The U.S. military is still trying to recover from the Cold War. During
that four decade conflict, Russia and the United States concentrated on a
potential World War III, that would largely be fought in Central Europe. This
would involve a larger clash of armor than any in World War II, and the use of
chemical and nuclear weapons. The battle never came to pass, as the Soviet
Union faded away with a whimper, rather than a bang. But the potential for such
a horrific clash focused the attention of military commanders that, even after
the mighty Soviet armed forces melted away (from five million troops to about a
million) in the 1990s, American military leaders, and their suppliers (the
military-industrial complex) were not able to adjust. The "last battle of
the Cold War" was fought in Kuwait
in 1991, when an American led force quickly crushed a Soviet equipped and
striking victory in Kuwait, American military leaders continued to maintain a
force prepared to fight Cold War era battles. Along comes September 11, 2001,
Afghanistan, Iraq and the international war on Islamic terrorists. Now U.S.
troops are forced to fight a war very different from anything the Cold War
promised. As American military planners looked to the future, some saw more
irregular warfare, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, while other called for remaining
ready for conventional (Cold War era) combat.
other factors at play. First and foremost is inertia. Military establishments
always lean towards preparing for a large, conventional type war. Even though
most of American military history consists of irregular warfare. Conventional
wars were few, and brief. During the 18th and 19th centuries, most American military
activity, at least in terms of years, was all about irregular warfare. Fighting
Indians and frontier disorder defined the careers of generations of American
troops. Even the American Revolution was largely irregular warfare, and often decisive
irregular operations at that.
four decades of the 20th century was largely irregular warfare and peacekeeping
for U.S. forces. After World War II, there was more still, including the decade
long war in Vietnam. But through all this, the military leadership focused on
conventional warfare, and deliberately ignored the valuable lessons learned in
generations of irregular warfare. It was as if irregular warfare was considered
an exception, and conventional warfare the only thing that mattered.
problem with irregular warfare is that, when these conflicts come along, the
military establishment, and their political counterparts, proceed as if it's
still peacetime. The military, especially those closest to the fighting, adopt
a wartime mentality of urgency and immediacy. This causes friction with the
military bureaucracy, who don't like to be hustled unless there is a national
emergency they can identify with.
In a break
with the past, the current senior leadership is at least contemplating adopting
a different attitude towards irregular warfare. The military, especially the
U.S. Army, has created a "lessons learned" organization that is
capturing and preserving much of the experience gained in recent fighting.
Thus, unlike the past, the battlefield knowledge will not be quickly lost, or
at least buried. But the procurement and weapons development establishment is
still willing to ditch this diversion into irregular warfare, and get back to
preparing for the Big One.