks?
Boyd: Two profound things I learned working with the commission are the degree to which we are resented around the world and the degree to which technologies — not just weapons of mass destruction — are and will continue to proliferate into the hands of nations and private individuals who never before had the power to strike effectively at a great nation like ours. That changes everything in my mind. If someone now has the means, the anger, the resentment, and the tools to hurt a great power, we fundamentally have to readjust our thinking about the nature of the threat and who our enemies really are.
FP: Will these terrorist attacks make America less willing to engage the world? Will they reinforce the notion of "Fortress America"?
Nash: I don’t think so. One result of yesterday’s events is that the American people now understand that they are, in fact, part of the globe. I think this understanding will enhance our interaction with the whole world. I don’t think we’re going to hole up, because I think we understand we can’t.
Van Riper: There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the willingness or unwillingness of American society to accept casualties in a war. I think we’ve crossed the threshold where the American public will support strong military action that may jeopardize a lot of American lives in execution.
A PERFECT ASYMMETRY
FP: Yesterday’s attacks are a shocking example of the rise of asymmetric threats — the use of relatively crude, low-tech methods to attack a superior high-tech enemy. But that’s just one of several dramatic changes that seem to be reshaping the perceptions and assumptions of U.S. strategic thinkers. Others include the move away from the two-war doctrine (the idea that the United States should be able to fight two major regional wars at the same time); the shift in strategic focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and a much greater dependence on precision weapons and unmanned vehicles, together with other examples of over-the-horizon, rapid response technology. My question to you all is, do you agree with the list? What other important developments would you add? For that matter, do you agree that these changes are a) occurring, and b) important?
Owens: Show me the budget first, and then I’ll believe that the changes are there. Show me the budget that takes money away from something and puts it toward those kinds of concepts, and then I’ll believe. Until then, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe any of it.
FP: And you, General Nash?
Nash: I don’t think there’s been a revolution in the nature of war — plans or programs. We need to understand that the nature of war is far more fixed than the methods of war. Consider, for example, the idea of asymmetric response you just mentioned. Compare the Stealth bombers, cruise missiles, and unmanned delivery systems with the sight of Yugoslav citizens on the bridges of Belgrade with targets pinned to their suits and dresses. In Kosovo, we were fighting a limited engagement, and our opponent was fighting a battle for his survival. That asymmetrical purpose makes for different things. There were two entirely different levels of commitment and purpose, just as there is a whole different level of commitment and purpose between a force that is willing to fly an airplane into a building and a force that uses unmanned weapons systems that explode and then disappear.
FP: What are the implications of that?
Nash: The implications are that the methods of war will not change the nature of war.
Van Riper: I agree. The nature of war is immutable, just like human nature. The uncertainty of war — the danger, the fog, the friction — will not change.
Owens: The pursuit of political objectives.
FP: But in terms of political objectives, we’ve gone from fighting fascism to fighting communism, and now, after yesterday, to fighting terrorism.
Nash: It’s the method or, I would say, the character and form of war that’s changing — not its nature. I agree with Admiral Owens’s earlier point. Are these changes that you’ve described really happening? We won’t know until we see where the money is being spent. You talk about the shift from Europe to Asia. I think the Admiral’s point is, until you see an increase in the forces and associated resources devoted to Asia —
FP: Is it fair to say, then, that you’re skeptical of these changes?
Owens: What I have seen in my too many years in Washington, D.C., are too many speeches that resulted in no change in the budget. Sure, the speeches have some impact. They can help to form some perceptions. We can change perceptions on whether or not we are following a policy of mutual-assured destruction without changing the targeting or changing the budget. But unless we see money actually going into precision weapons and the means to put them on target, it doesn’t make much difference. In the last 10 years of my exposure to this defense budget, the world’s largest business, there have been wonderful speeches given on the implementation of American technology and the revolution in military affairs. Look at the defense secretary’s annual reports and you see a terrific verbal layout. But you cannot find the amount of money going to these systems, the C4ISR systems (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), as a whole, as a budget swath. And so I’m very skeptical about this.
