America has been at war in the Middle East for more than 11 years. By some reckonings, the war has been going on for more than twenty years. Over this time period, the U.S. military has suffered some 6,700 dead and 50,000 injured. If post- traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other conditions are included, the casualty count may exceed half a million men and women. The vast majority of these casualties have been in the Army and Marine Corps which not surprisingly have shouldered the brunt of the burden for the protracted conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The American people are tired of war and its human, fiscal and emotional costs. They are increasingly reluctant to send young Americans to die in foreign lands. The Obama Administration seems equally disillusioned. In the new Defense Strategic Guidance, it declared that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.”
This is not good news for the U.S. Army. The fundamental purpose of the Army is to put boots on the ground. If the Nation no longer wants to do large-scale stability operations and the likelihood of major conventional conflicts seems remote, then there doesn’t seem to be much of a need for the Army, or at least much of one.
The Army leadership recognizes these factors. It is struggling to make the case both to decisionmakers and the American people for the maintenance of a robust and capable Army. To date, the best they have come up with is that the Army is a “strategic hedge” in an uncertain world.
There are other and better arguments for the Army.
1) It’s the land, stupid. People, governments, economies and nations live and conduct their business on land. Historically, more than 99 percent of all conflicts have been about control of the land or what is on or under it. The ability to operate on land, to defend it, exert control over it, influence it or take possession of it requires continuous presence. This translates into land power, or in other words, an Army.
2) The coin of the realm when it comes to the credibility of U.S. security commitments in the eyes of friends and allies is presence and the best form of presence is by being on the ground. The presence of U.S. forces on the ground demonstrates the willingness to shed blood on behalf of an ally. In addition, being on the ground allows for military-to-military contacts, cooperative training and international exercises. 22 out of 27 Chiefs of Defense in the Asia-Pacific region are from the Army. To them, land power matters and a large, capable army counts for a lot.
3) If airpower and sea power were sufficient, the U.S. would never have lost a war. The U.S. has enjoyed near-complete air dominance and sea control in every conflict it has fought since the end of World War II. Air and sea power have been two important asymmetric advantages for the U.S. However, they have rarely been sufficient to achieve victory. Even when an integrated joint force is deployed, the outcome can be dicey. Without an Army, it is hard to see how you win future wars.
4) Prospective adversaries are taking measures to counter the U.S. advantages in air and sea warfare. Whether it is underground bunkers, advanced air defenses, theater ballistic missiles or sea mines, adversaries are acquiring a wide range of means for countering U.S. air and sea power. One way of defeating these efforts is by employing land power. The best example of this is the Israeli advance across the Suez Canal during the 1973 war which destroyed the Egyptian air defense umbrella that had held the Israeli Air Force at bay. In the absence of a threat of land operations, adversaries can focus solely on dealing with the air and/or sea threats.
5) The Army has a number of capabilities that can multiply the effectiveness of the Joint Force, Coalition forces and even non-military and non-governmental organizations. Many of these capabilities are in the portion of the Army that provides combat support and combat service support. These capabilities allow the Army to support and enhance local entities, including friendly military forces, but also local governments, NGOs and even civic associations.
Even if America doesn’t want to do large-scale, protracted stability operations and has no plans for major conventional wars, this does not mean we should eliminate the Army. The future may be unpredictable but one thing is certain: most of it will take place on land.
Find Archived Articles: