January 13, 2005
A Colonial Corps?
[This post is in response to Wretchard's latest atBelmont Club.]
A Colonial Corps? Thoughts:
Last fall, an article appeared in the New York Times entitled, "Pentagon Weighs Contentious Peacekeeping Plans," detailing discussions of creating what could be called a "peacekeeping division:" [the article is probably only available for a fee now]
. . . defense officials are quietly examining proposals including a small joint-services unit of a few thousand troops that could be assembled in as little as a year to perform policing, civil affairs, engineering, medical and other duties in hot spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan . . .
Defense experts in Washington say proposals for a standing U.S. stabilization force has gained currency mainly among civilians at the Pentagon.
Already, opposition has surfaced among U.S. military officers, including some army officers with experience in U.S. peacekeeping operations.
The Army has long viewed peacekeeping as a threat to combat readiness and is suspicious of any plan to maintain a standing in-house unit devoted to post-conflict duties. ``No one in the Army is seriously considering establishment of a constabulary unit,'' said one U.S. expert on peacekeeping.
The term "peacekeeping" is incorrect for the type of operations that the above-envisioned force would undertake. "Peacekeeping" implies blue-helmeted conscripts, shackled to the whims of UN committees – troops that arrive late, perform little, and perchance leave things in a worse state than when they started. And it also implies humanitarian missions that have little in the way of national interest to recommend them. "Colonial corps" is much more accurate, though perhaps a tough sell.
Understanding how such a colonial corps could be used is key to dissipating the skepticism with which it would be greeted. The mention that the Army has thought peacekeeping a threat to combat readiness betrays both its prejudices against the term "peacekeeping" itself, and the misunderstanding of how such a force of police, engineers, and medical experts could actually be used. As you quote in your post, "To be fully effective the United States will need to have some of its people continuously abroad for years, so they become familiar with the local scene and the indigenous people come to trust them as individuals -- tours of duty that we imagine to be far longer than traditional assignments today."
In that sense, "colonial operations" would not be a detractor from combat readiness – instead, troops meant to perform colonial operations would have their necessary skills degraded when they are NOT deployed. Hard to practice civil affairs operations in your own country, where you know the customs and language.
Robert Kaplan has written of the operating environment of such a force here, describing it as "Indian country," and taken in the context of a colonial corps concept, these notes from one of his discussions more or less show that a colonial corps already exists in all but name. Rather than being organized as such though, it consists of the outposting of US forces in all corners of the globe, in small pockets, having operational, and sometimes even strategic impact.
That is because the U.S. military as a whole is still organized for fighting an industrial-age war. The deployment constellation of bases around Iraq is better suited for Korea or World War II, while the adversary that we’re fighting has been fighting like the Indians or the Viet Cong. In the future, we’re going to have to operate in the Middle East the way we’ve been operating in the horn of Africa, which is more like Lewis & Clark in the French- Indian Wars than it is like World Wars I and II and Desert Storm combined. You send out small groups of highly trained officers to go into small villages here and there and just explore. Find out what the citizenry wants, needs, and fears, any foreigners who have been taking up residence, you drum up intelligence even as you draw up plans for humanitarian aid projects.
The best, most actionable intelligence is generally obtained when some form of humanitarian assistance is involved, Kaplan remarked. People will tell a lot to someone who is treating their children for malaria, scabies, and other diseases and establishing a positive social relationship with them. The main point is that you use small units, forward deployed, making decisions on their own, finding things out, totally immersed in the local environment, because the enemy is no longer ten thousand troops with tanks.
But what the New York Times article above mentions is much greater in scope than what Kaplan has observed – it would be a standing force, ready to undertake such missions. But again, perhaps this is wrong in conception. A standing force? Ready to undertake these missions? Where is it standing? Such a force would seem to be useless if it is always at home. And if it is supposed to undertake such missions in any given locale, how do you decide what language its troops will learn, and what culture they will study? A better answer would be to embed the headquarters -- or multiple headquarters -- for such forces within each combatant command, and surge troops and capabilities to it as seen fit.