Nash: The other challenge that Defense Department leaders face is the problem illustrated by the question that Admiral Owens asked. As you modernize, as you proceed down this path of revolution, you realize it is an uneven path. It is very difficult, resource-wise, to balance maneuver, firepower, and intelligence. For example, in Bosnia I had a standard, mid-1990s armored division that suddenly was given a 21st-century surveillance capacity. We integrated into our old guns and old maneuvers a new intelligence system that gave me a quantum increase in knowing the battlefield, seeing the battlefield. Now, the problem Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faces is how you make that same transition for an entire military establishment while at the same time staying grounded in the fundamental principles — the immutables of the nature of war, if you will.
Owens: Could I just make one brief comment? If one were to take this $300-plus billion budget and decide how to spend it from the ground up, would we have the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and the Marine Corps? I don’t think that’s the way you organize today. Now, I’m not saying we should give up on the four services. I like the Army-Navy game, etc. But we could very well foresee that one of the four services might focus on the ability to see a very large battlefield. And we might have another service that focuses on the ability to deliver precision weapons on target, whether from Army Apache helicopters, Navy Tomahawks, Air Force B-2 bombers, etc. The third service might be something that is the dominant maneuver force similar to the Marine Corps. And a fourth service that handles smart logistics.
Van Riper: The admiral has walked us right back to three stovepipes. He’s walked us right back to —
Owens: Four services. [Laughter.]
Van Riper: Well, three or four, because he’s talked about functions of seeing, firing, and maneuvering. What I’m suggesting is the true joint force would fire and maneuver through air, sea, space, and land, without this stovepipe mentality. If you say maneuver now, the focus is on Army and perhaps Marine forces. If you say long-range precision strike, you’re talking about the Air Force, sometimes Navy. What I’m suggesting is that you don’t want to think in those terms. I think a classic example is Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the South Pacific where he would maneuver sea forces in order to position air forces, who, in turn, opened up places for land forces.
FP: Let’s focus more on the issue of technology. Does the American military suffer from having too much technology?
Owens: We like to say that we’ve had many technological revolutions in the past: Gunpowder, nuclear power, the airplane, cruise missiles are all examples. Today, there is a radical new technology called knowledge warfare that is terribly important and truly represents a revolution. It potentially gives you the ability to see a battlefield in ways that we’ve never thought before — whether the battlefield is an urban area or whether the battlefield is a large Desert Storm kind of battlefield. And that changes the equation.
FP: General Van Riper, three years ago you delivered a speech bemoaning the proliferation of "pseudoscientific jargon that masks the absence of thought." You went on to say that strategic publications are cluttered with such meaningless phrases as "information dominance," "decisive operations," and "dominant battlespace awareness." Is the revolution in military affairs just high-tech hype?
Van Riper: Let me start by saying I don’t believe there’s a revolution in military affairs. I think there are multiple revolutions in military affairs going on. To try to sort out what it all means at this period in history would be as ludicrous as going back to the early 20th century and saying, what do the vacuum tube and radio mean for communications? What does the internal combustion engine mean for planes and tanks? No one knew. There was a revolution in naval aviation, communications, armor warfare, and amphibious operations, but it wasn’t until we were 20 or 30 years into it that we fully understood it. I think we’re at the front end of significant strategic change. The focus, unfortunately, is on the technical solution to the challenges we face, rather than on thinking through what our strategic goals and methods should be. I don’t walk away from the technical solution, but my experience says the effectiveness of that technology is going to be a lot less than we expect.
FP: General Boyd, is the revolution in military affairs going to radically alter the functioning of the American military in the next five years?
