The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
Recent proposals encouraging initiatives to increase NATO membership for Eastern European nations are antagonistic, ill-timed and of questionable strategic value to the U.S. Specifically, any Ukrainian Road to NATO in the foreseeable future is, at a minimum, dangerous.
It appears a few resurfacing Neocons are back and quietly lining up behind a new crew of presidential candidates and whispering in their ears, with the likely “salute” of an Army-dominated Defense Department. Think of Chris Christie stating he supports NATO membership for Ukraine, and Nikki Haley’s recent comments advocating adding Ukraine to NATO now. Those bizarre statements should give one a chill. However, it’s a good bet that an inflated Army and the defense industry are likely getting very excited.
A NATO admission of Ukraine will almost certainly suck us into another European war — the one that our post-1947 Army has trained, equipped and maybe hoped for. Current events and political winds illustrate just why Article I; Section 8; Clauses 12 & 13 of our Constitution were so prescient, and the writers so prophetic. Clauses 12 & 13 carefully provided for solid national defense while preventing the existence of, and funding for, a large standing Army. However, the framers did provide for Congress to “raise an Army” when required, envisioning the Department of the Navy keeping enemies and hostilities off our shores and thereby buying the necessary time for diplomatic or economic options/solutions before Congress was fully prepared to employ a battle-ready Army.
That time could potentially allow for non-warfare solutions. Was/is that ridiculous or naive thinking? Admittedly, the world was much larger in the late 1700s, and rapidly striking another continent was inconceivable in the early 1800s. However, the concept of defense in depth is still in our strategy and is still relevant. Could a strong Navy and Marine Corps, Air Force/Space Force, and Air Defense Artillery accomplish those same 1788 goals and objectives in the 21st century?
The Cold War gave general, albeit questionable justification for maintaining a big standing Army. Furthermore, it also gave that big, new Army and the defense industry incentive to pursue efforts to override the spirit and intent of Article I; Section 8; Clause 12. Through those unintended consequences, we’ve created the current bloated, competitive and improperly balanced military.
In Vietnam, because of a “status quo” strategy, the best we could do was to contain open hostilities (warfare) to the rural areas. That sounds a bit like Afghanistan operations, where we ultimately witnessed an eerily similar finale. Unlike in Iraq, at least our diplomats were allowed to participate in the attempted societal shift in Afghanistan where there were some successes, especially in building a functional police force and civil law system before we hastily and dismally departed from that theater. But have we actually won a war since 1947, or allowed the Department of the Navy to function as the State Department’s “Big Stick” to facilitate diplomatic solutions before mobilizing and employing an Army?
We undisputedly beat Iraq militarily led by the Army. But the Army combat arms hierarchy demanded, finagled and bullied its way to dominate the supposed policing, stabilization, rebuilding and political reformation in post-hostilities planning and operations — a clearly defined State Department mission. Marine Corps leaders certainly played a key role in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was the Army that dictated strategy.
Diplomatically and logistically challenged “careerist” Army generals blocked or eroded any progress by our diplomats, eventually losing the war they had won. A combat arms approach to civilian crime and complete eradication of the Iraqi military was a big factor in turning the bulk of the Iraqi population against us.
All the while, an Army-centric Defense Department created the elusive self-licking ice cream cone that kept the Army big, bloated, engaged and overfunded whilst conducting operations where it clearly wasn’t experienced — or even willing to consider adjusting or targeting necessary leadership changes for civil operations aside from counterinsurgency.
What message was received in Iraqi neighborhoods when an infantry division was replaced by an armored division shortly after the day President George W. Bush announced the end of combat operations? Would a seasoned diplomat with experience in the region have better understood the implications and made the same decision?
Instead of empowering diplomatic and law enforcement professionals to do what they do best, the wrong people were put in charge in post-hostility operations. Combat arms generals were inserted to rule the roost, instead of the critically needed logisticians, military police and JAG general and flag officers to work with professional diplomats planning, executing and overseeing a reconstruction mission. The combat arms leadership running most of the country appears to have had little experience, education or training in law, logistics or police functions.
Do you need infantry generals to reestablish and reconstruct a civil society? The correct military specialists might well have been able to pull off our national goals and objectives supporting diplomats, and not just further “big Army” objectives. Intentionally or unintentionally, reconstruction efforts in Iraq were sabotaged by misplaced priorities, thereby losing opportunities for post-hostility successes. Is the same table being set for Ukraine?
Now, there appear to be backroom efforts to bring an already unstable, hostile and somewhat corrupt Ukraine into NATO. Will NATO be enticed to fight, or be obligated to provide personnel to secure and/or reconstruct the devastated country if the Ukrainians are eventually successful in pushing out the invaders?
It looks like there is prodding to get the U.S. military into harm’s way yet again by welcoming Ukraine into a “sticky and binding” treaty. But with Ukraine, add in the baggage of a historically corrupt, agrarian and unstable country that lies right on Russia’s border. That just doesn’t sound like a good idea — unless you’re still coveting that big but elusive European land battle, want to maintain a large standing Army, or are significant players in the defense industry.
— Anthony (Tony) Mitchell is a retired military officer with a 34-year career retiring as a captain in the U.S. Navy. Between at-sea assignments, he was assigned as the federal executive fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, where he published numerous policy and energy op-eds and articles, and was later detailed to the Department of State, where he served as the first military adviser to the then newly established Office of Iraqi Affairs.