The weirdly astrategic NATO campaign in Libya intervening on the side of ill-defined rebels against the tyrannical rule of Libyan strongman Colonel Moammar Gaddafi brought to general public attention the idea of “Responsibility to Protect” as a putative doctrine for US foreign policy and an alleged aspect of international law…
Hopefully, there will be greater and wider debate in the future because, in it’s current policy trajectory, R2P is going to become “the new COIN”.
This is not to say that R2P is a military doctrine, but like the rise of pop-centric COIN, it will be an electrifying idea that has the potential fire the imagination of foreign policy intellectuals, make careers for it’s bureaucratic enthusiasts and act as a substitute for the absence of a coherent American grand strategy. The proponents of R2P (R2Peons?) appear to be in the early stages of following a policy advocacy template set down by the COINdinistas, but their ambitions appear to be far, far greater in scope.
When an idea evolves to an acronym, it’s serious. Indeed, R2P is something deadlier than military doctrine: it’s policy doctrine. Worse yet, it’s policy dogma. Once policy dogma is tightly wound around your brain stem, it’s harder to unwind than mere military dogma. Even though it’s the lesser threat, the military dogma behind R2P will prove as pernicious within the military sphere as R2P will prove within the policy sphere.
RMA principles and concepts are being repackaged to serve a new strategic approach being discussed under the name of “Offshore Balancing.” This approach lies somewhere between neo-isolationism and traditional balance of power, depending on the resources one wants to commit. It can be closer to the former than the latter, according to the domestic climate and the international stakes. It is a retreat from global and perhaps some regional dominance, while also seeking to deny them to others. It is not unlike a poker player waiting for the right moment to go “all-in,” rather than betting high on every hand.
What is important for landpower advocates is that long-range precision strike is being aggressively advertised as the ideal military means for this type of grand strategy. Just as in the RMA-era when standoff warfare was portrayed as a way to whack opponents while also avoiding messy surface entanglements or long-term social reconstruction projects, so its newer incarnation is being offered as an appealing strategic economy of force for an era of pending fiscal austerity. Landpower advocates can thus expect to see RMA principles emerge once again as the debate over American grand strategy heats up.
Off-shore balancing has pluses and minuses as a policy. With the current political configuration of the United States, many think that its pluses outweigh its minuses. However, one major minus of offshore balancing, one it ironically shares with R2P, is that it can open up the door to this flavor of lunacy:
Look at the range of expected combat missions over the next few decades:
- Overthrowing a dictatorial regime? Use SOF married to an indigenous force of irregulars supported by naval forces and air power.
- Want to defeat a large conventional army? SOF and ISR will target enemy ground formations for destruction by air power and naval fires.
- Need to counter an irregular threat? Apply SOF, naval, and air power. Rinse. Repeat.
- Steady state shaping operations? SOF excels at these, and the navy’s forward deployed forces are always positioned to respond to emerging crises.
What’s missing from the above scenarios? The conventional army. In other words, there is little role for a large standing army in supporting the national security of the United States once we have pulled out of our manpower-intensive counterinsurgency fights. What does an armored force give us against an opposing armored force when air dominance allows us to slice and dice enemy armored divisions? (And if we didn’t have air supremacy, we wouldn’t commit large numbers of conventional ground troops to be slaughtered by an opposing air force anyway). How often do we use artillery to suppress threats in a collateral damage adverse world now that we have on call ISR over-watch and precision guided munitions? And why on earth would we deploy a large conventional infantry force for constabulary duty in another protracted ground war given the lessons (relearned) in Iraq and Afghanistan?
What about Iraq, you say? The routing of Saddam’s army took over 100,000 US troops and GEN Shinseki said we should have used several hundred thousand more. Yes, but with a little more patience, a few battalions of US Special Forces supported from the air could have deposed Saddam’s regime through an unconventional warfare campaign. This sort of effort probably wouldn’t have destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure and army to the point of bringing the complete disarray to the country that our “shock and awe” campaign required. But that sort of operation wouldn’t have been appreciated by the conventional army generals running the war, would it?
I realize the above concepts are controversial, but I also know that the US became a secure and strong nation and will remain powerful because of sea power, not land power. And a globally deployed Navy/Marine Corps team, combined with a robust range of airpower and special operators is the force we need to defeat just about any conceivable future threat. So why shouldn’t the Army take a disproportionate share of the impending DOD budget cuts?
Merely doing the wrong thing is now insufficient. Now we must do the wrong thing all over again, only this time more aggressively. Lather, rinse, repeat indeed.
There’s no parody like self-parody. This self-parody tragically pushes Clausewitz’s “war by algebra” to its fictional and antiseptic extreme. Once again, the RMA peddlers are out selling weaponized magic pixie dust to the unwary. Noted Clausewitzian Colin S. Gray rightly observed in Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy:
Today’s hip new strategic concept is tomorrow’s stale left-over, at least until it’s rediscovered, recycled, and revealed as a new strategic gospel handed down from on high.
R2P and offshore balancing are diametrically opposed policies: R2P pursues absolute ends with miserly means while offshore balancing pursues modest ends with limited means. However, their shared goal of economy of means risks empowering RMA wingnuts who’ll forever try to tempt the R2Prone or offshore balancer with the promise of cheap decision through antiseptic firepower without messy foreign entanglements.
This clip from Jurassic Park II was my most charitable reading of U.S. strategy in Libya:
By itself, baby Tyrannosaur may not be able to defeat a nerdy villan. With papa T-Rex however, there’s an even chance. In Libya, the U.S. was acting as an offshore papa T-Rex. It would rough up the nerdy Katafi but never deliver the death-blow itself. It would try to cripple Qatadfi enough so that Libyan baby T-Rexes would get the killing experience that they. Eventually, by waging a war of tutelage, Katafi would be dead and baby T-Rex would be ready to
hunt other prey become a beacon of Arab democracy and responsible stakeholder in the international community.
For the R2Prone, this neo-RMA, based on an overly generous reading of our thirdTripolitanian intervention, offers grace on the cheap, humanitarian war without responsibility. If all goes well, they can shock and awe the local tin pot oppressor into strategic paralysis. If all only goes average, then offshore strikes, anonymous foreigners, and superhuman special operators can wear down the next Kadaffi with attrition on the cheap.
This is illusory. The next R2P eruption, cheered on by the usual peanut gallery safe behind its end of history, will likely be bloody, nasty, brutish, and long, as R2P and RMA, hand in hand, whimper through events. America will still not have faced up to the central contradiction of its own strategy, the pursuit of absolutely defined ends with the most miserly of means.You can’t ring in a millennial reign of peace, where every man is responsible for protecting every other man, with the mirage of the RMA swindle. That would be the imaginary in pursuit of the improbable, something which is clearly impossible.