Boyd: No. Military institutions are reluctant to move toward technologies that are available to them. The institution I know the best, the Air Force, which is thought of as a high-tech organization, has always been resistant to reaching out to as much technology as was truly available. Bill Perry loves to tell the story when, as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, he tried to push the Air Force into buying the Stealth fighter. The Air Force, as an institution, resisted it mightily and for reasons that make sense, at least in its cultural perspective. The Air Force’s argument was, this airplane that you want us to buy, Mr. Undersecretary, is subsonic, has little short legs, won’t turn, and carries one, maybe two, bombs. In the end — and Perry embellishes this story each time he tells it — he says, "we had to slam dunk the Air Force and force them to buy this fighter against their will. But who, on the evening we went to downtown Baghdad, didn’t think it was a good idea to have a Stealth fighter in the fleet?" There’s a certain element of truth in that.
FP: Admiral Owens, in contrast to General Boyd’s pessimism about the armed forces’ resistance to new technologies, your book Lifting the Fog of War essentially calls for the enthusiastic adoption of new information technologies to drive what is a profound transformation in military affairs. So how would you react to the skepticism from both General Van Riper and General Boyd?
Owens: I would agree with General Boyd that, in the present environment, it’s hard to see the military taking advantage of the kinds of changes that are available to it today. I would add that this mentality applies not just to technologies that exist inside the Department of Defense like stealth, but to technologies existing outside the Department of Defense that are little-realized and little-included in the planning and functions of the military. With respect to my good friend and shipmate, General Van Riper, I am almost totally in disagreement with him. It is, I believe, an issue of having a vision. It is not a matter of scrapping everything that we’ve thought is good in our military. It’s not scrapping the rifleman, and it’s not scrapping the nuclear submarine or the Stealth fighter. It is to say that we are much more capable today because of Java software, Web-based kinds of logistic systems in businesses, etc. There is a new horizon that includes systems of systems that can be integrated today (which couldn’t be integrated 10 years ago because they didn’t exist as they do today) that allow that infantryman in Mogadishu to see around the corner, that allow that fighter to see in real time the vehicle going down the road in the next Desert Storm, and that allow America to be much stronger as a joint — emphasize joint — force.
A STILLBORN REVOLUTION
FP: What do you think is the single most important obstacle to a more effective U.S. military?
Owens: The most difficult obstacle to transition is the culture in which we have all been raised and the bureaucracy that we all have participated in building. That culture, mostly Cold War-oriented, translates into decisions that tend to be based, in general, on the things we believe are the most important elements of military power. In my case — I am a nuclear submariner — that tends to be the nuclear submarine. For others I would suggest it is their individual elements, whether airplanes or troops or tanks or armored vehicles. When we talk about force structure or when we talk about power, it often comes down to those kinds of elements of power. That’s what the culture breeds. In the final analysis it is, as someone said, "the budget, stupid." The culture encourages us to focus on the budget for these elements of power, and the budget becomes policy in a strange sort of way.
Van Riper: American military culture has a predisposition for engineering solutions to bureaucratic challenges. Occasionally it rises above that. If you look to the interwar period it did; and it certainly did in the post-Vietnam era. What’s been missing in the last 10 years is any real intellectual activity.
Boyd: The military, if you can speak of it as an institution or speak of it in cultural terms, is not significantly different now than it’s ever been. It might be affected, as General Van Riper suggests, by different kinds of bureaucratic influences outside of the military institutions themselves. But military institutions throughout our history have always been conservative, not prone to a great deal of innovation or radical shifts in how they go about their business. They tend to have confidence in the things and the processes that they know work. Because they think their mission is so deadly serious, they’re generally reluctant to experiment with untested methodologies or equipment. We have had more innovative periods, relatively speaking, but I think — throughout the course of history — they tend to come when prompted by civilian leadership that pushes them in a somewhat different direction. In recent years, however, the civilian leadership has had little military experience itself. Moreover, a significant fraction of the civilian leadership not only didn’t serve in the military, but actively avoided service in time of war, which I think has made them particularly reticent to push these military institutions to change. That’s a dynamic that may be different from earlier periods in our history.