An excellent example of this technique can be seen in the creation of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. "Combined" means it has forces from more than just the US, and "joint" means it employs members of all US forces. This task force has in the past had responsibility for military training and operations, sometimes diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and intelligence collection in the countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, Kenya, and Tanzania, though not all of these are currently listed on its website. Its subordinate units are the 1st Provisional Security Company (composed of parts of a Marine tank battalion), an Expeditionary Medical Unit (for humanitarian medical aid), HMH-461 Det B (REIN), which is part of a medium helicopter squadron, the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron, which is a battalion-sized unit of Air Force civil engineers, and Team Alpha, 1-294th Infantry (Light) – a company-sized infantry unit from the US Army.
It must be noted that these ad hoc colonial operations efforts incorporate the concept of "jointness" in a much greater way than has been the case in the past. Though jointness is only mandated by law amongst the military services, it has now expanded to include the incorporation of subject-matter experts from a variety of government agencies – the State Dept, the Treasury Dept, the FBI, the CIA, etc. – within military units. Jointness concepts continue to expand – the consultation of foreign military advisors by Central Command has recently been in the news. In this sense, jointness means using existing agencies, personnel, and capabilities in cross-functional and interdisciplinary ways to tackle complex problems (like reconstruction, or colonial operations). The Adventures of Chester has discussed jointness before here, as it relates to intelligence reform.
So perhaps the colonial corps conundrum can be solved through some savvy changes to the employment of existing forces – along with some smart changes to their training and incentives and career structures. Take foreign assignments. In the Marine Corps, it is generally viewed favorably for an officer to have a billet in embassy security. But this is a security job and has little to do with interacting with local populations. On the other hand, putting oneself in the running for the Foreign Area Officer program can be the kiss of death to your career as a field-grade officer – and the result of that program is fluency in a strategically significant language, along with a year of travel in one of its native countries – much more useful to future deployments in "Indian country." This must change if the US is to expand its human intelligence and colonial operations capabilities. Also, perhaps billets in other agencies, like the State Department, or the CIA, could be instituted and viewed more favorably in career progression.
Another policy that stands in the way is the current compensation structure. Without going into details, pay schedules currently offer economic incentives for enlisted personnel to get married. Marriage is a significant impediment to encouraging young troops to deploy for extended periods, and compensation should be neutral to its existence.
Part and parcel of a discussion of colonial forces is the question of whether it is possible to expand special forces without diluting their specialness. This is an interesting debate. Can the US increase the number of Green Berets by a factor of two without lowering the standards of entry? Maybe, maybe not. Green Berets bring several things to the table: extreme physical stamina, linguistic skill, expensive and rigorous training, and the wisdom of members who are older than 25 on average and sport IQ's in the 95th percentile. Can the US pick an entire infantry battalion and give it rudimentary classes in Arabic such that the troops aren't fluent, but can be incredibly effective on a deployment? Yes, absolutely. Slight shifts in training and incentives can create immense efficiencies. Doubling the size of the 10th Special Forces Group is only one way to go about things.
On an even bigger scale, (Army folks are going to hate this) consider the Marine Corps as one quasi-special forces unit. Rather than train individuals for multiple and varied colonial operations tasks, the Corps trains entire units – Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable). Over time these skills spread throughout the Corps as troops go on multiple MEUs then go on to other units and practice what they've learned. The "thee-block war" concept, developed by the Marine Corps, is really preparation for the "Indian country" environment a la Kaplan, and the colonial operations missions to be undertaken within it. Could the number of Marines be increased quickly? Yes, absolutely.
Niall Ferguson supposedly argues in his work "Colossus" not only that the US is already a global empire in fact, if not in name, but also an empire with clay feet given Americans' lack of desire for long-term and large troop deployments abroad. An empire without colonists. Perhaps these sentiments are changing.
If so, please, let's not junk our Cold War hardware and technological dominance-seeking completely. . . the Middle Kingdom dragon is waking in Asia . . .
Posted by Chester at January 13, 2005 1:57 AM
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