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21 July 2008


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"We need the bulk of the Army prepared to go toe-to-toe with the heaviest combat formations our adversaries can field," Dunlap said. "For what it is worth, I predict the next big war will be conventional, or I should say symmetrical. In my judgment, we are not going to get into the business of occupying a hostile country of millions of people."
Who would that be? China? Russia? Why? And would that not include fighting in big cities against a resistance with civil support?

Dunlap is a lawyer and Air Force. He seems to be already looking for a nice job in the relevant industry.

That said - the 4GW warfare craze is overdone. Most wars have been across the spectrum and the Roman legions in the Teuteburg forest got slaughtered by my ancestors mainly through 4GW guerrilla tactics. What's new with that?

There needs to be balance in a force and the U.S. is, in my view, too big in air fighting, logistics tail and ego and for its overall size too small in foot on the ground and too risk avers towards casualties.

Gates probably also sees something some the generals do not want to acknowledge.

The next president will spend much less on the military than this one. The budget will simply not be there. I expect it to be cut in half. Many big ticket programs will have to be stopped.

Why build fighters that never will find an enemy. A follow on for the A-10 would be more worthwhile and much cheaper (The JSF is NOT a CAS plane.)

Why build big destroyers when small boats and motherships might to the job much better?

Anyway, the basic question is much bigger. Shall the U.S. military rule the world or defend the U.S.?

If its the first than the soul of the U.S. will die in imperial overstrech. If it is the second it may survive.

William R. Cumming

Okay I will buy the need to prepare for a big war and agree with your logic or whomever supports the notion! Now tell me, who are the "Big war" opponents? Who is stupid enough to fight the US where and when it is strongest? The basic absurdity of other nations doing so (meaning we think they cannot think) is absurd and how we got into the current mess. How about proxy wars? Well if we reduced sales of conventional arms and others did so also would we still have so many sub-state actors threatening nation states? Hope to find the answers soon? The key national security issue is proliferation of WMD not conventional warfare!

Duncan Kinder

According to the New York Times, , the Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac crisis is posing a serious threat to the Federal Government's credit rating.

Now that the two companies are at risk, how their rescue is handled will ultimately test the world's faith in American markets. It could also influence the level of interest rates and weigh on the strength of the dollar for years to come, analysts say.

"No less than the international perception of the credit quality of the U.S. government is at stake," said Richard Hofmann, an analyst with CreditSights, an independent research house with offices in London and New York.

Also at stake is Americans' future ability to gain access to credit. If foreign companies and governments abandon United States investments, home, auto and credit card loans will be much more difficult to come by.

Under these circumstances, it is somewhere between probable and highly certain that the United States' defense expenditures will be constrained to levels far below today's.

Rational defense policy should begin with that constraint.

So let us assume that we may face future conventional threats. How do we respond cheaply?


Its natural human psychology to project the recent past into the future. You see that in financial market forecasting all the time.

I would like to see a more fundamental strategic debate here in the US. What is our national interest? How does our national interest align with/or collide with the national interests of the other major actors? What role should the military and other levers of national power play in exercising our national interest?

In my opinion such a debate should lead to a more balanced policy. I believe we have been on auto-pilot for far too long and over the past 8 years that auto-pilot has been hijacked by the neo-con kleptocrats. In any case we may be forced into a new policy regime due to our updated financial constraints.



There are 179 countries in the world. 2/3 of them hardly have functional airforce or the size simply is too small to have standing army that can project beyond border.

3/4 of the rest are major allies or allies.

I don't know about you. but I really can't see why planning to balance the power of Russia, China, Iran will take gigantic amount of hypothetical situation. The quantities are known. Their capabilities and their national intentions are fairly clear.

So now we have smaller countries. Containing loose guerilla. But those are the domain of light infantry and special operation. We don't need large tank formation, B2, F-22 or ICBM to fight in afghanistan, Lebanon, or Iraq/Iran even.

The Pentagon just want more toys. that's what.

PS. China is winning the war by way of market economy. They simply throw money at Taiwan and rest of Asia. Russia is buying the entire eurasia's gas supply and accept euro transaction.

Basically, we are turning into Soviet. While the rest of the planet simply doing business and bypassing us.

Ralph Hitchens

I agree with the above. It's exceedingly hard to visualize a "big war" situation in today's world, and the cost of preparing for such while simultaneously equipping and training for LIC/4GW (whatever you wish to call it) would be prohibitive.


Reuters today: Making defense cuts seen tough for McCain, Obama

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that the cost of the Pentagon's major acquisition programs doubled to $1.6 trillion in fiscal 2007 from $790 billion in fiscal 2000, and average development costs rose 40 percent over that eight-year period.
I'd recommend shorting defense industries shares. The U.S. is too broke to sustain those prices.

Dave of Maryland

So let us assume that we may face future conventional threats. How do we respond cheaply?

A good place to start. What essential military threats face the US?

Our northern border is relatively secure.

On our southern border we face a traditionally weak "enemy", requiring no great military, only enhanced policing.

Invasion from the sea seems unlikely.

Missile attack, nuclear or conventional, does not, of itself, give the attacker possession of the battlefield. If we have our own missiles, then we have MAD. Which is an end in itself.

Overseas bases to protect "American interests" seems to have blown up in our faces.

With all respect to our host, why, exactly, does the US need a military?

And even if the question is foolish & stupid, should we not, once a generation, restate basic principles?


I think you have a point Col. Lang, but again, I have to draw your attention to that excellent work "The Invention Of Peace" by (now) Sir Michael Howard published in 2000.

In his last prophetic chapter "The Tomahawk versus the Kalashnikov" he forecast the type of war now being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he also raised a much deeper conundrum that has direct bearing on the matter being debated.

That is the decline of the Nation State, in the face of globalisation, to be not much more than a "Brand" - as in "Britain Plc.". I would argue, although Howard didn't at the time, that America has now gone exactly the same way, as exemplified by the inane President Bush and his wish to "Freedomize" the world.

Now the issue for Howard in his book was that in order to make peace it is necessary to have Nation States who are capable of negotiating disputes with other nation states and enforcing the terms of such settlements on their respective populations.

However, given that Nation States are becoming less powerful, in the sense that they cannot command the instant and absolute patriotic obedience of their populations, it makes it more difficult for Nation States to maintain peace.

We have seen this process at work already. The wars over Kosovo, Bosnia and Chechnya. The ongoing problem of the PKK in Turkey, Iraq and Iran are examples of this weakness.

But as Sir Michael Howard argued that Nation States were required to keep the peace, it could also be argued that strong Nation States are required to wage the type of Total War it appears that some in the U.S. Military hanker for.

I don't believe that nation states these days are strong enough to sign up for the type of military economy required for set piece battles like another Kursk or Somme because I don't think populations will support it.

Please note that my reasoning is not that of the Bloomsbury group pre WW1 arguing that man is now too intelligent to allow such conflicts. My argument is that the Nation State is now too weak an institution to command that type of war - and that includes the United States, especially in view of it's current economic circumstances.

What I think it is perhaps relevant to train and equip for is something in between the two extremes, as to me this is more likely. For example, operations during the break up of a failed State. Operations to prevent a state breaking up. Operations to prevent/ neutralise ethnically driven movements, and suchlike. Operations to deal with (perhaps) climate or economically driven mass migrations.

For example, exactly what is going to happen to the Kurds? What should happen to the Kurds? How can military operations contribute to the solution of the Kurdish problem in Iraq, Turkey and Iran?

To me, what is required is battalion sized units that are (1)virtually self contained in terms of organic fire support. (2)Have an infinitely lower logistics requirement than today's units.
(3) Have much better educated and trained soldiers who are all multi skilled, in the sense that they can handle policing/fighting/civil affairs activities without slowing down to change roles.

As for the Airforce, let them sit back as the new "Ultima ratio regis" because they seem to have little else to contribute.


