Pentagon Weighs Strategy Change to Deter Terror
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By THOM SHANKER and ERIC SCHMITT
Published: July 5, 2005
WASHINGTON, July 4 - The Pentagon's most senior planners are challenging the
longstanding strategy that requires the armed forces to be prepared to fight
two major wars at a time. Instead, they are weighing whether to shape the
military to mount one conventional campaign while devoting more resources to
defending American territory and antiterrorism efforts.
The consideration of these profound changes are at the center of the current
top-to-bottom review of Pentagon strategy, as ordered by Congress every four
years, and will determine the future size of the military as well as the
fate of hundreds of billions of dollars in new weapons.
The intense debate reflects a growing recognition that the current burden of
maintaining forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the other demands of
the global campaign against terrorism, may force a change in the assumptions
that have been the foundation of all military planning.
The concern that the concentration of troops and weapons in Iraq and
Afghanistan was limiting the Pentagon's ability to deal with other potential
armed conflicts was underscored by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a classified risk assessment to Congress this
spring. But the current review is the first by the Pentagon in decades to
seriously question the wisdom of the two-war strategy.
The two-war model provides enough people and weapons to mount a major
campaign, like the Persian Gulf war of 1991 or the invasion of Iraq in 2003,
while maintaining enough reserves to respond in a similar manner elsewhere.
An official designation of a counterterrorism role and a shift to a strategy
that focuses on domestic defense would have a huge impact on the size and
composition of the military.
In a nutshell, strategies that order the military to be prepared for two
wars would argue for more high-technology weapons, in particular warplanes.
An emphasis on one war and counterterrorism duties would require lighter,
more agile forces - perhaps fewer troops, but more Special Operations units
- and a range of other needs, such as intelligence, language and
Civilian and military officials are trying to decide to what degree to
acknowledge that operations like the continuing presence in Iraq - not a
full-blown conventional war, but a prolonged commitment - may be such a
burden that it would not be possible to also fight two full-scale campaigns
In effect, the unusual mission in Iraq, which could last for years, has not
just taken the slot for one of the two wars; it has upended the central
concept of the two-war model. It is neither a major conventional combat nor
a mere peacekeeping operation. It does not require the full array of forces,
especially from the Navy and the Air Force, of a conventional war, and it
takes far more troops than peacekeeping ordinarily would.
The force of 138,000 troops in Iraq is only 13,000 smaller than it was at
the height of the offensive on Baghdad two years ago, yet the administration
describes the campaign not as a major conventional war, but as the leading
effort in the nation's fight against terrorism.
"The war in Iraq requires a very large ground-force presence," said Loren
Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy research center in
Arlington, Va. "War with China or North Korea or Iran, the other countries
mentioned in the major review scenarios, would require a much more capable
Navy and Air Force."
Mr. Thompson added that "what we need for conventional victory is different
from what we need for fighting insurgents, and fighting insurgents has
relatively little connection to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. We
can't afford it all."
The Pentagon's sweeping study, called the Quadrennial Defense Review, is not
due to be completed until early next year, when it will be submitted to
Congress with the administration's annual budget request. Yet debate over
the review cannot ignore the mounting costs of the war in Iraq,
approximately $5 billion a month.
A description of the major issues discussed in the classified review was
gathered from interviews with more than a half-dozen civilian officials and
military officers from across the armed services who are directly involved
in the process.
The current military strategy is known by a numerical label, 1-4-2-1, with
the first number representing the defense of American territory. That is
followed by numbers representing the ability to deter hostilities in four
critical areas of the world, and to swiftly defeat two adversaries in
near-simultaneous major combat operations The final number stands for a
requirement that the military retain the capability, at the same time, to
decisively defeat one of those two adversaries, which would include
capturing a capital and toppling a government.
"We have 1-4-2-1 now, and we are going to look at that," said Ryan Henry,
who serves as principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy.
Asked where the military's heavy commitment to the fight against terrorism
fits into the current strategy formula, Mr. Henry said, "It wasn't there
when they came up with 1-4-2-1." If a new strategy emerges from the review,
he said, it might be "something that doesn't have any numbers at all."
Several officials involved in the review characterized the debate as "an
effort to create a construct that will bring a better balance" among
domestic defense, the antiterrorism campaign and conventional military
After years of saying American forces were sufficient for a two-war
strategy, "we've come to the realization that we're not," said another
Defense Department official involved in the deliberations, who was granted
anonymity because he could not otherwise discuss the talks, which are
classified. "It's coming to grips with reality."
Senior leaders are trying to develop strategies that will do a better job of
addressing the requirements of antiterrorism and domestic defense, while
acknowledging that future American wars will most likely be irregular -
against urban guerrillas and insurgents - rather than conventional.
Tentative proposals by midlevel staff members on holding a summer summit on
the review have been shelved, and the debate is now driven by weekly
meetings that officials say have brought new discipline to a sprawling
Under Gordon R. England, nominated to succeed Paul D. Wolfowitz as deputy
defense secretary, more than 150 questions that the review should address
have been sorted into 36 major themes. They include such things as balancing
reserve and active-duty forces; the role of other agencies in domestic
security; combat medicine; the ability of foreign coastal powers to keep
American forces at a distance; and the ability to attract people with
important skills, such as a knowledge of the Arabic language.
The review is analyzing in detail what would happen if the United States had
to fight China, North Korea or Iran.
In preparing for the review's presentation to Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld, the highest-level decisions are made at round-table discussions
held about three times a month and managed by Mr. England and Gen. Peter
Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nominee to succeed
General Myers as the chairman. Although no draft of the review has been
presented to Mr. Rumsfeld, he already has, in broad terms, endorsed efforts
that would transform the military into a lighter, more mobile force.
General Pace declined through a spokeswoman on Friday to discuss the review.
"Whether anybody believed we could actually fight two wars at once is open
to debate," one senior military officer said. "But having it in the strategy
raised enough uncertainty in the minds of our opponents that it served as a
deterrent. Do we want to lose that? We don't want to give any adversary the
confidence that they could take advantage of us while we're engaged in one
major combat operation."