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By William G. Braun III and Charles D. Allen
| April 01, 2014
This article advocates adapting the joint force to the emerging security strategy and security environment by enhancing the military’s shaping capabilities. Drawing on a dynamic equilibrium metaphor, the article considers several simultaneous stimuli that warrant adaptation of the force and a shift in focus to shaping capabilities. Central among them is the U.S. national security strategy shift from deterrence and containment to cooperation and engagement. It is important that military shaping capabilities be resourced in support of this strategy to prepare the Joint Force to take advantage of opportunities to protect and advance U.S. interests short of war, as well as confront aggression anywhere in the world at the outbreak of hostilities.
Once again the U.S. military is transitioning from a period of sustained conflict to a resource-constrained and uncertain future. Accordingly, the Nation is again debating its global role and how to develop an appropriate national security strategy. Even before that strategy is fully formulated, the military submitted a budget that comports with fiscal austerity while sustaining current readiness and investing in capabilities to meet future requirements for a complex international security environment.
Soldier pulls watch during traffic checkpoint coordinated with members of Afghan National Army outside of Combat Outpost Yosef Khel, Paktika Province (U.S. Army/Ken Scar)
This article expands the national security debate by advocating adapting the joint force to the emerging strategy and security environment through enhancing its shaping capabilities. The principal stimulus driving the need for change is the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, which sustains the security strategy shift from deterrence and containment to cooperation through engagement. The emerging consensus suggests the future national security strategy will direct a regionally tailored force for limited engagement.1 As with any fundamental shift in national policy objectives, strategy, or operational concepts, the initial guidance is seldom the last word.2 The military must be sized and resourced to adapt to the realities of strategy and policy adjustments as they occur. It is critical that military capabilities are resourced for the national strategy and that they posture the joint force to create and seize opportunities. The objective is a military that protects and advances U.S. interests in times of peace while providing robust and flexible options to confront aggression worldwide.
To establish context for the emerging military narratives, it is necessary to trace the trajectory of the national security debate since the end of World War II. The Cold War grand strategy, often attributed to “the father of containment” George Kennan, carried the Nation through the last half of the 20th century.3 In his famous “X article” published in 1947, Kennan advocated replacing cooperation with the Soviet Union with a strategy of long-term containment of their expansionist philosophies. While the strategy matured during the Cold War, the military’s role remained stable.4 With a few notable exceptions, the Armed Forces provided credible and robust conventional combat capability to defend national interests, exercised legitimate coercive power to maintain international order through containment, and demonstrated a mutually assured destruction capability that discouraged nuclear confrontation.
With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a search for a new grand strategy narrative began. President George H.W. Bush presented a vision of a “new world order” to Congress in 1990 that emphasized “cooperation,” where “nations of the world can prosper and live in harmony.”5 President Bill Clinton described how the vision could be achieved through a strategy of “engagement and enlargement,” thus giving it structure. This particular strategy relied primarily on economic and diplomatic efforts, backed by military force, and was designed to expand the global reach of democracy and economic prosperity.6 President George W. Bush’s National Security Strategy reiterated many of the tenets of the earlier post–Cold War security strategies. Faced with the new reality of terrorist attacks and the emergent demands of two simultaneous wars, Bush emphasized the role of military power and highlighted the U.S. prerogative for preemptive action to counter rogue states or terrorist organizations that might strike without warning.7 While President Barack Obama’s 2010 National Security Strategy acknowledged the role of the military, it reverted to much of the language related to cooperation and burden-sharing reflective of the 1990s.8
The national security strategy is in transition again. The strategic environment presents a weak global economy, a struggling U.S. economy, and shrinking defense resources. While the current national security strategy is not fully developed or articulated, it appears to conform to a general trajectory evident since the Cold War, from containment and deterrence to cooperation and engagement, with more limited ambitions than those initially expressed in the 1990s. This emerging narrative is designed to address a security environment that includes a nonhostile but rising rival in Asia (China), international nuclear proliferation (Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea), revolutions against existing world order (the Arab Spring in the African Maghreb and Egypt), continued unrest in the Middle East (the Levant), and growing concern over instability and violence (Mexico and other Central/South American nations) in the Western Hemisphere.