FP: Is money another obstacle to change? Would you agree that a 20 percent cut in the military budget would increase military effectiveness?
Owens: I agree with that.
Van Riper: Carl Builder from Rand, who passed away several years ago, used to argue that during the Cold War we ignored planning and focused on programming budgets instead because all the planning had been done in the early 1950s when we decided containment was our policy. And so planning became a lost art. I don’t think we know how a 20 percent cut would affect us because we haven’t done the upfront thinking about what we want to do.
Boyd: If the only thing I’m changing in the formula is a 20 percent cut, then we would decrease effectiveness. If you could change the way we acquire things, which nobody’s been able to do in the last 30 years — though a whole raft of people have analyzed to a fare-thee-well what’s wrong with that — and if you could change the excessive infrastructure that remains in place for political, not military, reasons, then you could cut costs significantly and undoubtedly increase capability. Although this is impossible to quantify, it seems to me that the nation spends $300 billion on defense and maybe gets $200 billion or $225 billion worth of capability. It seems that we (or at least those who deal with these issues) have come to some kind of a national agreement: We are a rich country. We would rather get 65 cents on the dollar in investment in the way of capability than go to the huge effort and political cost of changing those things that make our defense more expensive.
FP: How much waste is there in the American military, General Boyd?
Boyd: I don’t know. It can’t be defined with precision, but it has to be a large fraction. It may be 20 percent. It may be 30 percent.
Owens: I’d hesitate to use the word waste, but I believe that the number of $100 billion of gross inefficiency is adequately stated.
FP: All of you have expressed, in different ways, the idea of institutional resistance to change. This resistance has different sources: culture, rigid technology, procurement structures, legal frameworks, and civilian-military relations. Yet Secretary Rumsfeld and this administration started with a very important drive to transform the U.S. armed forces. Do you think that he will succeed?
Van Riper: No.
Nash: What is success? [Laughter.] Will he make improvements? Yes. Will he complete the revolution in military affairs? No. Owens: I just wanted you to know that General Van Riper and I agreed on that question. [Laughter.]
FP: If you were designing the ideal secretary of defense who could move the U.S. armed forces well into the 21st century, what would be the profile of this individual?
Van Riper: A mixture of George Kennan and Paul Nitze and probably —
Boyd: Did either one of them serve in the military?
Van Riper: I don’t buy that as a requirement.
Boyd: Would it even be helpful in any way?
Van Riper: It would be helpful, if you are interested enough to study and understand. The problem with it being helpful is it may only be helpful partially, culturally. Having been in a foxhole, having flown an airplane, and having stood watch probably would be helpful, but I would also tell you that the experiences of a lieutenant junior grade do not help make a defense secretary.
Owens: I think it would be helpful. In general terms it would be helpful for two reasons: It would tend to give those military institutions a little easier time identifying with their secretary. And it would give that secretary an ease of understanding the cultures, at least at the point at which they actually fight — the fighting level of force. But I don’t think it’s a requirement by any means.
FP: What requirements would you have, General Boyd?
Boyd: First of all, I would want someone who had some experience in running large organizations and someone who has a sense of the complexity of running a very large organization. Secondly, I would want someone who had political savvy, if not actual political experience. I would want someone who has a demonstrated ability to think in a strategic way and who values the process of thinking in a very broad, long-term, objective-oriented way. Finally, I would want someone who had some natural leadership ability, that special kind of star quality that goes with effective leadership.
Van Riper: I would add former Senator Sam Nunn to the twosome I mentioned before. But I think what the person would need is some insight to the emerging international-security environment and, of course, the stature. To me there are two ways it will be reformed: Either you find the lady or the gentleman of that character and give them the authority, or it’s got to be mandated from outside the department.
FP: Admiral Owens, what would you wish?
