Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Fan of WSJ's Mackubin Thomas Owens

The Wall Street Journal's Mackubin Thomas Owens has been inpressing me for quite some time now.  He is  a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and author of "US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain" (Continuum, 2011).

He writes quite fluently with his military topics and is "top on" with his audience.  Here is a copy of what he worte on May 2, 2011:

Why We Still Need the Marines

Their unique combination of sea, land and air capabilities makes them an indispensable rapid response force.


In Washington these days, the Defense Department is looking to cut its budget and the Marine Corps especially is reviewing its future role. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has spoken of "anxiety" that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned the Corps into a "second land army," and he has cancelled major Marine weapons systems, such as the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. No institution is sacrosanct, so it's worth asking: Why should we maintain the Marine Corps in the future?

The utility of any institution must be balanced against the opportunity cost of maintaining it. In arguing against maintaining a Marine Corps in the future, one must prove either that what the Marines do isn't necessary, or that it is necessary but that another organization can do it more efficiently and effectively.

In 1954, the political scientist Samuel Huntington argued that each service was built around a "strategic concept"-"the fundamental element of [a] service . . . its role or purpose in implementing national policy." A service's strategic concept answers the "ultimate question: What function do you perform which obligates society to assume responsibility for your maintenance?"

The current Marine Corps strategic concept envisions an expeditionary force in readiness capable of responding rapidly to the full range of crises and contingencies, primarily but not exclusively from the sea, with integrated and balanced air, ground and logistics teams. To this end, the Marines provide a responsive and scalable "middleweight" force that is light enough to get to where it is needed quickly but heavy enough-and with sufficient logistics support-to prevail against an adversary upon arrival.

Due to the proliferation of high-tech defensive weapons, the most controversial element of the Marines' strategic concept are amphibious assaults against defended littorals. What most people envision when they think of an amphibious assault is a World War II scenario with landing craft churning toward a defended beach. But today's amphibious assaults seek to avoid the strength of the enemy's defenses, exploiting seams and gaps in those defenses in order to achieve surprise.

For example, in October 2001, Naval Task Force 58-commanded by then-Brig. Gen. James Mattis, who is now commander of U.S. Central Command-conducted an amphibious assault to seize the airfield at Kandahar, Afghanistan. Gen. Mattis's force of two infantry battalions, along with fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and logistics support, thrust 450 nautical miles from ships off the coast of Pakistan to Kandahar in only 48 hours.

In addition to conducting amphibious operations and providing forces for two wars, over the past decade the Marines have also been engaged in the Caucasus, Africa, the Pacific and Latin America. They have provided training and support for friends and allies and have responded to numerous crises: noncombatant evacuation operations in Liberia (2005) and Lebanon (2006), as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in Indonesia, the U.S. Gulf region (2005), Haiti (2008 and 2009), Pakistan (2010) and Japan (2011).

Marines routinely split amphibious ready groups into smaller packages to provide a variety of capabilities over a wider geographic area, reassembling to conduct larger operations. Marine assets are currently involved in aircraft-recovery operations in support of NATO forces in Libya.

So it would seem that what the Marines do is of value to the United States. But could another service do what the Marines do? The answer, of course, is yes. But the opportunity cost would be very high.

All of the U.S. military services are carrying out missions in support of their own strategic concepts. Asking another service to do what the Marines do risks crowding out what they already do. Each of the other services operates primarily in one "domain": the Army on land, the Navy on water, and the Air Force in air and space. The Marines operate in a "lane" that intersects all three domains. In that lane, the Marines possess what economists would call comparative advantage.

What about the charge that the Marines have become a second land army in Iraq and Afghanistan? As the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Joseph Dunford, recently remarked, the Marines have no reason to apologize for sustained operations ashore.

Such operations, he observed, are part of the basic "sticker price" of the Marines: the requirement to carry out missions as directed by the president, an obligation Marines have met in Korea and Vietnam as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, an important part of Marine Corps tradition has been to prepare to fight the kind of small-unit wars we have confronted over the past decade.

The Marines are an expeditionary force with a maritime soul. Of course, the current security environment requires all services to become more expeditionary than was the case during the Cold War. But as former Marine Commandant Gen. Carl Mundy was fond of saying, "'Expeditionary' is not a mission. It's a mindset." The Marines have developed this expeditionary mindset over decades, and it is something that will serve the nation well in the future.

 

1 comment:

Wyldth1ng said...

I'm impressed.