The national security strategy narrative is expected to focus on engagement and cooperative relationships to advance U.S. interests and establish a stable international order. It should appropriately emphasize the use of economic and diplomatic means backed by the limited use of the military as a coercive instrument of national power. In this era of fiscal austerity, emerging consensus emphasizes a regionally tailored military strategy of limited engagement.
The current Defense Strategic Guidance (January 2012) directs the military to adapt to the future strategic environment even as it remains a “global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East” and at the same time is “prepared to confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world,” all with a much smaller size and reduced resources.9 In underwriting this strategy, the Secretary of Defense is expected to develop a joint force that is “smaller and leaner” but “will remain agile, flexible, ready, innovative, and technologically advanced.”10 This is a tall order that requires prioritization and trade-off of risk. The security establishment requires a model for dynamic force adaptation and a framework to develop the narrative that guides prioritization.
The organizational concept of dynamic equilibrium may provide such a model. It draws on an ecological system metaphor to examine an organizational response to a changing environment. The “open system” ecological metaphor is rooted in chaos, complexity, and systems theories. Several elements of the metaphor can be applied to the military’s adaptation to the evolving threat, security, and operational environments.
The dynamic equilibrium metaphor captures the interactive and multidimensional nature of systems and the continuous adaptive change imposed by each member of an ecosystem on the other. This interactive adaptation is a dynamic where the norm is constant change in response to multiple simultaneous stimuli from other members and elements of the system. There are two broad mechanisms of change within the theory—iterative evolution and rapid adaptation.11 The first is more common in nature. The second can produce rapid (transformational or revolutionary) change, but just as often results in the death of many members of the system and the emergence of a new ecosystem. Death occurs when an organism stops adapting and no longer actively influences or is influenced by the system.12 The remaining sections address several dimensions of the military’s environment that must be considered as our leaders adapt the joint force for the future.
Threat versus Opportunity. National security literature tends toward threat-based analysis. Security studies and military planning are likely to focus on approaches that prevent unfavorable order and unacceptable levels of disorder,13 while identifying and planning for black swan contingencies.14 Conversely, contemporary organizational and business literatures promote strategies that focus on opportunity identification and exploitation.
Applying this opportunity perspective to security strategy and military implementation concepts can facilitate the identification of alternative approaches to achieving national objectives. Instead of physically “pivoting” to the Asia-Pacific and Middle East, one could envision a strategy that employs military power in various regions to rebalance our global efforts to indirectly influence the regions prioritized by U.S. national leadership.15 In addition one may develop innovative ways to exploit military relationships and partnerships while employing other instruments of national power.
Time Horizons Equilibrium. The military narrative should include linkages to current policy, strategy, and resources while engaging proactively in actions that adapt the organization to future threats, opportunities, and political perspectives. This results in two time horizons for strategic decisions that affect force development. The near-term horizon is driven by prioritized distribution of available resources, which has to be justified in the context of current national strategy and policy objectives. The long-term horizon is based on estimates of future threats, operational environment opportunities, and the range of potential strategy and policy decisions that may be pursued by future administrations. The long-term horizon requires senior leaders to establish aspirational goals and a vision of the range of military capabilities to achieve them. The Services’ primary concern is with the near-term horizon, which requires the distribution of resources to maintain readiness while initiating the evolutionary change and development initiatives that move the force in the direction of the long-term vision.
Solider and Afghan police officer search terrain in Kunar Province prior to firefight (U.S. Army/Gary A. Witte)
Military Strategy Equilibrium. Absolute war and peace are archetypal states that are never fully realized. Competition spans a continuum from the civil order of peace through major combat manifested by war. Unattended turmoil and misunderstandings among nonhostile rivals can lead to escalation of hostility and increased incidence of extreme violence. Similarly, managing disorder within the context of combat operations is necessary to nurture the civil order associated with peace.
The U.S. security establishment has acknowledged the vital role of the military in shaping the security environment. In 1997, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili stated, “The military has an important role in engagement—helping to shape the international environment in appropriate ways to bring about a more peaceful and stable world.” In the next sentence he provided a caveat: “The purpose of our Armed Forces, however, is to deter and defeat threats of organized violence to our country and its interests.”16 When faced with austere budgets, reduced force structure, and uncertain futures, senior civilian and military leaders typically revert to a rhetoric dominated by the force sizing and prioritization mantra to “fight and win the Nation’s wars,” with all other uses of the military being “lesser-included” capabilities.
The military’s force-sizing construct since the Cold War has been a two-theaters strategy. While arguably underresourced, the construct was based on an aspiration to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies.17 In his February 2014 press conference, Secretary Hagel conveyed that the construct was now passé and stated as well that “we are no longer sizing the military to conduct long and large stability operation.” 18 He went on to say that the Army will be sized to decisively defeat aggression in one major combat theater while defending the homeland and supporting a joint force engagement in another theater.
When not engaged in war, the military structure and its inherent capabilities are available to America’s political leaders for other missions. In practice the military does a great deal more than simply preparing for and executing regional contingencies and major combat operations. Especially with regard to landpower, a force capable of fighting two major regional contingencies can accomplish a number of “lesser-included” tasks during periods of relative peace. The deterrent quality of a ready force is intended to provide the Nation with sufficient coercive power to discourage the escalation of national rivalries into major combat operations. Should that deterrence fail, the military’s mission has historically been to decisively defeat the enemy.
Realist/Balancer versus Idealist/Engagement Foreign Policy. Air-Sea Battle has occupied a great portion of the public debate regarding the military’s strategic narrative since the release of the Defense Strategic Guidance. Air-Sea Battle’s key characteristics include military involvement starting at the commencement of hostilities, withstanding an initial attack, executing a blinding and suppression campaign against enemy long-range intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) and strike systems, and seizing the initiative in the sea, air, space, and cyberspace domains. From this posture, the execution of the concept would create time for “options to resolve a prolonged conventional conflict on favorable terms” through blockades, sustained logistics, and the expansion of military and industrial production.19
Considerations of the role landpower plays in this operational concept appeared late in the concept’s development.20 But even as a latecomer, landpower’s role was soon recognized in clearing coastal areas of surface-to-ship missiles, providing for land-based air defense, and performing myriad sustainment functions associated with establishing theater operations and sustaining the joint force. As this joint operational concept is further developed, it is likely that the vital role for landpower will be better understood.
If the United States adopts a realist foreign policy, the approach of balancing rising powers with regional partners and preserving the ability to counter rivals once hostilities commence is a sound strategy. The Air-Sea Battle operational concept facilitates countering a hostile enemy with strategic stand-off and antiaccess/area-denial capabilities.
However, senior national security leaders should reconsider the utility of resourcing an operational concept that limits the range of military options to direct confrontation, especially when countering nonhostile rivals. Such an approach seems unwise, especially in cases where the rival’s economic markets may be closely linked to the U.S. economy. This limited approach would leave our leaders with few military options to counter a rival that confronts the Nation directly with economic and diplomatic power, and employs military power through distant or amorphous proxies. One can easily envision the coercive power levers a rival could bring to bear short of hostilities, making military employment options and posturing to deter hostilities moot.
The prioritization of resources to prepare the military for the future must accommodate both the future security environment and the political reality that U.S. policy and international action do not align perfectly with either realist or idealist perspectives of political science theory. Actual policy and international political choice reflect a hybrid approach. The range of military capabilities must accommodate options for dealing with the future environment that are based in both realist and idealist perspectives.
The Army Chief of Staff (CSA) has Title 10 responsibilities to field the Army and sustain America’s joint force. General Ray Odierno, in the 2012 Army Posture Statement, presented the Army’s primary roles as prevent, shape, and win, with readiness, force structure, and modernization as the principal rheostats to adjust resource prioritization to adapt the Army to the strategic and fiscal environment. Current military force sizing is based on a “fight and win” philosophy. The fight and win imperative encompasses decisive joint combat capabilities for the rapid defeat of enemies and a decisive end to hostilities.
The “win to prevent” paradigm offers two paths to achieving a political objective prior to the onset of combat. A force-in-being’s “win” capabilities discourage opportunistic rivals from engaging in hostilities and prevent hostility expansion to other regions after the start of conflict. America must maintain a legitimate military deterrent power by fielding a force-in-being capable of decisively defeating any enemy while demonstrating the political will to use it.
The Air-Sea Battle concept combined with operational concepts for landpower (combined arms maneuver, wide area security, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism doctrines) provide the basis for decisive combat operations to accomplish the military’s “win” mission. Air-Sea Battle facilitates coercive access to contested areas, thereby enabling landpower forces to deploy, stabilize, and exploit successes in the accomplishment of strategic objectives. However, short of resorting to coercive methods and direct hostilities, an emphasis on “win” capabilities offers few military options using cooperation and engagement to address rivals who choose to challenge U.S. interests.
Soldiers rally in urban operations complex at Nevada Test and Training Range (U.S. Air Force/ Michael R. Holzworth)
The military’s ability to shape the security environment addresses such nonhostile or indirect competition. In addition, shaping provides for the establishment of conditions that support a return to civil order once employment of “win” capabilities manages extant hostilities. The shaping function is directed toward influencing the focal nation’s people and leadership. Influencing segments of a society and their leadership short of conflict is achieved largely through trust relationships and cooperative engagements. For the military these operations are normally landpower-centric. Thus, in addition to traditional fight and win capabilities, the Army needs to develop an ethos that embraces shaping as part of its warrior culture.
“Shape to win” and “shape to prevent” paradigms have their own mechanisms to achieve desired objectives. The “shape to win” model is analogous to flexible deterrent options and has been associated with campaign planning for decades. The “shape to prevent” model manifests itself in several ways, with the common theme of enriching cooperation and partnerships that contribute to favorable order. Shaping contributes to achieving national security objectives in environments that span conditions from civil order to war and back to civil order.
The shaping role contributes to winning and preventing war in a number of ways:
Unlike combat operations, shaping does not require the threat of hostilities to execute. The military can conduct Building Partner Capacity, Security Cooperation, Stability, and Security Force Assistance missions in the absence of a threat; or it can combine these shaping operations with counterinsurgency and counterterror combat missions to synergistic effect in nonpermissive security environments short of major combat operations.
In 2005, Department of Defense (DOD) Directive 3000.05 established security operations as a core military mission. It directed that stability (shaping) operations “shall be given priority comparable to combat operations.”21 On a national scale, this effort was reinforced when President George W. Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 44 directing the Department of State to be lead agent, using the Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization to coordinate and harmonize all strategies and plans associated with reconstruction and stabilization activities for states transitioning from conflict and civil strife.22
Marines select targets in tactical movement training at Camp Rodriguez, South Korea (DOD/James Norman)
More recently the 2012 Defense Budget Guidance, which followed the Defense Strategic Guidance, called for “a fresh approach to the traditional ‘two war’ force-sizing construct that had shaped defense planning since the end of the cold war.”23 Yet, of the military’s 10 primary missions outlined in the guidance, only 4 are designated as criteria for force sizing. Three of the four involve building the capacity to win wars. The shaping missions that provide stabilizing presence and support counterinsurgency operations are accompanied by specified caveats limiting their resourcing.24
Both 2012 defense guidance documents convey that the U.S. security establishment is more focused on defeating threats than developing military capabilities to manage the security environment. Americans understandably prefer short-duration, decisive conflicts, and they frequently consider wars to be acts of political choice. However, in The Utility of Force, Rupert Smith presents a convincing argument that protracted conflicts “among the people” represent the reality of modern warfare.25 Managing the security environment through shaping offers an attractive alternative to either proposition—decisive large-scale conflict or protracted war “among the people.” First, shaping operations provide a feasible and prudent alternative in which U.S. military capabilities advance cooperative behaviors to maintain a stable security environment short of coercive hostility. Second, involvement in wars and deteriorating security environments is not always subject to U.S. preference or choice. History is replete with examples of Washington being compelled to military action to restore order or confront aggression. Forward presence shaping operations can provide early warning and offer noncoercive access, thereby opening a range of military options to prevent war or restore civil order short of major combat operations. Unfortunately, shaping operations associated with forward presence, partnering to build relationships,26 security cooperation, and stability operations27 continue to be misunderstood, undervalued, and underresourced in austere economic environments.
The development of shaping operations requires the deliberate resourcing of specific force design, readiness, and modernization initiatives. Embracing shaping does not imply undervaluing the imperative to “fight and win the Nation’s wars.” Shaping and winning operations are appropriately designed to provide complementary capabilities. One generally accepted lesson has emerged from the last several decades of conflict: the resultant civil order—not the defeat of a specific threat—defines victory in modern warfare. By necessity, if there are insufficient resources to prepare for both missions simultaneously, a portion of the force may temporarily focus on the “win” or “shape” role during a particular operation or deployment. But that does not absolve operational units of the requirement to conduct either decisive combat or shaping operations with a limited amount of predeployment or rotational training.
America’s security establishment should acknowledge the vital role of landpower as the force capable of shaping a population-centric security environment, whether through the coercive power of combat operations or the influence generated by shaping operations. “Shape to prevent” and “shape to win” models define the respective conditions necessary to achieve political and military victory in modern warfare.
The arguments against resourcing shaping capabilities and capacities align generally with the following themes. First, it is not the function of DOD or the Army to execute these operations. The activities associated with shaping operations, primarily Building Partner Capacity, Security Cooperation, and Stability (especially when they involve development or law enforcement) fall outside DOD’s roles, missions, and authorities. For this reason, national leaders are reluctant to commit resources to build DOD capabilities to engage in these operations, and security-minded interagency partners are not willing to allow the department to assume responsibility for their execution.
Shaping operations are necessary to prevent conflict, mitigate its impact, and provide the opportunity to transition to some form of a sustainable civil order. In the last decade of war, no Federal agency has marshaled the resources or changed its capability sufficiently to execute these missions as well as the Army. Some adjustments in roles, missions, and authorities are therefore necessary to enable other agencies to set objectives and provide oversight when developing plans, while requiring the Army to develop and design tailored capabilities to execute these missions. Once U.S. political leadership recognizes the value of military shaping operations as a legitimate foreign policy execution tool during peacetime, the Army will have to embrace the shaping mission within its professional jurisdiction.
A military argument for resisting the prioritization of resources for shaping capabilities is a belief that any reduction in the “fight and win” capability will endanger the military’s contract with the American people—to win the Nation’s wars. Adherents to this view proffer the opinion that should the military fail at shaping, there are other Federal departments and agencies capable of providing assistance. There is not, however, another agency that can fight and win the Nation’s wars.
This argument has merit. DOD and the Services cannot abandon their duty to win wars: The notion of winning in modern warfare (and arguably throughout history) involves a great deal more than simply defeating the enemy’s army or planting the U.S. flag in the enemy’s capital. It involves encouraging legitimate government and developing indigenous force capabilities that permit U.S. disengagement with some assurance of sustainable security and order.
In summer 2013, DOD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation organization released the results of the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) study directed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The SCMR provided resource prioritization guidance to the Quadrennial Defense Review effort within three broad funding bands. It did not alter the regionally prioritized, limited engagement strategy proposed in the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance.28
The continuity of the U.S. post–Cold War security strategy of cooperative engagement, implemented through economic and diplomatic instruments of power reinforced by military power, is appealing. The past two decades suggest that even altruistic aspirations to spread democracy, human rights, and economic prosperity through diplomacy and economic initiatives alone are often foiled by adversaries with different agendas. U.S. military leadership must embrace civilian leaders’ expressed desire to reduce the size and economic burden of the force, while at the same time preparing it for the full range of potential confrontations.
The argument that the military must retain the ability to “fight and win the Nation’s wars” when shaping operations are resourced as lesser included capabilities is incongruous with current national security strategy aspirations. And it is not realistic to expect the whole-of-government engagement capability to increase given the current fiscal environment. The argument to limit resource expenditures, however, is compelling in light of U.S. fiscal circumstances. Faced with a volatile operating environment, austere resources, and an ambiguous group of adversaries, the Nation must strive for dynamic equilibrium as it adapts the joint force to win conflicts, manage security environments, and shape civil order within constrained resources. The new security culture must embrace the military’s “shape” and “win” roles. Shaping operations are primarily landpower centric because they are conducted in the human domain among the people. The Army must and will carry the burden of successfully executing shaping operations in support of America’s foreign policy security goals.
Current defense guidance charges the military with defeating future threats and protecting national interests worldwide. To do that in an austere resource environment, the force must improve operational effectiveness and efficiency in both combat and shaping capabilities. The Army’s recent addition of a seventh warfighting function, Engagement, is an appropriate and needed addition to its doctrine.29 The next iteration of defense guidance should prioritize the military’s role in shaping operations during peacetime as well as recognize the requirement to conduct combat operations. The future operational environment demands a robust military capability to win conflicts among the people, while improving cooperative engagement shaping capabilities to maintain or restore peace. JFQ
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