Owens: Oh, I think Mark McGwire is my candidate. [Laughter.] This is the most complex business organization in the world. The secretary of defense is immediately expected to perform in a situation where God knows what’s going to happen the next day. He’s thrust in front of the camera, like a CEO on CNBC, to defend what he or his company has done. We do this with people who have not had a chance to get used to the heart and soul of the organization and, importantly, have not yet learned how the budget is built. The budget is the policy in very great ways. I agree that Sam Nunn comes as close as anyone I could think of to having the right stuff. You need to have somebody who has a glint in his eye about America’s technology dominance and what that means and about our ability to put together things to make solutions.
FP: If you could give Secretary Rumsfeld one piece of advice, what would it be?
Nash: I would tell him there are many issues he has raised that are worthy of debate and worthy of taking on, and that he ought to keep pushing for a wide variety of his objectives. At the same time, I would recommend that he understand there are other views worthy of his consideration as well.
Boyd: If you want to produce enduring change, you cannot do it without the military and without the U.S. Congress. And so the very first thing you have to do is get both of those institutions on board. The military is the easier of those two. If you scratch the surface of a military officer you will find someone who wants to support his boss. It’s in his ethos. It’s in his deepest cultural being. But you have to go to him and say, I want you on the team, I want you to help me, I can’t do this without you. If you ignore him — or say I don’t trust you, I’ll do this on my own — he will say good luck and let you try it on your own. Congress is a more complex institution, but you can’t do any enduring change without it. So you have to build your constituencies over there at the outset. Doing so requires persuasion and political skill. That would be my advice. The time to take that advice is on the day you take the oath of office.
ALLIES, TREATIES, AND THREATS
FP: Let me move down the command chain and ask you to talk about the commanders in chief, or CINCS, and their incredibly influential political role as the operational leaders on the ground for American and allied forces around the world.
Owens: The subject of the CINCS is another emotional one. As Americans, we have to ask whether we want to be represented to our friends and adversaries by a senior four-star officer. If you are in China and you ask who is the most powerful American in the Pacific, the answer is certainly CINCPAC. And, on occasion, CINCPAC actually brings together the U.S. ambassadors from the region to talk about policy and strategy for the region. That is always well intended. The CINCS always want to do their best. They have more money than the State Department, which is one of the issues. They have double the amount of money since the end of the Cold War relative to the State Department. You have to ask how that happened and whether that makes sense. Does America want to be represented to South America through CINCSOUTH and in the Pacific through CINCPAC, etc.?
Van Riper: About a year ago, the Washington Post did an article on the CINCS that identified them as proconsuls. That tells us we have a tremendous problem. The problem is how do you bring the various agencies together in some coherent fashion without the military being in the lead? Clearly, we want the State Department, in most cases, and the Commerce Department, and perhaps the Treasury Department to be in the lead on most of these things. But it’s a vacuum, and so the CINCS have stepped forward. We need to fundamentally rethink how to bring together those top-level agencies.
FP: General Nash, the Defense Department has had an easier time than the State Department in getting more funding. Would you agree that the national interest would be better served if the State Department had more money and the Defense Department had less?
Nash: In the spirit of your question, yes. I am deeply concerned that the United States is seen as being represented by a military force rather than by its identity as a democratic, free-market, rule-of-law nation. A fundamental error, both past and continuing, is that we in the United States have been slow to redefine the nature of national security in the 21st century. I argue it is far more political, economic, and social in nature, and the security aspects are more non-military than ever before. The evolution of CINCS to proconsuls is a dangerous trend, both in terms of the image of our democracy and our larger national security.
FP: In a 1996 article on peacekeeping in Bosnia, General Boyd, you are quoted as saying, "Peace enforcement will degrade the Army’s ability to fight and win wars." The article then quotes General Nash as saying that when it comes to peace enforcement, "cold, tired, dirty, magnificent, U.S. soldiers are the only viable alternative." Five years later, has either of you changed your opinion?
