False Choices: Destroying ISIS or Deterring Russia and China

THE NATIONAL INTEREST — FORT BENNING, GA, U.S. ARMY MANEUVER CENTER OF EXCELLENCE—As the wet bulb pushed 109, 12,000 US Army Soldiers continued to train across the sprawling post on the banks of the Chattahoochee River to be our newest Infantrymen, Armor crewmen, paratroopers, Cavalry troopers, snipers, and master gunners among a host of other martial skills. While the business of training our future Soldiers and leaders continued unabated, 3 Commanding Generals of the Maneuver Center shared the campus. Major General Eric Wesley, the current commanding general hosted his two past predecessors in separate events on Benning. Lt. Gen. HR McMaster, the current director of ARCIC, and the MCOE CG from 2012-2014, was on post to witness the demonstration of a new 30mm cannon as he continues to drive increasing the lethality of our mounted platforms. Across post, in the afternoon, Lt. Gen. Scott Miller flew in to give a presentation to the officers and noncommissioned officers in our leadership courses. He gave up command to Wesley, a few short months ago to return to the Special Operations forces as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command.

What emerged on Friday was the clear articulation of the Army’s determination to win the current fight while deterring near peer threats. Just as Nadia Schadlow has written on the difficulty of the Army to articulate its mission today, given the emerging Russian threat in the midst of a counter-terror campaign, Miller and McMaster addressed aspects of this at Benning. Retired Major General Scales also postulates that the Army can (or will) only focus on one type of warfare or another, but the chattering crowd has set up a strawman argument. What is often portrayed as a dilemma, is in actuality a false choice that our senior Army leaders must choose between the competing demands of resourcing the current global fight and deterring the possible challenges to the American world order in the future. In this “choose between the two” narrative, the war against ISIL and other terrorist threats is pitted against the need to regain the conventional dominance required to deter a revanchist Russia, an erratic North Korea, a China that has expressed its goal to challenge American power along with other conventional threats to American security interests. Many came away from the divergent discussions with McMaster and Miller believing that we must choose one of two options. We must have the “global SWAT team” that pursues terrorists across the globe, into the deep web of the internet, and into the caves of the remotest places on earth, and in order to do so we must turn away from the heavy armored formations that can deter the Russian Brigade Tactical Groups massing on the western Russian steppe. The other camp desires to look past the current fight against terrorists in mud floored huts and to solely focus on the “real” challenges to the post World War American led economic and security world order – Russia and China – and to face that threat we need new tanks, new organizing concepts and new formations.

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