Part 2 of 3
Choices for the Decision Maker.
The RMA is a complex subject, and there are multiple ways that decision makers may choose both to view the RMA and to pursue an RMA initiative, all with potentially divergent implications. Explicit identification and proper assessment of the options for proceeding appear essential for real progress. Defining the objectives for an RMA initiative involves two related but really distinct sets of issues: one related to how the RMA is perceived by decision makers, and the second related to what the RMA really is. This section will discuss the choices that arise from the multiple ways top-level decision makers may perceive the RMA; the question of what the RMA is will be discussed later. From the decision makers' standpoint, these different perspectives on the RMA include: a teleological focus that can be either external or internal; 3 focus on specific challenges or types of threats versus focus on the RMA as a process to adapt to broader and continuing environmental changes; employing the RMA as an instrument for organizational development versus using the RMA as a filter for new technologies; and, finally, the choice of whether to pursue an RMA versus what RMA to pursue.
Depending on their perspective of external or internal objectives for the RMA, decision makers can be separated into two broad groups (that are not, however, necessarily mutually exclusive). The external perspective focuses on the potential role of the RMA as a means of attaining strategic objectives in the evolving geostrategic environment, one in which the United States is likely to face a new set of security challenges. The internal perspective, on the other hand, sees the potential utility of the RMA as an organizing principle for DoD that can assist in determining future policy, programs, and bureaucratic relationships--in essence, as a tool to shape the department, if not the larger community, to the evolving strategic realities, including long-term fiscal pressures and reduced priority accorded to national security by decision makers and the American public. But while both are valid, how the RMA is used to achieve internally-directed objectives appears to depend critically on the choices the decision makers take with respect to the external objectives for the RMA. To assure strategic relevance, moreover, the RMA must address the basic national security challenges at hand--how best to deal with the diverse types of competitors that may emerge over the longer term. These challenges may include old problems posed by new competitors, new problems posed by old competitors, and new problems from emerging competitors (that we may not yet be able to even articulate, much less specifically characterize). 4
The second perspective, focused on the internal objectives, involves how the DoD leadership intends to use the RMA initiative to shape the future direction of the department once it understands the external purposes for the initiative. These internal choices include whether the RMA can provide a conceptual basis for future strategy; for prioritizing R&D efforts and acquisition programs; a legitimization of change as a way of life (i.e., a way to institutionalize a "permanent revolution"); a rationale for altering roles and missions; a framework for reorganizing bureaucratic structures; or merely an additional filter (as with strategic competitiveness) in the policy process. Indeed, much of the interest in the RMA seems to stem from the potential role an RMA could serve as an organizing principle (or rationale) for the wealth of technology opportunities now appearing, even amid the poverty of budgetary resources for defense needs. Overall, is the RMA as process a generally applicable tool or suited only to specific issues? For many of these purposes, the idea of an RMA may be just as important as detailed content since its primary use is as a motivating instrument. Pursuit of an RMA initiative will have significant implications for doctrinal development, operational requirements, force posture, and R&D strategy; and these will create opportunities for major institutional and bureaucratic changes.
The ability of an RMA to address potential disparate security challenges turns on whether it is an idiosyncratic event or a process. If the RMA is a specific event that synthesizes particular technologies, military systems, operational innovations, and organizational adaptations to address effectively existing challenges, can it also meet emerging problems? Given the apparent agreement that there is an RMA and that this RMA is but one in a historical series, there are two potential answers to this issue. One, that an RMA is a specific solution to a particular strategic problem, in which case it may not be relevant to emerging challenges. Or two, that RMAs are organic to the broad geostrategic milieu, arising from the general nature of the stage of socioeconomic development and technologies, in which case this RMA will retain its relevance as long as new challenges will also arise from that same general milieu.
If, on the other hand, the RMA is a process for synthesizing strategically appropriate responses, then it can play a longer-term role even if the strategic environment changes dramatically, presenting fundamentally new types of military problems. In this latter case, however, the important question must focus on the broad character of RMAs--not on the mission-specific tasks nor the collection of advanced technologies and military systems supporting them in a particular RMA-- since these elements can only usefully be defined as the future circumstances unfold. Analysis of these issues can provide the answers to whether an RMA initiative (or a strategy based on the RMA) can serve as an overall approach to potential competitors; whether an RMA will be consistent with long-term U.S. security interests; and whether an RMA will offer benefits in nontraditional missions such as drug interdiction and peacekeeping.
A final but related analytical issue concerns choice; not only what objectives decision makers may select, but whether or not there is a choice in pursuing the RMA. Should we pursue the RMA for its own sake? Because it can be done? Because it promises substantial advantages in addressing our evolving security challenges? Or finally, because we may have no choice since potential competitors may decide to pursue the RMA regardless of our course? The obverse point is equally important, are we currently good enough to answer potential challenges without the RMA; and if so, why should we disturb this present situation? In this regard, the example of the impact of the Dreadnought on the naval balance and subsequent competition before World War I may provide a cautionary note to proceeding before we understand both the purpose and implications of the RMA. By essentially starting the competition from scratch, Dreadnought obviated the utility of the large British investment in previous battleship and heavy cruiser fleets.
Issues of Strategic Purpose.
In order to address the issue of purpose, it is essential to understand the range of potential situations in which the RMA might need to be relevant. These issues, therefore, must be addressed in the context of what wars may be fought and how they will be fought, not only the more usual question of who our principal adversary will be. In the new geostrategic environment, what will U.S. strategic objectives be: will the United States employ force only in response to specific acts of aggression or in defense of particular interests, or will it to use its military power more generally--to shape the strategic environment, to defend liberty and promulgate values? Will the United States be strategically defensive or strategically offensive during this period? Indeed, in this new international structure three questions emerge. First, who defines the rules of conflict? Second, will the United States be able to define the nature and level of conflict? And third, what constraints can be applied to the conduct of warfare?5 These questions strike at the heart of whether the United States will have the choice of selecting the types of conflict in which we engage and at how competitors may decide to contest our power or determination--and, therefore, the purpose, role, and utility of an RMA.
The controlling factors may be not only the nature of the evolving competitions but also the very real constraints of size, budgetary pressures, and economic linkages reshaping U.S. military posture and the issue of what impacts these will have on on key competitors. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is unlikely in the immediate future that the United States will face a new challenger of that caliber. Rather it will have to deal with significantly smaller opponents either singly or in concert. Moreover, in the wake of both the Soviet collapse and the Gulf War, it is also especially important to recognize that the previous U.S. concern for the adverse asymmetry in force size no longer pertains and that U.S. technical advantages need no longer be considered to be merely a necessary qualitative offset to the quantitative advantages possessed by probable opponents. While several nations like China and India continue to possess large conventional force structures, it is likely that in future regional conflicts forces in coalition with the United States will be as large (and almost certainly better equipped and trained) as those of any regional adversary. Furthermore, and often not explicitly recognized, the collapse of the Soviet threat to Western Europe also implies that regional adversaries (the old "half-war" contingencies) must now be prepared to face a United States unconstrained by the need to retain the most formidable parts of U.S. force structure for the European (the classic "one war") contingency that previously dominated our thinking. Even while we may plan on a "two-war" capability, any opponent must be prepared to face the full weight of whatever U.S. military power exists.
Three other, perhaps more subtle, factors are also at work in shaping the strategic environment. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union also removes the only major power capable both of sponsoring regional opponents at distances from their borders (and threatening the United States with strategic forces) and of supplying them with the most advanced conventional weapons and technical assistance on concessionary terms.6 Second, in a major regional contingency, the United States can apply a range of nonmilitary strictures (such as embargoes and boycotts) against the opponent to further constrain his war effort without fear of opposing superpower intervention to undercut these actions. Coupled with the clear technological, doctrinal, and tactical superiority that was demonstrated during the Gulf War, these factors taken in combination suggest that the United States will possess demonstrable military dominance over regional contenders for the foreseeable future. Third, the likelihood that the United States will fight in future conflicts as part of coalitions not only increases the array of forces an opponent will confront, but also opens significant new vulnerabilities for the United States. The implications of coalition warfare, including political sensitivities, allied casualties, and concern for collateral damage, will have substantial impacts on how these campaigns are conducted. Indeed, these "softer" factors may be as important in planning coalition warfare as the more obvious issues of force integration, standardization and interoperability, and allocation of roles and missions.
These factors suggest that very few rational opponents are likely to wish to challenge (or be capable of challenging) us in a contest with mass theater-wide, multidimensional forces--given the very credible demonstration of U.S. capabilities displayed in DESERT STORM. Therefore, new opponents may decide, if they are determined to challenge us, to pose different problems, challenges that an RMA narrowly focused on the DESERT STORM scenario and based on technologies demonstrated in that conflict may be less capable of addressing successfully. For example, our next opponent could pose the problem of how to respond quickly despite his actively contesting our force deployment, while he may possess nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and long-range delivery systems capable of threatening not only U.S. forces, but allies, and third countries who control essential transit and staging facilities. Moreover, even if an opponent holds the same strategic objectives, he may be able to pursue them through different strategic concepts. Thus, overt cross-border invasion is not the only way of seizing neighboring territory; coups, destabilization, insurgencies, fifth columns, and blackmail are also among the traditional bag of tricks for aggressors.7 And in these cases, the United States could find itself on the operational offensive against nonmechanized forces already deployed in very difficult tactical environments.
Alternatively, an enemy may also decide to pursue a different set of strategic objectives--damage, disruption to civil society, or interference with key global links, and use different strategic concepts--long-range attack, clandestine forces, urban warfare (as currently in Bosnia and formerly in Beirut), terrorism, or subornation and blackmail of civilian populations, using modern communications to bypass the government itself.8 While there may be concern that "we don't do windows" (jungles, mountains, cities), even in those mission areas that we do, the next opponent may force us to do things so differently that we don't accomplish these missions very well either--for example, by employing large numbers of light forces, using mines densely on the battlefield, or contesting operations in littoral waters with mines, small but lethal fast attack boats, or conventional submarines. Current national strategy and defense planning largely ignore these potential problems in their narrow focus on heavily-armed, largely mechanized, and quite technically sophisticated regional hegemons. Before the United States commits itself to an RMA initiative, it is essential to decide on which parts of the conflict map to focus our exploitation efforts.
The Evolving Conflict Map. Unless either Mexico or Canada unexpectedly transforms itself into an aggressive regional threat, by definition the United States will not in the near-term be the direct object of aggression by a regional power, such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Therefore, we will fight conflicts with them at extended distances, and, with the exception of regional threats that acquire intercontinental strike systems, without direct threat to our national survival.9 As we did in the Persian Gulf, we will have to transport and support our combat forces; however, unlike in that conflict, we may not have the luxury of six months of force buildup. Our opponent may actively contest our deployment and force buildup, directly or by applying pressure on allies and neutrals that control critical transit and staging facilities. Indeed, it is highly likely that with the lesson of that war in mind, the next regional aggressor may choose to strike quickly, before we can bring major forces to bear; and he may choose a strategic concept that allows him to do so. In addition, he may choose: forces that create lower signatures during his mobilization and buildup phases than armored and mechanized divisions; forces that can move to strike quickly at the target's strategic centers of gravity; or forces that are more difficult to target as he consolidates his position. Given the current strategic focus on a narrow set of regional contingencies, likely to be conducted in unprepared theaters, often without the benefit of in-place heavy infrastructure, logistics support and predeployed forces, the real challenge for U.S. military strategy may not be decisively defeating an opponent once we engage, but projecting power in a timely and responsive manner. Therefore, a key operational challenge will be the need to enhance our ability to move to the theater quickly while improving our capability to wage intense, short-duration combat to destroy enemy forces. The significant change from pre-deployed forward forces to a force projection military waging expeditionary campaigns requires that we alter our entire campaign paradigm, and it should focus our near-term attention on the problems of designing a force capable of rapidly deploying real combat power to a contingency theater against active opposition.
Unfortunately, not all lesser opponents are Iraq, as we had already discovered in Vietnam. Some opponents may be less susceptible to damage and pain, against either their military forces or civil societies (as we discovered during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts). 10 For many regional opponents, however, their military forces may be among the most modern and highest value assets (both in terms of equipment and human capital) they possess. Like the armies of the Italian city-states, they may be too valuable to risk in actual combat. Thus, some opponents may choose strategic concepts and means of execution that are explicitly limited and stylized, to which the large-scale and intense violence of a DESERT STORM-type clash may appear to be neither proportional nor appropriate either to their limited strategic objectives or to their constrained means of combat. And while the United States may currently be transfixed on the problem of stopping rapid cross-border acts of aggression, potential regional opponents may have other objectives that can be better served by alternative strategic concepts, particularly in light of their own vulnerabilities to the type of warfare demonstrated in the war against Iraq.
Furthermore, the canonical set of threats (focused on regional hegemons) represents a very small portion of the potential conflict map that may evolve. And on its face, these threats also appear to be those for which the current operational and organizational posture of the American military is best suited. Unless we believe that no more serious and challenging threats will emerge over the next several decades, we do need to recognize that we will face a major, even if not a "global" opponent, during this future.11 How or whether a peer competitor emerges is likely to be related both to the evolution of the role of war in interstate relations during this period and to the ability of dominant U.S. military power to deter the emergence of a challenger. However, potential peer competitors do have choices about how they challenge us. While they could seek to do so with the tools of this RMA (the parallel approach), they might attempt to challenge us with mass and older technologies. In either case, the RMA would appear to be germane to these potential contests.
However, the very length of time it may take for a new peer competitor to emerge suggests that the utility of an RMA exploited today with a very narrow focus may no longer be evident at the time a challenge does emerge.12 The new competitors could attempt to identify the next RMA and confront the United States with a whole new set of operational and technical challenges. And it is not clear that if they choose foreign ground (a different strategic concept, a different purpose, a different set of tools), how an RMA narrowly focused on DESERT STORM will necessarily be relevant. Especially since a peer competitor will almost certainly be a major economic power and tightly integrated into the global economy, his inherent degree of societal vulnerability may lead him to pursue his strategic objectives through means that are clearly limited,13 using the implicit "rules of the game" in an attempt to protect himself from U.S. escalation to more violent forms of conflict.
As one speculative look into the far future, a potential future challenger to the system might decide not to engage the United States or other coalition members militarily, but to strike directly against the diverse network of international linkages that support the increasing globalization (and therefore homogenization) of commerce, culture, and politics. This opponent would be interested in destroying not the military power but the very fabric of the international system and striking at its core values, especially if these values are fundamentally hostile to deep cultural, religious, or ideological principles. Thus, such a challenger might choose to go directly against the linkages that bind major trading partners and regions. As an historical example of this path, it is worth recalling post-Napoleonic France's challenge to British naval mastery. Having determined after the costly loss at Trafalgar that British naval supremacy could not profitably be challenged directly, the French looked at waging a guerre de course against what they perceived to be the glue of the British Empire and of British economic superiority--worldwide trade. The obverse was that trade links of an island nation forced to import food and most raw materials, and also dependent, in return, on earnings from its manufactured exports, were perhaps the critical source of vulnerability- -as was to be demonstrated during both World Wars. It is interesting to contemplate what an attack today against commerce, both sea- and air-borne, might look like (and how effective it might be) if waged with modern technologies and innovative operational concepts.
While the United States built forces to maintain sea control against a traditional naval opponent such as the Soviet Union, this mission area is now seen as very low priority with the turn in attention to "littoral warfare" and force projection from the sea. But even if the United States were to maintain the force capabilities and effective operational concepts in the interim, how relevant would they be for maintaining sea control against covert forces, perhaps operating large numbers of diverse types of modern commerce raiders? Similarly, could the United States protect the critical routes of commerce against an opponent intent on waging war against international aviation or telecommunications?
In addition to classic challenges, there may be other types of threats emerging in this evolving strategic environment. Indeed, these conflicts seem more probable than larger-scale, more traditional types of wars. At the other end of the conflict spectrum, there are likely to be a series of low-intensity, but not necessarily low-technology, conflicts resulting from the continuing diffusion of power and disintegration of existing states. These conflicts may involve both state and nonstate challengers. Moreover, nonstate challengers, like those in Somalia and Bosnia, may appear with fundamentally different objectives as well as strategic concepts of execution. Rather than attacking a neighbor for territorial aggrandizement, nonstate opponents might be tempted merely to inflict pain, and thereby destabilization, on opposing societies. If the object is pain, not publicity, we may find it difficult to identify the proper target for our response. Alternatively, the opponent may choose to strike from a posture that makes it impossible to avoid large-scale collateral damage to innocent populations in preemptive or retaliatory strikes.14 These types of challenges may well call for a different focus from an emerging RMA. A shift in focus for near-term operations to the lower end of the conflict spectrum, the increasing importance of peacekeeping/ peacemaking operations, the complications of multinational coalition operations, and the "CNN effect,"15 are likely to produce pressures for limited U.S. casualties and requirements for constraining collateral damage as well. Can the RMA also provide useful capabilities against this more diverse array of possible challenges? Finding a successful path through the thicket of conflicting budgetary and policy pressures may be extremely difficult, but it also has the potential to be a key benefit if the RMA is properly conceived.
Changes in the Conduct of Warfare. Periodic fundamental changes in the nature of war and the conduct of warfare appear to date back far into history.16 Examples of previous RMAs can help place this RMA in historical context. While there may be even earlier examples, such as development of the Macedonian phalanx and Roman legion, modern examples begin with the Napoleonic RMA (the "nation in arms")--utilizing for the first time in modern history the vast resources of a newly industrializing nation to equip and support a mass army. This RMA was contemporaneous with three other key upheavals: a political revolution that spawned democracy and the rise of the republican nation-state; a socioeconomic convulsion stemming from the Agricultural Revolution; and an economic sea change resulting from the spread of the Industrial Revolution to France. The result of the Napoleonic RMA was no less vast: not just the ability to conquer a neighbor, but to seize a continent--or in more modern terms, the means to wage a theater-wide campaign.
Since the Napoleonic RMA, many observers believe that, prior to the one now under discussion, there have been four other significant military revolutions. The first of these (encompassing both the American Civil and the Franco- Prussian Wars) built on the railroad and the telegraph to extend, at the strategic level, the reach, mobility, communications, and logistics support consistent with the new continental scope of military operations. It also built on the second stage of the Industrial Revolution (such as "the American system of manufactures," i.e., interchangeable parts) to introduce more effective and lethal weapons, including the Minié-ball, breech-loaded artillery, and the "needle gun." The World War I RMA incorporated mass production technologies to equip multimillion man armies to increase mechanization for support logistics, and to employ factory products like the machine gun and barbed wire. This RMA turned the operationally mobile warfare of the previous revolution into fixed, positional, and relatively static, attrition warfare. The art of generalship was lost, replaced by the capacity of manpower rich states to supply soldiers and the means to destroy the other side's soldiers.
The third of these post-Napoleonic RMAs was the dual revolution in the inter-war period based on efficient internal combustion engines, tactical and strategic aircraft capabilities, and the radio to reintroduce strategic and operational mobility, maneuver, and initiative. On the one hand, these factors allowed the Germans to develop Blitzkrieg, directed at an operational solution to the problem of waging a rapid campaign to avoid getting bogged down in a two-front war in Europe, as happened in World War I. On the other hand, this same technical foundation supported an RMA by the U.S. Navy that combined carrier aviation, amphibious assault, and long-range submarine operations (supported by strategic bombing from seized forward island bases) to bring about the strangulation of our island opponent. U.S. strategy for the Pacific conflict recognized that the American strategic problem was to employ our vast industrial resources to bring about the decisive defeat of Japan on its home territory. Finally, the last of these four was the nuclear/long-range strike RMA based on atomic weapons and intercontinental strike capabilities that focused on the ability to destroy the economic, political, and social fabric of the modern nation-state, along with the enemy's military.
Few RMAs cause the kind of deep changes that the Napoleonic RMA did in both the nature of war and the conduct of warfare. That was a revolution set in train by a combination of fundamental economic, political, and social forces. It altered the scale of forces by the employment of the mass army (up to 500,000 by 1812) and, at the same time, it shifted the conduct of warfare by changing the scope to continental operations. But more importantly, changes in the underlying conditions set in train by the three contemporaneous upheavals made military forces relatively cheap; and despite the improvements in firepower enabled by industrialization, modern nation-states were able to field and support more forces than any opponent could kill--thus leading to attrition warfare since Clausewitzian- style strategically decisive victories were rarely obtainable through coups de main.17 This 150-year period marked an era of military expansion with the shift to mass armies, continental or global scope of operations, and dependence on attrition warfare due to the difficulty in staging strategically decisive battles.
