Between Threats and War
U.S. DISCRETE MILITARY OPERATIONS IN THE POST-COLD WAR WORLD
By Micah Zenko
Stanford University Press
Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.
Chapter One INTRODUCTION
"The thesis, then, must be repeated: war is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force." Major General Carl von Clausewitz, Prussian Army "[The use of force] doesn't have to be all or nothing. We should be able to use limited force in limited areas." Madeline Albright, U.S. Secretary of State "As soon as they tell me it is limited, it means they do not care whether you achieve a result or not. As soon as they me tell me 'surgical,' I head for the bunker." General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
WHEN CONFRONTED with a persistent foreign policy problem that threatens U.S. interests, one that cannot be adequately addressed through economic or political pressure, American policymakers routinely resort to using limited military force. Current and former government officials, foreign policy analysts, and citizens call for the limited use of force with the belief that it potentially can resolve the problem expediently and without resulting in unwanted U.S. military or local civilian casualties. Proponents of such operations are found across the entire political spectrum, and their proposals range from the practical to the satirical: from centrist former senior Pentagon and State Department officials proposing to bomb North Korean ballistic missiles poised to launch; to a liberal Washington Post columnist calling for a Predator missile strike to kill Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe-a scheme that was one-upped by a former diplomat and human rights advocate who suggested a "messy in the short run" invasion to oust Mugabe; to a White House spokesperson advocating the assassination of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein because "the cost of one bullet ... is substantially less" than the cost of war-a scheme echoed by a conservative pastor who himself encouraged the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez because "it's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war." Out of anger, empathy, or impatience with an ongoing foreign policy dilemma, advocates in and out of the U.S. government continually propose the subject of this book-Discrete Military Operations (DMOs).
America's use of limited military force and DMOs since the end of the Cold War is important because the United States continues to be the dominant international actor and because U.S. decisionmakers have increasingly turned to the use of limited force against other states or non-state actors to achieve their policy goals. In addition, rapid technological advances in the U.S. military's capacity to conduct precise strikes from a safe distance, and an international setting in which the United States faces a potentially open-ended threat from non-state terrorist networks, make it likely that the reliance on limited force will remain a persistent feature of U.S. foreign policy. Despite the rising significance of DMOs, however, it is unclear and understudied whether limited uses of force have succeeded at achieving their intended military and political objectives.
To clarify and illuminate recent U.S. limited uses of force, this book presents a new concept: "Discrete Military Operations." Here, DMOs are defined as a single or serial physical use of kinetic military force to achieve a defined military and political goal by inflicting casualties or causing destruction, without seeking to conquer an opposing army or to capture or control territory. DMOs usually consist of a single attack or series of sortie strikes, lasting just minutes, hours, or a few days. DMOs usually involve only one combat arm and one mode of attack directed against an adversary's military capabilities or infrastructure, regime or organizational assets, or key leadership. DMOs are also proscribed by strict rules of engagement to ensure that the intensity and scope of the strike does not exceed levels necessary to attempt to achieve the political objectives.
In investigating U.S. DMOs from 1991 through June 1, 2009, thirty-six in all, this book answers three basic questions: "Why were they used?" "Did they achieve their intended military and political objectives?" and "What variables determined their success or failure?" By broadly addressing these questions, the book evaluates the policy choices of U.S. officials over the past two decades and offers recommendations for how limited military force can be better used in the future. In addition, because U.S. uses of DMOs have now been a reality for four successive administrations, the insights and recommendations from this book are increasingly relevant to making predictions about the development of American grand strategy and military policy.
The available evidence demonstrates that U.S. DMOs achieved all of their military objectives just over half of the time, and all political objectives less than 6 percent of the time. However, this large gap between political goals and military outcomes is predictable: identifying and destroying a target is a far easier task than affecting the behavior of an adversary, or potential future adversaries, through the use of force. The primary political objectives can be summarized as any one, or a combination, of the following goals: punishment, or revenge, for an adversary's past behavior with no intention of altering future behavior; deterrence, to attempt to maintain the status quo by discouraging an adversary from initiating a specific action; and coercion, to attempt to compel a change in an adversary's future behavior. For punishment to succeed, the military objective of a DMO must be met: if you miss the target, your adversary experiences little or no cost and may even be emboldened. For deterrence or coercion to succeed, the adversary must either maintain the status quo or change its own desired course of action because it was targeted by a limited strike. Determining whether political objectives have been met as a consequence of a DMO is a difficult analytical undertaking, but possible after careful reconstruction of the intended and actual outcomes of each case.
If DMOs have been so unsuccessful at achieving their political objectives, why do they continue to be so enthusiastically proposed and utilized by U.S. decisionmakers? The key explanation lies in divergent opinions between senior civilian and military officials over the utility of limited force. In the United States, the military is responsible for planning and executing DMOs, but only at the explicit authorization of the president of the United States and the secretary of defense (collectively, formally known as the National Command Authority). As a general proposition-supported by recent history and interviews with dozens of national security officials-senior civilian officials support the use of DMOs, while senior military officials do not. An explanation for this split, detailed in Chapter 2, is that those authorizing the use of DMOs believe that they will achieve some set of primary political objectives. In practice, however, they overwhelmingly do not.
In addition, policymakers and the general public, conditioned by round-the-clock television news coverage repeatedly showing video clips of America's armed forces surgically destroying cross-haired targets from afar, would be surprised to discover that only five in ten DMOs achieve all of their military objectives. Despite military and intelligence budgets of over $700 billion and unparalleled air, sea, and space capabilities, human error, weapon malfunctions, and poor intelligence hamper DMOs just like they do many other U.S. military operations. Even DMOs that attempt to destroy an easily observable, fixed target can encounter a range of problems: planes carrying out the operation can be damaged or shot down before they release their ordnance; guidance data can be incorrectly programmed; unsuitable weapons systems can be selected; precision-guided munitions can veer off course, or be pushed by high winds; and cloud cover, smog, or dust storms can obscure targets that require visual acquisition at the last minute. Attempting to successfully destroy a mobile target-especially an individual-is even more difficult. The primary reason is that despite all of the intelligence collection assets utilized by the United States and its allies, human beings who believe they are targeted are adaptive, resilient, and hard to kill from a distance. Throughout the years, efforts to eliminate from afar such adversaries of the United States as Muammar Qadhafi, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden have generally failed. For these reasons, as well as countless other problems that arise in the fog of limited operations, U.S. DMOs fail to achieve their military objective as often as they succeed.
UNDERSTANDING DISCRETE MILITARY OPERATIONS
The ultimate tool of diplomacy, force is utilized with varying degrees of destructiveness, duration, and effectiveness according to the objective and military capabilities available.
The U.S. military conceives of conflict occurring along a spectrum of five general operational themes, of which the middle three could include DMOs: peacetime military engagement, limited intervention, peace operations, irregular warfare, and major combat operations. Another way to consider DMOs is along a use-of-force continuum as described by the following list-with peace at one end and total war at the other. DMOs exist in an as yet poorly defined zone between threat of force and limited war.
Discrete Military Operations Typology of Force: Peace with potential adversaries Show of force to influence an adversary with no certain intent of war Threat of force to achieve a change in an adversary's behavior Demonstrative force to achieve a change in an adversary's behavior
Limited force to punish an adversary or achieve a change in behavior
Limited war with no certain intent of escalation
Total war of unrestrained use of capabilities to eliminate an adversary
As an illustrative metaphor for understanding international uses of force, consider an assailant pointing a gun at a person's head. If the aggressor pulls the trigger and kills the target without making a political demand, this action would be an act of punishment, or brute force. If the aggressor threatens to pull the trigger but does not, and affects some change of behavior in the target as a result of the threat, it is a threat of force. If the aggressor makes a specific demand of a change in behavior, seeks to maintain the status quo, or simply seeks to punish the target, and puts a bullet into the target's foot, those are all the equivalents of a discrete military operation. The foot-shot type of DMO may be undertaken for one or several primary or secondary reasons: to achieve a tactical military objective, to punish, to deter, to coerce, or to demonstrate resolve to a domestic or international audience.
From a strategic perspective, what ultimately distinguishes a DMO from more ambitious and destructive uses of force is that it is usually undertaken without a theory of victory-a hypothetical narrative detailing how the ensuing conflict could be permanently resolved on favorable terms. Although DMOs rarely have a theory of victory, they can be evaluated as being successful on the basis of the intended political and military objectives. DMOs can also be the iterative application of limited force against an adversary during an ongoing hostile relationship. After the DMO is completed, there is no clear military or political resolution between the two adversaries. For example, President George H.W. Bush in 1989 declared his "war" on drugs, which he claimed that "together we will win." In 1993, U.S. Special Forces either assisted in, or were directly responsible for, the death of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. While Escobar's death might have momentarily slowed the supply of cocaine from Columbia, and even deterred other drug lords, it hardly resulted in a U.S. victory in the war on drugs. Similarly, while three presidents used DMOs between 1993 and 2003 against Iraq, none were "fight and win" operations undertaken with the clear intent of resolving the state of hostilities with Saddam Hussein's regime. By contrast, the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq-Operation Iraqi Freedom-intended to depose the ruling regime and install a new political authority into power, thereby resolving America's long-standing contentious relationship with Hussein.
There are two terms used by political scientists and military historians that should not be confused with DMOs. The first is the historical limited war concept ascribed to North Atlantic Treaty Organization powers during the Cold War, which attempted to find a use for conventional tank-based armies without risking the escalation of a strategic nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. As defined by Robert Osgood, "limited war is one in which the belligerents restrict the purposes for which they fight to concrete, well-defined objectives that do not demand the utmost military effort of which the belligerents are capable.... It demands of the belligerents only a fractional commitment of their human and physical resources." Second, DMOs should not be considered alongside the small wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conducted by imperial powers to politically and militarily control overseas territories, extract natural resources, or brutally eliminate colonial resistance movements. These wars were rarely small in their intensity or intent, but are defined as such by the size of the adversarial target-that is, any state that is not also a great or middle power.
DMOs also do not include humanitarian or refugee relief operations, in which the military essentially provides protection or basic provisions for displaced persons; peacekeeping, counterinsurgency, or stability operations, in which the military attempts to shape or control the operational environment of a defined territory through shows of force, direct actions, or policing; or noncombatant evacuation operations in non-hostile environments, such as those the U.S. Marines have undertaken in Liberia (October 1992 and April 1996), Yemen (May 1994), and the Central African Republic (May 1996). Although force may have been used to protect U.S. troops or citizens during these operations, none of them were undertaken with the intent to create casualties or damage.
There are yet two more types of military operations that are not counted as DMOs. First, DMOs in support of civilian authorities that occurred within the United States are not assessed, such as the April 19, 1993, armored invasion of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, which resulted in seventy-five deaths. This omission is because the scope of this book only considers limited military force as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. Second, DMOs that received covert or overt intelligence or logistical support from U.S. military or intelligence agencies, but that are conducted by other countries, are also excluded. Recent examples include Turkey's 2007 and 2008 limited air and ground campaign against suspected members of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Northern Iraq, which received real-time intelligence and overhead imagery from U.S. aircraft and unmanned drones; the intelligence and logistics assistance given by the George W. Bush administration to the Ugandan government in its efforts to kill Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army; and the Obama administration's provision of planning support, firepower, and intelligence for more than two dozen ground raids and airstrikes in Yemen in late 2009 and early 2010. While such operations benefited from direct U.S. assistance, they ultimately were both authorized and conducted by foreign military or intelligence agencies.
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