US Army War College

Op-Ed: Between Conflicts: An Army Role That Sticks

Prof. William G. Braun, III

When war is looming, U.S. civilian leaders intuitively recognize and appreciate the flexibility, scalability, and decisiveness inherent in Army formations. When confronted by lesser conflicts, national leaders eventually come to value the Army’s ability to operate in hostile environments, shape outcomes, and maintain post conflict stability though a visible presence. Between conflicts, the Army’s value to the nation as a vital contributor to the maintenance of a tranquil international security environment is underappreciated. Historically, shrinking defense budgets and national security narratives following conflict have pressured the Army to defend its structure and budgets in traditional warfighting and deterrence terms. The nation needs a vision for pursuing peace as an enduring international security condition between conflicts. The Army must embrace the execution of non-threat based operations as a vital way to achieve that vision. Only then, can the Army convey its relevance to the U.S. public and Congressduring periods of relative peace.

      U.S. national security policy and military strategy have been biased toward the military instrument of national power since the end of World War II, and especially over the past 12 years of conflict. That is changing. Predictably, as the U.S. enters another period of relative peace, resources for defense are uncertain and the Army’s relevance to the nation is being questioned. Among other drivers, a weak U.S. economy, the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and public weariness associated with a lack of tangible results in those conflicts are driving the current national security dialogue.
      This discussion is dominated by concerns over deficit reduction, declining defense budgets, ongoing fiscal uncertainty, and restoring the U.S. economy. In response to changing geopolitical security and fiscal environments the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance directed a smaller, leaner, and more agile military to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.1 This military downsizing and geostrategic reprioritization highlights the policy shift away from the military instrument of power, and the growing importance of Western Pacific and Asian markets to the U.S. economy, respectively. Development of and access to these markets are inextricably linked to the health of the U.S. economy.
      Two key assumptions underpin the national security dialogue. First, the United States faces no immediate existential threat. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, the prosecution of war, along with the scope and scale of conflict, is largely perceived as discretionary. Recent U.S. foreign policy choices toward Libya and Syria are proffered as exemplars of the new approach to discretionary interventions. Diplomatic negotiations with Iran portend cooperation versus confrontation with potential rivals with more clout. Second, the public understands that counterinsurgency, stability operations, and nation building are hard, costly, and long-duration activities. In part, due to this public perception, current defense guidance specifically precludes structuring the joint force to conduct stability operations.2 Presumably, if national leaders do not have the capacity to get involved in this type of operation, the nation will find a nonmilitary way to address instability. Alternatively, the civilian leadership anticipates sufficient intelligence forewarning to regenerate lost military capability and capacity to respond to a pending conflict.
      Current U.S. foreign policy is focused on economic and diplomatic instruments of national power to develop relationships, assure partners, and compete with rivals with a special focus on the Asia-Pacific.3 U.S. security policy since 2012 envisions a limited use of the military instrument of national power. If the military must be used, the nation would prefer a short-clean war, employing precision strike or cyber attacks to achieve national objectives. Discretionary ground combat operations and post-conflict entanglements are not anticipated.
      While the American public finds itself quite satisfied with their current and future security prospects, the Army in particular is struggling to define itself and its relevance in this environment. The U.S. security establishment has successfully prevented, or at least avoided, a successful external attack on the U.S. homeland since 2001. The public is happy to be out of Iraq. It is looking forward to the end of combat operations and a drawdown in Afghanistan by next Christmas. Depending on the results of the April 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan, the United States may even be spared the obligation of providing a residual presence in the region. The notion of a foreign policy and national security narrative that avoids discretionary war and adds $487 billion defense dollars (may add an additional $500 billion defense dollars) back into the federal coffers over the next 10 years is very attractive.4
      These defense budget cuts and this security narrative have forced the Army to defend its structure in exclusively traditional warfighting terms. The Army’s posture and vision statements acknowledge its role in preventing conflict, shaping the strategic environment and, when necessary, winning decisively.5 However, the Army must defend its relevance and structure in a budget fight that is governed by defense guidance and budget priorities that only acknowledge arguments focused on the Army’s traditional mission to fight and win the Nation’s wars through prompt and sustained land combat, as part of the joint force.6