This era may now have come to a close. It was ended both by the nuclear/long-range strike RMA and by the lethally effective conventional operations that are now emerging from the nascent RMA. This next long-term cycle derives from not only a new era of expensive military forces, but also from a period in which the relative cost of killing is falling rapidly. The combination of rapidly escalating costs of major military systems, together with the enhanced lethality, will culminate in smaller, more valuable forces, along with a recovered ability to effect decisive victories. The result of this combination of factors fundamentally alters the underlying terms for military forces; and this has dramatic implications for the future of warfare as well as the scale and scope of conflicts. This next RMA appears to possess many of the properties of a Napoleonic RMA. It may mark the closing of that era in warfare dominated by large military forces and equally large scopes of military operations. This RMA may usher in a new period of military contraction and a return to wars fought for limited objectives by valuable forces too precious to waste in mass, attrition-style warfare.
These cyclic changes in the scale of military forces and operations appear to have a cousin in similarly cyclical changes at the strategic/political level. It is essential that strategy at both the grand and military levels be appropriate to the environmental circumstances, as much including the socio-cultural and economic dimensions as the political.18 The same underlying forces--of nationalism, agricultural revolution, and industrial revolution--that allowed Napoleon to create his RMA also altered the objectives, and thus both the nature of war and the conduct of warfare. Napoleon moved modern warfare from "limited wars" fought by absolute monarchs, usually ended with contractual agreements of only modest gains and losses, to wars fought for unlimited ends, such as the destruction of the opposing state or regime, under the rubric of "unconditional surrender."19 While subsequent RMAs have further raised the scale, broadened the scope, increased the intensity, and heightened the tempo of tactical operations, they have stayed within this fundamental politico-strategic framework. Thus, to the extent that this century has been dominated by conflicts not only between nation-states but between ideological systems, it has been a period of "total war." The circumstance of ideological conflict implied that "absolute ends" were proper and "total means" legitimate.20 The Soviet notion of exploiting the vulnerability of the rear mirrored Douhet's earlier concept for attacking the enemy's will through strategic bombing. Under these conditions of "total war," there was no functional distinction between attacking the enemy's forces on the battlefield and attacking the enemy's forces by destroying the industrial base (and by extension, the entire political, economic, and social base) that supported them--nor was there a difference in legitimacy.
The "Information Revolution" and the change to post-industrial economies also seemed to presage significant changes not only for the means of warfare, but also for the objectives of war. Increasing globalization of commerce, decreasing economic returns to scale, near-real-time global telecommunications, the rise of centrifugal forces within the nation-state, among other trends, all raise questions as to the future objectives of interstate conflict, the appropriate strategies for pursuing national objectives under these conditions, and the operational means for conducting war. The old Clausewitzian objectives for military operations (destroy military forces, capture the territory, seize the leadership) largely mirror the key factors that underwrote the sources of strength of the newly industrializing economies. And these factors, what economists call the classic factor endowments of land, labor, and capital, also happened to be contemporaneous and coterminous with the sources of power of the classic 19th century nation-state. With the increasing integration of the industrial economies and their financial systems (and, at the same time, the decreasing importance of most traditional physical resources and raw materials), many of the classical notions of the objectives for conflict and the means to pursue them may be in the process of changing. Particularly in the absence of deeply-seated ideological conflict, one may speculate that rather than "total war," more limited objectives will be the norm.
Post-industrial (or information-based) economies build on information or knowledge as the fourth critical factor endowment. This carries at least three other significant implications for assessing the future security environment. First, this new factor endowment is not dependent on unchangeable physical resources nor on large, fixed capital investments that have long depreciation and pay-back periods. As a result, economic power built on this foundation can be developed far more quickly. Second, this source of strength is also far more agile and adaptable, and can respond with shorter time constants to changes in the environment; it may well be capable of greater surprises. Third, this factor is also more mobile and potentially more transferable; and power growing from it may be subject to greater diffusion.es and missions.