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Joint Force Quarterly 90 (3rd Quarter, July 2018)
By NDU Press | Aug. 13, 2018

The newest issue of Joint Force Quarterly is now online.  With this issue your JFQ team completes our 90th edition and prepares to celebrate the journal’s 25th anniversary this fall, all thanks to our readers, authors, and the veterans of NDU Press, who have kept this great idea of General Colin Powell moving forward in support of the joint force. Join us in supporting what the general called “the cool yet lively interplay among some of the finest minds committed to the profession of arms.”

This issue’s Forum brings three diverse but important articles that offer some new ideas about today’s increasingly complex and competitive security environment. With a seemingly constant barrage of concerns about data breaches and the use of big data to potentially solve complicated problems, Cortney Weinbaum and Jack Shanahan offer some interesting insights into the impact of data in the evolving world of intelligence. Former Headquarters Pacific Air Forces commander Terry O’Shaughnessy (now commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Air Defense Command) and his teammates Matthew Strohmeyer and Christopher Forrest have done some excellent thinking about shaping strategy and its potential to expand our deterrence options in great power conflicts. Honored to have one of the leading defense scholars in the pages of JFQ, we welcome back Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institution as he considers the environment that planners are likely to face when looking at future combat employment of Navy carriers.

JPME Today returns in this issue with three interesting articles on topics including space, joint exercises, and acquisition reform. The great Canadian “strategist” Joni Mitchell once sang “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Our space capabilities certainly fall into that category, so Chadwick Igl, Candy Smith, Daniel Fowler, and William Angermann suggest the best way to deal with any losses that we might take in that arena is to seriously plan. A constant concern for commanders at every level is the readiness of their units, and exercises have been an effective way to prepare for their missions, with joint exercises being the most prized of experiences. William Buell, Erin Dorrance, and Robert West suggest that even with the continuing demands of combat operations across the world, having a transregional capstone exercise is necessary to be prepared for future crises. With programs that were meant to solve problems faced by the joint force often becoming headlines in the news for their cost overruns, Michael McInerney, Conway Lin, Brandon Smith, and Joseph Lupa offer some useful suggestions for joint acquisition reform.

In Commentary, we offer three articles that should get you thinking about changes and how they might be brought about in the joint force. Joint Special Operations University’s Charles Black, Richard Newton, Mary Ann Nobles, and David Ellis discuss how U.S. Special Operations Command is using a design approach to bring back creativity and innovation. Following our discussion of “by, with, and through” from JFQ 89, Keith Smith believes one of the best ways to succeed in conflict is through security force assistance. Taking a page from television reality shows involving cooking, Mike Jernigan and Jason Cooper believe we can innovate through a more competitive approach.

The Features section provides some interesting explanations to some nagging questions in the defense and security environment. Cole Livieratos has researched U.S. involvement in asymmetric conflicts and explains why the United States prefers kinetic solutions to other options, which he believes might yield less costly results. As we have read in previous issues, China is reforming its military at an unprecedented scale and rate. Shane Smith, Thomas Henderschedt, and Timothy Luedecking help explain how the Chinese are using a version of Goldwater-Nichols as a guide to create a joint force. Lastly, Michael Ferguson’s case study comparison of Demosthenes and Winston Churchill is not only entertaining but also impressive, given the youthfulness of the author.

Our Recall article is written by JFQ alumnus Bryon Greenwald at the Joint Forces Staff College. His article is an excellent look at World War I through the lens of two of today’s most important concepts: combat adaptation and jointness. In Joint Doctrine, along with our joint doctrine update, George Katsos discusses economic security and its relationship to campaign planning and activities. We also include three engaging book reviews for your consideration.

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NDU Press produces Joint Force Quarterly in concert with ongoing education and research at National Defense University in support of the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. JFQ is the Chairman's joint military and security studies journal designed to inform and educate national security professionals on joint and integrated operations; whole of government contributions to national security policy and strategy; homeland security; and developments in training and joint military education to better equip America's military and security apparatus to meet tomorrow's challenges while protecting freedom today.



Enhancing Global Security Through Security Force Assistance
By Keith D. Smith | July 11, 2018
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Keith D. Smith is an Attorney and Military Analyst in the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance at the Joint Staff J7, Force Development.

Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Security Forces Assistance Brigade, pull security duty during patrol in Bermal district of Paktika Province, Afghanistan, April 27, 2013 (U.S. Army/Mark A. Moore II)
Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Security Forces Assistance Brigade, pull security duty during patrol in Bermal district of Paktika Province, Afghanistan, April 27, 2013 (U.S. Army/Mark A. Moore II)
Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Security Forces Assistance Brigade, pull security duty during patrol in Bermal district of Paktika Province, Afghanistan, April 27, 2013 (U.S. Army/Mark A. Moore II)
Soldiers pull security duty during patrol in Afghanistan
Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Security Forces Assistance Brigade, pull security duty during patrol in Bermal district of Paktika Province, Afghanistan, April 27, 2013 (U.S. Army/Mark A. Moore II)

We have consistently heard that the future joint force has to be postured to deal with an increasingly complex security environment. Today’s adversaries continue to threaten our peace with rudimentary weapons that indiscriminately take civilian lives. They also attack our computer networks in ways that, while not impossible to defend against, present new challenges. Additionally, the ever-looming threats from near-peer state actors require our time, attention, and resources. In the midst of these challenges, our nation’s security institutions are facing the reality that there is no panacea, no secret weapon, no magic wand to wave that would make all of our security challenges go away. However, Security Force Assistance (SFA) can help address these challenges by enabling U.S. partners and allies to carry larger portions of the burden. While the joint force has made tremendous strides in developing its capability to train, equip, and advise foreign security forces and build institutional capacity to sustain those efforts, there is still more work to be done.

SFA creates a framework for improved partnerships and stronger alliances, and our national security guidance is clear about its importance. Our nation’s leaders have consistently echoed these sentiments in press conferences, speeches, and policy documents. While campaigning—and even since he has been in office—President Donald Trump has openly discussed his desire for our global partners to carry a greater share of the security burden. Additionally, due to the changes in the global security environment, both the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have had to place a higher priority on partner and ally contributions than their most recent predecessors.

As recently as October 5, 2017, Secretary James Mattis published a memorandum to all Department of Defense personnel focusing them on his top three priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. Among those, he highlights the importance of partners and allies by directing the following: “strengthen Alliances and attract new partners . . . [in order] to reinforce the safety and security that underpins the peace and economic prosperity for all nations.” With these words, Secretary Mattis makes clear that partner nations’ ability to contribute to global security is among his most urgent concerns.

Furthermore, since assuming his position as Chairman, General Joseph Dunford has repeatedly reminded the joint force of the importance of partners and allies to the future of continued peace and prosperity around the world. Recently, he conveyed this notion in a Joint Force Quarterly article titled “Allies and Partners Are Our Strategic Center of Gravity.” In this article, General Dunford discussed the strategic legitimacy and operational access gained by our global partnerships since World War II. More importantly, he described the network of U.S. alliances and partnerships as the strategic source of power for the joint force to successfully execute the National Military Strategy. Finally, he ended his article by stating, “Given the nature of the threats we face today and the challenges we are likely to face in the future, I cannot imagine a scenario in which the United States would not be standing alongside allies and partners across the globe.”

Like the United States, our partners, allies, and aspiring partners benefit from these relationships, too. More capable security forces enable national governments to repel attacks from outside their borders and quell insurgencies that might rise up from within. In many cases, the result would be a nation more fertile for economic development and less receptive to violent extremist ideologies. However, with smaller defense budgets and fewer defense experts available to solve these problems, some of our aspiring security partners stand in need of our help. SFA offers the United States the opportunity to export peace and security to such countries. For example, U.S. aid to Colombia during their fight against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, National Liberation Army, and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia helped reduce the harmful effects of their transnational drug and human-trafficking problems. As their security woes lessened, their economic prosperity grew. Today, while Colombia’s internal security problems are far from over, they now have the expertise to make greater contributions to regional and global security. Lessons from Colombia and other places are being incorporated into doctrine to improve the joint force’s ability to conduct these types of missions.

More specifically, joint doctrine was advanced in May 2017 when Joint Publication 3-20, Security Cooperation, was published. It contained a robust appendix on SFA. SFA is defined in JP 3-20 and the Department of Defense Dictionary as “activities that support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their supporting institutions.” A fair criticism levied by many over the past few years is that train and equip missions fall short of building any meaningful capability or capacity because the receiving nation rarely has the desire or know-how to maintain it. Our current doctrine in JP 3-20 addresses this problem with the executive, generating, and operating (EGO) construct as a way for planning and executing SFA missions to promote sustainability. Specifically, EGO highlights the essentialness of each function of a foreign security force: the executive function, generating function, and operating function are roughly analogous (in their U.S. equivalents) to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, military Services, and operating/tactical forces. While the operating function (training tactical-level forces) is where much of U.S. SFA current efforts lie, enduring capability and capacity require an executive function to provide policy guidance and funding as well as a generating function that recruits, organizes, and trains newly assessed personnel to a universal standard that can be depended on to produce an enduring military capability.

These updates to doctrine are important. They begin to create a path to building more enduring capacity and capability in our global security partners that is consistent with the previously mentioned national security guidance. Additionally, if the EGO construct is followed, it helps satisfy the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requirement for “institutional capacity-building” in train and equip missions. According to the 2017 NDAA, the purpose of institutional capacity-building is “to enhance the capacity of such foreign country to organize, administer, employ, manage, maintain, sustain, or oversee the national security forces of such foreign country.” Institutional capacity-building can also be likened to defense institution-building, which is the doctrinal term used in JP 3-20 to describe SFA at the executive and generating functions of a foreign security force.

In addition to these doctrinal updates, the Army and Marine Corps are making their own investments to the joint solution. In the fall of 2011, the Marine Corps merged two separate commands to create the Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group (MCSCG). Headquartered in Fort Story, Virginia, MCSCG has the mission of “executing and enabling Security Cooperation programs, training, planning, and activities in order to ensure unity of effort in support of USMC and Regional Marine Component Command objectives and in coordination with the operating forces and Marine Air-Ground Task Force(s).” Furthermore, MCSCG offers numerous courses that help prepare Servicemembers who will be working in training, advising, and assisting missions. Examples of MCSCG’s offerings are the Marine Advisor Course, Security Cooperation Trainer’s Course, and Basic Engagement Skills Course.

U.S. Marine Corps sniper with Task Force Southwest sights in with rifle combat optic on M4 carbine during security post for advising mission with 1st Brigade, Afghan National Army 215th Corps, as they conduct Operation Maiwand 12 at Camp Shorserack, Afghanistan, March 13, 2018 (U.S. Marine Corps/Conner Robbins)
U.S. Marine Corps sniper with Task Force Southwest sights in with rifle combat optic on M4 carbine during security post for advising mission with 1st Brigade, Afghan National Army 215th Corps, as they conduct Operation Maiwand 12 at Camp Shorserack, Afghanistan, March 13, 2018 (U.S. Marine Corps/Conner Robbins)
U.S. Marine Corps sniper with Task Force Southwest sights in with rifle combat optic on M4 carbine during security post for advising mission with 1st Brigade, Afghan National Army 215th Corps, as they conduct Operation Maiwand 12 at Camp Shorserack, Afghanistan, March 13, 2018 (U.S. Marine Corps/Conner Robbins)
U.S. Marine Corps sniper sights in with rifle combat optic on M4 carbine during security post for advising mission
U.S. Marine Corps sniper with Task Force Southwest sights in with rifle combat optic on M4 carbine during security post for advising mission with 1st Brigade, Afghan National Army 215th Corps, as they conduct Operation Maiwand 12 at Camp Shorserack, Afghanistan, March 13, 2018 (U.S. Marine Corps/Conner Robbins)

Similarly, the Army has made recent changes that will contribute to the joint force’s ability to build capability and capacity in foreign security partners. Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) are the Army’s way of using existing force structure in a more effective and efficient way to contribute. The benefit to the Army and the joint force is twofold. First, SFABs relieve Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) from SFA operations, increasing BCT readiness for more conventional missions. Second, SFABs will develop greater proficiency to conduct training, advising, and assistance missions in a small cadre of professionals who can focus exclusively on that mission. In an Army article from May 2017, C. Todd Lopez states that the “SFAB is designed to rapidly deploy into a theater of operations in support of a combatant commander . . . [and] begin to work with, train, advise, and assist those partner nation security forces on anything they need help with, be it logistics, be it communications, be it maneuver. Anything they need help with to improve their capacity and capability, that’s what the SFAB is designed to do.” In a subsequent article from December 2017, General Mark Milley, Army Chief of Staff, told defense reporters at the Association of the United States Army’s 2017 annual meeting that “It is my assessment, and the assessment of the Secretary and the assessment of the Army staff, that we are likely to be involved in train, advise, and assist operations for many years to come.”

While these Army and Marine Corps contributions are important, there is still work left for the joint force. Namely, we need better training for our senior-level advisors. In response to the need for ministerial-level advisor training, the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance called together prominent members from the communities of interest to examine the problem of training for ministerial-level advisors. General John W. Nicholson, Jr., is concerned that most U.S. advisors deploying into Afghanistan in support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Resolute Support mission are not properly trained to advise—the very job that they have been assigned to do. For example, many advisors coming from other contributing nations attend classes at the NATO Joint Forces Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland. However, the United States has yet to develop a formal senior advisor training curriculum that would prepare ministerial advisors or require such advisors to attend classes at Bydgoszcz. The United States should not expect the highest return from its advisor investment until institutional processes for fielding and training personnel assigned to these missions are improved.

The United States must continue to find ways to enhance its SFA capabilities so that we are postured to build our partners and allies well into the future. The joint force has made recent improvements in this area with the Army’s SFAB, Marine Corps’ MCSCG, and improvements to joint doctrine, but there is still more that needs to be done. Improvements to interoperability between current and future coalition forces is a must. Also, the need for training of senior-level ministerial advisors has to be addressed.

The security challenges that we face in the future will only threaten our peace and prosperity if we allow it. With continued focus and determination, the United States can help build more capable global security partners through SFA, thereby facilitating more enduring peace, security, and stability throughout the world. JFQ


Don’t Shoot the Messenger: Demosthenes, Churchill, and the Consensus Delusion
By Michael P. Ferguson | July 5, 2018

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First Lieutenant Michael P. Ferguson, USA, is Aide de Camp to the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations and Intelligence, Allied Joint Force Command–Brunssum, Netherlands.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in garden of presidential villa during Casablanca Conference, French Morocco, January 1943 (U.S. Navy, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in garden of presidential villa during Casablanca Conference, French Morocco, January 1943 (U.S. Navy, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in garden of presidential villa during Casablanca Conference, French Morocco, January 1943 (U.S. Navy, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in garden of presidential villa during Casablanca Conference
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in garden of presidential villa during Casablanca Conference, French Morocco, January 1943 (U.S. Navy, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected.

—Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory

In 1937, as Adolf Hitler’s infantry divisions skyrocketed in violation of the Versailles Treaty, a member of the House of Commons defended England’s ongoing disarmament policy, claiming one does not need to be “heavily armed” to have an effective world system.1 His colleagues echoed the notion, insisting “Hitler’s dictatorship is gradually breaking down.”2 Such comments were not the result of ignorance, but rather a consensual blindness. They were emblematic of years of political rhetoric that dismissed as warmongering the premonitions of Winston S. Churchill, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.3 In the face of such resistance, Churchill at one time compared himself to Demosthenes of Athens (fourth-century BCE orator and statesman, 384–322 BCE) and Hitler to his Macedonian antagonist, King Philip II (382–336 BCE).4 An overview of these two figures reveals how Demosthenes struggled with remarkably similar challenges that, much like Churchill, pushed him to the fringe of his nation’s political paradigm.

Sadly, the stories of Demosthenes and Churchill (D&C) are the bookends to a long and ignoble history of marginalizing the bearer of bad news, or shooting the messenger, that endures into the 21st century. John Lewis Gaddis touched on this phenomenon regarding the history of surprise attacks on the United States in his 2003 Harvard Press piece, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. In it, Gaddis offers a noteworthy maxim: “The means of confronting danger do not disqualify themselves from consideration solely on the basis of the uneasiness they produce.”5 Indeed, the clairvoyant yet disturbing insights of D&C understandably made many of their colleagues uneasy, and the expressions of this uneasiness were costly.

As the joint force continues to hone its strategies in an increasingly complex global security environment, contextualizing the legacies of D&C might assist decisionmakers in their effort to envision and offset threats evolving beyond the horizon of conventional wisdom. In pursuit of that end, it is necessary to first explore the oft misused term warmonger before delving into the common grievances of these two historic figures, and extracting lessons germane to more recent challenges, such as the threat posed by Iran.

Warmongers and Mischievous Demagogues

History has been kind to its prescient thinkers in defense. Their contemporaries, on the other hand, were not often so accommodating. D&C were spared no pejorative as they struggled for more than a decade to rouse their lethargic nations to arms, with none other than Aristotle branding Demosthenes a “mischievous demagogue” for the suspicious eye with which he viewed Philip II.6 Churchill received similar treatment when, as early as 1924, he expressed concern over the political winds in postwar Germany.7 While this article deals with these two figures specifically for their remarkable similarities and millennia of separation, they are not historical outliers. In fact, the practice of deriding those with farsightedness in defense matters is well established in the Western world, and can be observed, for instance, in the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, throughout the Cold War, and even into the war on terror.8

These “blind spots” usually appear in the wake of protracted or debilitating wars, or during periods of economic instability when offensive military action—or the maintenance of a robust defense—are less palatable to populations beleaguered by war and economic depression. Athens and Great Britain met these conditions. What was it, though, that alarmed D&C to such an extent that their peers branded them warmongers? The accusation appears farcical considering the circumstances but was nevertheless a facet of conventional wisdom in both cases.

In the age of Demosthenes, Philip II developed a reputation for entering cities as a liberator, only to consume the government from the inside and eventually enslave its people.9 For much of the mid-fourth century BCE, Philip conquered various city-states surrounding Athens, all the while assuring the Athenian popular assembly, or ecclesia, that his imperialistic designs excluded Athens itself. Demosthenes remained understandably skeptical, but his fellow statesmen invested heavily in Philip’s empty promises. In the meantime, members of the ecclesia defunded the Athenian navy, employed unreliable mercenaries in ground wars, and disengaged from foreign investments to avoid military entanglements. Athens was a shining beacon of social progress in Greece, but Demosthenes’ gripe was not with standards of living; it was with Athenian strategy and government finances.10

Churchill’s doubts regarding Hitler’s peaceful intentions were equally well founded. By 1938, only 5 years after Hitler assumed the chancellorship, the German army had swollen from 7 infantry divisions to a staggering 46, in contrast to England’s 6.11 Moreover, British and American agents in Germany had reported the widespread killing of Jews, communists, and social democrats, as well as the creation of concentration camps capable of housing up to 5,000 prisoners each.12 Despite these reports, and Germany’s flagrant violations of the Versailles Treaty, members of Parliament followed Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s lead by ignoring Churchill’s admonitions, doubling down on disarmament, and capitulating to Hitler’s demands.13

An examination of the speeches and writings of D&C reveals a consistency in messaging that generally highlights three flaws: a systemic neglect of military readiness, a government consumed by domestic issues and hollow rhetoric, and distrust between allies resulting from a failure to meet mutual obligations. The crux of D&C’s crusade was to develop lines of effort that addressed these three flaws that, in their eyes, would be catastrophic to national defense if not rectified.

An Archaic State of Disrepair

D&C understood well the horrors of war and the necessity of a strong defense. Both of them wore the uniform—Demosthenes as a young navy captain and Churchill as a cavalry officer who saw combat in the Boer Wars. But their experience was no match for a disarmament consensus. Neville Chamberlain’s pre–World War II gutting of England’s military capabilities is renowned. Having denied the air force requested aircraft and the navy much needed ships, he also left the army in an “archaic state” of disrepair.14 Even after Hitler declared himself supreme ruler and cannibalized all German press agencies in 1935, England continued its disarmament the following month, recommending an additional £340,000 reduction in air assets after the £700,000 reduction the previous year.15 While Chamberlain’s misadventures in government remain legendary, lesser known are the policies of his Athenian doppelganger, Eubulus, who gutted Athens’ stratiotic (military) fund and endorsed isolationist policies at a time when Philip was expanding his influence rapidly in neighboring states.16

In the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides describes how fifth- and fourth-century BCE Athens had come to place more emphasis on grand architecture and metropolitan development than military might.17 He also notes that Athenians were the first of the Greek states to “lay down their arms and switch to a more relaxed and gracious way of life.”18 As a result, Athens grew overconfident in its naval prowess and reliant on mercenaries to achieve its military objectives. This illusion of security led to an obsession with domestic comforts and the willful neglect of military readiness.

Athens thus directed its annual surpluses into the theoric fund created by Eubulus, which subsidized theater performances and religious services for the underprivileged.19 The religious and therefore sacred nature of this fund made it politically untouchable. Those who dared recommend moving surplus theoric funds into the stratiotic fund were prosecuted and found guilty of an illegal proposal.20 Demosthenes often called attention to the inadequacies of Athenian defense and put forward reforms to correct these deficiencies, but they went unheeded.21 As the combat effectiveness of Athens’ military atrophied from stagnation, Philip waged constant battles, molding his tactical capabilities around his strategic vision.

In Churchill’s England, the concept of disarmament eventually became so fashionable that Chamberlain would not even read disarmament proposals before vehemently supporting them.22 While both Athens and England suffered from a systemic fantasy of security, it was domestic concerns and the accompanying political rhetoric that kept this fantasy alive.

Platitudes and Unrealities

Despite the charges leveled against them by their political opponents, D&C were advocates of de-escalation who supported diplomatic engagements whenever possible, so they could hardly be considered warmongers in the classical sense.23 They simply pressed for a resurgence in military readiness and a reassurance of support for their allies, but even these measured proposals were too hawkish in the eyes of their colleagues. Churchill often vented his frustrations with this stubbornness, at one time proclaiming, “There is such a horror of war . . . that any declaration or public speech against armaments, although it consisted only of platitudes and unrealities, has always been applauded.”24

One might excuse Churchill’s abrasive character upon assuming the monumental task of righting these wrongs when, for more than a decade, his colleagues chided him as a madman for simply making perceptive observations. For instance, Anthony Eden, Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, remained adamant that France’s disarmament was essential to the security of Europe, and labeled Churchill’s fears a “fantastic absurdity.”25 Comments like this were slung frivolously because Chamberlain and his ilk remained largely beholden to social obligations such as unemployment, exports, and recovering from the 1931 economic collapse.26

Athens dealt with similar problems in the fourth century as it emerged from multiple wars (the Social War, 357–355 BCE, and the Third Sacred War, 356–346 BCE) and was no longer insulated fiscally by loans from the Persian Empire.27 Both Philip and Hitler were notorious for capitalizing on these weaknesses by targeting states when they lacked the will to fight and were least likely to be ready militarily. As Demosthenes put it, “[Philip] attacks those who are sick from internal dissension, and no one is willing to go out to defend their territory on account of their mutual distrust.”28

Recognizing this trend, Demosthenes believed Athens had engorged itself on privilege, well-wishes, and social programs that sedated the Athenian masses and in turn allowed Philip to accrue power.29 In his Third Philippic speech in 341 BCE, Demosthenes described what is now recognized as the Gray Zone, which created the apparition of peace between Macedonia and Athens: “This is what Philip has bought with all his lavish expenditure: that he is at war with you, but you are not at war with him!”30 Demosthenes understood that as Philip uttered words of peace between 344 and 342, he was in fact setting the conditions for war.31 Both D&C came to the conclusion that only a grand alliance could rescue their nations from their current stupor.

Left to Face Their Fate Alone

Athens, Sparta, and Thebes, the leading Greek states at the time, were weakened by years of infighting and fragile alliances that forced Athenian generals to plunder allied territory to field their armies.32 When barbarians attacked Athens and Sparta in the fifth century, Athenians abandoned their alliance with Sparta and fled to their ships, leaving Sparta to clean up the mess.33 This pattern continued, as Demosthenes made clear during his First Philippic in 351 BCE: “[Athens’] great festivals were always on time, but military support to besieged allies was always too little too late!”34 He concluded by underlining the mutual distrust between Greek states: “we all delay, and are weak, and cast suspicious glances at our neighbors, distrusting each other rather than the man who is wronging us all [Philip].”35 Ironically, Athens had a history of sending ambassadors to criticize Sparta and its warlike culture.36

While Churchill was willing to align with the “insufferable” Bolsheviks if it meant defeating Hitler,37 it was characteristic of Eubulus to cut ties with foreign commitments and reinforce entrenchment policies, particularly after the 355 war between allies.38 When the city of Phocis surrendered to Philip in 346, Athens was unwilling to honor the oath of allegiance between the two states.39 This abandonment came on the heels of Philip’s capture and enslavement of Chalcidice in 349 and Olynthus in mid-348 BCE, which became a turning point in Philip’s war on Athens.40 Demosthenes even sought but failed to achieve an alliance with Persia against Philip.41

Similar to the oath of allegiance between Athens and Phocis, Churchill supported a diplomatic guarantee between England and Poland stipulating that, if attacked, England would support the Polish resistance. But when Hitler invaded Poland, Chamberlain was hesitant to honor the guarantee and sought conference with the German chancellor instead.42 In a 1938 appeal to build a European alliance against Hitler, Churchill became less sanguine about the potential for peace:

If it were done in the year 1938—and believe me it may be the last chance there will be for doing it—then I say that you might even now arrest this approaching war. . . . Let those who wish to reject it ponder well and earnestly upon what will happen to us, if when all else has been thrown to the wolves, we are left to face our fate alone.43

The Outcome

Marble portrait of Demosthenes, after Polyeuktos, Greek, active 280 BCE (Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery)
Marble portrait of Demosthenes, after Polyeuktos, Greek, active 280 BCE (Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery)
Marble portrait of Demosthenes, after Polyeuktos, Greek, active 280 BCE (Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery)
Marble portrait of Demosthenes
Marble portrait of Demosthenes, after Polyeuktos, Greek, active 280 BCE (Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery)

D&C both made final pleas to their people: the Athenian in the form of his Third Philippic speech, and the Englishman with his 1939 publication of Step by Step, 1936–1939, a collection of articles and papers demonstrating the evolution of the Nazi menace. Like England’s surging support for Churchill after Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, Athenian support for Demosthenes increased when Philip attacked Byzantium in 340, leading to a hasty alliance of Greek states.44 Though promising, this measure proved insufficient to counter Philip’s advances.45 Athens lost its independence in 338 when Philip defeated a large force that included Athenians at the Battle of Chaeronea in Boeotia, and a warrant was issued for Demosthenes’ arrest.46 The sage of Athens fled, choosing to poison himself in isolation rather than face humiliation and death at the hands of a Macedonian council.47

In 1939 London, leading thinkers began to arise from their intellectual slumber and agree that “England owes [Churchill] many apologies.”48 Fortune smiled upon Churchill for numerous reasons, and although his tenacity was not enough to avoid war, it did save England from potential annexation. Historians still debate Hitler’s ability to conquer all of Europe, much as they question the capacity for Athens to resist Philip even if it had adopted Demosthenes’ policies in 351, but most agree Hitler came dangerously close to realizing his vision.49 Even Joseph Kennedy, then U.S. Ambassador to London, believed as late as 1939 that England would come to the negotiating table if Hitler offered terms of surrender.50 Others begged to differ, including one confidant who observed of Churchill in 1940: “His spirit is indomitable and even if France and England should be lost, I feel he would carry on the crusade himself with a band of privateers.”51 Due in part to Churchill’s unwavering resolve, skill at forming alliances, and unfiltered rhetoric, England succeeded where Athens failed.

Front row, left to right, British Prime Minister (PM) Neville Chamberlain, French PM Édouard Daladier, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Italian PM Benito Mussolini, and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano as they prepare to sign Munich Agreement, September 29, 1938 (Courtesy German Federal Archive)
Front row, left to right, British Prime Minister (PM) Neville Chamberlain, French PM Édouard Daladier, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Italian PM Benito Mussolini, and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano as they prepare to sign Munich Agreement, September 29, 1938 (Courtesy German Federal Archive)
Front row, left to right, British Prime Minister (PM) Neville Chamberlain, French PM Édouard Daladier, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Italian PM Benito Mussolini, and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano as they prepare to sign Munich Agreement, September 29, 1938 (Courtesy German Federal Archive)
British Prime Minister (PM) Neville Chamberlain, French PM Édouard Daladier, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Italian PM Benito Mussolini, and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano as they prepare to sign Munich Agreement,
Front row, left to right, British Prime Minister (PM) Neville Chamberlain, French PM Édouard Daladier, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Italian PM Benito Mussolini, and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano as they prepare to sign Munich Agreement, September 29, 1938 (Courtesy German Federal Archive)

What Now?

In an increasingly multinational operating environment, it is important to highlight that in the years leading up to World War II, the League of Nations encouraged the disarmament of Europe vociferously, thereby convincing France to succumb to Hitler’s demands. Shortly after this appeasement, Hitler presented France with its terms of surrender.52 More than ever, it is crucial to remember that international consensus is not always in the best interest of individual states, and at times these two interests may be in conflict with one another.

There is also the issue of foresight in defense. Demosthenes directed his grievances toward what he believed was an institutionally reactionary government that only responded to Philip’s moves without forecasting them, thereby placing Athens “at his command.”53 The Western world still struggles with the same challenges of military readiness, the gap between rhetoric and reality, and the maintenance of alliances, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.54 Applying these observations in more recent context reveals several areas of interest.

Iran’s consistent record of undermining Western coalitions, coupled with the simultaneous de-prioritization of military supremacy among major Western powers during the early 21st century, is of particular concern.55 Across the breadth of nations deemed adversarial to the United States, Iran is unique in that it has gone further with its bellicosity than information operations and incendiary rhetoric. In addition to repeated public statements advocating the destruction of the United States, Iran played an objectively subversive role in arming insurgencies during Operation Iraqi Freedom, while also employing proxies against coalition forces in Iraq and elsewhere.56 Iran also has its fingerprints on one of the deadliest weapons deployed against coalition forces in the last 17 years, the explosively formed projectile, which is responsible for the deaths of nearly 200 U.S. Servicemembers in Iraq.57

Despite such developments, many continue to downplay the significance of the threat posed by Iran, insisting that it can be pacified through the forging of amicable diplomatic treaties.58 While the same optimistic notions drove reactions of senior officials to initial threat assessments of the so-called Islamic State,59 the potentialities of a nuclear Iran, the number of fighters it may bring to bear in future conflicts, and the ideology by which its clerical gentry are motivated make Iran a more existential threat to global security.60 In his most recent work, Eliot Cohen suggests the now defunct 2015 nuclear deal struck between the United States and the Islamic Republic does little to prevent Iran from acquiring an arsenal that would eventually trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.61

Like the United States and Iran, the dynamics of the Athenian-Macedonian relationship were complex, and for many years they engaged in a precarious game of impotent peace deals and political chess that ultimately empowered Philip and charmed much of the Athenian citizenry into apathy. The dangers of an increasingly influential Iran are amplified by recent developments concerning the authorization of Iranian militias operating in Iraq, and the potential for Iranian naval bases to appear in Yemen and Syria.62 According to Iranian major general Mohammad Bagheri, such bases are far more valuable than even nuclear technology.63

Western military and intelligence leaders have echoed concerns associated with a budding Iranian regional power, but such caveats have gone largely unheeded and failed to trigger any tangible strategic adjustments.64 Even after Iran seized U.S. Navy boats and used the crewmembers to create propaganda videos, the United States pursued amicable relations with Iran, much as Athens did with Philip after he captured Olynthus in 348 and used Athenian prisoners as bargaining chips.65 This relationship between Iran and the West, and its analogues to the situations of Demosthenes and Churchill, is ripe for additional study focused on the tradition of pragmatic defense in complex environments.

These problems are not limited, however, to the potential of an Iranian-led power bloc in the Middle East. In the span of 3 years, the thought of Russia as a major geopolitical threat went from a laughing matter in 2012 to the gravest existential threat to the United States since the height of the Cold War.66 Considering Russia’s foreign policy interests and its means of pursuing them did not change (Russia has been violating borders and waging information warfare for decades), this is another glaring example of an either passive or active inability to recognize threats in a political climate shackled by war fatigue and economic recovery efforts.67

Having observed the misery of war firsthand, neither Demosthenes nor Churchill had a thirst for conflict. Rather, they sought to deter war by fashioning alliances and military capabilities that would make it imprudent for an adversarial state to consider war a viable option in the pursuit of its political objectives. Judicious assessments of security threats backed by military might as a deterrent to conflict—not a precursor to it—are the most reliable methods of identifying, preparing for, and preventing legitimate challenges to national security.

Conclusion

Monument of Philip II of Macedon in Thessaloniki, Greece (Courtesy Tilemahos Efthimiadis)
Monument of Philip II of Macedon in Thessaloniki, Greece (Courtesy Tilemahos Efthimiadis)
Monument of Philip II of Macedon in Thessaloniki, Greece (Courtesy Tilemahos Efthimiadis)
Monument of Philip II of Macedon
Monument of Philip II of Macedon in Thessaloniki, Greece (Courtesy Tilemahos Efthimiadis)

History’s great social and political upheavals are often precipitated by a collective ambivalence to existential threats. Alistair Horne referred to this obliviousness as a form of strategic hubris that often follows victory, but it may be even more pervasive than that.68 Both D&C described a persistent illusion of security that incubated their nations into indifference. This illusion remains a constant in the human condition, not bound by time or societal progress, and particularly dominant in leading postwar states or those experiencing downward trends in economic prosperity.

The fall of Athens despite Demosthenes’ exemplary case for its defense was primarily the result of a false sense of security that led to poor prioritization of government resources, the erosion of alliances, and a distracted populace that awoke too late to unite Greece and repel Philip’s armies. Churchill’s success is largely credited to the superior momentum of his narrative achieved through unwavering resolve, strategic timing, and a pragmatic approach to building alliances. The position of power held by Churchill offered additional benefits not afforded Demosthenes, as did advances in communication technology that enabled Churchill to reach a larger audience more rapidly than was possible in Athens. But the reluctance to acknowledge the threat posed by Nazi Germany and Macedonia was much more of a cultural problem than a technological or political one. Despite the overwhelming evidence at hand, the public and their representatives did not want King Philip II or the Nazis to be threats. In turn, these very real threats were deemed nonthreatening by simply labeling as warmongers those stating otherwise.

The legacies of Demosthenes and Churchill reflect the primitive and enduring nature of armed conflict. Although the tools used to wage war will change, at times even drastically, the operators of those tools will remain subject to the same flawed judgment that plagued the Athenian assembly 2,300 years ago. Instead of reflexively shooting messengers on account of the uneasiness their words produce, perhaps unconventional strategic assessments deserve a wider audience. If only on occasion, what looks like warmongering might in fact be the ideas that save a continent. JFQ

Notes

1 John Keegan, Winston Churchill (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 118.

2 Ibid.

3 Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: The Prophet of Truth, 1922–1939, vol. 5 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976), 445, 494.

4 Ian Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 343–344.

5 John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 33.

6 Charles Darwin Adams, Demosthenes and His Influence: Our Debt to Greece and Rome (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1963), 98. Aristotle was friend to King Philip II and advisor to his successor and son, Alexander. For Demosthenes referred to as a warmonger, see Jeremy Trevett, ed., The Oratory of Classical Greece: Demosthenes, Speeches 1–17 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), 53–55.

7 John Lukacs, Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 5. Churchill also explained how any speech that “set forth blunt truths” was met with the accusation of “warmongering.” See Gilbert, 445.

8 For instance, critics of Napoleon Bonaparte were often branded “alarmists” in the period following 18th-century British “adventurism” in the North American colonies. See Roger Knight, Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793–1815 (New York: Penguin Press, 2013), 70. More recently, Federal Bureau of Investigation agent John O’Neill was dismissed as an alarmist for his focus on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden long before the 2001 attacks. See Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Random House, 2006), 296–297, 350.

9 Ian Worthington, Demosthenes: Statesman and Orator (London: Routledge, 2000), 75–76; Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 113–114.

10 Trevett, 8.

11 Keegan, 116–117.

12 Gilbert, 446–447, 485.

13 For Versailles Treaty violations, such as building aircraft, see ibid., 488. England also allowed Germany to amend the Versailles Treaty to build submarines and conscript forces. See Keegan, 116.

14 Ibid., 115.

15 Gilbert, 457.

16 Ian Worthington, By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 58.

17 Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, ed. Walter Blanco and Jennifer Tolbert Roberts and trans. Walter Blanco (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1998), 7.

18 Ibid., 5.

19 Trevett, 9; Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 89–90.

20 Appollodorus of Acharnae received such a conviction in 348 BCE. See Worthington, Demosthenes, 56.

21 Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 87; Worthington, Demosthenes, 47.

22 Gilbert, 463.

23 Demosthenes supported all peace deals with Philip II. See Worthington, Demosthenes, 58–71. Churchill similarly sought counsel with Hitler until 1939, even meeting with him numerous times. See Keegan, 124.

24 Gilbert, 445.

25 Ibid., 461.

26 Keegan, 113.

27 John Buckler and Hans Beck, Central Greece and the Politics of Power in the Fourth Century BC (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 222–223; Trevett, 9; Adams, 8.

28 Trevett, 170.

29 Buckler and Beck, 220.

30 Trevett, 158. This is from the Third Philippic presented to the eclessia.

31 For example, Philip sent ambassadors to Athens to discuss a peace treaty in 346 BCE while he headed to Thrace to wage war. See Worthington, By the Spear, 63; Worthington, Demosthenes, 75.

32 Trevett, 8–9.

33 Thucydides, 10–11. It is worth noting that, in fleeing Athens, the Athenian navy was able to win the sea battle of Salamis (480 BCE) and the land battle at Marathon (490 BCE), which proved critical to Greek victory in the Persian Wars. Ibid., 29.

34 Worthington, Demosthenes, 51.

35 Trevett, 166–167.

36 Thucydides, 29–30.

37 Keegan, 96.

38 Worthington, Demosthenes, 47.

39 Ibid., 58.

40 Ibid., 53–55.

41 Worthington, By the Spear, 77.

42 Keegan, 116.

43 Ibid., 123.

44 Worthington, Demosthenes, 82.

45 The infighting and intra-Greek issues that distracted Demosthenes and all of Athens for decades leading up to its demise may have been the true death knell of Athenian independence. See Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 97.

46 Trevett, 13.

47 Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 335–337. Demosthenes died in 322 BCE. By this time, Philip had been assassinated and his successor, Alexander, had died only the year prior. Ibid., 261–271, 328.

48 This comment came from Lord Wolmer on July 7, 1939; see Gilbert, 1079.

49 Lukacs, 2.

50 Gilbert, 1074.

51 The words of John “Jock” Colville, Secretary to Prime Ministers Chamberlain and Churchill. See William Manchester and Paul Reid, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940–1965 (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2012), 9.

52 Keegan, 118.

53 Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 120.

54 Mike Benitez, “Air Force in Crisis, Part III: Dear Boss, It’s All About the Culture,” War on the Rocks, March 15, 2018, available at <https://warontherocks.com/2018/03/air-force-in-crisis-part-iii-dear-boss-its-all-about-the-culture/>; Mikheil Saakashvili, “Exaggerating Vladimir Putin’s Impact in the U.S. Only Makes Him Stronger in Our Region,” Washington Examiner, March 14, 2018, available at <www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/mikheil-saakashvili-exaggerating-vladimir-putins-impact-in-the-us-only-makes-him-stronger-in-our-region>; Dominic Evans, “Syrian Frontline Town Divides NATO Allies Turkey and U.S.,” Reuters, February 12, 2018.

55 While the U.S. defense budget has increased during 2015–2017, some leaders, for example, General Joseph Dunford, argue it is not enough to overcome the multiple dilemmas currently facing the West. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley has warned against “rolling the dice” by failing to prepare for a “great-power war with Russia, China, Iran or North Korea.” See Vikram Mansharamani, “Is the Military’s Unpredictable Budget Leading to a Readiness Crisis?” PBS, November 4, 2016, available at <www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/column-militarys-unpredictable-budget-leading-readiness-crisis/>.

56 Michael Knights, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 3, no. 11–12 (November 2010), 12–16.

57 Rowan Scarborough, “Iran Responsible for Deaths of 500 American Service Members in Iraq,” Washington Times, September 13, 2015, available at <www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/13/iran-responsible-for-deaths-of-500-us-service-memb/>; Bill Roggio, “Evidence of Iran Supplying Weapons, Expertise to Iraqi Insurgents,” FDD’s Long War Journal, February 11, 2007, available at <www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2007/02/evidence_of_iran_sup.php>.

58 Thomas L. Friedman, “Iran and the Obama Doctrine,” New York Times, April 5, 2015, available at <www.nytimes.com/2015/04/06/opinion.thomas-friedman-the-obama-doctrine-and-iran-interview>.

59 Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, “Many Missteps in Assessment of ISIS Threat,” New York Times, September 29, 2014, available at <www.nytimes.com/2014/09/30/world/middleeast/obama-fault-is-shared-in-misjudging-of-isis-threat>; Jonathan Karl, “3 Times Obama Administration Was Warned About ISIS Threat,” ABC News, video, 6:55, September 29, 2014, available at <www.abcnews.go.com/Politics/times-obama-administration-warned-isis-threat/story?id=25843517>.

60 Afshon Ostovar, Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 25–38, 125.

61 Eliot Cohen, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force (New York: Basic Books, 2016), 156–160.

62 Gilad Shiloach, “Iran-Backed Militias Legalized by Iraqi Parliament,” Vocativ, November 27, 2016, available at <www.vocativ.com/378895/iranian-backed-militias-legalized-by-iraqi-parliament/>.

63 “Iran May Seek Naval Bases in Yemen or Syria: Chief of Staff,” Reuters, November 27, 2016, available at <www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-navy-yemen-syria-idUSKBN13M08M>.

64 Joint Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services Subcommittees, Michael T. Flynn, “Testimony on Iran,” June 10, 2015, available at <http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA13/20150610/103582/HHRG-114-FA13-Wstate-FlynnM-20150610.pdf>.

65 Fred Barbash, Missy Ryan, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Iran Releases Captured U.S. Navy Crew Members,” with 3 videos, 1:44, 1:14, and 1:47, Washington Post, January 13, 2016, available at <www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/13/iran-sends-mixed-message-on-quick-release-of-u-s-navy-crews/?utm_term=.7571537c7d32>. Philip takes Athenian prisoners in Olynthus; see Trevett, 11.

66 Glenn Kessler, “Flashback: Obama’s Debate Zinger on Romney’s ‘1980s’ Foreign Policy,” with video, 1:17, Washington Post, March 20, 2014, available at <www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/03/20/flashback-obamas-debate-zinger-on-romneys-1980s-foreign-policy/?utm_term=.d9869de88cbf>. See also Phil Stewart and David Alexander, “Russia Is Top U.S. National Security Threat: Gen. Dunford,” Reuters, video, 11:33, July 9, 2015, available at <www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defense-generaldunsmore/russia-is-top-u-s-national-security-threat-gen-dunford-idUSKCN0PJ28S20150709>.

67 R. Reed Anderson et al., “The Information Environment: A Critical Element Often Neglected,” in Strategic Landpower and a Resurgent Russia: An Operational Approach to Deterrence (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, May 2016), 143–158.

68 Alistair Horne, Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 343–344.


Reverse Engineering Goldwater-Nichols: China’s Joint Force Reforms
By Shane A. Smith, Thomas Henderschedt, and Timothy D. Luedecking | July 5, 2018

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Colonel Shane A. Smith, USAF, is Director of Operations and Intelligence, Twenty-Fifth Air Force. Captain Thomas Henderschedt, USN, is the Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Colonel Timothy D. Luedecking, USA, is Director of Logistics (G4) for III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas.

PHL-03 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems attached to army brigade with People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command fire salvo of 300mm surface-to-surface rockets at simulated ground targets&#160;during live-fire training exercise in Gobi Desert of Northwest China, August 8, 2017 (Courtesy China Military Online/Jiang Xiaoliang)
PHL-03 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems attached to army brigade with People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command fire salvo of 300mm surface-to-surface rockets at simulated ground targets&#160;during live-fire training exercise in Gobi Desert of Northwest China, August 8, 2017 (Courtesy China Military Online/Jiang Xiaoliang)
PHL-03 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems attached to army brigade with People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command fire salvo of 300mm surface-to-surface rockets at simulated ground targets&#160;during live-fire training exercise in Gobi Desert of Northwest China, August 8, 2017 (Courtesy China Military Online/Jiang Xiaoliang)
PHL-03 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems
PHL-03 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems attached to army brigade with People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command fire salvo of 300mm surface-to-surface rockets at simulated ground targets&#160;during live-fire training exercise in Gobi Desert of Northwest China, August 8, 2017 (Courtesy China Military Online/Jiang Xiaoliang)

It is no secret to observers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that it closely observes the Department of Defense (DOD). While many focus on the PLA’s incorporation of U.S.-like tactics, techniques, and procedures to blunt or defeat American efforts in the western Pacific, the PLA’s incorporation of organizational changes likely influenced by studies of U.S. efforts under the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 are as important. In late 2015, the PLA instituted wide-ranging reforms, arguably the most far-reaching in its modern history. This agenda carried an ambitious completion date of 2020. Even though scholars have examined the reorganization, some even referring to it as “China’s Goldwater-Nichols,” none have yet examined the modifications as indicators of China’s analysis of 30 years of U.S. joint force reform.1

Using the objectives of Goldwater-Nichols as a lens, this article examines the progress of PLA developments toward a more modern, joint military capable of significant operations within the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as more in the direction of an expeditionary force. It demonstrates, too, that the PRC has already taken significant steps, particularly in the creation of new joint warfighting commands, reorganization of its department system, and creation of new military services. It also reveals, however, limitations such as a continued internal focus, entrenched bureaucratic interests, and the necessity for President Xi Jinping to use his positional power to enforce top-down reform without the benefit of lessons learned in combat operations or a senior military champion. Understanding this PLA effort is crucial for U.S. military and civilian leaders going forward both to provide a fresh look at our own joint developments and to see how they alter the threat picture for our planning development.

Goldwater-Nichols

In 1984, Samuel Huntington called “Servicism,” or Service parochialism, “the central malady of the American military establishment.”2 To combat this, Goldwater-Nichols was born. Far from the first attempt at reform, the act sought to update a system with its origins in the makeshift actions of World War II.3 The National Security Act of 1947 intended to repair many of the pre–World War II defects and incorporate lessons learned during that conflict but left most Service-centered inefficiencies in place.4 Not unlike the situation during the war, the new order functioned as a system where the Joint Chiefs of Staff were essentially a committee of equals with the Chairman cast in the role of a consensus seeker. Unanimity was the watchword, not decisive decisionmaking focused on enhancing joint mission execution. Thus, Service interests dominated, resulting in diluted planning and advice to the National Command Authorities.5

Building on his experiences in World War II and seeking to overcome the compromises contained in the 1947 law, President Dwight D. Eisenhower secured passage of the Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958. His stated goals to Congress included a desire to unify strategic and tactical planning, create an efficient weapons acquisition process under the oversight of the Secretary of Defense, and organize forces into unified commands that fought as one unit, irrespective of Service. In this vein, the act removed the military Services from the operational chain of command, placing that authority in the hands of combatant commanders. The Services were to focus on organize, train, and equip functions. The Secretary received greater administrative control over DOD, while the Joint Chiefs were designated as that position’s military staff. The staff of the Joint Chiefs was also enlarged, and the Chairman could now formally vote on matters.6

Even President Eisenhower later recognized that the 1958 act was only an interim step. Members of Congress had fought him vigorously over his attempt to unify the appropriations process. Additionally, Service interests continued to dominate joint considerations, which saw minimal real change.7 As James Locher highlighted, the provisions of the 1958 legislation “were not effectively implemented. The military departments retained a de facto role in the operational chain of command and never complied with the provision strengthening the unified commanders.”8 This set the stage for future reform efforts.

General David Jones, USAF, was the first seated Chairman to speak out for reform. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on February 3, 1982, he stated, “The system is broken. I have tried to reform it from inside, but I cannot. Congress is going to have to mandate necessary reforms.”9 Almost 5 years of debate followed. Many issues led to this point in time. Subpar military advice, an inability to effectively operate together, and chain of command issues were cited as the core issues for negative events as far-reaching as the outcome of the Vietnam War, the Beirut barracks bombing, Operation Eagle Claw in Iran, problems during the invasion of Grenada, and the seizures of two U.S. ships by North Korea and Cambodia in 1968 and 1975, respectively.10

Officers viewed a joint assignment as career threatening. Service leaders tended to retain those viewed as their top talent for Service staffs. Promotion rates of Joint Staff officers trailed their counterparts on the Service side. Commentators also observed that the Joint Chiefs simply proved inadequate in the realm of strategic planning. Status quo–seeking behaviors became dominant in order to protect each Service’s interests, and innovation suffered as a result. Budget plans were uncoupled from joint capability warfighting needs and the realistic level of pairing to resources available. Huntington observed that campaign planning efforts often appeared like the Services were preparing to fight different conflicts. Overall readiness suffered. Furthermore, the system undermined the combatant commanders’ ability to lead with Service component commanders maintaining an inordinate amount of control through their Service chiefs, who maneuvered to ensure a “piece of the pie” for their organization. All in all, Service interests trumped strategic considerations.11 As General Jones put it in a 1982 article, “We need more time on our warfighting capabilities and less on an intramural scramble for resources.”12

Commencing in 1982 and 1985, respectively, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees advocated a pro-reform stance. After extensive resistance by the Services and Reagan administration, legislation named after its champions, Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Representative William Nichols (D-AL), passed into law on October 1, 1986.13 Public Law 99-433 explicitly identified eight objectives for building the joint force:

In enacting this Act, it is the intent of Congress, consistent with the congressional declaration of policy in section 2 of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 401)—

(1) to reorganize the Department of Defense and strengthen civilian authority in the Department;

(2) to improve the military advice provided to the President, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense;

(3) to place clear responsibility on the commanders of the unified and specified combatant commands for the accomplishment of missions assigned to those commands;

(4) to ensure that the authority of the commanders of the unified and specified combatant commands is fully commensurate with the responsibility of those commanders for the accomplishment of missions assigned to their commands;

(5) to increase attention to the formulation of strategy and to contingency planning;

(6) to provide for more efficient use of defense resources;

(7) to improve joint officer management policies; and

(8) otherwise to enhance the effectiveness of military operations and improve the management and administration of the Department of Defense.14

Importantly, Goldwater-Nichols strengthened both the Secretary and Chairman. No actor in DOD possessed authority outside the control of the Secretary. The act further recognized the Chairman as the senior military officer and military advisor to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council. Consensus with other Joint Chiefs was no longer a necessity. Goldwater-Nichols subordinated the Joint Staff to only the Chairman. The authorities of the combatant commanders over forces assigned them was emphasized, and the direct chain of command relationship between these commanders and the Secretary and President was codified, excluding Service chiefs from operational roles. Perceived deficiencies in planning were addressed. The act required the President to submit a National Security Strategy upon which DOD would base budgeting decisions and campaign plan preparations. The Chairman was made the independent voice on the budget previously missing from military counsel. Finally, officer management was greatly altered with a new joint officer management system—a very controversial part of the legislation.15

In relation to this issue, Huntington cogently observed that “capable people are important, but it is also a mistake to downgrade the significance of formal organizational structure. Organizational structure both reflects and shapes an entity’s priorities.”16 Goldwater-Nichols provided that organizational structure upon which DOD was to build its future. The PRC was watching and would eventually follow suit.

Through revisiting categories prescribed in Goldwater-Nichols legislation, we can evaluate China’s progress. We first examine the PRC’s approach to strengthening civilian authority. Second, we look at the organizational changes being implemented to enhance the military advice provided to senior party decisionmakers. Third, we scrutinize how the authority and responsibility of joint commanders to accomplish their tasked missions is being reinforced, with a particular focus on the new theater command structure. Fourth, we describe further organizational changes intended to improve the formulation of strategy and contingency planning. Fifth, new personnel management policies, seeking a more efficient use of defense resources and improvements in joint officer management, are explored. Sixth, a description of the PRC’s steps toward enhancing the effectiveness of PLA military operations is reviewed. Finally, as we survey how the PRC is approaching its joint force future, this article investigates China’s creation of new military services and its collaboration with industry.

Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)

PRC Reforms

We do not argue that the PLA is just learning lessons in jointness and military operations from the United States. Nonetheless, we do maintain that U.S. joint force reforms and experiences in its conflicts were both a catalyst and a focus for the PLA. As multiple authors highlight, the Gulf War in 1991 was an eye-opening episode for Chinese civilian and military leaders. Additionally, Russian experiences in both of the post-Soviet Chechen wars, as well as reforms after the Russia-Georgia conflict, provided insights for PLA efforts. The PLA studied the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, given the situation’s similarity to the Taiwan issue. Joel Wuthnow and Phillip Saunders highlight that besides the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia, the PLA focused on reform experiences in Japan, India, France, and Germany. The PLA analyzes its own history and filters its examinations of others through this lens; however, since the PRC has not fought an actual war since the Sino-Vietnamese conflict of 1979, it must look outside its own experience for how warfare in the information age has evolved.

Many of the ills previously described in the pre–Goldwater-Nichols system are applicable to the PLA. As such, China’s joint reforms “hope both to tighten central political control over a force that was seen as increasingly corrupt and to build the PLA into a credible joint warfighting entity.”17 Almost three decades after Goldwater-Nichols passage, the PLA’s organizational reforms commenced in late 2015 and early 2016. Perhaps heeding an observation by General Jones, “after nearly 2 years of studies, committee reports, and presidential interventions, the National Security Act of 1947 emerged as a compromise between those who favored full Service integration and those who feared centralization of military authority.”18 It remains to be seen, however, if the PLA reform process proves to be an aggressive Goldwater-Nichols legislation effort, or a weakened compromise like the National Security Act of 1947.

While much of the reform has been public, the PLA’s opaqueness makes in-depth analysis somewhat challenging. However, enough is already understood to facilitate some assessment. Either independently or at President Xi’s direction, it appears that the PLA arrived at many of the same conclusions as the Goldwater-Nichols framers. Although similar, each has characteristics specifically applicable to the PRC political system, current strategic context, and complicated cultural military history. The article now turns to the previously identified objectives of Goldwater-Nichols to evaluate their actions.

Strengthen Civilian Authority. As Wuthnow and Saunders state, “The main political driver of the reform was the desire to tighten political control and supervision of the PLA.”19 While Goldwater-Nichols attempted to strengthen civilian authority in DOD, recent PLA reforms appear to strengthen President Xi’s authority over the PLA. In this vein and unlike the U.S. desire for an unpolitical military, the goal is a PLA that is a direct defender of the Chinese Communist Party that embodies enduring “revolutionary ideals.” As head of the party, state, and Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi’s civilian control of the PLA and its reforms is further solidified. Organizational changes like transforming the previous General Staff Department (GSD) into 15 offices working directly for the CMC, in addition to implementing Xi’s “chairman responsibility system”—which raises day-to-day national defense decisionmaking to his level—help ensure that all major military-related decisions rest in his hands, and he possesses a number of levers to ensure compliance. For instance, PLA reforms take place in parallel to Xi’s overall anti-corruption campaign, a tool he has used to consolidate power over and within the PLA, relieving two CMC vice chairmen and over 200 other officers.20

One alarm bell Richard Weitz sounded regarding enhanced civilian control in the Chinese system is that few senior civilian leaders have served in the military and that there is a dearth of opportunities to develop civilian strategic thinkers either inside or outside the government. The reforms likewise do not alter the civilian-military balance in the PLA; it remains a military-led organization without the types of civilian political appointees or senior civil servants who are seen across DOD. All CMC members except Xi are military officers. This is a weakness, as it highlights the continued lack of a real interagency perspective, while potentially providing more latitude for military leaders to formulate plans outside civilian interference. In effect, an organizational personnel mix that previously enabled periodic unresponsiveness to civilian direction was left in place. This leads some to conclude that achieving the goal of strengthening civilian authority and political control over the PLA will depend on Xi’s personally assertive leadership style and his continued ability to dedicate significant time to military issues, along with the appointment of trusted officers to implement his initiatives.21

Improve Military Advice. The expansion of organizations directly subordinate to the CMC deepens the pool of advisors who can directly provide counsel to party decisionmakers.22 For example, interactions with foreign militaries, even during tensions such as the 2009 Impeccable incident, were managed by the Ministry of National Defense’s Foreign Affairs Office (MND-FAO).23 Reform efforts removed MND-FAO from the Ministry of National Defense, an organization largely devoid of real purpose, and moved it into the CMC as the Office of International Military Cooperation (OIMC). Even though OIMC still performs the same duties as MND-FAO, as a body directly subordinate to the CMC, it can provide advice more directly.

In another move, a GSD sub-department for training was elevated to a separate entity, the Training and Administration Department, directly reporting to the CMC. Its portfolio includes working with theater commands and services to develop joint training standards and to monitor the implementation of those standards via its inspection function, measuring the effectiveness of exercises and training programs at the theater, service, and unit levels. The department also inherited a number of PLA academies previously supervised by GSD organizations, as well as oversight of the professional military education system, with a charge to improve joint education and to begin it earlier in careers. This move gives CMC leaders better visibility on the progress of joint training across the PLA and more opportunities to directly influence what is happening in the training realm.

Additionally, the Joint Staff Department, akin to a hybridization of U.S. J3 (Operations) and J5 (Strategic Plans and Policy) staff functions, was created on the basis of the former General Staff Department. In addition to focusing on joint training, operational planning, capability assessments, 24/7 situational awareness, and overall force readiness, its portfolio includes acting as a conduit between the CMC and theater commands. Moreover, the Joint Staff Department serves as the planning arm and command and control hub for global actions outside the established theaters, which will be described later. This organization and the 14 others formed were designed to improve training, political indoctrination, weapons system acquisition, mobilization of forces, and strategic planning. The staffs are to be manned in a joint fashion and are designed to provide joint military counsel to senior CMC leaders considered missing by many under the old system.24

Clarify Combatant Command Responsibilities. In a nod to U.S. unified combatant command structure, the PLA departed from its previous seven military region construct (Beijing, Shenyang, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Lanzhou) to a five-theater command structure (Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern, and Central). Under this new paradigm, theater commanders are now joint force commanders. Breaking down a situation similar to that which existed previously in U.S. history where the Services maintained an operational role, these commands are now the main warfighting arm of the PRC. The theater commander will operationally control the forces of services assigned to his region. This directly stems from China’s interpretation of its threat environment and the nature of modern war. They diligently observed U.S. joint warfighting and the evolution of information-dominant, precision-oriented combat since the Gulf War. The former system was peacetime oriented and put the PRC at a distinct disadvantage in case of unforeseen or rapidly developing events. The new structure seeks to remedy that shortfall by making the transition from peace to conflict faster and smoother. A cadre of joint officers will staff each theater headquarters. The individual services now carry out the man, train, and equip functions, providing the forces and systems the theater commanders will fight with. A major challenge in this area is the historic dominance of army interests in the PLA. All initial theater commanders were from that branch. However, the assignment of PLA Navy Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai as the Southern theater commander and PLA Air Force Lieutenant General Yi Xiaoguang as the Central theater commander may indicate a new joint approach to theater command leadership.25

Increase Attention to Strategy and Contingency Planning. A newly created office, the Strategic Planning Office, is directly subordinate to the CMC. It was formerly a component within the GSD known as the Strategic Planning Department, which had responsibilities for “long-term strategic analysis, resource allocation analysis, and organizational reform analysis.”26 A portion of these roles was spun off into other organizations, with the Strategic Planning Office retaining the responsibility to conduct long-range strategic analysis. This analysis is particularly focused on developing approaches to multidomain, information-dominant warfare, integrating China’s ground, sea, air, space, and cyber forces in a truly joint fashion to address threats seen on the horizon. The combination of the Joint Staff Department, the theater-specific contingency planning conducted by the theater commands, and the Strategic Planning Office demonstrates a focus on current and future strategy formulation and operational planning in keeping with Goldwater-Nichols.27

Use Defense Resources More Efficiently. The PRC started the process of reform at a low-efficiency baseline with a number of opportunities to address. The most obvious was in manpower; much of the PLA structure has served as a “jobs program” historically. While previous downsizing simply trimmed overall numbers, this effort concentrates on a more efficient and effective use of resources. Against this backdrop, the PLA announced a reduction of 300,000 personnel. Most observers predict cuts will focus mainly on noncombat and low-skilled positions in the army, as well as those working with out-of-date weapon systems overall. Potentially demonstrating the rebalancing effect of these cuts, officially unverified reporting in March 2017 indicated that the PLA Navy may increase the force structure of the PLAN Marine Corps to support likely expeditionary deployments abroad, along with an increase in navy technical personnel. Additional winners in the move include rocket force, air force, cyber, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) mission sets. Military accessions at PRC academies demonstrate this with a one-quarter cut in ground-focused students and commensurate increases in those other prioritized areas.28

Moreover, an examination of the multiple academies per service, duplicative bureaucracies constructed for the previous military region construct, reserve force structure, and overall militia numbers will be reviewed for cuts or reorganization. As part of overall budgetary reform, acquisition methods are under review to weed out the high degree of waste and to ensure that the PLA’s rapid increase in systems translates to a true increase in overall joint combat capability. A further step toward efficiency, as well as to deal with corruption issues, includes a push to standardize what the U.S. system refers to as regulations and operating instructions.29

Improve Joint Officer Management. A significant impact in the joint officer management arena was the previously mentioned assignment of former North Sea Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai, as the commander of the Southern theater command, a first for the PLA. While a data point of one, this was previously considered unthinkable and points in an overall positive direction for the creation of truly joint staffs at the CMC and theater command levels. As senior leaders like Yuan rise, they can be expected to bring co-service representatives with them.30 Another indicator of joint intentions for the officer corps is the creation of “a new ‘operational command track’ in PLA National Defense University courses that train PLA officers for promotion to senior positions. Attendance in command track courses will likely become a requirement for future joint command assignments.”31 One measure of progress will be how many attendees originate from non-army services. Others include examining if joint courses become available for lower ranking officers, as well as how joint the staffs actually become and how assignments to the staffs translate into promotion opportunities. Challenges to this effort are not insignificant. Part of the need for reform is to curb rampant corruption in the ranks. As Saunders and Wuthnow point out, this even extends to the promotion system itself.32

Enhance Effectiveness of Military Operations. China’s former military region structure did not effectively merge service forces into geographic or regional commands, with many operational controls maintained at service headquarters. Additionally, a regional commander would not have automatically served as the operational commander if conflict erupted. That was determined as the situation developed, causing a time lag in response. The previously described move to a theater command structure was an intended remedy for this and many operational concerns, streamlining command and control arrangements by cutting the services out and preordaining that the theater commander is the operational commander for whatever situation arises in the zone.33

As with joint officer management, challenges remain to effective implementation. While the United States promotes initiative by commanders, the PRC system continues to heavily centralize decisions, restricting freedom of action. In the vein of Vice Admiral Yuan’s and Lieutenant General Yi’s assignments, commanders will need to be selected from the service most appropriate for the mission to be executed in that theater, lessening army dominance. It also remains to be seen how the connection between theaters and services, as relating to weapons system acquisition, personnel training, and career field composition, will be formed at the CMC level in order to match requirements with actual budgetary decisions. Likewise, the PLA will need to move away from its single-service-oriented exercise regime to one that builds joint interoperability. Even beyond all these, the PLA simply does not have a historic joint operational culture to build on. This will have to be inculcated if reform is to lead to operational success.34

PLA soldier participates in attack exercise observed by General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)
PLA soldier participates in attack exercise observed by General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)
PLA soldier participates in attack exercise observed by General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)
PLA soldier participates in attack exercise
PLA soldier participates in attack exercise observed by General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

The Joint Force Future

Following 30 years of Goldwater-Nichols, the U.S. military continues to work at refining joint force capabilities and processes. Similarly, the PLA will continue to examine areas to improve due to institutional maturation, the changing threat environment, and developments to the methods of warfare. As General Martin Dempsey points out, “the diffusion of power in an era of hyper-connectivity is allowing destructive technologies to proliferate more quickly.”35 Dempsey argues that these technologies, particularly cyber capabilities, are expanding at a rapid rate, with a commensurate impact on the joint warfare environment. He further argues that the future U.S. joint force must operate across geographical boundaries, Service affiliations, and all domains. Dempsey calls for globally integrated operations that “assemble quickly and apply decisive force anywhere in the world with a wide array of partners.”36 The PLA appears to possess similar views and is taking steps accordingly.

Creating New Services

As part of the reform agenda, three major new military organizations were created. For the first time, a separate PLA Army ground service was stood up in January 2016. This break with the past serves to lessen army dominance of the entire PLA, while also providing a platform to more effectively concentrate on ground warfighting tactics and service needs. Rather than function through the old GSD, the army now sits on par (at least in the organizational chart) with other service headquarters. Additionally, a separate PLA Rocket Force was constructed, replacing the Second Artillery Corps. Some, like Richard Weitz and Song Zhongping, conjecture that its ultimate portfolio will include not only conventional and nuclear missiles but also strategic People’s Liberation Army Navy submarines and strategic People’s Liberation Army Air Force bombers, should reports of the development of a new nuclear-capable platform bear fruit. No evidence currently exists that this will occur. Others, such as David Logan, maintain a more likely option is that a hybrid command and control structure will emerge reminiscent of U.S. Strategic Command with the other services maintaining tactical control of the platforms and the Rocket Force possessing operational control, furthering the PLA’s stated objective of more joint approaches. Finally, while the elevation of U.S. Cyber Command to a separate unified command was finally announced in August 2017, the Chinese elevated cyber, electronic warfare, ISR, and space elements into the Strategic Support Force (SSF), which is directly subordinate to the CMC and provides forces to the theater commands, in late 2015. It is a sign of the committee’s concerns over information dominance in multidomain warfighting.37 The SSF design concept

is the idea of “integrated reconnaissance, attack, and defense,” which requires that the intelligence, offensive, and defensive elements are integrated together to enable full-spectrum warfighting in a particular domain. This new organizational construct is also intended to enable previously impossible levels of unified planning, force construction, and operations.38

It appears the PRC is now potentially ahead in operationalizing command and control in the information domain.

When analyzed in conjunction with the geographic proximity of the most likely conflicts between the United States and China, the capabilities contained within the Rocket Force and SSF emphasize the systems designed to defeat the American concept of operations. Put in perspective, over 5,100 miles separate Honolulu, Hawaii, from Taiwan, while the Taiwan Strait is only 110 miles wide. In addition to the Taiwan scenario, as a RAND report highlights, the United States has three treaty allies (the Philippines, Japan, and the Republic of Korea) with territorial or maritime claims in conflict with the PRC. From that standpoint, the PRC can prepare for a fight in its “own backyard” with short logistics and supply chains. Its reorganization efforts play to PRC strengths in the antiaccess/area-denial realm. Its numerous, and increasingly more accurate, ballistic and cruise missile systems, along with counterspace, electronic warfare, information operations, and cyber warfare capabilities, already appear to put U.S. bases in the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Guam at risk and will present challenges to effective entry into the region in the event of a conflict.39

USS Bunker Hill participates in maneuvering exercise with People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates Daqing (FFG 576) and Yancheng (FFG 546) off coast of Southern California following routine port visit to San Diego, December 9, 2016 (U.S. Navy/Craig Z. Rodarte)
USS Bunker Hill participates in maneuvering exercise with People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates Daqing (FFG 576) and Yancheng (FFG 546) off coast of Southern California following routine port visit to San Diego, December 9, 2016 (U.S. Navy/Craig Z. Rodarte)
USS Bunker Hill participates in maneuvering exercise with People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates Daqing (FFG 576) and Yancheng (FFG 546) off coast of Southern California following routine port visit to San Diego, December 9, 2016 (U.S. Navy/Craig Z. Rodarte)
USS Bunker Hill participates in maneuvering exercise with People’s Liberation Army
USS Bunker Hill participates in maneuvering exercise with People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates Daqing (FFG 576) and Yancheng (FFG 546) off coast of Southern California following routine port visit to San Diego, December 9, 2016 (U.S. Navy/Craig Z. Rodarte)

Improving Collaboration with Industry

An important development in building industry collaboration in the PRC was the establishment of the Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development. This organization is charged with civil-military integration in the technology spectrum. Its goal is to bring the military and industry together to collaboratively pursue the integration of dual-use technologies, while cutting costs and promoting the strength of China’s defense industrial base.40 Defense collaboration with industry like this is key going forward given the rapid advance of technology and its corresponding effects on the battlefield. While former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry’s similar efforts at industry collaboration and acquisition reform represent moves in the right direction, the United States lags the PRC in this area. Although it has significant challenges, the Chinese defense industry appears to have a faster acquisition cycle in recognizing requirements, acquiring information, and integrating technologies than does DOD. Even if one can readily argue that a significant advantage within the authoritarian Chinese system is the incorporation of cyber espionage and cyber theft—efforts likely to get even stronger under the PLA reform initiative—DOD must discover a method to replicate the results needed within its legal framework.

Soldiers with People’s Liberation Army prepare attack exercise for General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)
Soldiers with People’s Liberation Army prepare attack exercise for General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)
Soldiers with People’s Liberation Army prepare attack exercise for General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)
Soldiers with People’s Liberation Army prepare attack exercise
Soldiers with People’s Liberation Army prepare attack exercise for General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and General Song Puxuan, commander, Northern Theater Command, at base in Shenyang, China, August 16, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

Conclusion

Nearly 30 years after the landmark Goldwater-Nichols legislation, the PRC has ushered in reforms pursuing a more efficient, capable joint force. Although a point of potential debate, it appears that Chinese decisionmakers learned some of the U.S. joint lessons without a similar level of trauma, cost, and frustration, which initially drove Goldwater-Nichols. These significant changes have been affected within a system that has a luxury of largely working toward a single benchmark, the United States.

The ultimate measure of PLA success in joint force reform will be its performance in combat. While Goldwater-Nichols was congressionally driven, previous operations and senior leader observations lent credibility and emphasized the need to reform. Even in the face of Service opposition, there existed pockets of “believers” and leaders who recognized civilian leadership in the American system and who enabled Goldwater-Nichols–based reforms. Unlike the United States in the 1980s, however, the PLA lacks combat experience on which to base its actions. It also lacks an obvious senior leader like General David Jones to champion it. Joint reforms in China appear to be top-down driven by President Xi without that military advocacy. In essence, the PLA is not learning its own lessons and modifying accordingly; rather, it is learning those of DOD. The one simplifying factor in their situation, nonetheless, is an authoritarian political system that can enforce change.41

PRC developments move the PLA away from its previous continentalist doctrine toward developing an expeditionary capability. The standup of a separate army service was a step in the right direction to break the army’s historic domination of the country’s military. The creation of theater commands to handle warfighting responsibilities was also a major positive change. Of note, while now joint, these commands remain insularly focused on China’s geographic boundaries with global operations still being led at the CMC level. This is unlike the American combatant command structure. Moreover, PLA reforms do not include a unified command entity to address transregional issues like counterproliferation and counter–violent extremist organizations like U.S. Special Operations Command. These are issues worth watching as the PLA continues to evolve.

Also critical, particularly as PLA reforms develop, is a humility to examine PLA reform in the context of what changes, reforms, and adaptations may benefit the U.S. joint force, as well as a need to see how they alter the threat picture for planning, tactics, and acquisition purposes. Xi Jinping initiated the reforms by stating “our military has gone from small to big, from weak to strong, from victory to victory. On this road, reform and innovation steps have never stopped.”42 It is prudent, given the resolve demonstrated by Xi, that U.S. civilian and military leaders monitor these developments and evolve to further strengthen the force. This should be recognized as an important and critical undertaking. JFQ

Notes

1 Phillip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow, China’s Goldwater-Nichols? Assessing PLA Organizational Reforms, INSS Strategic Forum 294 (Washington, DC: NDU Press, April 2016), 1, 9.

2 Samuel P. Huntington, “Defense Organization and Military Strategy,” The Public Interest, Spring 1982, 24.

3 David C. Jones, “Why the Joint Chiefs of Staff Must Change,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 12, no. 2 (Spring 1982), 140; James R. Locher III, “Has It Worked? The Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act,” Naval War College Review 54, no. 4 (Autumn 2001), 96. As Locher notes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt unified command in Europe under General Dwight D. Eisenhower and created the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he did not overcome Service rivalries in the Pacific theater. It was divided between commands led by General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz.

4 The National Security Act of 1947, Pub. L. 253, 80th Cong., 1st sess., July 26, 1947; Peter J. Roman and David W. Tarr, “The Joint Chiefs of Staff: From Service Parochialism to Jointness,” Political Science Quarterly 113, no. 1 (Spring 1998), 93.

5 Roman and Tarr, 92; Locher, 97–98.

6 Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958, Pub. L. 85-599, 85th Cong., 2nd sess., August 6, 1958; Jones, 140; Huntington, 21–23; Locher, 99; Jason Zaborski et al., Evolution of Department of Defense Directive 5100.01: Functions of the Department of Defense and Its Major Components (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, January 2014), 14–15; Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Special Message to the Congress on Reorganization of the Defense Establishment,” speech, April 3, 1958, available at <www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid—11340>; John T. Correll, “Eisenhower and the Eight Warlords,” Air Force Magazine, July 2017, 58, 61.

7 Jones, 140; Huntington, 23; Locher, 99.

8 Locher, 99.

9 Ibid., 101.

10 Kathleen J. McInnis, Goldwater-Nichols at 30: Defense Reform and Issues for Congress, R44474 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2016), 27, 47–48; Locher, 99–101; Roman and Tarr, 97–98.

11 Senate Committee on Armed Services, Defense Organization: The Need for Change, S. prt., 99-86, 99th Cong., 1st sess., 1985, 4, 8, 639–640; Huntington, 4, 26–28, 32; Jones, 146; Roman and Tarr, 92, 94–96, 98; McInnis, 6, 48.

12 Jones, 144.

13 Peter W. Chiarelli, Goldwater-Nichols Revisited: A Proposal for Meaningful Defense Reorganization (Washington, DC: National War College, April 26, 1993), 5; McInnis, 47–48; Locher, 102; James R. Locher III, “Taking Stock of Goldwater-Nichols,” Joint Force Quarterly 13 (Autumn 1996), 34.

14 Goldwater-Nichols.

15 Ibid., § 151–155, 164, 661–665; Locher, “Has It Worked?” 106–108; Roman and Tarr, 100–101; McInnis, 7–8; Locher, “Taking Stock of Goldwater-Nichols,” 35–39.

16 Huntington, 21.

17 Saunders and Wuthnow, 1.

18 Jones, 140.

19 Joel Wuthnow and Phillip C. Saunders, Chinese Military Reforms in the Age of Xi Jinping: Drivers, Challenges, and Implications, China Strategic Perspectives 10 (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2017), 32.

20 Saunders and Wuthnow, 5–6; Charles Clover, “Xi’s China: Command and Control,” The Financial Times, July 26, 2016, available at <www.ft.com/content/dde0af68-4db2-11e6-88c5-db83e98a590a>; Richard Weitz, “PLA Military Reforms: Defense Power with Chinese Characteristics,” World Politics Review, March 15, 2016, 1–9, available at <www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/18215/pla-military-reforms-defense-power-with-chinese-characteristics>; Sebastian Hornschild and Eva Pejsova, “A New PLA for a New Era,” Issue Alert 13 (April 1, 2016), 1, available at <www.iss.europa.eu/sites/default/files/EUISSFiles/Alert_13_PLA_n.pdf>; Cristina Garafola, “Will the PLA Reforms Succeed?” China Analysis 164 (March 30, 2016), 3, available at <www.ecfr.eu/page/-/XIS_ARMY_-_GARAFOLA.pdf>; Michael S. Chase and Jeffrey Engstrom, “China’s Military Reforms: An Optimistic Take,” Joint Force Quarterly 83 (4th Quarter 2016), 52; Cristina Garafola, “People’s Liberation Army Reforms and Their Ramifications,” RAND Blog, September 23, 2016, 2, available at <www.rand.org/blog/2016/09/pla-reforms-and-their-ramifications.html>; Wuthnow and Saunders, 6.

21 Weitz, “PLA Military Reforms,” 19; Saunders and Wuthnow, 4–6; Wuthnow and Saunders, 2–3, 54, 46–47.

22 Kathleen McLaughlin, “Chinese Power Play: Xi Jinping Creates a National Security Council,” Christian Science Monitor, November 13, 2013, available at <www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2013/1113/Chinese-power-play-Xi-Jinping-creates-a-national-security-council>.

23 Kenneth Allen, Assessing the PLA’s Promotion Ladder to CMC Member Based on Grades vs. Ranks—Part 1, China Brief 10, no. 5 (July 2010), available at <https://jamestown.org/program/assessing-the-plas-promotion-ladder-to-cmc-member-based-on-grades-vs-ranks-part-1/>.

24 Saunders and Wuthnow, 2–4, 7–8; Garafola, “People’s Liberation Army Reforms and Their Ramifications,” 2–3; Weitz, “PLA Military Reforms,” 3; Wuthnow and Saunders, 61–62; Ben Lowsen, “U.S. Experts Talk Chinese PLA Reform,” The Diplomat, March 23, 2016, available at <http://thediplomat.com/2016/03/us-experts-talk-chinese-pla-reform/>.

25 Roger Cliff, “Chinese Military Reforms: A Pessimistic Take,” Joint Force Quarterly 83 (4th Quarter 2016), 54; John Costello, Strategic Support Force: Update and Overview, China Brief 16, no. 9 (December 2016), available at <https://jamestown.org/program/strategic-support-force-update-overview/>; Choi Chi-yuk, “Admiral Named to Head PLA’s New Southern Theatre Command,” South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), January 19, 2017, available at <www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2063649/admiral-named-head-plas-southern-theatre-command>; “Military Watch: China’s Central Theater Command Gets a New Deputy Commander,” SinoInsider, February 14, 2018, available at <https://sinoinsider.com/2018/02/military-watch-chinas-central-theater-command-gets-a-new-deputy-commander/>.

26 Wuthnow and Saunders, 64.

27 Wuthnow and Saunders describe the focus of each theater command’s contingency planning efforts (Eastern: Taiwan Strait and East China Sea; Southern: South China Sea; Northern: Korean Peninsula; Western: Central Asia and Sino-Indian border; and Central: defend the capital). Wuthnow and Saunders, 1, 17–18, 64–65; Anthony H. Cordesman and Steven Colley, “Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis,” final review draft, Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 10, 2015, 122, available at <https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/150901_Chinese_Mil_Bal.pdf>.

28 Shannon Tiezzi, “The Real Reason China Is Cutting 300,000 Troops,” The Diplomat, September 8, 2015, available at <http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/the-real-reason-china-is-cutting-300000-troops/>; Jamie Seidel, “China to Boost Marine Corps by 400 Percent to Enforce Growing World Influence,” News Corps Australia Network, March 15, 2017, available at <www.news.com.au/world/china-to-boost-marine-corps-by-400pc-to-enforce-growing-world-influence/news-story/0d39501cbedd214994e435cecaf8c835>; Dennis J. Blasko, What Is Known and Unknown about Changes to the PLA’s Ground Combat Units, China Brief 17, no. 7 (May 11, 2017), available at <https://jamestown.org/program/known-unknown-changes-plas-ground-combat-units>; Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017 (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, May 15, 2017), 1, available at <www.defense.gov/portals/1/documents/pubs/2017_China_Military_Power_Report.pdf>.

29 Mark Farmer, “The PLAAF Policy Failures & Modernization,” Defence Review Asia (January–February 2016), 34; Bodeen, “China to Maintain Defense Spending, Fight Waste”; Boehler; Saunders and Wuthnow, 4, 7.

30 Choi.

31 Phillip C. Saunders and John Chen, “Is the Chinese Army the Real Winner in PLA Reforms?” Joint Force Quarterly 83 (4th Quarter 2016), 46–47.

32 Ibid., 47; Saunders and Wuthnow, 5, 8.

33 Wuthnow and Saunders, 9; Chase and Engstrom, 50; Weitz, “PLA Military Reforms,” 1.

34 Weitz, “PLA Military Reforms,” 4, 6; Garafola, “People’s Liberation Army Reforms and Their Ramifications,” 5; Saunders and Chen, 47; Cliff, 56.

35 Martin E. Dempsey, “The Future of Joint Operations,” Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2013, available at <www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2013-06-20/future-joint-operations>.

36 Ibid.

37 Saunders and Chen, 44, 46; Chase and Engstrom, 50–51; Weitz, “PLA Military Reforms,” 2–3; Hornschild and Pejsova, 2; Michael S. Chase, Nuclear Bomber Could Boost PLAAF Strategic Role, Create Credible Triad, China Brief 17, no. 9 (July 6, 2017), available at <https://jamestown.org/program/nuclear-bomber-boost-plaaf-strategic-role-create-credible-triad/>; David C. Logan, China’s Future SSBN Command and Control Structure, INSS Strategic Forum 299 (Washington, DC: NDU Press, November 2016), 1–2, 5–6, 8; “Statement by President Donald J. Trump on the Elevation of Cyber Command,” Washington, DC, August 18, 2017, available at <www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/18/statement-donald-j-trump-elevation-cyber-command>.

38 Costello.

39 Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 19962017 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2015), 3–4, 21, 45–46; Richard Weitz, “China’s Defense Reforms and Their U.S. Implications,” China-U.S. Focus, April 6, 2016, available at <www.chinausfocus.com/peace-security/chinas-defense-reforms-and-their-us-implications>; Bill Gertz, “China’s Great Leap in Space Warfare Creates Huge New Threat,” Asia Times (Hong Kong), September 13, 2017, available at <www.atimes.com/chinas-great-leap-space-warfare-creates-huge-new-threat>; Anthony H. Cordesman and Joseph Kendall, “China’s Evolving Military Strategy and the Reorganization of the People’s Liberation Army,” The National Interest, August 29, 2016, available at <http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-evolving-military-strategy-the-reorganization-the-17508>; Tom Shugart, First Strike: China’s Missile Threat to U.S. Bases in Asia (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 2017), 1–4, available at <www.cnas.org/publications/reports/first-strike-chinas-missile-threat-to-u-s-bases-to-asia>; Annual Report to Congress, 1, 34–35, 49–51.

40 Zhao Yusha, “Xi to Head Civil-Military Integration Body,” Global Times (Beijing), January 22, 2017, available at <www.globaltimes.cn/content/1030186.shtml>; Leo Lin, “China’s Answer to the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex,” The Diplomat, April 11, 2017, available at <http://thediplomat.com/2017/04/chinas-answer-to-the-us-military-industrial-complex/>.

41 Saunders and Wuthnow, 5, 7, 9; Wuthnow and Saunders, 22.

42 “China’s Xi to Shake Up Military Structure in Reform Push,” Reuters, November 26, 2015, available at <www.reuters.com/article/us-china-defence-idUSKBN0ZhaoTF13T20151126>.


Bombs, Not Broadcasts: U.S. Preference for Kinetic Strategy in Asymmetric Conflict
By Cole Livieratos | July 5, 2018

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Captain Cole Livieratos, USA, is a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University.

Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition
Airman prepares inert weapon for loading during annual weapons load competition in Hangar One at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, January 20, 2016 (U.S. Air Force/Preston Cherry)

In 2016, the United States dropped 24,287 bombs in Iraq and Syria targeting so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). The authority to release ordnance for a preplanned target in OIR has been delegated to brigadier generals and below (it is even lower for nonplanned targets in support of American or allied forces). If the U.S. military wishes to conduct an information operation, such as dropping leaflets or beginning a new series of radio broadcasts, the approval authority is higher—a major general. Any information operation conducted via the Internet or social media as part of OIR requires Pentagon-level approval. Despite mounting criticism of the use of American ordnance because of recent civilian casualties, the approval authority to release ordnance has not changed. In fact, President Donald Trump has signaled that he will delegate even greater authority for kinetic operations to military leaders, while the approval process for information operations remains the same.

The disparity in approval authorities between dropping bombs and dropping leaflets is puzzling for those who study foreign policy. Why is there less scrutiny over kinetic operations that have the potential to kill innocent civilians than over information operations that cannot physically harm anyone? This phenomenon is not unique to OIR in Iraq and Syria. The United States has regularly prioritized kinetic operations above information operations when fighting asymmetric conflicts. The hostilities in Vietnam, the second war in Iraq, and the operations in Afghanistan and Libya have all demonstrated heavy American reliance on kinetic operations (especially airpower) and a reluctance to focus on information operations at the strategic level. This article answers the question of why the United States consistently prefers kinetic strategies instead of information-centric strategies in asymmetric conflicts. Qualitative research, including examination of primary source materials, demonstrates that an “issue public coalition” highly scrutinizes military information operations, thereby raising the potential cost for military commanders to choose information-centric strategies. An existing military preference for kinetic operations—compared with a high level of scrutiny of information operations—makes it unlikely that military leaders will choose an information-centric strategy in asymmetric conflicts.

Issue Public Coalition, Military Culture, and Strategic Choice

An information-centric strategy can be conceived of as a military strategy that prioritizes informational tools, such as psychological operations, as a major component of the strategic approach. Strategies that are not information-centric rely on kinetic operations (including air strikes as well as raids and targeted strikes) and/or train and equip missions; these are referred to here as kinetic strategies. The term information operations refers to inform and influence activities and strategic communications more broadly. It is distinct from the military functional area of information operations (which includes psychological operations in addition to other components like electronic warfare, operations security, and military deception). Information operations can be conducted via the Internet, but in this article, the term is separate from cyber operations.

The military’s use of information as a tool is fundamentally different than the use of any military hardware because the military has a monopoly over hardware like tanks and bomber aircraft, but no such monopoly exists over information. The military competes in the information marketplace, or the marketplace of ideas, with others who trade in information as a profession. Journalists, academics, public relations professionals, and certain policymakers are in the business of generating or sharing information. Thomas Risse-Kappen separates the public into three disparate groups: the “mass public,” “attentive public” (which has a general interest in politics), and “issue public” attuned to specific policy issues.1

Members of the issue public from the marketplace of ideas represent a de facto coalition against the development and conduct of information operations by the military. This “issue public coalition” is not concerned with having to compete with the military over information, but it is concerned that military “weaponization” of information could undermine American credibility and negatively impact their professions.2 Even though the mass public readily accepts information as an influence technique in terms of consumer marketing or political campaigns, the issue public coalition argues that inform and influence activities conducted by the executive branch are more problematic, even when directed at foreign audiences. The coalition frames military information operations in a manner that puts these activities at odds with American political culture, painting military information operations as undemocratic or contrary to the freedom of speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. The issue public coalition therefore acts in accordance with what Elizabeth Kier describes when she argues that civilian groups constrain military doctrinal development because of concerns about the military’s power within the state.3 As a result, the level of scrutiny placed on military information operations is high—disproportionately greater than other types of military operations.

Individual agencies of the U.S. Government may self-select into the issue public coalition depending on the nature of a specific conflict or proposed military information operation. At times, the public affairs and public diplomacy sections in the State Department, members of the Intelligence Community (IC), and even the military’s own public affairs branch will join the issue public coalition seeking to limit the military’s use of information operations. Other government agencies that selectively join the issue public coalition may do so because of concerns about the military’s use of information undermining their credibility or infringing on their own operations. Though these turf battles may sometimes be made public, they often play out privately among organizations. The relationship between the Department of Defense (DOD) and IC fits this pattern. Tactical and operational coordination on information operations has traditionally been successful, but the IC is more likely to scrutinize strategic-level informational efforts by DOD. The nature of this scrutiny is different than public criticism from the media, but it pressures military commanders and raises the costs of conducting information operations nonetheless.

While the issue public coalition highly scrutinizes information operations, the military already has an organizational culture with a preference for kinetic operations. Commanders are not opposed to conducting information operations, but most commanders do not understand the process or understand the utility. If commanders do decide to use informational tools, they rarely integrate them throughout the entire operational planning process. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen wrote in an article for Joint Force Quarterly in 2009, “We’ve come to believe that messages are something we can launch downrange like a rocket, something we can fire for effect.”4 The military’s cultural preference for kinetic operations transcends its failure to comprehend information operations; its organizational structure, promotion system, professional military education, budget allocation, authorities, and even uniforms all reinforce this underlying preference for kinetic action. Combatant commanders in asymmetric conflicts are almost always selected from the infantry or a combat arms branch. Even within special operations units, theater special operations commanders, special operations task force commanders, and country-level special operations team leaders are almost all from the Army’s Special Forces or Navy SEALs, both of which prioritize kinetic activities, especially since 9/11. Few mechanisms prioritize or reward nonkinetic operations, even when those means appear to be better suited to achieve the conflict’s political goals.

Asymmetric conflicts should necessitate high involvement from all parts of the U.S. Government, but the reliance on the military to plan and execute asymmetric warfare since 9/11 has substantially increased. When policymakers commit the United States to an asymmetric conflict, such as Libya in 2011 or fighting the IS in Iraq and Syria starting in 2014, the military is primarily responsible for planning and executing strategy. With an organizational culture predisposed toward conventional kinetic methods and an elevated level of scrutiny from the issue public coalition on information operations, the risks and potential costs for military leaders to adopt an information-centric strategy are far too high. Military leaders default to something more familiar and less risky: a kinetic strategy. Through this lens, even civilian casualties from an air strike will be seemingly less costly to a military commander than an errant tweet. Though civilian casualties are likely to receive attention in the media, the issue public coalition is unlikely to frame the tragedy as a threat to American democratic values.

USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State
USS Harry S. Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve demonstrates capability and flexibility of Navy and its resolve to eliminate so-called Islamic State, Mediterranean Sea, May 21, 2018 (U.S. Navy/Thomas Gooley)

Potential Counterarguments

Existing theories on asymmetric warfare, information operations, and state-society relations may offer counterarguments to the idea that decisions against information-centric strategies in asymmetric war result from an issue public coalition that scrutinizes military information operations and a military organizational culture predisposed toward kinetic action. The first of these counterarguments is that an information-centric strategy is a weapon of the weak and actors only choose this strategy to compensate for military strength. It is true that disparities in military capacity do result in belligerents selecting different strategies to maximize their strengths and attack their opponents’ weaknesses. However, several strong actors like Russia and Israel employ information as a major component of their strategy in asymmetric conflict, while several weak actors like Iraq (in 2003), Libya, and Ukraine do not prominently feature information operations. Additionally, well-executed information operations consume a large amount of resources. Actors like Russia and the IS decide to invest heavily in those capabilities, while many actors with similar capacity do not invest in technologies like media production and social media. While relative capacity may partially explain whether an actor uses an information-centric strategy, this alone does not appear to be a sufficient explanation.

A second potential counterargument to explain why we do not use information-centric strategies in asymmetric conflict is that the United States is simply bad at conducting information operations. There is some evidence to support the notion that U.S. military information operations have been ineffective.5 However, the evidence pointing to not prioritizing military information operations is insufficient for two reasons. First, even though the results of military information operations have been mixed, it has produced major successes along with its failures.6 In recent asymmetric conflicts, the results of more kinetic approaches have resulted in failure rather than success. It is difficult to argue that the United States should maintain its unsuccessful strategy. Second, military capabilities reflect the prioritization and resources invested in those capabilities. When the budget for military information operations was near its peak in fiscal year 2011, the total budget for strategic communications, information operations, and psychological operations was roughly $525 million.7 This amounted to only 0.07 percent of the total Defense Department budget of $708.2 billion that year.8 If success of information operations were a priority, this budget would be much larger. Furthermore, previous studies on asymmetric conflict suggests that stronger actors should match weaker actors’ strategies to prevail.9 American professional military educators regularly warn against ceding battleground to the enemy. In asymmetric conflicts, the decisive battleground is often not geographic space but the information environment and public perception. From a strategic perspective, it therefore is not logical for a stronger actor to cede the information domain to a weaker one.

A final potential counterargument is normative, positing that the U.S. military already is too involved in information operations and should not be conducting such activities to begin with. This argument is consistent with the issue public coalition’s criticism of military information operations. As previously noted by budgetary figures, the U.S. military is not too involved in information operations already. The argument that the military should not conduct information operations usually takes two forms: first, this activity should belong to other departments like the State Department or Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and second, it is against democratic principles for the executive branch (and especially the military) to conduct information operations. In response to the first point, DOD is explicitly charged with conducting these operations in support of military objectives worldwide.10 Properly conducted, information operations require close coordination between several agencies, but especially DOD, State, and the CIA. Each of these agencies should have a distinct role in information operations (or “public diplomacy” or “strategic communications” depending on the agency, target, and methods involved), but they should all mutually support one another. Second, the United States has a long history of the executive branch and the military conducting information operations, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The notion that this method of targeting foreign audiences is contrary to democratic principles or freedom of speech is mainly the result of framing from the issue public coalition.

The remainder of this article uses qualitative evidence since World War II to demonstrate how this framing progressed and became a regular fixture in foreign policy discourse.

Post–World War II and the Cold War

World War II and the early years of the Cold War reinforced the belief in information operations and the power of propaganda. To combat Soviet propaganda abroad, the United States created several agencies, institutions, and organizations in the early Cold War years. The United States Information Agency (USIA), the U.S. Agency for International Development, the political action component of the CIA, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the Peace Corps, and the National Endowment for Democracy were all established during this period. Psychological warfare units, which are still employed today, were originally established during World War II. President Harry S. Truman officially founded the Army Special Forces (an outgrowth of the Army’s psychological warfare branch) in 1952.

Because of concerns over the use of information operations domestically, Congress passed the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, also known as the Smith-Mundt Act. This act specifically charges the Department of State (executed through USIA) with the conduct of information operations abroad and strictly prohibits targeting domestic audiences with public diplomacy/information operations. 11 Even though Smith-Mundt placed public diplomacy within the purview of State, Presidents Truman through Ronald Reagan knew the importance of developing the capability for information operations within the CIA and DOD. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned the Committee on International Information Activities (also known as the Jackson Committee) stating, “It has long been my conviction that a unified and dynamic effort in this field [information operations] is essential to the security of the United States and of the peoples in the community of free nations.”12 The committee concluded that psychological warfare was inseparable from other aspects of foreign policy and that such activities needed to be better coordinated and centralized. The military would continue developing these functions, but the committee recommended they privatize most their operations.

