Beware Techno-Optimism That Clouds Strategic Thinking: Gates

Lost in the media herd’s coverage of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ Saturday speech at the Eisenhower Library is the fact that he gave a speech the day before, at Ft. Leavenworth, Ks., to the Army’s Command and General Staff College. Speaking to Army field grades at Leavenworth, Gates weighed in on the debate raging within the institutional Army about how its future unfolds after Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There has been a concern that our force is too focused on counterinsurgency, and has lost its edge for complex, conventional operations involving multiple brigades or divisions. The experiences of the British colonial army before World War One have been given as an example. This is a legitimate concern, and we continue to work toward finding the right balance. But the notion that the U.S. Army is turning into some sort of nation-building constabulary that is losing its core competencies – above all, to shoot, move, and communicate – does not reflect the realities of the tough combat that has taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan – as you know all too well.
To some extent, much of the debate between low-end and high-end misses the point. The black-and-white distinction between conventional war and irregular war is becoming less relevant in the real world. Possessing the ability to annihilate other militaries is no guarantee we can achieve our strategic goals – a point driven home especially in Iraq. The future will be even more complex, where conflict most likely will range across a broad spectrum of operations and lethality. Where even near-peer competitors will use irregular or asymmetric tactics and non-state actors may have weapons of mass destruction or sophisticated missiles.”
Gates’ message: quit drawing false dichotomies between types of wars, as current and future enemies don’t share the same need as the American military to neatly fit modes of warfare in specific boxes. Warfare’s many modes are blending and blurring; there is more convergence in warfare underway than divergence.

I thought Gates’ shot at the Revolution in Military Affairs crowd was particularly appropriate and seems to reflect his reasoning behind big program cuts.

“As we prepare for the future and pursue modernization plans, we must always recognize the limits of technology – and be modest about what military force alone can accomplish. Advances in precision, sensor information, and satellite technologies have led to extraordinary gains that will continue to give the U.S. military an edge over its adversaries. But no one should ever neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of war or succumb to the techno-optimism that has muddled strategic thinking in the past.”
The Army went into Iraq and Afghanistan with FCS as their most high priority program. Today, although having assumed a different identity, FCS remains the Army's programmatic priority. For the Marines it was the EFV and Osprey. And eight years into the current wars, it still is the EFV and Osprey.

-- Greg Grant

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