The U.S. Army Discovers a New Mission: China
Fresh from its failed Middle East missions, the force is eager to take on the new Cold War with confidence.
The United States Army is moving on.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. troops fought long and hard and bravely. Alas, their sacrifices did not result in anything like the decisive victories that were promised when those wars began years ago. But rather than getting all hung up on what went amiss, Army leaders have identified a new arena of ground combat: the Indo-Pacific, with China openly identified as Enemy No. 1.
In Washington, the possibility, even the probability of a new Cold War, pitting the United States against the PRC, is a topic of considerable conversation. As far as the Army’s leadership is concerned, the time for talk has passed. That new Cold War is already underway and the Army eagerly embraces the challenges that lie ahead, and with confidence.
A document called U.S. Army Transformation of Land Power in the Indo-Pacific, issued in May 2020 by Lieutenant General Charles A. Flynn in his capacity as the Army’s G-3/5/7, provides “the grand strategic roadmap” that will enable the Army to meet those challenges.
Indeed, allotting the Army a major presence in the Indo-Pacific holds the key to addressing the nation’s “twenty-first century security challenges.” General Flynn states the matter straightforwardly. “The key idea that underlies the Army’s vision for transformed land power in the Indo-Pacific—and the strategic lever to regain a competitive stance against China—is increased presence of forces.” Positioning U.S. ground forces throughout the region—the document mentions Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, India, and Indonesia as prospective locations, but also hints at Malaysia and Vietnam—will persuade China to behave.
“Joint forces designed and developed for the theater and to counter the PLA, using high-end capabilities to demonstrate all-domain overmatch, are a means to force [emphasis added] the Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army leadership to restrain their ambitions and compete constructively inside the U.S.-led international order,” Flynn continues.
The Army will need both a larger presence in the Pacific and also a different presence—units possessing greatly enhanced capabilities. These should include “long range, area and precision fires, air and missile defense, operational network, combat vehicles, and other critical combat systems and enablers.” On the rationale for these new capabilities, the document’s “solution narrative” deserves to be quoted at length:
“By investing in and developing leap-ahead technology and all-domain concepts, Army formations are able to demonstrate the dominant maneuver that can create operational facts on the ground that maximize the decision space of our national leadership and allow for favorable conflict resolution. Through fires and other effects, Army formations are able to frustrate adversary decision making and produce the kind of attrition and disruption that exhausts adversary will to compete and fight in armed conflict.”
In layperson’s language that dense paragraph, regurgitating a familiar vision of war made new by advanced technology, can be reduced to a single sentence: We will be needing lots more money.
Has the present commander-in-chief signed off on this “grand strategic roadmap”? That President Trump possesses the attention span to trudge through such bloated prose seems unlikely.
Whether anyone in the Biden camp comprehends the magnitude of the Army’s ambitions is also unlikely. Their attention lies elsewhere just now.
A cynic might suspect that there are bureaucratic politics at play here, the Army unwilling to allow the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to exclude it from an Indo-Pacific money trough that promises to be very deep indeed. That cynic would be right.
Andrew Bacevich is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.