The Adventures of Chester: Tsunami Aftermath and Geopolitical Strategy
Ralph Peters argues in today's New York Post that "The Indian Ocean and its adjoining seas and gulfs form one crucial, integrated strategic theater. The region has been critical to Western dominance for five centuries. Yet, when our intelligence services or military planners consider this vast, densely populated region at all, they poke at the different parts and miss the whole."
We disagree with the majority of his other assertions, but the idea that the Indian Ocean should be seen as one unified theater raises many questions. Currently, military operations in the littorals around the ocean are handled by three separate US combatant commands, European Command (most of Africa) Pacific Command, and Central Command. Mr. Peters does not go so far as to say that there should be an independent Indian Ocean command, but that is perhaps the most intriguing corollary to his thoughts.
We've thought for a while that Indonesia and its environs, with its disparate island-based Muslim population and rebellion, mght be a good candidate for a SE Asian version of something like the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa that was created after September 11th in order to:
disrupt and defeat international Terrorist groups posing an imminent threat to the U.S., its allies, or their interests. CJTF-HOA will focus on denying safe havens, external support and material assistance for terrorist activity within The Horn of Africa region. Additionally, CJTF-HOA will be prepared to counter the re-emergence of transnational terrorism in the region by providing security assistance in support of civil-military operations (CMO) and support of international organizations working to enhance long-term stability of the region.CJTF-HOA has one of the more interesting missions in the War on Terrorism thus far, but receives very little press coverage.
After the tsunami, an ad hoc task force for operations in SE Asia is in the news. Could the Combined Support Force morph into something else – a fully staffed and semi-permanent US presence in one small part of the overall Pacific Theater? Surely the task force itself will be there for a long time . . . and working with the Indonesian and other local governments could provide in-roads for US influence . . .
As Central Command now has three principal subordinate commands with differing, but complimentary missions (Iraq, Afghanistan, Horn of Africa), the Pacific Command now has at least two (US Forces Korea, Combined Support Force in SE Asia). Moreover, other US agencies account for other similar enterprises. The Pan Sahel Initiative
is a State-led effort to assist Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation. Its goals support two U.S. national security interests in Africa: waging the war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security.
As Robert Kaplan has argued in Opinionjournal, developments like these seem to point to the shepherd-like role of the US military in providing the collective good of international security in the coming years:
The American military now has the most thankless task of any military in the history of warfare: to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization that, the more it matures--with its own mass media and governing structures--the less credit and sympathy it will grant to the very troops who have risked and, indeed, given their lives for it. And as the thunderous roar of a global cosmopolitan press corps gets louder--demanding the application of abstract principles of universal justice that, sadly, are often neither practical nor necessarily synonymous with American national interest--the smaller and more low-key our deployments will become. In the future, military glory will come down to shadowy, page-three skirmishes around the globe, which the armed services will quietly celebrate among their own subculture.Kaplan also argues that US deployments will get smaller and smaller:
n months of travels with the American military, I have learned that the smaller the American footprint and the less notice it draws from the international media, the more effective is the operation. One good soldier-diplomat in a place like Mongolia can accomplish miracles. A few hundred Green Berets in Colombia and the Philippines can be adequate force multipliers. Ten thousand troops, as in Afghanistan, can tread water. And 130,000, as in Iraq, constitutes a mess that nobody wants to repeat--regardless of one's position on the war.
In Indian Country, the smaller the tactical unit, the more forward deployed it is, and the more autonomy it enjoys from the chain of command, the more that can be accomplished. It simply isn't enough for units to be out all day in Iraqi towns and villages engaged in presence patrols and civil-affairs projects: A successful forward operating base is a nearly empty one, in which most units are living beyond the base perimeters among the indigenous population for days or weeks at a time.
Will the Combined Support Force become a permanent organization with different missions? We don't know but would be surprised if it lasted less than 6 months, judging from the extent of the damage and the statements of our leadership . . .
Posted by Chester on January 6, 2005 7:12 AM to The Adventures of Chester