Boyd: What I was trying to get at, and I still believe, is that peackeeping dulls a soldier’s ability to be a truly effective all-out fighting man in a fighting organization. Can you retrain him after an experience of that sort? Sure, probably. But is that cycle one that is acceptable if you want a readily available fighting force all the time? Probably not.
FP: General Nash, have you changed your views?
Nash: Well, probably not as much as you’ll think after you hear what I’m going to say. That comment about soldiers on the ground as the only answer is in the context of making three warring parties stop fighting. It is not related to the fact that their mission is much less than what is needed for the overall development of peace.
FP: General Nash, I’d like to read you a quote from General Charles Krulak, former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, on the need for economic development in war-torn regions. The quote is this: "We’ve never trained harder or done better than what Bill Nash and his division did in Bosnia. But it was totally irrelevant. What Nash needed was not more people in the field, but a ‘reach-back’ capability, the ability to ‘reach back’ to the guys who build power plants." Do you agree?
Nash: Absolutely. We get all wound around the axle about what peacekeeping does to the ability of a tank crew to shoot its tank or the ability of an armored division to do that. The fact of the matter is that peacekeeping is an issue of post-conflict development. And, again, the military part is hard enough, but it’s straightforward. It’s to overcome with brute force as necessary. But the political, economic, and social actions and the larger security issues — police, courts, jails — are far more difficult, far more complex.
FP: A lot of the challenges that the U.S. military faces require friends abroad. But at the same time, there are two important obstacles that limit the capability of the U.S. military to work with allies. One is technology and the other is Congress. Some argue that the technological gap between the U.S. armed forces and the rest of the world’s armed forces makes it hard for allies to cooperate. In terms of politics, domestic dynamics in the U.S. Congress can sometimes make it hard on allies. What do you think are the best ways to overcome these obstacles?
Van Riper: I don’t buy the argument about technology. After all, many of the same people who argue that your allies will not be able to operate with you also say technology is so readily available that any potential enemy has it and can draw even with us. It’s one way or the other. The technology’s there, and the allies, if they set their mind to it, can buy and stay nearly equal to us.
Owens: The answer to the ability of our allies to begin working with us effectively lies in the realm of commercial technology. It is in the ubiquitous high-bandwidth communication that exists because of commercial systems in the form of satellites and fiber. It lies in the software — Java and C++ — that allows us to integrate legacy command and control systems. It is in Web-basing, for example. With respect to Congress, we need to change Congress’s mentality toward our allies. There should be no barriers between us and the Canadians, between us and the Australians, between us and the British. There should be nothing that is so important that we must keep secrets from each other at that level.
FP: Are you concerned about the recent propensity of both Congress and this administration to back away from multilateral treaties? Do you see multilateral treaties as a very important element of the effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces?
Boyd: First of all, I think all nations maintain adherence to their treaties as long as it’s in their national interest to do so. And treaties tend to erode in their importance over time. I’m not sure this administration is, to a greater degree than maybe a historic norm, willing to move away from active treaties or pursue unilateralism. As a matter of fact, I doubt anybody in the administration seriously believes we can, as a nation, go it alone, without significant help from other nations who have common or similar objectives. So I’m not very worried about that, frankly. I think they may move away or modify treaties that no longer have much relevance for either this nation or other nations.
Nash: I think the security of the United States is advanced by allies, friends, non-enemies, and people and nations that formally or informally cooperate with us in the pursuit of common interests. Multilateral treaties are one of the tools that help that come about. And so, in general, I am a proponent.
Van Riper: As a general rule I think treaties are an important and good thing, but you have to be careful. Consider, for example, the Ottawa treaty on the banning of land mines, antipersonnel land mines. The U.S. military has been most careful in terms of charting and mapping where we put land mines and seeing that they’re pulled up after a conflict. The primary use American forces have made of anti-personnel land mines is to protect anti-tank land mines. Once you remove antipersonnel mines, you also remove the ability to put in anti-tank land mines. So when you look at this treaty from a humanitarian standpoint, people losing limbs and lives around the world, you obviously want to support it. But if you consider that it takes an important capability from the military, you pull back a little bit.
