04:01 PDA Bulletin -- A New Occupation -- Preventive War's High Cost
- 04:01 PDA Bulletin -- A New Occupation -- Preventive War's High Cost
The following op-ed by Charles Knight of the Project on Defense
Alternatives and Marcus Corbin of the Center for Defense Information
was published early in January. It appeared in the Albany (NY) Times
Union, the Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, the Watertown (NY) Daily Times,
the Ft. Worth (TX) Star Telegram, and the Commondreams Website --
A New Occupation: Consequences of Preventive War and Regime Change
Cambridge, MA: Soon after the first anniversary of the September 11
terrorist attacks the Bush Administration published a new National
Security Strategy that gave prominent place to unilateral, preventive
wars to be followed by the dismantling of the leadership and
governing structures of the targeted nation (aka "regime change").
Remarkably, the Strategy did not acknowledge, describe, or discuss
planning for the consequences of this radical new doctrine. What was
left unsaid is that the United States would now bear a great new
burden, that of protracted occupation and large-scale state building
in the aftermath of preventive war. Indeed, the Strategy reads more
like a vision statement than a strategic plan, failing to address how
its stated objectives will be achieved within the real world
constraints of acceptable costs and consequences.
A year later the United States military is on long-term occupation
duty in not one, but two, countries. In Afghanistan 8,500 U.S.
troops serve to guarantee the survival of a new government, to train
the new Afghan army, and to undertake raids against remnants of the
Taliban who are attempting, with some apparent success, to regroup
after military defeat in the 2001 war. Iraq is occupied by over
150,000 coalition soldiers (87% American.) This works out to be six
soldiers for every thousand Iraqis -- a very low density by historic
standards. Military occupations that face concerted resistance often
require upwards of twenty troops per thousand. If the insurgency in
Iraq continues to intensify, suppressing it might end up requiring
300,000 troops or more.
Not only did the Bush administration not plan for such a large-scale
long-serving occupation force, it did not instruct the military to
train the troops for occupation duty, a task very different from
destroying an enemy army on the battlefield. Maintaining public
order, guarding civilian reconstruction activities, and routing out
insurgents, all the while respecting the rights of non-combatant
civilians to go about their daily business, requires a specific set
of skills in which only a small portion of American troops have
training. In the eyes of this administration the skills required
are uncomfortably close to those used in peacekeeping, a role they
disdain. They have shown little interest in promoting such skills in
the U.S. military.
The deployable portion of America's active component ground forces
(including the Army and the Marines) totals about 400,000 men and
women. The comparable number for the reserve component is about
500,000. Together these numbers are more than enough to fight
America's wars when they are of short duration such as the 1991 war
with Iraq. However, when policy choices result in long occupations
these numbers quickly become insufficient -- a result of the dismal
math of force rotations. It takes four units of active troops to
sustain a deployment of one active unit in the field for multiple
years, and it takes nine reserve units to sustain deployment of one
A four or five year occupation of Iraq by 65,000 active and 35,000
reserve troops -- a realistic possibility -- will require a rotation
base of 260,000 active troops (65% of the deployable active ground
forces) and 315,000 reserve troops (63% of the deployable reserve
ground forces.) This illustration doesn't fully capture the effect
of the broader "war on terror" on the reserves. Currently there are
more than 130,000 reserve ground troops serving in homeland security
roles, "back filling" for active-duty soldiers abroad, and deployed
to the Afghanistan and Iraq operations . For the reserves this level
of mobilization is more than twice the long term sustainable rate.
If another war begins the United States will still have plenty of
military power which the President can mobilize. It is occupations
that are the problem. If, the occupation of Iraq stretches into years
and the "war on terrorism" widens even further, Army Reserve and
National Guard units will be called to active service again and
again -- an activation rate far higher than the norm expected by our
citizen soldiers, their families, and their communities. Soon there
will be significant problems with recruitment, morale, and
retention. As a possible indicator of things to come, the U.S. Army
Reserve missed this fiscal year's overall retention rate goal by 6.7%
and by 9.3% among career soldiers.
The Bush administration plans to start drawing down U.S. troops in
Iraq next spring, but history suggests a different course is as
likely. After WWII U.S. forces occupied Germany for ten years and
Japan for seven. As yet the Congress of the United States and the
American people are only dimly aware of the approaching point of
decision emerging from the new Iraq War: either invest in larger
armies trained and ready for long occupation duty, or jettison the
Bush administration's radical doctrine of preventive wars and regime
# # #
Charles Knight is Co-Director of the Project on Defense Alternatives
(PDA) Cambridge, MA. Marcus Corbin is Director, Military Reform
Project at the Center for Defense Information (CDI), Washington, DC.
Both CDI and PDA are members of the Security Policy Working Group, a
collaborative policy research consortium seeking to reform U.S.
security policy -- http://www.proteusfund.org/spwg/ .
PDA also calls your attention to two important reports available at
the War Report Website - http://www.comw.org/warreport/
"Bounding the Global War on Terrorism" by Jeffrey Record, Army War
College, December 2003.
"WMD in Iraq: evidence and implications" by Joseph Cirincione,
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2004.
An important excerpt from Cirincione's report:
"The National Security Strategy issued in September
2002 proffered a new doctrine of preemptive military
action. 'The legitimacy of preemption,' it acknowl-
edged, is traditionally conditioned 'on the existence
of an imminent threat.' But in an age of terrorism,
we can not expect to see the usual measures of immi-
nence, 'a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and
air forces preparing to attack.' That is true. However,
the strategy did not go on to offer an alternative
standard. It argued simply that 'We must adapt the
concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and
objectives of today 's adversaries...We cannot let our
enemies strike first.'
"What this amounts to is not preemption, but a
loose standard for preventive war under the cloak
of legitimate preemption. Hence, we use here the
awkward, but accurately confusing formulation,
'preemptive/preventive war' preemption for what
it has been called, prevention for what it actually is.
"Neither in the strategy itself nor in other settings
does the administration use the term preventive war.
Presumably, this is for two reasons. First, it would un-
dermine the search for international support because
preventive wars have no legitimacy under interna-
tional law as does preemption. Second, as historian
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has recently pointed out, the
concept of preventive war enjoys a poor standing in
American thought and practice."
for more on these issues see:
"Essential Elements Missing in the National Security Strategy of
2002" by Charles Knight, October 2002 --
"First Strike Guidelines: the case of Iraq" by Charles Knight,
September, 2002 -- http://www.comw.org/pda/0209schneider.html