What now for the military?


NOW WHAT? That's the question most of our armed forces are asking, not only those still standing by their guns in the gulf, but those deployed in East Asia and Western Europe as well. For the first time since the end of World War II, there is no immediate mission at hand following the end of hostilities.

At the time, the Korean War was seen as a Soviet diversion, with the main attack likely to come in central Europe. Even during the war, the U.S. military sent most of its first-line aircraft and the majority of troops to Europe. Those of us who chose to stay in the military after rotating from the battle area soon found ourselves back on the line in Germany.

Although we drew down our forces in Europe to dangerous levels during the Vietnam War, the consensus remained that the confrontation with the Warsaw Pact in Europe was far more important to U.S. national security than the shooting war in Vietnam. When I returned from Vietnam to attend the Army Command and General Staff College in 1967, two years after the ground war in Vietnam began, there was still not a single course being taught about the war there.

As soon as the draw-down of U.S. military forces began in 1969, the military's attention shifted away from the frustrations of counterinsurgency to the more familiar doctrines of conventional war. But today Europe is the sideshow. The U.S. VII Corps, more than half of the U.S. Seventh Army's combat strength, was pulled out of Germany and dispatched to the gulf.

It was possible to do so because its very reason for being -- deterrence of Warsaw Pact aggression -- began to come unglued with the end of the Cold War. Indeed, while VII Corps was in the gulf the Warsaw Pact itself was formally dissolved. Even if VII Corps does return to Germany, much of it will more than likely be caught up in the force reductions now under way there.

We are now in a post-war/post-war world, coming to grips with the end of the Cold War and the end of the Persian Gulf war simultaneously. For a while the military underwent a terrible ratcheting. Even during hostilities, budget cutters were slashing the very forces that would have been most needed if we had gotten into a real slugging match. One brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, for example, was being disbanded at the time the rest of the division was fighting in the gulf. The 8-inch artillery battalion that normally provided heavy artillery support to the 3rd Armored Division was left behind to be deactivated when that division was sent into combat.

The force-reduction bookkeepers gambled wildly with the combat effectiveness of the force. They were lucky, but it was a move that verged on the edge of criminal irresponsibility. Now, with the end of the war, they will have virtually a free hand. The deep cuts planned last year in the wake of the end of the Cold War have now been resurrected.

No one argues with the formulation first expressed by James Madison in the Federalist Papers over 200 years ago that the means of defense will ever be determined by the dangers of attack. As the danger of attack diminishes, as it certainly has with the end of the Cold War, the means of defense can be reduced accordingly.

But as the war in the gulf made clear, there are more dangers to American security than merely those posed by the Soviet Union. America's worldwide interests create worldwide vulnerabilities, and our track record in predicting where U.S. armed forces are likely to be committed has been less than perfect. When I was ordered to Korea in 1947, it wasn't even shown on world maps, and the idea that there would be a major war there within three years never crossed anyone's mind. The same was true of Vietnam, still shown on maps as French Indo-China when U.S. advisers were first posted there in 1950.

Grenada? Panama? Kuwait? All were equally unpredictable. But when trouble flared in those countries, the American people took it for granted that their military would resolve the crises rapidly and in good order. Most of the time those expectations were realized. They were realized because the military had been organized, armed and equipped to respond to the large challenges posed by the Soviet Union, thus were more than prepared to meet such lesser challenges.

The war in the gulf was a particular case in point. For almost a decade the American military had trained rigorously for a war against Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces equipped with Soviet equipment and trained in Soviet tactics and doctrine. By incredible good fortune it was exactly prepared for a confrontation with Iraqi forces armed with Soviet equipment and trained in Soviet tactics.

But with the end of the Cold War, what will be the military's overarching reason for being? What conception of war will determine its doctrine, organization, arms and equipment? "Now what?" is a question more serious than it might first appear. Our future security depends on getting the answer right.

A distinguished fellow of the Army War College who formerly held the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Chair there, Col. Summers is a contributing editor for the Journal of Defense & Diplomacy.


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