| Principles of War for the Battlefield of the Future: Part II
by Barry R Schneider
Wars, like chess matches, are generally characterized by opening moves, both offensive and defensive, by a middle game exchange, and by a decisive endgame.24 Central and theater commanders should begin each phase of the conflict with the desired end in mind, with each phase designed to move the situation forward toward the goal. The United States Army Field Manual FM 100-5 states that commanders ought to "direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective."
In the Persian Gulf, President Bush defined the US and allied objective simply as the freeing of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation and the establishment of agreed borders between Iraq and Kuwait. Once beaten in the field of battle, the regime of Saddam Hussein was allowed to remain in power, although restrictions were placed upon Iraqi military units, UN inspectors were sent into Iraq to locate its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons as well as its ballistic missiles for the purpose of destroying them. Iraq was prohibited from most international trade or exports, and was especially limited from profiting from oil exports until it was deemed to be in full com- pliance with peace terms negotiated at the end of the Gulf War.
President Bush's decision to stop the fighting when he did was controversial. Many thought he should have directed US and allied forces to proceed on to Baghdad when he had the Iraqi military on the run and in chaos, continuing the conflict so long as Saddam Hussein and his cabinet controlled the Iraqi government and military forces.
It has been argued that President Bush's decision was made in line with the principle of war that says to direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective. First, the decision to end the conflict once Iraqi troops were expelled from Kuwait was a clearly defined objective. The war aim, as agreed at the United Nations when the allied coalition was formed, was not to occupy Iraq, replace the present Iraqi government, or govern Iraq during a transition period to another regime.
President Bush complied with the United Nations resolutions authorizing the collective security action and the limited goals embraced by the whole US-led coalition. To go further might have led to a split in the coalition and would have been on uncertain legal grounds.
Second, despite the US decision to halt Desert Storm operations short of a ground occupation of Iraq, the campaign was, nevertheless, decisive in securing the liberation of Kuwait and in inflicting a decisive defeat and surrender of all Iraqi forces stationed outside of Iraq's borders.
Third, President Bush's objective in the Gulf conflict was quite attainable. Not only was Kuwait liberated, but, after three years, the Iraqi parliament has finally agreed to drop claims to Kuwaiti territory and recognize the borders of Kuwait as legitimate.
President Bush's decision to keep to such clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objectives was determined by the calculation that to go further and invade Iraq would have gone beyond the UN resolutions authorizing the collective action. Such action, it was thought, would endanger the support of coalition partners needed to legitimize the subsequent peace arrangements and whose support the United States would need to guard its interests in future dealings in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Further, President Bush and his advisers understood the difficulties of conquering Iraq, locating and capturing Saddam Hussein and his subordinate leaders, subduing the remnants of the Iraqi military throughout a country larger than Germany, and governing a hostile population of almost 20 million while seeking to set up a friendly regime.
The Bush administration was also eager to avoid further bloodshed, having just won the victory in Kuwait at a human cost well below what had been predicted for the ground campaign (150 US dead as opposed to predictions that ranged up to 15,000). President Bush and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney saw entry into Iraq as a quagmire to be avoided and ended the fighting while the allies were well ahead and had attained their immediate stated goals.
Realpolitik may also have been a factor in the United States's decision to stop when it did. Prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the United States had been more concerned with containing Iranian power rather than Iraqi power in the region. After all, it was Iran under the ayatollahs who seized American hostages at the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, and who was seen as the chief exporter of anti-American sentiments, and who was seen as the chief exporters of terror worldwide. The fact that Iraq, if totally disarmed by the allied coalition, could not offset the expansionist ambitions of Iran was still another argument for not entering Iraq and totally dismantling its military power in 1991.
Finally, it is likely that President Bush and his political advisors also wished to reap the political fruits of an almost total victory in Kuwait as opposed to entering the political minefield of an invasion, extended military campaign, and occupation of Iraq. By stopping when he did, President Bush received an unprecedented 93 percent approval rating in polls of the American public in the aftermath of the war.
The decisive victory, stopped at its apex, also sent an unchallenged message around the world about US military prowess and American willingness to act decisively against aggression when it felt its vital interests were at stake. This enhanced US reputation in the world could be used to deter other would-be aggressors in places like North Korea, the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere. US credibility had never been higher since the end of World War II, a recovery from the years following the Vietnam War.
Given these arguments in support of President Bush's decision to follow limited war aims in 1991, there is still controversy over whether stopping short of Baghdad was an act of wisdom or short-sightedness. Some believe that the allies should have finished the regime of Saddam Hussein when they had the opportunity to act decisively against him. Time has shown that he has a remarkable ability to survive politically in Iraq, and Iraq has been able to reconstitute much of its conventional military capability even under the terms of the truce. Moreover, Iraq retains the scientific base, foreign supplier contacts, potential wealth from its oil reserves, and ambitions for future great-power status.
Once UN sanctions are lifted on Iraq, many believe that country will be back in the WMD business full-scale. Indeed, resurrection of its biological weapons stockpile should be simple since the allies never found it and therefore did not destroy it. Iraq is given two years of full scale effort before it could be at 1991 levels again in its nuclear weapons research, and less than a decade after that before it could join the nuclear weapons club.
Indeed, not to have deposed Saddam Hussein, when the chance presented itself, may be to have defined the US and UN objective too narrowly at the onset of the Gulf conflict since it is arguable whether the US and allied limited actions achieved a lasting end to the Iraqi threat or merely postponed the confrontation with an Iraq armed with NBC weapons and the missiles to deliver them on target.
The symptoms were treated and their effects mitigated, but the disease persists that could be lethal next time to US interests and allies in the Gulf region. One evidence of Saddam's persistent malevolence was the Iraqi-sponsored attempt to kill former President Bush on his visit to Kuwait in 1993. Leaving such an opponent alive and in power is like allowing a rattlesnake to continue to live in your house after it has attempted to kill you once, because you have temporarily milked it of its venom, even though you know it will inevitably produce more in time.
Permitting Saddam Hussein to remain in power to continue to threaten his neighbors and US interests in the region, by stopping at the Iraq-Kuwait border, is analogous to having allowed Adolph Hitler to remain in control of Germany in 1945 because the Allies decided to stop at Germany's borders once German armies had been expelled from the lands that they occupied from 1939-1945.
Given the track record of Iraq, a state that has been at war with its neighbors since its inception, and of Saddam Hussein, whose regime has constantly used murderous violence against its opponents inside Iraq and aggressive war against its neighbors since he took power, there is a high likelihood that the Gulf War will have to be repeated in the future, perhaps against an even more dangerous enemy.
To conclude, as former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger once advised, "if we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas, we should have clearly defined political and military objectives. And we should know precisely how our forces can accomplish those clearly defined objectives."25 This is a useful guideline, even if it does not precisely tell you what to do and where to draw the line on your prewar and postwar aspirations.
Good security means the enemy cannot achieve strategic surprise. Such good security increasingly depends on accurate and timely intelligence information to assess the threat and give timely warning of it in an era when hostile and radical opponents are about to acquire the most destructive of weapons.
It has become increasingly difficult to predict the progress of nonnuclear states as they approach obtaining an operational WMD capability. Most of these regimes find it neither in their political, economic, nor military interests to advertise their progress or capabilities.
The international legal norm established by the NPT carries pledges by the nuclear weapon states that they will not attack nonnuclear signatories of the pact and that they will be subject to sanctions if they violate that pledge. Aspiring proliferators might hide behind their signatures on the NPT to gain legal protection against intervention, particularly if the evidence of their developing WMD is ambiguous.
Declared proliferators may also suffer unilateral cutoffs and sanctions by triggering national legislation on the books in the United States and among other states. These laws enforcing international norms prohibiting proliferation also prescribe various penalties for states that break from the ranks. Witness the Pressler Amendment and the trade penalties inflicted on Pakistan as a result of its nuclear weapons program.
Moreover, as Saddam Hussein learned in June 1981 when his Osirak reactor was destroyed by Israeli warplanes, it does not pay to develop WMD in high-profile, easily targeted facilities. Instead, armed with great wealth from his oil revenues, Saddam from 1981-1991 was able to move very close to a nuclear weapons capability following a clandestine approach. This model is the more likely one for aspirant states to follow, namely:
Like the proverbial iceberg, just the tips of the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs are visible, and they probably indicate a much larger clandestine program operating out of sight.
The rate of progress may be accelerated by the possibility of transfers of scientific knowledge, highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium (PL), weapons designs, missiles, and nuclear technology from the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, which have a surplus of underpaid nuclear scientists and technicians, hundreds of tons of HEU and PL, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, a need for hard currency, and an expanding criminal element with some access to the widespread nuclear facilities of the former superpower.
According to US military doctrine, the United States should:
never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage. Security enhances freedom of action by reducing friendly vulnerability to hostile acts, influence or surprise . . . . Thorough knowledge and understanding of enemy strategy, tactics, and doctrine and detailed staff planning can improve security and reduce vulnerability to surprise.26
Vulnerability to surprise and attack can be reduced by a combination of offensive and defensive measures. Security can be maintained by a mix that includes:
No single approach may neutralize the WMD threat, but taken in combination, these measures may greatly reduce the vulnerability of friendly forces to NASTI surprises.
Improved allied capabilities to remotely detect adversary nuclear, biological, chemical and missile assets on the ground or en route to target, would also enhance security and help avoid rude and devastating surprises by the enemy.
Another principle of war set out in US military doctrine is to "allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts."27 In other words, it is recommended that the US commander should concentrate the majority of his military power toward a clearly defined primary threat rather than compromise the effort against secondary priorities. This principle of war is based on the premise that the CINC will not have unlimited resources and must accept some calculated risks in secondary areas of importance in order to achieve superiority in the priority area where the battle or conflict may be decided.
On the grand strategic level, the United States has adopted a strategy of preparing to fight two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts at the same time. Clearly, utilizing the prin- ciple of economy of force, the United States would need to hold in reserve enough force for a second MRC once the first one begins.
The principle of "economy of force" also would serve as a guide to cutting back on secondary US military participation such as in on-going UN peace operations in other regions--so long as US forces are engaged in one or more major regional conflicts, or lack the military power to predominate in both.
The principle of economy of force must be applied with a caveat when an enemy is equipped with WMD. The allied commander must avoid having his main thrust trumped by the employment of enemy mass destruction weapons. Therefore, while resources must be focused on the decisive weak points in adversary forces and plans, they must simultaneously be adequately protected by maintaining intrawar escalation dominance, and their employment prefaced by an air campaign designed to substantially eliminate an enemy WDM capability.
The main ground thrust against enemy forces must be adequately protected by concentrating active and passive defense assets on behalf of the main effort. Dispersion and continued mobility of key force elements, combined with rapid supply and reinforcements from diverse logistics pathways, all done with dispatch, air cover, and secure and clandestine movements of troops, equipment, and supplies, will help preserve the element of tactical surprise and disguise where the main effort will be made.
As US Army and Air Force doctrine states, "economy of force missions may require the forces employed to attack, to defend, to delay, or to conduct deception operations."28
Go to Part III
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Last Updated March 25th, 1998