16 January 2017

WW II On Speed: Joint Staff Fears Long War


ARLINGTON: Military officers and analysts are increasingly worried that if a war breaks out with a major power — meaning China, Russia or both — the conflict would escalate faster, spread more broadly, and drag on longer than anything in recent history. Think World War II on speed, with no front lines or clear demarcations between the European and Pacific theaters.

“The history of short-war predictions is one of repeated disappointment, and it would be profoundly unwise to risk our security by preparing only for wars of limited duration,” warned Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, assistant to Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Pandolfe represents the chairman on interagency bodies and particularly to the State Department). Dunford has pushed for a new trans-regional planning staff that transcends the current geographic combatant commands, arguing that new threats — like the Islamic State — sprawl too broadly in space for the current structure. Pandolfe is arguing threats may extend too long in time as well.

Since 9/11, policymakers and the American people have learned to endure a long war against global terrorism, Pandolfe said, but a long war against well-armed great powers would be very different. Sophisticated cyber and electronic warfare attacks would precede large salvos of smart weapons, “an unprecedented blending of mass and precision,” he said. Instead of the steady movement of front lines that gave America time to mobilize in World War II, fighting would leap like a wildfire over a firebreak, from one theater into another. Instead of World War II-era censorship or even Vietnam-era nightly newscasts, he said, leaks, propaganda, and fake news would pour over the Internet, “a torrent of real and false information transmitted in near real-time,” to attack the American people’s will to fight.

A great-power war would be so fast-paced, so intense, so destructive that some analysts assume it would burn out in weeks or months. Pandolfe disagrees — which implies Dunford does. “It is possible that shared concerns between states over the great damage that’s been inflicted on people, infrastructure, and trade will act to limit the time and space allowed for conflict,” Pandolfe said, “(but) this thinking is founded on presumptions that rational actors will prevail and that, upon the rupture of the international fabric, immediate and intense diplomatic efforts will be brought to bear.”

“However comforting such thoughts might be, military planners cannot assume such will be the case,” Pandolfe warned.

Could the United States endure such a conflict? I asked the admiral. In particular, could we mobilize our industrial base — as we did in World War II — to replace the sunken ships, the downed aircraft, the burnt-out tanks, the expended munitions? The first resort is to engage and deter, Pandolfe replied, “so we don’t ever get into that position again.” But if we fail to prefer a war, “I am very confident that America’s technological and industrial might would rise to the occasion.”

Hopefully so. But the Pentagon will need to do a very different kind of war planning to make sure we can.

No comments: