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Strategist Mulls Expanding US Ground Forces

This is the first in an occassional series of stories about those I call the “New Makers of Modern Strategy,” (borrowing the title from the well known book by Peter Paret). These are the minds who will shape the debates on where the military goes in terms of force structure, doctrine and, ultimately, how force is employed.

Up today is a piece (pdf) written by Steven Metz, professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College. Metz, speaking for himself -- not the Army -- weighs in on the expansion of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the addition of 27,000 more Marines. Both presidential candidates support increasing the size of America’s land army; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said he believes the force should be increased by even more troops than called for in the current plan. Metz questions whether the rationale behind the troop increases is all that sound.

He says the expansion is needed only if the U.S. plans to maintain a sizable army of occupation in Iraq for years to come and if the military’s future mission entails more “large scale, protracted counterinsurgency support and stabilization operations.” While acknowledging that the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have stressed the Army and Marines, he questions whether adding troops is the solution. Increasing the size of the ground forces should have begun in 2004 or 2005 when it was obvious we’d be stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan for some time. As Metz writes, the Pentagon is a little late to the party: “beginning it now is simply addressing least year’s problem with next year’s money.”

Metz notes that it will take years before more NCOs, company and field grade officers are ready to take the field. The shortage of officers, particularly senior captains and field grades, is becoming more acute as many are leaving the service just as the ground forces are being expanded. Where are the experienced officers going to come from to lead all these new troops? The Center for New American Security notes that while the overall Army officer loss rate in 2007 was equal to the 10-year average of 8.5 percent, that loss rate must drop to 5 percent to provide sufficient officers for the increased size of the Army.

He also makes this important point: “If Iraq and Afghanistan still need a large scale American troop presence after the five years or so expansion would take, then the United States should reconsider its commitment to those nations, perhaps removing them from the life support provided by the U.S. military. If they cannot stand with only modest help by then, they may never.” This is a lesson that we should have learned in Vietnam. If after ten years of equipping and advising the ARVN, they still proved ineffective, as evidenced in operations against NVA sanctuaries in Cambodia in 1970 and Laos in 1971, it’s unlikely they would have ever gotten it together.

The second point Metz makes is that American land forces should not be used as a constabulary force to police the world’s “ungoverned spaces.” AEI’s Thomas Donnelly and Frederick Kagan argue in a new book, Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power, that is exactly the reason we need a larger land force. They write: “The first principle of land force sizing should now be the need to conduct a sustained, large scale stabilization campaign, either in lieu of or after a regime changing operation.” They call for an active duty land force of 1 million troops, 800,000 soldiers and 200,000 Marines. Kagan, for one, has made it clear that he thinks we need a larger land force to invade and occupy Iran.

Metz disagrees, saying that while the U.S. military is good at removing regimes that support terrorists, we’re not so good at doing the more difficult job that comes after, “the much more complex, dangerous, and expensive task of re-engineering beleaguered partners, particularly if we must do it in several places at once.” Metz says: “the strategic and economic costs of U.S. involvement in large scale, protracted counterinsurgency or stabilization outweighs the benefits.” He questions whether it’s really in America’s interest to continue playing the role of the world’s policeman.

There are many in the military who believe that after the Iraq experience we shouldn’t do that again. There are others who say the number of failed and failing states make such operations unavoidable. Stay tuned, much more to come.

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