Monday, July 23, 2012

Military Police actually aren't like civilian police

Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-34.1: Military Police in Support of the MAGTF states:
The MP mission and capabilities include support for AT/FP operations, maneuver and mobility support operations, area security, law and order, and internment operations. 
So the United States Marine Corps has law enforcement battalions now (or, rather, again). Three of
them to be exact. The linked article talks about how
Marines have been increasingly taking on the role of a street cop along with their combat duties over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have been in charge of training both countries' security forces. [...] 
The war on terror has also taught troops the importance of learning how to gather intelligence, secure evidence and assist local authorities in building cases to take down criminal networks. Troops have gotten better at combing raid sites for clues to help them track insurgents. 
They also have changed their approach, realizing that marching into towns to show force alienates communities. Instead, they are being taught to fan out with interpreters to strike up conversations with truck drivers, money exchangers, cellphone sellers and others. The rapport building can net valuable information that could even alert troops about potential attacks.
According to the commander of the 1st Battalion, a Major Jan Durham, "no group of Marines is better at that kind of work than the Corps' military police, who graduate from academies just like civilian cops". I am a huge fan of the Military Police (seriously), but let's not kid ourselves: they are not like "regular police". Their main wartime functions (and therefore training time) are spent on internment ops, force protection, and route and rear-area security in high intensity conflict. They have done a bunch of mentoring to host nation police forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Panama, etc. But they are not police.

Their law enforcement functions are seriously limited to maintaining the peace and preventing crime, specifically around the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Federally-owned jurisdictions. Yes, they do have different authorities in different places, but this is rare. Traffic tickets and investigations, domestic disturbances, putting drunkards in the tank, and the occasional drug bust are all most MPs do on any regular basis - outside of the special investigative services such as CID or NCIS. I am sure that most MPs would love to do what civilian cops do, but that's just not their job as it's more important for them to prepare for and execute their wartime functions. But they do not gather intelligence, conduct community policing, or bring down criminal or terrorist networks. They are not the FBI.

Even their use as mentors for host nation police forces has had problems historically. Because they do not deal with the issues civilian police do - and certainly not the issues police in current or post-conflict nations face - they have little they can provide to the host nation, outside of seasoned non-commissioned officers, warrants, and officers due to lack of experience (outside of internment operations).

This is not to bag on MPs - they are a vital element of any task force. But let's recognize what they are: they are military police, not police who happen to be military. They are not going to be a quick reaction NCIS to solve terrorist or drug cartel crimes in far reaches of the globe. Particularly with only three battalions to go around. I think forming them into battalions is a great idea (and not just because the Army does it this way) - it gives commanders a greater force, with more flexibility, to address his military police objectives. Which are force protection, area security, maneuver support, some personnel protection, some tactical site exploitation, and a whole lot of internment ops. Three battalions of Marine police are not going to suffice as the world police force, in spite of what some of the article suggests.

(And please ignore the Thompson quote at the end - I don't know what he thinks Marine MPs do differently than Marine grunts to contain threats. Escalation of force is escalation of force.)

(Also, if you can identify the little piece of USMC doctrine I helped write on this topic, I'll buy you a drink or something - but not those of you who I told about it.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Things, change, stay the same, etc.

[A]n all-volunteer military is not expected to differ significantly from the present mixed force in its size, composition, and relations with civilian society. Its subordination to the nation's political leaders will change not at all. The belief that volunteers will be more aggressive, will have greater autonomy from the civilian leadership and will exploit international tensions to their own advantage springs, not from any rational evidence, but from an irrational fear of relying on the neglected mechanism of freedom to preserve and protect our nation. 
I have been reading through a few documents from the 1970s discussing the move from a mixed force of conscripts and volunteers to the all-volunteer force. It's fascinating that the discussion has not changed much since then. The quote above is from The Report of the President's Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force. I also recommend RAND's Military Manpower and the All-Volunteer Force.   

In addition to little change in the discourse, I was struck by how much these documents talk about fairness. Today's debate focuses on the fairness to the "other 1%" who have borne the burden of war. I've never understood this from a service perspective (a war tax on the other hand...) since that 1% did volunteer to carry burden. But the 1970s debate focused their fairness on those induced into service for peacetime service - their service was not often necessary, was against their wishes, and was economically unsound to both the service and the draftees. I have the feeling that a lot of modern pro-draft voices would prefer that compelled service into the other 1% would come from the original 1% and aren't thinking about all of these other kids (from populations more likely to volunteer anyway) who get saddled with this unnecessary infringement upon their rights.

Concerns of civil-military relations seem to not have changed much over time. Decades with a draft military did not abate those concerns (some of the biggest crises in CMR in our history occurred during these decades).  If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend that you read these two publications.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CMR: balance maintained by the divide

CMR is a multifaceted topic with issues at many levels, the major branches of which regard the military’s relationship with the civil population of the state, the military’s function within the state, and the military’s relationship with the civilian government of the state who in turn strives to manage the first two facets in accordance with the values and needs of the state. Often these facets are conflated in debate which in incorrect. Each has issues and solutions that interrelate in various ways but should be considered in turn. As such, I intend here to take a cursory look at the first – the military’s relationship with the civil population. I think we can generalize the second – that the military’s function is to leverage its capabilities to meet state objectives throughout the world – for our purposes here. This is a topic deserving of more depth later as the U.S. military struggles to find its place in the world for the coming decades. The third I’ll discuss at a later date.

CMR Basics

Huntington describes the CMR as the friction between the military’s function and society’s norms:
The military institutions of any society are shaped by two competing forces: a functional imperative stemming from threats to a state’s security and a societal imperative arising from social forces, ideologies, and institutions dominant within the society. Military institutions which reflect only social values may be incapable of performing effectively their military function. On the other hand, it may be impossible to contain within society military institutions shaped purely by functional imperatives. The interaction of these two forces is the nub of the problem of civil-military relations.
He establishes this interaction as the conflict of conservative Military Realism with society’s American Liberalism.  Military Realism encompasses a worldview of “permanence, irrationality, weakness, and evil in human nature” and “stresses the supremacy of society over the individual and the importance of order, hierarchy, and division of function.”  American Liberalism is opposed to this Realism and is defined by five tenets (taken from both Huntington and Michael Desch’s chapter in American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era):
  1. indifference to international affairs,
  2. application of domestic solutions to international affairs,
  3. objectivity in international affairs,
  4. ambivalence about war, and
  5. distrust of military institutions.

These were not meant to describe the differences between political parties (the only difference between the parties may only apply to the fifth tenet). Liberal versus conservative instead denotes the fundamental differences between the American society as a whole (and the philosophical foundations of the American government) and the institutional worldview of the military mind required to effectively wage wars. This is not unlike other dichotomies proposed by others such as George Lakoff, de Tocqueville, or Herbert Spencer. The “interaction of these two forces” is in reality the clash ideals of individuality and democracy against the ideals regimented and hierarchical life.  Huntington asks the million-dollar question (on page 346 of the Belknap/Harvard edition printed in 2003): “how can a liberal society provide for its military security when this requires the maintenance of professional military forces and institutions fundamentally at odds with liberalism?”

Most of Huntington’s work centers on how the government of the state balances its security with its philosophy. Writing in the mid-1950s, he provides three options to the question above:
  1. Cut military forces to the bone, isolating military institutions from society, and reducing military influence to negligible proportions. This maintains the purity of an American Liberal society at the expense of national security.
  2. Accept increased military authority and influence but to insist that military leaders abandon their professional outlook and that military institutions be reformed along liberal lines.  This is good for society at the expense of military effectiveness.
  3. Society adopted a more sympathetic understanding and appreciation of the military viewpoint and military needs.  This is good for the military but drives society to abandon its liberal heart. 

Interestingly, over 50 years after this was written and following both the transformation to an all-volunteer force and over 10 years of war, America has essentially taken the path of all three options in part. A purely professional force is by nature small. It is a force isolated to garrisons located throughout the country in places where (generally) not a lot of civilians live. Military influence in both political life and international affairs has increased. Society has adopted a more sympathetic appreciation of the military need. And yet military influence has not been reduced to negligible proportions, military institutions and philosophy has not liberalized, and society has not adopted a more sympathetic understanding of the military viewpoint.   

The result of this amalgam solution is a highly professional and effective military that enjoys nearly extensive (if not unlimited) support of that all important element of the Trinity: the people. The military keeps its Realism and society keeps its Liberalism. The political power of military elites is certainly concerning and is no doubt at least partially a result of the support the military enjoys from the population in contraposition to the popularity of civilian government institutions. I think it is important to make the distinction that military elites have not sought out (as a rule) the power and influence they exercise but instead have filled a role they have been asked to fill. (Would retired generals publically support candidates if the political parties did not seek their support for the benefit of the candidate? I do not think so for the most part.) I firmly believe that if military elites are not asked to fill those roles in the future that they will gladly abdicate them to civilians.

What This Means Today

In summation, we are in a situation there is a general balance of the military’s function with society’s norms. In my mind any imbalance is correctable and within an acceptable order of magnitude.  In spite of this and with regard to the people’s relationship with the military, a number of pundits and officials have declared at civil-military challenge or even a crisis, centered upon society’s lack of understanding of the military and their non-participation in military affairs. For example, Admiral Mullen stated in September last year that the “eroding” connection between the military and the people is a “very bad outcome for America […] an outcome that this democracy could not [stand] to have its military essentially detached from its people.”  While not calling for a draft yet, Mullen suggests it may be required in the future to bridge this population-military divide. Similarly, in the past two weeks both Tom Ricks and Stanley McChrystal have made calls for a return to compulsory service and a draft, respectively. Without delving into the particulars and bureaucratic issues of Ricks’ proposal (another topic altogether), both men have argued that compulsory service or a draft would ensure all (or at least more) Americans have “skin in the game” when making decision of war and peace.

However, and it’s a big however, none of these three have explained the consequences of current system to society or the military. What is the effect on society and the military if there is a detachment between the two? What is the result of only having only 1% of the population with “skin in the game”? Most superficially it seems the answer is unfairness.  It is not fair that only a few are waging war for 10 years. It is not fair that, in spite of extensive support, civilians do not understand what the military goes through. But I ask again: what is the consequence of this unfairness?  How does fairness result in a more effective military? How does this perception of fairness interact with American Liberal mores upon which our society is built?

A draft, or compulsory service, may bridge this divide between the military and the people, but that divide may be natural and necessary.  Intermingling these two elements of American society more than they currently do could potentially result in fundamental changes to either element by which they would not benefit. American Liberal philosophy is one of the things that make America great in other endeavors (principally with regard to social and economic constructs). Adding conservative Military Realism has the potential to adversely affect the acceptance of this societal philosophy. A wider-ranging exposure and subsequent understanding of military culture could potentially increase the influence and power of military elites beyond current levels, creating a new (and real) crisis of CMR (See, WWII – which is also an example of the military ceding its influence when it wasn’t need anymore). Conversely, the forced infusion of Liberalism into Military Realism could potentially erode military effectiveness due to the extent that military effectiveness is dependent upon its conservatism (See: draft, Vietnam War).  It is possible that the two conflicting forces could reach equilibrium, but equilibrium in CMR is rarely realized historically and there is no reason to assume that it would in this case, especially considering the potential risks to society and the military.

Leaving aside such issues as what the draftees would do, how their services are paid for, the creating of large bureaucracies to manage the process, a draft or similar course of action threatens civil-military relations more than any existing divides between the people and the military. It would be great if the people understood the military or felt some of the pain the military has felt during the past decade (it would only be fair were it so…). Not only is this understanding or fairness not necessary, it has a greater potential to upend the relative CMR balance we currently enjoy instead of fixing a different “crisis” altogether. The divide that does exist serves a purpose: it maintains the integrity of society and the effectiveness of the military. Simply put, we can have a divide or we can have an imbalance.  I choose a divide because I can get over the “unfairness” of it. Society or the military may take a long time to recover from an imbalance created for ill-advised or unsubstantiated reasons.

