Wednesday, July 06, 2005

War as information labor

A story in the UK Guardian today mentions a potential shift in the way the Pentagon assesses military readiness, away from the current "two major wars" criteria:

The Iraq counter-insurgency is forcing the Pentagon to question its military doctrine that requires forces to be able to fight two major wars at the same time, it was claimed yesterday. A four-yearly review of US military power is not due until early next year, but it is already clear that the strategy is under great strain from the Iraq war. The length and ferocity of the insurgency has surprised the Pentagon. Two years after 'major combat operations' were declared over by George Bush, there are still 138,000 US troops in Iraq, costing $5bn a month. Yet under US military doctrine it is not even defined as a war. In theory, US forces should be able to fight two major wars and contain the insurgents, but the credibility of that claim is being stretched thin.

The current criteria for military levels is actually more complicated than simply "two wars," and apparently goes by the shorthand "1-4-2-1":

The September 11 attacks showed the US was facing an entirely new foe, so the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, adapted the goals. From then on, the military would have to defend the homeland from terrorism, keep a presence capable of deterring conflict in four critical regions, fight and quickly win two major wars and win so decisively in one of them as to remove the enemy regime. The formula was called 1-4-2-1. But with so many troops pinned down in Iraq, the conflict is draining US forces of the capacity to fight elsewhere.

The new approach being discussed might be called "1-1-1-1" by contrast, since the goal would be "to fight four entirely different kinds of war at the same time: traditional large-scale combat; counter-insurgency; defending the US against attack (involving weapons of mass destruction); and 'disruptive' warfare" such as information-infrastructure attacks. Interestingly, this new definition of readiness privileges information labor in warfare like never before, according to Loren Thompson, "a strategic analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Washington thinktank":

'The debate is moving away from hi-tech weapons and futuristic technology and in the direction of counter-insurgency and country expertise,' Mr Thompson said. The change would raise the importance of special forces, but would transform training for infantrymen, to emphasise language skills, military intelligence and familiarity with foreign cultures.'One of reason we rely so much on reserves now is because those kind of skills had been relegated to the reserves in the cold war,' he said.

If our armed forces indeed need to be trained more as information workers, with emphasis on language, problem-solving, and cultural skills, I wonder what this means for all-volunteer recruiting efforts which are not only currently under stress (with enlistments down and recruiting quotas going unfilled) but have historically targeted precisely those areas of the nation which have lacked investment in basic education, information technology infrastructure, and vibrant knowledge economies?

No comments: