Revisted: A 2011 SWJ Discussion with Dr. Nadia Schadlow, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Strategy
Dr. Nadia Schadlow has been named Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Strategy. She was a senior program officer in the International Security and Foreign Policy of the Smith Richardson Foundation. Her book War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory has just been published by Georgetown University Press.
Below is the transcript of a short discussion with Nadia Schadlow hosted by SWJ in May 2011.
Why should the local providing of governance be a concern for the U.S. military? Why should the U.S. military be in the business of providing local governance? An iconic image of the latest book by Bing West (The Wrong War, Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan) is that of Lt Colonel McCollough who had to assume and perform the role of the governor, police chief, school principal, and banker, in Nawa.
The United States military does not have a choice when it comes to establishing a baseline of governance and stability in wartime. It never has and it never will. If the United States wants its military to avoid having to "concern" itself with governance, then it needs to get out of the business of fighting wars. Wars fought by democratic and decent countries have, and will continue to involve, efforts to achieve a baseline of stability and order, setting the stage for a desired departure. While there are certainly many legitimate political reasons why the United States might not want to intervene in a particular country or region, to dismiss history -- virtually every war in which the United States has fought has involved the military's conduct of governance -- is to continue to keep the policy community ill-informed about the nature of war, adding to the likelihood of poor decisions by civilian leaders in the future. Libya is but the latest, starkest example of the viewpoint that somehow we can deploy military force absent an operational political strategy on the ground.
The debates that have unfolded over the past decade about the appropriate missions of the American military have not focused on the character of war. Rather, they have conflated various arguments, producing a picture of what we hope for, rather than helping us prepare for what the United States is actually getting into when it commits its military to fight. One way to reduce the chances of messy, protracted interventions is to, from the outset, acknowledge that war will virtually always involve the need to stabilize territory. If we have no will, no means, no plan, or no money to finish up that key challenge in war, then we should not commit troops in the first place. Why should our soldiers bear the brunt of this ignorance?
Another frequently heard argument against the "military being in the business of governance" is that we don't know what the future holds, thus, we shouldn't invest much in preparing to do governance better. This view essentially maintains that since we can't predict the future, why worry too much about absorbing the lessons of the past? This is shortsighted. Such a view ignores that responsible planners are in fact, trying to assess the current and future environment and make tough decisions about what to plan for, and how. They are examining key empirical trends: the unfolding of powerful political movements; the emergence of new technologies; demographic shifts; the development of new forms of war; and the volatility of strategically important states. It is hard to imagine how any situation of future danger either within America's borders or outside of them, will NOT involve a potent mix of violence and politics. In a disordered, violent world the ability to restore order will remain a critical requirement.
The United States military is the only operational actor in war that can broker between a basic political settlement, the drawdown of forces, and the transition to local governance. And while bullets are flying, it is still war. Why would we rely, predominantly, on civilians -- who are not trained to operate under fire -- in a warzone?
The debates today would be more productive if we focused on developing the right operational approaches to establishing baseline governance and security; the best way to organize a transition, the correct mix of military and civilian actors to set the stage for local rule. This would lead to victory, and peace, sooner.
Beginning in 2007, ―You can‘t kill your way out to victory― became the hallmark of a military organization that until then was perceived as being too conventionally minded, too kinetic and enemy-centric focused. Has the U.S. Military succeeded in overcoming its Jominian culture of being too enemy-centric and becoming more comfortable with the drinking-tea and doing windows side of the spectrum? Able to successfully manage both the governance building and war-fighting skills? Or is it in the danger of going too much to the other side of the spectrum, of becoming too focused on drinking-tea and doing windows (projects, shuras, economic development), and so neglecting its war fighting core duties? Is this after all an impossible balancing act? And too confusing for a soldier trained as warrior?
The U.S. military remains enemy centric: in the past it has fought enemies that employed capable conventional forces such as tanks and infantry divisions on the fields of Europe or in the deserts of North Africa and Iraq. Today, it is fighting insurgent organizations that are hiding amongst the people, operating in the mountainous terrain, and maintaining headquarters in and initiating operations from dense urban areas.
The strength of the American military has been and will continue to be its operational flexibility and the adaptability of its leaders. Obviously the battles to defeat defending insurgent organizations in Fallujah, Tall Afar, or Ramadi didn‘t involve much tea drinking or ―window washing.‖ Nor did the initial battles for Musa Qala, Afghanistan or the recently concluded Operation Strong Eagle along the Pakistan border in Kunar, Afghanistan. In these intense heated battles U.S. soldiers conducted combined arms, joint operations, and they employed firepower with discipline and discrimination. The same units that fought in these battles shifted to population centric area security operations and build relationships that permitted them to consolidate gains as they defeated the enemy. It is not an impossible balancing act: the U.S. military has been ―balancing‖ for close to a decade now, oftentimes forced improvise to make up for the lack of strategic, operational and tactical preparation for this type of war.
COIN, and its attention to the details of politics and reconstruction, is a corrective to the overwhelming focus on so-called conventional war — which, in the past, tended to ignore the political dimensions of war and define war as we might like it to be. The Army‘s overall approach over the past several years has been to build and train a force capable of fighting across the full spectrum of operations.
The Army has not made COIN ascendant: rather, it has adopted two important operational concepts that give meaning to the concept of full-spectrum operations and of the need to be flexible — that is, to be both soldiers and diplomats as circumstances require. Wide-area security involves both fighting and stabilizing — a consistent feature of the operational level of war. It is about consolidating tactical and operational successes so that they can be built upon and translated into strategic successes. Successful wide-area security makes it harder for insurgents to emerge and to operate. Combined-arms maneuver establishes the conditions necessary for attack and defense over extended distances. Both of these concepts involve skills necessary to fight and to stabilize. They provide the kind of flexibility, at the operational level, that will allow forces to gain and maintain contact with the enemy and overwhelm the enemy in tactical engagements. Moreover, the Army‘s long standing concept of mission command recognizes that it is small unit leaders on the ground who will have to make the judgments about use of force based on the need to destroy the enemy while also protecting innocents. The Army is not shifting too much in one direction for another, but is acknowledging that there are political and military skills required along the entire spectrum of war, and it is preparing for them.
The ability to fight will always require the integration of fire and maneuver and appropriate combinations of infantry, mobile protected firepower, offensive and defensive fires. In close combat, Army units are still expected to throw enemy forces off balance, follow up rapidly to prevent recovery, and continue operations that destroy the enemy‘s will to fight.
Overall, the question of whether or not the U.S. military - mainly the Army‘s ―conventional‖ combat skills have atrophied is one that has gained considerable attention over the past few years and it is one that can probably be answered with much more empirical precision than it has been. Resources should be put toward empirically based studies that examine how and what specific skills are being lost.