September 10, 2004
By Helle C. Dale
Transforming the U.S. military at a time when the United States
is engaged in major operations overseas is no small undertaking.
Yet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is not a man easily
deterred. Even while we have been engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq,
the Pentagon has pushed forward with the transformation agenda
embraced by Mr. Rumsfeld when he took office. According to a report
in The Washington Post last week, the defense secretary has
recently been briefed on an extensive set of ambitious plans with
far reaching implications for the way the United States will fight
in the future. It represents the critically important thinking
ahead needed in an age of unconventional threats, and is clearly a
step in the right direction.
Given U.S. global military superiority, there's little chance that
any rival state would be able to challenge the United States in
conventional or nuclear warfare -- not declining Russia, nor yet
ambitious, rising China. In the near future we are likely to
confront more of the same threats that we are currently facing:
Islamic terrorism, low-tech Iraqi-style guerrilla warfare,
difficult post-conflict operations, and the proliferation of
ballistic missile technology and weapons of mass destruction.
These are known in current jargon as "irregular challenges" or
"asymmetric threats," and our needs in response are untraditional
as well. Although some members of Congress, as well as Democratic
presidential candidate John Kerry, have been clamoring for
significant increases in the total size of the army, Mr. Rumsfeld
is set against it. Instead, according to Pentagon plans, future
combat is much more likely to involve highly trained expeditionary
forces, improved intelligence gathering, skilled troops and special
The August announcement by President Bush - discussed recently in
this space - that U.S. forces in Asia and Europe will be redeployed
is part of this new line of thinking. Gen. James Jones, Supreme
Allied Commander Europe, has described the emerging, more flexible
base structure as one of "warm lily pads," a chain of
ready-for-action, lightly-manned facilities that U.S. forces could
use as jumping-off points around the world.
One question that still needs to be answered is how defense
transformation will affect our alliances. Urgent thought should be
given to how to prevent the yawning capabilities gap with European
allies old and new from creating irreparable fissure in the
alliance. The means we have traditionally used to ensure technical
compatibility within NATO - common standards, common equipment and
munitions, joint exercises- have proven woefully inadequate in the
new environment. Declining European defense budgets have
contributed to this trend.
Another equally important issue is how to maximize the assets of
the seven new members from Eastern and Central Europe that joined
NATO this spring, to meet the new challenges. Addressing the
technological gap between the United States and its new allies will
be one of the most important strategic challenges in the years
In this context, the eastward and southward-facing bases in the
new NATO members will be important logistical assets. And so will
the determination of these countries to be valuable partners in the
alliance they have worked so hard to join.
NATO's new members have contributed significant amounts to the
Global War on Terrorism, and their participation is extremely
valuable. Both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, we have been able to
draw on their support. For instance, the Poles today have 2,600
troops in Iraq and lead the multinational stabilization force in
Southern Iraq; Hungary has equipped three Afghan National Army
battalions; and the Czech Republic is contributing to the training
of Iraqi police in Jordan, to name just a few examples.
All this experience has taught us a great deal about our new
allies. They have useful expertise in areas like urban operations,
training security forces, and anti-terrorism. On the other hand,
like us, they have had to learn as they fight - developing new
capabilities to conduct post-conflict operations and
counterinsurgency warfare with forces largely designed for
conventional combat on European battlefields. While the new allies
have done a lot, with the right technologies they could have done
much, much more.
One route that is clearly the wrong answer for the future of NATO
is for Europe to develop its own force and command structure
independently from the United States, as some EU governments would
like. This would not in itself be a security risk for the United
States, but it seems likely that it would be little more than a
paper tiger. It would not produce significant new capabilities or
free up resources to pursue transformational strategies, or help
new NATO members quickly close the technology gap.
Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at
the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
First appeared in The Washington Times
Transforming the U.S. military at a time when the United States is engaged in major operations overseas is no small undertaking
Helle C. Dale
Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
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