From the beginning of the Cold War until the early 1960s, the conduct of information operations and public diplomacy abroad was a major priority of the U.S. Government. The proliferation of agencies and organizations to conduct such activities, including growth of these organizations within the military, was understood and authorized by Congress to combat the Soviet threat.

Elite views and public discourse concerning information operations and the organizations that conducted these activities began to shift in the early 1960s. Many people in Congress and the media started to publicly object to military information programs around this time, but the formation of the issue public coalition can largely be attributed to Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR). From 1960 through the end of his term as a Senator, Fulbright was the most vocal critic of Pentagon efforts to shape public opinion. He “investigated, exposed, and denounced as undemocratic many of the tactics and techniques that the Pentagon still uses today.”13 Fulbright believed that any attempt by the executive branch to “manufacture opinion” domestically or to foreign audiences was undemocratic, akin to “brainwashing.”14 Fulbright’s personal feud with the military can be traced to 1959, his first year as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He believed that the military interfered with Senate investigations into U.S. military participation in the black market in Turkey and that they subsequently censored news about the scandal in Stars and Stripes.15 Fulbright made it his personal mission to investigate and expose DOD information operations, which he increasingly thought were “trampling on democratic traditions and practices” by using “deceptive and coercive propaganda.”16 This battle culminated in his 1970 book The Pentagon Propaganda Machine.17 Fulbright’s immediate efforts to end all military information operations were unsuccessful, but his efforts spurred the rise in scholarly and media criticism of the government’s participation in the marketplace of ideas.18

Toward the end of the Cold War, President Reagan reemphasized the use of information as a tool of foreign policy to defeat Soviet propaganda and ideology across the globe. Largely due to his background in film and radio, Reagan knew the important and unique influence of information activities. He passed three separate National Security Decision Directives (NSDD)—in 1982, 1983, and 1984—to reorganize elements of the executive branch responsible for information operations, including the National Security Council, USIA, and the Department of State’s Office of Public Diplomacy.19 By giving these agencies additional authorities and resources, as well as increasing funding for the military’s psychological operations branch, Reagan placed public diplomacy and information operations at the center of his foreign policy agenda. Even though most scholars acknowledge the direct contribution of these efforts in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union, criticism from academics and the media over the actual or perceived covert nature of some informational programs (especially focused on Latin America) forced President Reagan to dismantle the NSDD-77 structure in 1987.20 Throughout the end of the Cold War, the influence of the issue public coalition opposing executive use of information operations continued to grow. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the issue public coalition worked with conservative lawmakers seeking to save money and limit the size of the Federal Government to dismantle the USIA. As Gil Merom and Elizabeth Kier argue, a small sector of civil society influenced government structure and policy by closing down an agency that they believed no longer had a foreign policy purpose.

Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress
Pilots with 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron fly B-52 Stratofortress to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13, 2017 (U.S. Air Force/Jordan Castelan)

The Saga of the Office of Strategic Influence

The growing influence of the issue public coalition over foreign policy became evident only a few short months after the 9/11 attacks. Quick to recognize that the coming conflict with global Islamic terrorism would largely be ideological in nature, President George W. Bush’s administration created the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) within DOD in October 2001. The official charter and responsibilities for OSI had not been fully developed when the office was created, but it would primarily be responsible for coordinating and executing military information operations.21 Indications from the head of OSI, Douglas Feith; general officers; and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were that OSI would mainly be used to plan and coordinate information operations by drawing on existing units and capabilities, like psychological operations and information operations units. Nonetheless, the New York Times published a story on February 19, 2002, indicating that OSI planned to conduct “black” (that is, covert) programs that would intentionally release disinformation to foreign media outlets.22 A media firestorm ensued with daily stories about OSI’s apparent intent to disinform foreign media appearing in all the major American media outlets such as the Washington Post, Fox News, and National Public Radio. After a week of sustained media coverage, Secretary Rumsfeld announced the decision to close OSI on February 26, 2002.

The case of OSI provides a clear example of how the issue public coalition engaged in what Gil Merom calls a “process of societal ‘coercion.’”23 As it turned out, the leak to the New York Times about potential black programs came from DOD’s own Bureau of Public Affairs. Such a leak is consistent with the characterization of leaks in bureaucratic politics being used to undermine a rival group. Despite repeated assurances from Feith, military commanders, and Secretary Rumsfeld that OSI would not conduct any disinformation campaigns and would never disinform any audience, foreign or domestic, media coverage continued to allege that OSI would intentionally submit false information to foreign and domestic audiences.24 Even after OSI was shut down, academic articles, media reports, and even congressional testimony continued to charge that OSI was an “attack on truth”25 and a “profoundly undemocratic program devoted to spreading disinformation.”26

The irony is that the original leak from DOD Public Affairs began a process of misinformation itself, as there was no substantiating evidence that OSI planned on conducting disinformation. Public statements from the highest levels of leadership as well as the training and approval process (which strictly forbid using false information) within military information operations suggest that the military would not be conducting disinformation operations. The issue public coalition of public affairs professionals, the press, scholars, and certain policymakers capitalized on a single report (later shown to be false) to force a policy change. There is no indication that the broader, mass public took issue with OSI; the only criticism on record came from members of the issue public coalition. Put another way, the case of OSI showed how “societal preferences undercut and defeat state preferences, not ameliorate them” . . . and that “a minority among the public can defeat state policy.”27

The Situation Today

Since the end of the Cold War, high-ranking officials in successive administrations have lamented American inability to compete in the international market of ideas. In 2006, Secretary Rumsfeld stated, “If I were grading, I would say we probably deserve a D or D plus as a country as to how well we’re doing in the battle of ideas . . . we have not found the formula as a country.”28 His successor, Robert Gates, admitted that it was a mistake to close USIA at the end of the Cold War. Gates stated, “We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals.”29 Without the proper tools and resources, the U.S. Government will not be able to improve this deficiency. Remarkably, scrutiny from the issue public coalition has prevented the military from developing or employing these capabilities. Such a pattern is unique to military information operations and does not work in the same way for other military capabilities. For example, when the United States began to diminish its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, it gave or sold several mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to police forces in the United States, contributing to what has been called the “militarization” of the police. Many interest groups (including not only issue publics but also much of the mass public as well) began protesting this practice, asking that police forces no longer be equipped with these military vehicles. In this case, the public drew the line at the domestic use of a military capability; they did not protest the development of MRAPs and their use in other countries. When it comes to military information operations, however, the issue public coalition resists the existence or development of this very capability, even if it will exclusively be used on foreign audiences. The cost for military commanders, who already prefer kinetic operations, is too high to change this situation, resulting in kinetic strategies in asymmetric conflict.

In a December 2016 DOD report to Congress on the progress of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, there is no mention of “information operations” or “psychological operations” in any of the 138 pages.30 The report acknowledges the “psychological effects of ISIL’s propaganda on Iraqi and Syrian populations,” but proposes no American efforts to counter these or conduct our own information operations. Instead, the report examines the coalition’s air campaign against the so-called Islamic State; humanitarian assistance; governance; and coalition efforts to train, advise, assist, and equip partners in Iraq and Syria. There is little indication that the United States will change its strategy in Iraq and Syria or prepare for future asymmetric conflicts by featuring information operations more prominently.

Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize
Soldiers with 399th Tactical Psychological Operations Company ask permission of local school headmaster to post information outside school in Cristo Rey, Belize, April 24, 2017 (U.S. Army/Joshua E. Powell)

Policy Recommendations

There are tangible steps the U.S. Government and DOD can take to use information operations more effectively without eroding credibility or threatening American democratic values. The government needs to establish an independent organization to coordinate, monitor, and improve information operations across the government. The organization does not need to be an independent department or agency, but it would need some autonomy and authority to coordinate information operations among DOD, State, and the CIA and oversee their execution. Personnel working in information operations in all three agencies should have cross-training with the other agencies to maintain awareness of their procedures and practices. These suggestions would require an increase in budget and resources dedicated to information operations (to include public diplomacy) at the national level. Finally, Congress needs to continue its 2013 reforms to the Smith-Mundt Act to allow greater latitude for agencies (especially the military) to conduct information operations online.

Separate from an interagency organization to coordinate information operations across the government, DOD should enact an Information Operations Task Force to focus strictly on information operations and counterpropaganda rather than the advise and assist or man, train, and equip missions that information operations and psychological operations units are often tasked with. Such a task force would be one of the most direct ways to get more trained personnel working on information operations even when they are not deployed, thereby operationalizing a greater number of qualified Servicemembers. Forward deployed teams would continue their current inform and influence missions, but they would have more support and resources for the operational portion of the mission from this task force.

If the military wishes to be more successful in asymmetric wars, which the United States will likely remain involved in for the foreseeable future, it needs to begin a dedicated effort to shift organizational culture to more fully embrace the role of information. One of the most direct ways to make commanders at all levels appreciate the importance of information operations is to push approval authorities for such programs below their current (general officer) levels, as was done during the surge in Iraq. Only by giving company and battalion commanders the authority to conduct information operations will they begin to understand their impact and seek to utilize them more often. Commanders of all combat units should be required to receive training in the process and purposes of information operations to move away from the mentality of treating messages like munitions.

The military should also increase funding for information operations, especially focusing on training. More civilian experts need to be incorporated into psychological operations and information operations courses with an emphasis on operational design and measures of effectiveness; there is simply not enough technical knowledge within the military to teach these topics successfully. Military information operations experts should be given greater latitude to conduct their operations, lowering approval authority at or below those required for kinetic operations. The increase in latitude to conduct information operations should be accompanied by an increase in accountability, especially for demonstrating program effectiveness. All military information operations programs must be able to demonstrate that they are based on truth (not disinformation) and never intentionally target American citizens as the primary audience. Only through greater program and message accountability can the military demonstrate to the issue public coalition that its programs both serve American interests and are in accordance with American values. JFQ

Notes

1 Thomas Risse-Kappen, “Public Opinion, Domestic Structure, and Foreign Policy in Liberal Democracies,” World Politics 43, no. 4 (July 1991), 479–512.

2 Ibid.

3 Elizabeth Kier, “Culture and Military Doctrine: France Between the Wars,” International Security 19, no. 4 (1995), 65.

4 Michael Mullen, “Strategic Communication: Getting Back to Basics,” Joint Force Quarterly 55 (4th Quarter 2009), 2–4.

5 Peter Cary, The Pentagon, Information Operations, and International Media Development (Washington, DC: Center for International Media Assistance, 2010).

6 Arturo Munoz, U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan: Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001–2010 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2012).

7 Cary.

8 Ibid. Despite the small portion of the budget, military information operations received disproportionately high levels of scrutiny from the media and think tanks when compared to other types of military activities.

9 Ivan Arreguin-Toft, “How the Weak Win Wars,” International Security 26, no. 1 (2001), 93–128.

10 Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, November 20, 2014).

11 United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, U.S. Code 22, Chap. 18, Pub. L. No. 80-402, § 6, available at <www.state.gov/documents/organization/177574.pdf>.

12 Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Statement by the President on Establishing the President’s Committee on International Information Activities,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, January 26, 1953, available at <https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/ppotpus/4728380.1953.001/56?rgn=full+text;view=image;q1=dynamic+effort>.

13 Stacey Cone, “The Pentagon’s Propaganda Windmills: How ‘Arkansas’ Quijote’ Tilted Against Militarism and Challenged the Marketplace of Ideas in America,” Journalism History 33, no. 1 (Spring 2007), 24–41.

14 Ibid., 24.

15 Ibid., 28.

16 Ibid., 25.

17 J. William Fulbright, The Pentagon Propaganda Machine (New York: Liveright, 1970).

18 Cone, 24.

19 National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 45, United States International Broadcasting, July 15, 1982, available at <https://fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsdd/nsdd-45.pdf>; NSDD-77, Management of Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security, January 14, 1983, available at <https://fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsdd/nsdd-077.htm>; and NSDD-130, U.S. International Information Policy, March 6, 1984, available at <https://fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsdd/nsdd-130.htm>.

20 Ibid., NSDD-77.

21 Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, Breakfast with Defense Writers Group, transcript, Federation of American Scientists, February 20, 2002, available at <https://fas.org/sgp/news/2002/02/dod022002c.html>.

22 James Dao and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon Readies Efforts to Sway Sentiment Abroad,” New York Times, February 19, 2002, available at <www.nytimes.com/2002/02/19/world/nation-challenged-hearts-minds-pentagon-readies-efforts-sway-sentiment-abroad.html>.

23 Gil Merom, How Democracies Lose Small Wars: State, Society, and the Failures of France in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the United States in Vietnam (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 16.

24 Department of Defense (DOD) News Briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, February 21, 2002, available at <https://fas.org/sgp/news/2002/02/dod022102.html>; DOD News Briefing, Donald H. Rumsfeld, February 26, 2002, available at <https://fas.org/sgp/news/2002/02/dod022602.html>; see also Feith.

25 U.S. House, Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), “The Twilight Zone, Otherwise Known as George Bush’s America,” 107th Cong., 2nd sess., March 5, 2002, H676.

26 Cone, 24.

27 Merom, 16–18. Emphasis in original.

28 Quoted in Kathy Fitzpatrick, The Future of U.S. Public Diplomacy an Uncertain Fate (Boston: Brill, 2010).

29 Thom Shanker, “Defense Secretary Urges More Spending for U.S. Diplomacy,” New York Times, November 27, 2007, available at <www.nytimes.com/2007/11/27/washington/27gates.html>.

30 Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations, “Operation Inherent Resolve: Report to the United States Congress,” July 1, 2016–September 30, 2016, available at <https://oig.state.gov/system/files/oir4_sept2016_gold2_-_a.pdf>.