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Landpower and Crises: Army Roles and Missions in Smaller-Scale Contingencies During the 1990s

Authored by Dr. Conrad C. Crane. | January 2001

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Prior to World War II, the majority of instances where American armed forces were used abroad involved Marine or Navy actions to protect U.S. citizens or promote national interests. The use of American military forces (especially the Army) expanded considerably with the advent of the Cold War and America's ascension to superpower status.2 Since the end of the Cold War, there has been another significant increase in the use of military forces (with special emphasis again on the Army) by American political leaders to achieve policy objectives. Except for the major theater war of Operation DESERT STORM, these deployments have fallen under the broad heading of smaller-scale contingencies (SSCs). While this overall increase in theater military operations began in the aftermath of Operation DESERT STORM, it stabilized at a high level during the first full year of the Clinton administration. Since mid-1993, American military forces have engaged in 170 separate SSCs, ranging from humanitarian assistance to peacekeeping, averaging between 20 and 30 a month.3 (See Figure 1.) During this same time frame, the administration implemented a National Security Strategy that involved the military heavily in peacetime engagement activities to shape the environment to preclude the advent of a crisis that could require even more forces. The purpose of this monograph is to look at the typical roles of Army forces during the life cycle of these SSCs, beginning with normal activities and progressing to the stabilization phase after force deployment and possible hostilities. Its findings support the assertion of the oft-quoted opening passage that the long-term achievement of a nation's security objectives--even for SSCs--depends primarily on the capabilities and sacrifices of its ground forces.

The U.S. Commission on National Security--21st Century has produced a "strategic spectrum" that displays the progress of a crisis that escalates to hostilities. They disaggregate the process into phases that move from Peace to Crisis to Conflict to Post-Conflict and then return to Peace.4 This depiction of the life cycle of a crisis can be misleading, however, if it is interpreted to mean that the end state is just a return to the status quo, or that all crises inevitably lead to conflict. A more representative construct for analysis of the missions and capabilities required from contemporary military forces in SSCs is to define the operational phases by the primary functions being performed. During periods of normalcy, the geographic combatant commander, known colloquially as the Commander-in-Chief (CINC), will use his assets to shape his strategic environment primarily through engagement. However, once a crisis begins that threatens to escalate to armed conflict, additional military forces are usually deployed to enhance deterrence through a show of force. (If the crisis is more humanitarian in nature, forces may be built up to facilitate possible response.) Hostilities may or may not occur, but the aftermath of any crisis will normally require significant military involvement to stabilize the situation and maintain policy gains. This last phase can take a very long time, but without it the conditions that led to the crisis in the first place will usually return. Currently CINCs coordinate their peacetime activities with TheaterEngagement Plans, and respond to crises with contingency plans and Crisis Action Planning that lead to the operations plans executed in a conflict. Historically, however, because of an operational focus concerned primarily with the conflict phase of SSCs, American military forces have not done as well with post-hostility planning and execution.

While the Clinton administration showed a preference to rely on cruise missiles and air strikes in the hostility phase of SSCs, the Army was still the predominant service in the engagement, enhanced deterrence, and stabilization phases. The Army's involvement in stabilization phase operations has been particularly demanding and has pushed the service to perform numerous unwanted nation-building tasks. As the demands have grown for ground forces in overlapping post-hostility or post-crisis operations, they have highlighted some shortfalls in Army attitudes, resourcing, and force structure that will require changes if the service is going to be able to meet its considerable similar responsibilities for the future. The key finding of this study for the U.S. Army is that it must be trained and structured to execute some degree of nation-building during the stabilization phase of SSCs. The character and capabilities of its soldiers, combined with persistent security requirements and the inadequacies of civilian organizations, insure that the Army will not be able to avoid such missions in a future that will be filled with contingencies requiring its unique ability to protect an area while restoring it to civilization.

Recommendations and Conclusions.

Primary Recommendation: The Army must be trained and structured to execute some degree of nation-building during the stabilization phase of SSCs. Recently the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness told a group of defense correspondents that in order to prevent future wars the U.S. military is in the nation-building business to stay, and its leaders need to accept the fact that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines so engaged believe it is an important mission.89 His assertion is supported by anecdotes from the field. For example, soldiers interviewed in Nova Brdo, Kosovo, emphatically expressed their support for nation-building. One of them announced, "With every plate of glass we replace in a window, with every door we install, we're helping these people get back on their feet." He also described the importance of patching a child's broken arm and giving a mother blankets to keep her children warm. He concluded, "With every town that we help, we're helping the nation get stronger."90 While military leaders and security advisers for the incoming Bush administration have often expressed resistance to employing the U.S. Army in nation-building, recent history demonstrates it will occur anyway. Being prepared to conduct such operations will avoid a sense of "mission creep" when they inevitably have to be performed.

Dag Hammerskold once said, "Peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers, but only a soldier can do it."91 The same might be true for nation-building, especially during the earliest stages of the stabilization phase before a safe and secure environment has been established and civilian agencies have been able to build up their resources. Accepting nation-building or increased nation assistance as a mission has major implications for military involvement in SSCs, especially in the engagement and stabilization phases, but it would also bring service attitudes, doctrine, force structure, and training into line with the reality of what is happening in the field. This adjustment also probably will require congressional action to carefully alter legal and fiscal constraints about such military activities. A national strategy relying heavily on engagement will also benefit from better prioritization of those activities between regions,a process that could be facilitated by a more thorough and definitive TEP review process.

Secondary Recommendations. A future of continuous and cumulative SSCs has significant implications for the Army, and the following recommendations should better prepare it to successfully accomplish its missions:

  1. Create truly multi-capable units structured, trained, and committed to both winning MTWs and handling SSCs.
  2. Increase the ability of units at all levels to train for, plan, and execute stabilization phase tasks.
  3. Increase the Army's overall CS/CSS force structure to fix those recurring shortfalls that appear in executing SSCs.
  4. Realign CS/CSS force structure between active and reserve components to better meet the demands of SSCs.
  5. Ensure adequate focus is placed on the planning and execution of stabilization phase tasks at the Command and General Staff College and the Army War College.
  6. Develop planning metrics for determining stabilization phase requirements for issues like POWs and refugees.

At a recent strategy conference, Admiral (Retired) William Owens remarked that the Army remains "the most relevant service" for today's American security needs.92 With some of the adjustments suggested here, it should be able to maintain that relevance and perform its missions even better.

Though T.R Fehrenbach's quote that opens this monograph was inspired by the war in Korea 50 years ago, it is also relevant to the peacekeeping role of the Army in Kosovo and Bosnia today. Soldiers are there to protect the inhabitants and facilitate their return to the civilized world. No other American organization can perform both those roles.


1. T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness, New York: Pocket Books, 1964, p. 454. Relevance of this quote brought to my attention by Colonel Dennis Murphy, Center for Strategic Leadership, USAWC.

2. Richard F. Grimmett, Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-1999, Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, May 1999.

3. Center for Army Analysis, "Stochastic Analysis of Resources for Deployments and Excursions: A Historical Perspective," December 2000.

4. Dr. Pat Pentland and F.G. Hoffman, U.S. Commision on National Security/21st Century, "A Forward Looking Examination of U.S. National Security," Mahan Scholars Presentation, October 20, 2000.

89. Dale Eisman, "Top Defense Official Defends U.S. Military's Role As Peacekeeper," Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, November 15, 2000.

90. Emily Kelley, "GIs Reluctant To Leave Kosovo Town," Stars and Stripes Omnimedia, November 28, 2000.

91. Quoted in Army Field Manual 100-23, Peace Operations, Washington, DC: HQDA, December 1994, p. 1.

92. Remarks by Admiral (Ret.) William Owens on Panel 6 of IFPA-Fletcher Conference 2000, "National Strategies and Capabilities for a Changing World," Arlington, VA, November 16, 2000.