Articles of interest

Although you may have seen these, they make interesting reading in combination.

For those wondering why piracy is so hard to eradicate, it’s for the same reason that other highly irregular forms of conflict present such difficulties:  The participants are hard to find and harder to identify.  J. Peter Pham has an article that explains how this works in Foreign Policy.

Speaking of highly irregular warfare, Tom Barnett has a piece on praising SECDEF Gates’ recent budget proposals.  While he makes an eloquent case that large-scale conventional warfare between major powers is not something we need to spend a lot of resources on, he argues equally eloquently that we will be involved in military operations in lesser-developed places for the foreseeable future:  “… today America is back in the business of settling globalization’s many untamed frontiers, whether we like it or not.”

Although shrinking the Gap in order to improve standards of living around the world is a worthy goal, Tom doesn’t make a convincing case (to me, at least) for how “settling globalization’s many untamed frontiers” became the mission of the United States, particularly of the US military.  If, for example, we wanted to enforce a military solution to the piracy problem, we would have to flood the region (and a large region it is!) with expensive warships, or invade, occupy, and attempt to administer a long swath of the Somali coast.  Somehow, we, the international community, need to come up with a strategy that will evolve into a more feasible solution.

In any case, it’s an interesting article, especially if read right after Pham’s column in Foreign Policy.

Finally, Armed Forces Journal has run a major article by COL Douglas MacGregor (USA, Ret.).  Doug does not share Tom’s optimism regarding “big wars” nor does he support using US military forces in support of globalization.  He concludes that:

But like Britain’s resources in 1914, American resources today are not unlimited. Years of easy tactical military victories over weak and incapable nation-state opponents in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq have created the illusion of limitless American military power. This illusion assisted the Bush administration and its generals in frustrating demands from Congress for accountability; allowing politicians and generals to define failure as success and to spend money without any enduring strategic framework relating military power to attainable strategic goals.

Barnett does note that by Gates’ own calculations, 90% of the DoD budget either supports large-scale conventional war or is “dual use” with “small wars.”  So we’re not talking anything revolutionary, just a small shift in emphasis.

Taken together with Bill Lind’s recent On War columns, these articles frame the argument against business-as-usual in defense strategy and procurement:  Lind and Barnett argue against maintaining large conventional forces, while Lind and MacGregor are entirely hostile towards a policy of using military force to promote globalization.  Personally, I stand at the intersection of all three.

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