TrendPentagon shifts emphasis to battle against terrorism

Published 12 December 2008

The U.S. military is shifting more emphasis and resources toward combating terrorism and helping civilian authorities, both at home and abroad, cope with man-made and natural disasters; institutions tend to overshoot, and the Pentagon should not forget that the United States must still prepare to fight and win conventional wars

We have reported the other day that the U.S. Department of Defense will have an increased role in domestic U.S. security, and that a Pentagon plan calls for up to 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe (2 December 2008 HS Daily Wire). The plan is part of a broader emphasis by the U.S. military to concentrate more on fighting terrorism and helping civilian authorities, both at home and abroad, cope with man-made and natural disasters. on fighting. Indeed, the Pentagon recently took the major step of elevating the military’s mission of irregular warfare to a status equal to that of conventional combat. Irregular warfare involves efforts to root out insurgents or terrorists — missions that may sometimes be clandestine.

The Kansas City Star agrees that the Pentagon’s shift in emphasis makes sense, given the kinds of missions U.S. troops have been given over the last several decades in places such as Vietnam, Kosovo, Lebanon, Panama, Grenada, Afghanistan, and Iraq. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates has noted, the 1991 Gulf War — which involved traditional combat — is an exception to that pattern.

The Pentagon directive was signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England. It says the services must intensify their efforts to deal with unconventional threats. This will ensure that — unlike the aftermath of Vietnam — the military services won’t discard what was learned about how to fight such wars. “The directive reflects a sense that the probability of large-scale combat is diminished relative to the kinds of deployments and missions that troops will actually face in the near future,” the editorial opines.

Still, the writer urges the Pentagon to ensure that conventional capabilities do not atrophy. “The long-term threats posed by Iran, North Korea and a larger-scale strategic competitor such as China are not about to vanish.” The Pentagon must continue to train to maintain credible conventional deterrence.

The paper reports that some officers are concerned that the balance toward unconventional warfare has already tipped too far. For example, Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, a West Point professor, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year: “We’ve come to see counterinsurgency as the solution to every problem and we’re losing the ability to wage any other kind of war.”

Like financial markets, institutions overshoot,” the Star writes. “Pentagon officials must take care that the fears of officers such as Gentile are not realized. The greater emphasis on counterinsurgency and irregular combat missions is wise but training for conventional combat should not be neglected.”