Owens: First of all, I agree with everything General Boyd said on the subject. Secondly, I suppose I would take a little divergence on the land mine issue with General Van Riper. It is a new world, and there are technologies that can make up for the land mine, whether it’s a land mine in preparation or to protect the heavy mines for anti-armor or otherwise. But I generally agree.
FP: Which of the other countries’ armed forces do you respect the most?
Nash: In working with NATO for more than 10 years, I worked in Europe, with the British and Germans most frequently. I had the greatest respect for all the NATO armies as they performed their military duties. I have respect for the potential of the Russian army. Much has been said about the disastrous state of the Russian armed forces. But the forces that they sent to represent them in the operations in Bosnia that were under my supervision were very professional.
Owens: In terms of lessons we can learn and vision for the future, I think there are three worth discussing. In Sweden today, a dramatic and important argument — directly related to the budget — is taking place in parliament about the future of a revolution in military affairs. This will be a good lesson for us. The Singapore military has a coherent policy structure that provides the umbrella under which the military operates, as well as a real penchant for understanding technology and integrating it with selfless determination. I think we should also look at the British military, where there has been a move toward jointness and toward budget jointness that has given them, I think, more bang for the buck than they had before.
Van Riper: The only one I can think that rises to a level close to the United States is the United Kingdom.
FP: Do you see the United States having to confront the Chinese in the foreseeable future? Do you think that China is a military threat?
Owens: In this area, the answer is no. But it is a caveated no. We need to have visionary political leadership in this nation to realize the optimal relationship with the Chinese. And that’s an issue of national policy that embraces trade, the economy, and a host of other issues. But I don’t see the structure or the desire in the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army, to have a war with the United States or to confront the United States in a way that would cause us to go to war.
FP: General Nash? Is China a military threat to the United States?
Nash: We have a great opportunity to make them an enemy. If we don’t address it in the manner that Admiral Owens described, we could well do it.
Van Riper: I feel the same. It would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we keep talking about it, acting like they’re an enemy, they will become one.
FP: If you had to identify states likely to emerge as threats to the United States, which ones would you mention?
Owens: Well, it is unlikely that Libya will become much friendlier to the United States. It’s likely that factions opposed to the United States will emerge out of today’s inner debates in Iran. And, clearly, Iraq is a place that has to be dealt with because there is no scenario I see where they can become friendly to the United States. I didn’t mention Cuba as we look to the future, or some others. North Korea clearly is in a state of transition, and we all hope it will move in a direction that will not result in a threat to the United States. I have said a number of times that one of the interesting threats against the United States was a North Korean fishing boat off the coast of New York or Seattle with rudimentary large cruise missiles that are capable of doing damage to this country. In the final analysis, I suppose the ones we have to worry about are the ones we don’t know about today. That’s why we have to get ready for capabilities as opposed to specific threat scenarios.
FP: General Nash?
Nash: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and possibly Libya are ones that could be regional threats, depending on how we operate in the region and how we conduct ourselves in general. In other words, they could challenge us regionally, but they could not challenge us strategically. What we don’t know is very important in this — in other words, those that we haven’t thought about and haven’t thought through. In general, I think yesterday’s terrorist attacks and the challenges of the future require a far greater understanding of the globalization of the national security of the United States, both in terms of threat and in terms of responses. We’ve talked about the interdependence of the world for many years. I was writing speeches about that at least 25 years ago, 20 years ago anyway. But today the evidence of that interdependence is everywhere. We talked earlier about allies, and I argued that we need allies, friends, and non-enemies. In fact, if we had had more allies, friends, and non-enemies, our opportunity to learn beforehand what was going to happen yesterday would have been increased.
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