US mulls dropping two-war doctrine
US troops on patrol in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Washington, July 6: The Pentagon, stretched by the war in Iraq, is considering dropping a linchpin of American military strategy, the doctrine that requires it to be prepared to fight two major wars at the same time.
Since the end of the Cold War the need to be able to fight two “near-simultaneous” wars in different theatres has dominated military thinking, with Iraq and North Korea seen as the most likely battlefields. Now, with military resources under increasing strain from commitments in Iraq, the Pentagon is considering a new doctrine to take into account the post-September 11 world.
The mission in Iraq has overturned previous military thinking. While it is not officially seen as a “war” it has clearly taken one of the slots from the two-war doctrine, as it continues to absorb the manpower required for a medium-sized war.
Officials said yesterday that among the options for the quadrennial defence review, due early next year, was preparing the military to fight just one major war while setting aside more resources for fighting terrorism and defending the homeland.
Ryan Henry, the principal deputy undersecretary of defence for policy, suggested the “two-war doctrine” may be near the end of its shelf life. The two-war doctrine was born out of the rubble of the Pentagon’s Cold War strategy, which for 40 years had envisaged the Third World War being fought on the plains of Germany.
It was formalised in the wake of the 1991 Gulf war, when the first President George Bush and then his successor, Bill Clinton, were slashing military budgets and the Pentagon saw it as a way of setting a limit to the cuts.
Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, has long promoted an overhaul of military thinking and, when he came to office in 2000, floated the idea that the two-war strategy was on its way out.
But it survived the previous review.
Now, as officials put the finishing touches to the next review, planners appear to concede not just that the strategy may be outdated but also, more controversially, that they may not have enough soldiers to fight two wars.
“We’ve come to the realisation that we’re not [able to fight two wars at the same time]”, one Pentagon official told the New York Times. “It’s coming to grips with reality.”
The current strategy is known in the Pentagon as “one four two one”. The figures refer to: the defence of the homeland; the ability to deter attacks in four separate areas of the world; the ability to defeat two adversaries in wars; and the ability to defeat one of those latter two so comprehensively that its capital is captured and government overthrown.
Officially, “major combat operations” in Iraq ended in May 2003 when officials predicted a reduction in US manpower to 30,000 by the end of the year.
But, more than two years later, there are still 138,000 US troops in Iraq, only 13,000 fewer than at the time of the fall of Baghdad.
Tom Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank and author of The Military We Need, said: “The two-war construct has been disavowed by this Pentagon for quite some time. And you can see from their budgetary behaviour that they are not going to be expanding the size of anything really.”
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH