Reports have started to emerge that former Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Advisor, Colin Powell is under consideration to replace Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. This would be in keeping with the Obama Administration’s tendency to look outside its own ranks for many senior national security appointees. Given his experiences with Secretary Gates, a holdover in that position from the Bush Administration, one might think that the President would be reluctant to again put his defense policy in the hands of an independent actor. Secretary Gates knew that the administration was beholden to him and exploited that advantage. Can anyone really doubt that Secretary Powell, well known for his streak of independence, would not do the same?
Perhaps one good thing could come from having Colin Powell as Secretary of Defense. This would be the formulation of a new Powell Doctrine. The original Powell Doctrine was formulated when the author was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the run up to the 1990-1991 Gulf War. It dealt with the feasibility and reasonableness of using military force to achieve national objectives. It stressed the need for domestic and international political support for every instance in which the use of force was contemplated as well as the importance of an exit strategy.
The original Powell Doctrine never had to address the question of the adequacy of U.S. military power. At the time it was formulated, in the early 1990s, the Soviet Union had just collapsed leaving the United States as the world’s sole superpower. Then General Powell was concerned that because the United States had so much military capability, national leaders would simply rely on it to the exclusion of all other elements of national power.
But now the United States faces a very different situation; Too little military power and too many missions to perform. Some analysts have argued, unrealistically in my mind, to pay the price for building a military capable of meeting our most extensive sense of America’s role in the world. Such a military would be capable of addressing the full spectrum of future threats from nuclear conflict to battles with a near-peer conventional adversary, a major, long-term counterinsurgency and nation-building campaign, multiple smaller regional counterterrorism operations, humanitarian responses such as the Haitian earthquake and homeland defense operations.
This would be a substantially larger and better-equipped military than we have today or are likely to have in the foreseeable future. Yet, this is precisely the kind of military that the Pentagon and the military services are claiming they can create on the cheap. The Army’s Capstone Concept, which lays out its strategy for the future, speaks of the need to address an era of strategic uncertainty by maintaining a “full spectrum force.” The reality is that such a force is impossible to create and sustain. But the Army is pretending to itself and the nation that it can do just that.
The purpose of the new Powell Doctrine must be to free the U.S. military from the tyranny of having to meet impossible mission requirements. The new Powell Doctrine must ask the questions of what missions the U.S. military must be capable of performing, to what end and for how long. It must make fiscal responsibility a central tenet of the new doctrine. Where possible it must require friends and allies to do more to support their own defense and commit to helping partners build their own defense capabilities. The doctrine would also distinguish when and why the U.S. should commit its own forces to the defense or military assistance of others.
Find Archived Articles: