Despite the Pentagon discarding the two-war construct and the downsizing of the American military, U.S. forces will be able to fight more than one adversary at a time, the Defense Department’s out going policy chief reiterated.
“We are retaining full capability to confront more than one aggressor anywhere in the world even if we are engaged in large scale operations,” said Michèle Flournoy on Jan. 30. “We will be able to quickly deny the objectives of an opportunistic adversary or impose unacceptable costs.”
Flournoy, who will formally step down Feb. 3, was speaking at the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C. She said that the U.S. is not retreating from the world and would still honor its obligations to NATO to defend partner nations under the alliance’s Article 5 collective security clause.
The U.S. will use rotational deployments of ground and maritime forces to maintain a presence in Europe, Flournoy said, reiterating Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s statements earlier in the month. America will also maintain its presence in other regions.
Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C., said that the Pentagon is trying to dispel the notion that the U.S. is giving up the ability to fight multiple opponents. Instead, the Defense Department is trying to convey that since the 1990s, the world has changed and the U.S. is highly unlikely to be fighting two Desert Storm-type operations simultaneously.
“We could be trying to break a blockade in the South China Sea, we could be reopening the Strait of Hormuz, and go after a terrorist cell in Somalia all at the same time,” Harrison said. “It’s different capabilities; it could be a bunch of different things.”
But that being said, the United States never actually had the ability to fight two major regional wars to begin with since the end of the Cold War, he added.
The Pentagon is working to make sure that as the military shrinks, important capabilities which are now being deemphasized can be rapidly recuperated if needed.
“Even if we no longer size our Army and Marine Corps for multi-year stability operations such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are establishing ways to retain key expertise and the lessons learned,” Flournoy said.
The National Guard and Reserves will be crucial in retaining those skills, she added. The DoD will retain more mid-grade officers than would be normal to make that happen, Flournoy said. The best place to put those officers would be the reserve components.
Retaining such skills would enable the military to have the ability to rapidly change course and rebuild forces in certain areas if the demand for those types of forces arose in the future, Flournoy said.