Though the article tries to make it sound like the apologists for next-war-ities are military-wide, this is mostly an Air Force problem. This is shown all the more clearly in the article by the fact that the two clamoring for a focus on the "next war" are Air Force: the increasingly bitter former SECAF Wynne and his cheerleader Dunlap.

The Air Force still hasn't come to terms with the fact that, since the end of SAC, it has returned to being a support branch for the land forces. The AF continues to push for useless F-22s instead of developing and deploying badly needed UAVs because to do so would be to admit the ground-centric nature of war in the foreseeable future which in turn would end the AF's decades-long dominance of the Pentagon's procurement budget. When the mission is Army/Marines centric then the money will flow to the Army/Marines. If the hypothetical "threat" can be argued to require multi-hundred million dollar aircraft, then the money will flow back to its rightful owner, the Air Force.

Angry Aggie

Anthropology is cool and is the flavor of the month, while and political science remains uncool. This state of affairs is unfortunate civilian and military leaders tend to forget war is the continuation of politics and to substitute operational thinking for strategy. Hence, the obsessive belief that anthropology is the answer to all of our troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan. "If we only had more cultural anthropologists in DOD then we could prevent insurgencies." This kind of think is dangerous and utter nonsense. I want my policy-makers to understand the basics of politics, like the power of nationalism!

Balint Somkuti

Dear Sir,

I have been reading your blog more or less regularly since 1,5 yrs and in most cases completly agreed with your conclusions. Yet with the above post of yours I respetfully disagree.

1. Any future adversary who wants to fight against the US armed forces conventionally starts with a huge disadvantage because of the size/technlogical level of the USAF. I dont say it is impossible but highly unlikely. Any conventional conflict is to be won by the US hands down through airpower, unless it is already heavily committed. This aspect renders the relative "weight" of the land forces' units irrelevant since in a classic manuever or attritionist battle all they would have to do will be mopping up.

2. In an asymmetrical conflcit be it LIC or other MOOTW in failing states air and naval power is basically useless, and light land forces are the key (see US artillery men conducting foot patrols).

3. COIN and manuever warfare are not exclusive. Mao demanded from his illiterate soldiers to be able to practice both. I would be REALLY surprised if the average GI could not handle it.

4. The above mentioned (also not generally PhD holding) average roman legionnaires (mostly with rural or urban proletar background) were buidling roads and bridges, conducting road patrols, manning the adminsitration of the provinces etc. while keeping their ablitiy to fight in formation and melee as well.

Patrick Lang


You write from Budapest? A lovely place. It was always my favorite city in central Europe even when the main occupation of Hungarian MI was recruiting American soldiers. Your people were always better at it than the Soviets.

Your objections sound academic. You tend to make statements about American capabilities that sound like manufacturers' PR about their products. The notion that this or that ought to work is unimpressive. The theoretical performance of any system is wildly different from the actual performance in any situation.

American line troops and officers should easily have been able to adapt from a posture of forces on force mechanized war to COIN. In fact they did not adapt and resisted that adaptation. Soldiers like to continue doing that which they are accustomed to. The US Army needed several years to accept the need for the COIN adaptation. When asked about this lengthy and potentially disastrous delay, the leaders look puzzled and respond that they did eventually adapt. They seem hurt that more could be exected of them. Too many SJs. See Myers-Briggs typology. pl

Balint Somkuti

Yes sir I am from Budapest. Wish I could say I took at least some part in forming the view of the city.

As of recruiting we were always sort of halfway between east and west so probably those MI guys had better understanding what to say to westerners, how they think etc.

If I understood you correctly you dont take a victory-through-airpower for granted in a classical military operation. While respecting your immensely bigger expertise in the area I tend to disagree. Even the actual (probably lower than advertised) abilities of the USAF is enough to deter any opponent from a classic military operation.

In my understanding the starting point of any COIN activity is to treat the locals as -at least almost- equal to ourslelves (meaning making efforts to repsect their habits, way of life etc.). Unfortunately EVERY western country (including almost 100% of the EU states) is having problem with it. One can only wonder what will it take to change this hubris which seriously hinders a succesful COIN campaign.

Being a foreigner could you please explain what is an SJ?

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