     The Army’s Unified Land Operations doctrine is representative of the Army’s cultural focus on combat. Specifically, the doctrine focuses on the core competencies of combined arms maneuver and wide area security to execute offensive, defensive, and stability operations in the presence of a threat.7 This doctrinal and cultural focus on warfighting is necessary to win wars (and resourcing battles inside the Pentagon), but it is insufficient to convey the Army’s relevance to the U.S. public and Congress during periods of relative peace. Without abandoning its traditional role, the Army must assert its relevance and value to the nation between conflicts.
      The Army needs to establish its contribution to maintaining a tranquil international security environment within its relevancy narrative. Ideally, this narrative should be imbedded in a peace oriented foreign policy vision. That vision would embrace the pursuit of peace as an enduring condition, not a circumstance that passively describes the temporary lull between conflicts. Peace management must be grounded in U.S. interests and motivated by opportunity. The language associated with this vision would favor terms like competitor or rival over the term enemy, and partner over ally. Peace management is dynamic. It requires sustained effort and adjustments to the changing nature of the peace. Dynamic peace management is not the exclusive domain of diplomacy and development. The military, particularly the Army, exerts influence through its visible and robust Soldier presence overseas to foster relationships that are critical to securing and maintaining a state of dynamic peace. The concept of dynamic peace management should incorporate all Army operations that do not require a threat to justify employment.
      The dynamic peace management concept advocates the orchestration of peacetime engagements to continually advance the U.S. strategic position in the world within the context of promoting international peace. When peace management efforts fail to prevent war, forces must be capable of conducting and concluding hostilities in ways that provide a better peace. Dynamic peace management is best accomplished through “smart power.” Therefore, peace management forces must blend well with “soft power” capabilities. The ultimate goal of dynamic peace management is to promote an international security environment dominated by periods of peace, with war and conflict being anomalous conditions.
      To transition the concept of dynamic peace management from public discourse into national security strategy and prioritized resourcing requires overcoming two hurdles. First, the U.S. Army currently lacks a rational mechanism to justify a dynamic peace management structure and budget requirements. To avoid an unconstrained “blank check” outcome, objectives and priorities must be unambiguously grounded in U.S. vital interests. Requirements must be developed based on regional combatant command theater engagement and embassy security cooperation strategies. It would be helpful if clear demand signals established the scope of the requirement. Those requirements must then be prioritized and resourced based on DoD-approved dynamic peace management force development scenarios. Second, the resistance from other federal agencies and organizations must be overcome. Any dynamic peace campaign will require a cooperative interagency and intergovernmental approach. Organizational lead, supported, and supporting relationships will change based on theater security cooperation plans and the character of the security environment. Federal departments and agencies must get past petty “who’s in charge” arguments and productively explore creative synergistic ways to combine capabilities and capacities to achieve objectives. The key point for Army resourcing inside the Pentagon is that the Army’s contribution to dynamic peace management must be recognized as a basic role and core mission, not an enabling role to support some other agency.
      The senior leaders of the U.S. Army are pursuing the best lines of argument that they can to defend structure, preserve readiness, and fund modernization inside the administration’s current security strategy narrative, defense guidance and budget prioritization sensibilities. Consistent with its force development culture and DoD guidance, the Army attempts to develop and acquire adequate capabilities and capacities using warfighting justifications. All other missions are considered lesser included capabilities. To avoid being under-resourced and unappreciated until another nondiscretionary conflict emerges, the Army must infuse the national security dialogue with dynamic peace management language, include the pursuit of peace as an enduring international security condition in its doctrine, and embrace the execution of non-threat based operations in its professional warrior culture.
        1. Defense Strategic Guidance, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, Washington, DC: Department of Defense, January 2012, available from
        2. Ibid., p. 6.
        3. Tom Donilon, “The United States and the Asia-Pacific in 2013,” Remarks by Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to The Asia Society, New York, NY, Washington, DC: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, March 11, 2013, available from
        4. Congressional Budget Office, Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, available from
        5. Army Posture Statement, America’s Army: Service to the Nation, Strength for the Future, Washington, DC: HQ Department of the Army, 2013, p. 4.
        6. Army Doctrine Publication 1.0, The Army, Washington, DC: HQ Department of the Army, September 2012, pp. 1-8.
        7. Army Doctrine Publication 3.0, Unified Land Operations, Washington, DC: HQ Department of the Army, October 10, 2011, p. 5.


The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This opinion piece is cleared for public release; distribution is unlimited.

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