Saturday, March 9, 2013

Light Footprints: The Future of American Military Intervention

Following is an EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of a longer think-piece outlining a new Pentagon policy for the future. It is worth studying by the peace and justice movement, so we know what’s on the rise. The full 44-page document can be downloaded HERE.

By Major Fernando M. Luján, USA

Center for a New American Security

Looming budget cuts, ground forces worn down by years of repeated deployments, and a range of ever evolving security challenges from Mali to Libya and Yemen are quickly making “light footprint” military interventions a central part of American strategy.

Instead of “nation building” with large, traditional military formations, civilian policy- makers are increasingly opting for a combination of air power, special operators, intelligence agents, indigenous armed groups and contractors, often leveraging relationships with allies and enabling partner militaries to take more active roles. Despite the relative appeal of these less costly forms of military intervention, the light footprint is no panacea. Like any policy option, the strategy has risks, costs and benefits that make it ideally suited for certain security challenges and disastrous for others. Moreover, recent media coverage of drone strikes and SEAL raids may also distort public perceptions, creating a “bin Laden effect” – the notion of military action as sterile, instantaneous and pinprick accurate. Yet for these smaller-scale interventions to be an effective instrument of national policy, civilian and military leaders at all levels should make a concerted effort to understand not only their strategic uses and limitations, but also the ways the current defense bureaucracy can undermine their success.

Drones and commando raids are the 'tip of the iceberg.'

Surgical strikes are only the most visible (and extreme) part of a deeper, longer- term strategy that takes many years to develop, cannot be grown after a crisis and relies heavily on human intelligence networks, the training of indigenous forces and close collaboration with civilian diplomats and development workers. While direct, unilateral action can be very effective in the short term, it is best when undertaken sparingly and judiciously, balanced with civilian- led initiatives such as political reconciliation, reintegration or influence campaigns, and phased out over time by efforts undertaken by local police or military units. These indigenous partners are the strategic lynchpin and the only means of producing lasting security outcomes.

Prevention is the new 'victory.'

Instead of attempting to “surge” overwhelming resources for an elusive victory, light-footprint missions aim to keep costs low, relying on a small number of civilian and military professionals to work patiently over many years to prevent and contain security challenges. These interventions are best suited for messy, irregular conflicts against terrorist groups, insurgencies, criminal networks and other non-state actors that operate across boundaries, resist quick solutions and confound traditional military capabilities. Strategically, they also require a new way of thinking about success: a new set of “Powell-Weinberger”-type principles based on prevention, forward engagement and a deeper understanding of the interests of potential security partners.

The wrong man can do more harm than the right man can do good.

Because these interventions are so small with so little room for error, the most critical resource is human capital – talented, adaptable professionals who are not only fluent in language, culture, politics and interpersonal relationships but also willing to wade into uncertain environments and influence outcomes with minimal resources. Yet the demands of rotating large units and random staff officers into Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade have only made ground forces more modular and personnel systems more blind to talent. Rather than large “plug and play” units that can go anywhere in the world, policymakers may also need a continuum of smaller-scale, regionally aligned, tiered capabilities – a range of specialized tools instead of dozens of gigantic “Swiss Army knives.”

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