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No More Trips to Fort Irwin: Training the Army after Iraq

Despite General Casey’s predictions that the Army will be in a perpetual state of war for the next decade, realistically the US will wrap up major combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan well before that. And as soon as those wars end, our military will have to start training for the next one.

The key question is how.

I have a simple proposition: while training rotations at Maneuver Training Centers shouldn’t disappear, we should start supplementing them with deployments to real-world missions, like UN peacekeeping missions.

The best analogy for the Army’s near future is the US Army after Vietnam. Despite massive problems--drugs use, failed leadership, inadequate resources--the Army reformed itself. It modernized the force, changed training, and looked squarely at Russia and said “we will change to fight that.” In the first Persian Gulf war, the strategy vindicated itself.

To train for the USSR, we developed maneuver training centers, giant expanses of land with dedicated opposing forces. These centers helped the US Army train for conventional maneuver wars. Brigades faced off against one another, lessons were learned, careers made or lost. Those military training centers trained almost exclusively for one type of war: high-intensity, industrial, maneuver-focused, and state-on-state.

Hopefully, the Pentagon is learning that it is really bad at predicting what future war will look like. In some cases, it may look a lot like the first Persian Gulf war. In those cases, we will need to continue training at maneuver centers like the ones in Fort Polk and Fort Irwin.

However, clean force-on-force wars are disappearing. Instead, future wars will be messy affairs, like Iraq or Afghanistan. They will involve genocide, natural disasters, civil wars and politics. They will always involve massive population centers, something maneuver training centers are atrocious at replicating. They will involve building infrastructure, battling corruption and distributing aid.

To really train for the next war, we need to join the one organization dedicated to constantly fighting little brush fire wars: the UN Peacekeeping force. Currently, the UN deploys thousands of Soldiers in peacekeeping missions, mostly drawn from developing nations like Pakistan and Brazil because it pays its soldiers sorely needed cash.

We should tag along on these peace-keeping missions, but refuse to accept the UN’s money. Then, when the security council approves a 3,000 man peacekeeping mission, we would bolster it by an additional 5,000 (roughly the size of a Brigade Combat Team) for free. I doubt any peacekeeping mission would object to the assets of the US government.

Everyone benefits. The deployment experience would provide cultural knowledge to every officer, NCO and soldier deploying to the third world for the first time. Our military would learn how to work with multiple foreign governments, NGOs, inter-agency and other militaries. The deployments would teach our soldiers flexibility, and also the political side of warfare. And our Army would gain experience in the troubled areas around the world.

The only possible problem with deploying US troops is the current state of exhaustion of our force. Only four to five years after we have severely drawn down the mission in Afghanistan could we hope to deploy combat brigades to bolster UN peacekeeping missions. Doing so, though, would benefit our military and help repair our battered international reputation.

twelve comments

Two thoughts:

1. We not only can’t predict the future wars, we ignore the wars going on around us. Vietnam, USSR in Korea, Somalia. Aside from the first Iraq war, the world barely saw maneuver warfare. So stupid.

2. Maybe we ask the UN for a membership reduction if we help out the peacekeeping?

This probably won’t work because of warzones like Somalia. If Soldiers die, the US will want out. that said, prevention is the best medicine.

Sounds like a great idea… for the Marines.

The Army is a sledgehammer, not the best tool for those kinds of brush wars. Keeping the Army expeditionary enough to tackle these kinds of deployments on a regular basis would be extremely expensive. The Marines are deployed anyway, it wouldn’t cost any more money for them to slap hands with some blue helmet dudes. Embarking a BCT is a different story….

Using the Marines would also limit the political effects that Eric C mentions. The Marines have historically been perpetually deployed and have died in nasty little wars. Americans know that.

Again, fantastic idea. I love it. I just don’t think the Army is the best force for the job.

I hope you´re correct, and not General Casey, only time will tell which hypothesis is correct.

I don´t have any problem with the US military being used a peacekeeping forces in theory, but studying the history of some of the missions, as well as talking to German Kosovo vets has taught me that it can be both bad for military readiness as well as ineffective.

Just look at what the Canadian ROE was in Rwanda, they sat on the sidelines watching ethnic cleansing take place without firing a single shot. There have been massacres right before the eyes of UN peacekeepers where they have been prohibited from intervening, and people complain about the ROE in Afghanistan.

I would rather have them involved in pure humanitarian missions and the security for them rather than normal UN peacekeeping missions. It would hold the unquestionable moral high ground, and not necessarily leave forces there in an ambiguous state of limbo. It also has the added bonus of helping stabilize which in turn helps prevent countries from becoming a “rogue state”. Its not as if there aren´t enough worthy humanitarian missions out there to pick and choose from.

I fail to see how deploying a light Army unit is much more expensive than deploying the Marines. All it costs extra is a little bit of fuel and maintenance from the Air Force as long as the Army leaves its heavier equipment (and contractors) at home. Plus I think the Marines mentality is even more ill suited for the mission, although that is an argument for more exposure to that kind of job.

@ BA, thanks for liking the idea, I guess I think both the Army and the Marine Corps need to adopt this. An Army Brigade is as deployable as a Marine Corps regiment now; not to mention that the Army has stationed troops in Europe and Korea for years now. I think both our ground forces need the capabilities that come with peacekeeping misisons.

@ Chris- Your rightly bring up the inherent difficulties of deploying troops, even to peacekeeping missions. There is also the reality that the American body politic isn’t going to have a big stomach for overseas deployments after these wars, even if they are UN missions. So relying on the wisdom of our senior leaders in choosing smart deployments is key, and you might be right that humanitarian missions like Pakistan and Haiti are the best bet.

@ Michael – I agree with the idea of sending our forces on rotations with peacekeeping forces for different reasons. I think it’s a vital role in maintaining stability in volatile areas. As for how well it will prepare our forces for unexpected and future wars, I’m not convinced.

@Chris – I too would rather have our forces involved in pure humanitarian missions for exactly the same reason. Well said.

Chris C makes some good points.

I wouldn’t be opposed to deploying the troops for humanitarian or even peacekeeping operations (Marines, sure – but if the Big Army is a sledgehammer, the Ranger Regiment is a scalpel), so long as A) they were operating under American – and not UN – ROE; and B) they were under American command (or an uber-close ally with similar tactics and doctrine).

@ Kelly = I agree with both requirements. Frankly, I don’t think the American public would allow it any other way.

I also think that, FP wise, liberals like myself have a lot in common with less-isolationist conservatives on this use of American power. Namely, making the world a better place.

I don´t see a problem with units being under UN command, it does give the mission a very inherently neutral tone, and its a good stamp of legitimacy if both the UN general assembly and the security council give the thumbs up for the mission. Having that on a humanitarian mission really does have an unassailable moral high ground, and it could help the US´s image at a time when it is looked at as a menace more than a shining city upon a hill by the rest of the world.

However it is a political reality that there is a lot of mistrust of the UN among some people within the United States, and where US military personnel get deployed is ultimately going to have to be decided upon by congress and the president.

I personally like the idea of having the military constructively contributing to peace processes, I´m just not sure UN peacekeeping missions have been universally successful or have an effective model. I know that UNOMIG was either a part of, or a bystander as South Ossetia and Abkhazia nearly restarted the cold war here in recent memory.

I think that US troops, wearing blue helmets, conducting a humanitarian mission approved by the UNGA/SC, would be inherently neutral. I fail to see how giving a Ghanaian, Nigerian, or Pakistani officer command authority over a US military force would somehow increase the efficiency of effectiveness of the humanitarian mission.

Great idea!


What do ya’ll think of this?

it just boggles the mind.