Monday, July 9, 2012

NYT Op-Eds on intervention: The good, the bad, and the ugly

I've tried to steer clear of the debate about intervening in Syria on the blogosphere for two reasons. First, while I know a lot about this type of crisis and the challenges it poses, I don't know much about I don't know a lot about Syria. Secondly, so much of the commentary on both sides has struck me as silly and uninformed. From pro-interventionists who haven't done their homework on the utility, limitations, and implications of using military force to stop the killing, to anti-interventionists who dismiss the idea that the US has any interests in halting atrocities, determined not to let reality undermine their faith in Realism, I have seen little in the way of serious, informed discussion.

So I was impressed to find a remarkably thoughtful op-ed on the subject in the New York Times a few weeks ago. I've never read anything from Professor Dr. Volker Perthes before, but this constitutes one of the more nuanced pieces I've seen on Syria since the crisis began. I particularly appreciated his emphasis on addressing the existential fears of Syrian minorities as a key element in any viable plan (whether incorporating military force or not).

On the other side of the ledger, on Saturday Ross Douthat penned an unfortunate and ill-informed piece on the alleged second-order effects of the intervention in Libya - that is to say, the current crisis in Mali. According to Douthat, the intervention in Libya sent heavily-armed Tuaregs who had been fighting for Qaddafi back into Mali, bolstering the ranks of the Tuareg rebellion - and this much is true. That bolstered rebellion in turn launched an offensive that quickly conquered the northern half of the country - also true. The Malian government fell to a military coup, and the divisions within the rebel ranks have allowed more radical elements to gain the upper hand, violently imposing a harsh version of Sharia and destroying important historical sites. All this is true, but Douthat's still wrong on two counts.

First, the weakness of the Malian government and security forces was not new, and it's hard to gauge the impact of Libyan weapons on the balance of power between the Tuareg rebels and the Malian Army when Malian soldiers were losing battles for lack of sufficient ammunition. The discontent among the soldiers who launched the coup didn't start with the renewed Tuareg rebellion, and as the speakers at an event in May emphasized, spill-over from Libya may have been the proximate trigger, but the Malian crisis had been brewing for a long time.* On this subject, Alma knows far more, and I hope she'll chime in.

Second and far more perniciously, Douthat draws a blatantly false parallel between Libya then and Mali now:
So Mali today looks a bit like Libya did in early 2011, except with a more obvious jihadi presence: You have a weakened authoritarian government governing half the country, a dubious and divided rebellion trying to rule the other, and a humanitarian crisis looming for the civilians caught in between.
All of which is more or less true, but neglects to mention that - in contrast to Qaddafi - neither the Tuareg rebel factions nor the Malian government have embarked on systematic and widespread violence against civilians. There have been brutal human rights abuses on both sides, but there are no columns marching towards cities of more than 600K people with orders to kill every male between 17 and 40, as was the case with Benghazi.

I point this out because there seems to be a growing attempt by some to show up the alleged hypocrisy and capriciousness of interventions to prevent atrocities by equating any violence against civilians in conflicts with the exceptional cases in which they're being deliberately slaughtered. Douthat claims that's not his angle, but I notice that in assessing the impact of US actions on Malian politics, the US counter-terrorism programs that have been running for years don't merit even passing mention.

The Libya intervention was by no means perfect, and there's no question we should be cognizant of the potential unintended or downright perverse human and strategic consequences of any foreign policy initiative, military or otherwise. But in parsing the lessons of the Libya operation, let's try not to let our ideological perspectives completely corrupt our reading of facts. Or perhaps Douthat will take his own advice from January 2011 to heart:
We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them...But history makes fools of us all..Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.

* According to the speakers, US security assistance may have inadvertently contributed as well by encouraging the deployment of additional Malian security forces to the north in the absence of much political progress, thus increasing the day-to-day friction between the central government and Tuareg communities.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Independence Day as a celebration of our military

It is impossible in the modern era to celebrate America without simultaneously venerating Our Troops. The culture that enables and nourishes this cynical farce is a threat to our politics, our democracy, and our very opportunity to embody the high ideals articulated at our national founding.

I noted with self-satisfied amusement the tendency of many people to begin their Fourth by reflexively thanking The Troops, those brave and altruistic souls who have sacrificed so much to win and preserve our independence. A friend challenged my cynicism, asking why it was so inappropriate to express gratitude to those who have served. I'm disappointed to say that this sensible plaint fell on mostly-deaf ears, and that my immediate reaction had something to do with the idiocy of unthinkingly conflating American greatness with military excellence. But her comment deserved a more thoughtful reply, and I've spent most of the last day reconsidering the substance of my flip dismissal. So, then: why is it a big deal to turn Independence Day into another Veteran's Day?

While I should hope my support for the military and appreciation to those who have served is a settled concern, let me just get this out up front: I value the hell out of American veterans, and the scant thanks we give those who have truly sacrificed is a scar on our national honor. What's worthy of respect is not their defense of freedom, their fight for liberty, or their preservation of independence, but the simple act of service: all who have worn the uniform chose to do something uncomfortable, unpleasant, occasionally unfashionable, and very often unnecessary—and they have done so because the country asked for men and women, and they knew this, and they wouldn't say "someone else can go."

We are a nation of laws, not of men. Our liberty was imagined by the thoughtful, courageous men who articulated our rejection of tyranny in the Declaration; but the fact of our independence was enacted through a successful rebellion—through a feat of arms. We mustn't forget this.

But what does it mean to be a nation of laws? It means that our national greatness is not embodied in king or president or flag or uniform, but in our political and social ideals: consent of the governed, equality under the laws, real justice for all, due accord to the views of our peers (and a decent respect to the opinions of mankind). The foundational premise of the Declaration of Independence is that a government insensitive to the needs and rights of citizen or subject has ceded its right to rule: that is, that a nation is truly the embodiment of its people and their commerce with one another, not its ruler(s) or even its system of government. Nor is a nation its army, it hardly needs be said.

Those who serve have been made tools of their nation, used for good and ill (though rarely for independence), and their nation owes gratitude for this. We owe this gratitude every day, not just on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. We owe it most especially to those who faced the horrors of combat, to those who gave of themselves in ways that can never be compensated. To those who have sacrificed, sweated, fought, bled, and died for America and its will: thank you for doing what someone must, and for going when so many would not. When I speak of "America and its will," I do so without a hint of cynicism or reproach. But I find it difficult to speak un-ironically of liberty or freedom, for it's been quite some time since any American soldier has had cause to be much concerned with either of them.

To come more directly to the point: when we try to conceive of American greatness on our national day and our first resort is gratitude for those who enact the will of the government, we've done something very wrong.  Service is necessary and commendable, as I've said, but its celebration on July 4th is antithetical to what Independence Day ought to evoke in us: an appreciation for the greatness of what America is, not what it does. What it does is not so different from what other states do, and what all states must: accumulate power, flex its muscles, fight to gain, fight to survive. But what it is is different: it is a nation of laws, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—not just those who fight, or those who are rich, or those who are elected, or those who rule by divine right. When we thank American soldiers and veterans for American greatness, we celebrate the survival of a polity more than the national embodiment of this radical political ideal.

Some will dismiss this as over-intellectualizing, as tendentious meandering about militarism and ideals and American decline. "It's just about remembering veterans," they'll say, "not any of this other stuff about political philosophy or exceptionalism." I don't agree. The near-religious veneration of military service has corrosive effects on our democracy, to be sure, but that's not the crux of what I'm saying today. What I'm getting at is this: every society in the history of humankind has had men and women raise their hands and go to the front, and we're a better country for our ability to appreciate their sacrifice. But the flag, the uniform, the president, the defied king... these are the idols of our democracy, not the real god. We may respect them and revere them and use them as proxies for our national greatness, but Independence Day should remind us of what's really at the heart of it – the spirit of liberty, justice, and equality in which our country was founded – and inspire us to live up to its promise.