Is It Time For Defense Cuts? My List of Hot Spots to Watch in 2012.

One of those odd poltical quirks of our economic system is that when the government increases spending it adds to the overall deficit and when the government decreases spending the deficit is presumed not to get any worse.  The economic reality is that the government is the country’s largest employer and consumer.  If the idea is to stimulate spending to increase jobs and subsequently grow the economy then it seems a bit odd that we’d want to control the spending of the largest corporation in the world.. the U.S. government.  But that corporation exists because we pay taxes in one form or another and paying taxes takes away from our own personal desposable spending desires, hence the market is stifled from another direction.  A simplistic explanation to be sure but it does illustrate the complex problem of reducing government expenses.

In light of trying to regain control of the deficit, President Obama has just announced his plans for a down-sized military and when a democrat does that the republicans scream.  Being a veteran myself and having an avid interest in all things military and military history, I tend to favor a strong military.  But strength, by my definition, should include a focus on the need versus the predicted threat(s).  Do we need a million man military just sitting around waiting for the next conflict?  Well, conflicts since WW2 have been less about how many boots on the ground you can send against an advancing enemey in the field, but rather striking quickly at urban areas and strategic locations using technology and minimal boots on the ground for maintaining law and order in urban areas.  Wars these days are not fought on traditional battlefields between tanks, artillery, and massed infantry until someone is the victor.  They are fought against enemies that hide within populations, like guerillas, not led by easily overthrown dictators or renegade monarchs but by religion and/or politics; making victory difficult to define.  Conflicts are decided politically and less by military domination.

Ok.. given all that, the following is a list of potential world hot spots I perceive as being possible threats involving our military in some form or another (this list is NOT in any order of importance).

Iran –  This country is being pushed to its limits more than we might think.  Their sabre rattling in the Persian Gulf and loud rhetoric about closing the Strait of Hormus is pretty much based on an internal fear; the economy is hurting from all the sanctions and there seems to be some internal struggle between Khomeini  and the future of the office of the President of Iran.  Also, Iran is fiddling inside Syria, which is going badly for them, and also is tampering with the internal business of Iraq.  Then there’s the nuclear issue.  I predict air strikes in the least (from the U.S, Israel, some coalition, whatever) in the future.

Iran –  We just left this place, you say?  While we still have a large presence there in the form of of a diplomatic mission and intelligence organizations to monitor things and apply certain political pressures, this place is a powder keg just waiting to blow into a civil war.  There are just too many tribal scores to settle and equally too many opinions on how to govern.  I predict a peacekeeping force will have to go there.. be it under UN auspices or some Arab coalition with the help of the U.S. (ala Libya).

North Korea – The threat here is that we know so little about what is going on there.  If Dear Leader 2.0 adopts his father’s nuclear proclivities then that will continue the posturing to allow the resumming of international inspections.  Not likely there would be any direct military action against North Korea since we have to “play” with the Chinese but I would not rule out some more incursions by the navies back and forth.  The rule here is being prepared for anything needing the military until such time as we are assured of the predictability of the new kid on the block.

Pakistan – This country is also a powder keg.  With the unpopular government trying to hang on to diplomatic relations with the U.S. following the accidental deadly military strikes and killing of Bin Laden, and trying to maintain some element of peace with India, and trying to balance the growing influence of the Taliban from Afghanistan, all the while holding on to the keys to their nuclear stockpile… anything can happen.  I hope the Pentagon has contingencies for using military force to hold onto their nuclear weapons in the event that the government there looses control… which could happen in 2012.

More “Arab Springs” –  Egypt, in spite of having booted out Mubarik, is still in an unpredicatable position, as the demonstrations against the military government continue.  Syria is still in the throes of their “Spring” and while foreign countries (for the most part, save for the Arab organization inspectors and Iran’s meddling) are maintaining their distance, a Libya-style coalition air war is not out of the picture… if the civilian body count jumps from the 30-50 a day, to 1,000 a day.  Other Arab countries in the region appear stable for the moment but one never knows.

I am not privy to the secrets of the Pentagon or of their assumptions of future threats to the nation and the world but I do hope it includes a more refined approach toward urban conflicts and so-called nation building.  Armies meeting on the field of battle to duke it out was pretty much obsolete after the Korean War.  Yet we have maintained a military prepared to fight such a war.  Much of that was, of course, a reaction to the Soviet threat and the idea that they might decide to invade Europe and planners had images of great tank battles, infantry fighting the Communist horde, and using tactical nuclear weapons.  With the Soviet threat gone (for decades, in fact) you’d think we’d revise our threat assessments.  To me the military of the future would continue to include improved technological weaponry for surgical strikes and reducing collateral damage (killing innocent people and/or destroying infrastructure).  It would continue to include the use of the Navy carriers and quick strike vessels.  But I think most importantly it would include a two tier system of boots on the ground.

One tier would include what we might call the traditional infantry to handle direct force-against-force threats that generally are required at the beginning of a conflict.  These would be the guys to use the tanks, artillary, and all the traditional infantry assault options.  The second tier would include forces specialized in maintaing public law and order.. and all the elements one might include in the nation-building concept… which may or may not include the use of private vendors.  All that is similar to what we finally got to after 9 years in Iraq but it lacked a significant level of force coordination and it certainly lacked coordinated equipment development to meet the mission.

How do we achieve this?  For the various tiers you have to determine equipment needs and develop those as needed (how many years did it take to come out with a Humvee in Iraq that had adequate protection from IED’s?).  We need to anticipate how vehicles and armor might evolve to meet the mission.  What weapons are needed and not needed in a nation-building setting.  An important element in the nation-building process is the old winning-the-hearts-and-minds; it’s about psychological identification with the civlian population.  Maybe military-looking unforms patrolling down the neighborhoods is the image we might not want to convey.

My point in all this is that the last few conflicts have a similar plot.. our military goes in to kick out whoever it is we don’t want in control and their military… then we strive to maintain order only to learn that our military, as invincible on the battlefield as it may be, is subject to guerilla-type attacks and we find the enemy gets locked in to our weaknesses, and it takes sometimes years to adapt strategy, weapons, and field equipment to meet the new unexpected threat that’s killing and maiming our soldiers.  Then once order has been secured (which doesn’t really happen) we begin the process of nation-building, which our military has no idea how to do, and it’s really not their job to do.  This scenario is likely to play out again when we find an excuse to send in the troops to bounce out another unfriendly goveernment.  It would be so nice if we could be a little more prepared next time.

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