I want to thank Admiral Arthur Cebrowski and his team at the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation for inviting me to participate in this workshop on the role of culture in transformation.1 Too often, discussions on transforming military capabilities focus on the role of technology.
MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray rightly conclude in their book, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050, that from a historical perspective, adopting new technologies alone does not account for dramatic change.2 Achieving enduring competitive military advantages through transformation also requires the intellectual capacity to conceptualize employing force differently than in the pastand that may require changing aspects of military culture.
The premise of my remarks is that missions, strategy, education, and organization can be instruments for changing military culture, which, in turn, can provide new and unprecedented capabilities. I want to argue that DOD culture does need to be changed with regard to one mission in particular: the military's capacity to conduct post-conflict operations.3 Traditionally, the United States plans and executes these tasks inefficiently, jeopardizing the strategic gains achieved through battle.
The military's role in warfighting is unquestioned, but its responsibilities in peace operations are both controversial and poorly understood. Though there are no universally agreed upon terms to describe them, military peace operations can be divided into three types of actions: peacemaking,4 peacekeeping,5 and post-conflict activities. Of these, arguably, post-conflict missions (as opposed to nation-building6) are the only essential and perhaps appropriate task for U.S. forces.
Post-conflict activities are an integral part of any military campaign in which U.S. forces are required to seize territory, either to free an occupied country, as was the case during the liberation of Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War, or to dispose of an enemy regime, as during the post-war occupations of Germany and Japan. Such missions are not "optional" operations; they are an integral part of any military campaign.
In addition, the initial stages of any occupation have to be primarily a military-led effort. Only the occupation forces can provide the security and logistics needed to get the job done and offer a focal point for the unity of effort required to make the troubled transition from war to peace.
While this is an inevitable task for the U.S. military in any conflict, American troops rarely excel at this mission. Recent operations in Iraq, for example, do not appear to have been well organized or effectively implemented.7
I would argue that this reflects the military's traditional approach to post-conflict missions, which have always been ad hoc and haphazard. The capacity to conduct post-conflict operations is one area where the military remains significantly deficient and the reasons for this are as much cultural as they are material.8
Among the traditions, experiences,
preconceptions, and routine practices that determine how the armed
forces conduct post-conflict operations, the most powerful force
shaping the services' thinking is a "tradition of forgetting." The
services, particularly the Army, have a long record of conducting
various kinds of peace missions. Traditionally, however, the armed
forces concentrate on warfighting and eschew the challenges of
dealing with the
battlefield after the battle.
The Army's experience and knowledge in peace operations is a case in point. They have never been incorporated into mainstream military thinking in any major, systematic way. For example, the official report on the U.S. participation in the occupation of the Rhineland after World War I noted that, "despite the precedents of military governments in Mexico, California, the Southern States, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, China, the Philippines, and elsewhere, the lesson seemingly has not been learned."9
After World War I, the tradition of forgetting continued. As the United States prepared to enter World War II, the military discovered it had virtually no capacity to manage the areas it would likely have to occupy. The Army did not even a have a field manual on the subject before 1940. In fact, one of the planners' first acts was to root out the report on lessons learned from the Rhineland occupation.
After the Second World War, the Pentagon largely forgot about the problem and continued to reinvent solutions each time it faced a new peace operation. This tradition has changed little to the present day.
Other aspects of the military's traditional approach appear to have detrimental affects as well. When American forces do undertake peace missions, they try, as much as possible, to make them mirror traditional military activities. Such an approach can result in the misapplication of resources, inappropriate tasks and goals, and ineffective operations.
In addition, the armed forces largely eschew integrated joint, interagency, and coalition operations, as well as ignoring the role of non-governmental agencies. The result is that most operations lack cohesion, flexibility, and responsiveness.10
If we agree that the military is poorly prepared to conduct missions--and that these are important tasks to get right--how can we insure that the armed forces are more ready to conduct these operations in the future?
I would argue that the obstacles to conducting post-conflict missions more effectively are largely cultural in origin. Therefore, changing military culture with respect to post-conflict operations could well require a set of initiatives that cut across the services' education, career professional development patterns, and organization. These innovations might include the following.
- The skills needed to conduct effective post-conflict tasks require "soft power"--not only the capacity to understand other nations and cultures, but also the ability to work in a joint, interagency, and multinational environment. These are sophisticated leader and staff proficiencies, required at many levels of command.
In the present military education system, however, much of the edification relevant to building these attributes is provided at the war colleges to a relatively elite group being groomed for senior leader and joint duty positions. This model is wrong on two counts.
First, I think these skills are needed by most leaders and staffs in both the active and reserve components,11 not just an elite group within the profession.
Second, this education comes too late in an officer's career. Virtually every other career field provides "graduate level" education to members in their mid-20s to 30s. Only the military delays advanced education until its leaders are in their mid-40s.
- The armed services also need special schools specifically designed to teach the operational concepts and practices relevant to post-conflict missions. The services already have advanced schools (such as the Marine Corps' School for Advanced Warfighting) for instructing in the operational arts at their staff colleges. These courses train the military's finest planners. The curriculum in these courses should be expanded to include post-conflict missions.
- The combatant commands12 should be reorganized to include interagency staffs with specific responsibility for developing post-conflict contingency plans in the same manner as current operational staffs plan for warfighting contingencies.13 In the event of war, the post-conflict interagency group can be attached to the operation's joint force commander to provide the nucleus of an occupation staff.
In addition, the joint force command should include a general-officer deputy commander who would oversee the work of the planning group and assume command of the occupation force after the conflict. These staffs and command positions could provide a series of operational assignments for the career development of a cadre of officers especially skilled in post-conflict duties.
- The military should also retain force training and force structure packages appropriate to post-conflict tasks. There are three ways to obtain commands suitable to post-conflict missions: (1) training and equipping allies to perform these duties, (2) retraining and reorganizing U.S. combat troops for the task, and (3) maintaining special U.S. post-conflict forces.
I would argue that, as a great power, the United States needs all three of these options to provide the flexibility that will enable the nation to adapt to different strategic situations which might require different levels of commitments from U.S. forces. Special post-conflict units could be assembled from existing National Guard and Reserve units including security, medical, engineer, and public affairs commands. Since many of the responsibilities involved in post-war duties are similar in many ways to missions that might be required of homeland security units, these forces could perform double duty, having utility both overseas and at home.14
The 21st century has not seen the last of war. Regardless of the outcome of the current operations in Iraq, the United States will no doubt again be called upon to conduct post-conflict tasks in the future.
There is at least one clear lesson from the current experience, a powerful reminder that these operations are complex and difficult: If the United States wishes to meet future challenges more effectively, it will have to address the cultural impediments to providing the right kind of military capabilities. Innovations in education, operational practices, and organization could provide the impetus for developing an appropriate post-conflict force for the next occupation.
James J. Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. These remarks were prepared for a symposium, "Introducing Innovation and Risk: Implications of Transforming the Culture of DOD," held by the Office of Force Transformation, U.S. Department of Defense, at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Arlington, Virginia.