Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of listening to LTG H.R. McMaster brief the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) the Army’s Operating Concept (AOC) and his four fallacies of future warfare. For those not familiar with his four fallacies, they are:
- The Vampire Fallacy: Essentially this fallacy revolves around the idea that technology will save the day. Perfect situational intelligence and super weapons will make war clean and easy.
- Zero-Dark-Thirty Fallacy: This fallacy is somewhat tied to the first because intelligence that allows for the conduct of “strategic raids” where highly trained special forces can locate and neutralize threats quickly and with minimum risks.
- Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Fallacy: This fallacy states that the U.S. can fight its land wars via proxy while providing air, sea, space, and cyber domain power. Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora and the Iraqi Army’s inability to fight ISIL bear witness to this fallacy.
- RSVP Fallacy: This fallacy essentially says that the U.S. can choose which conflicts it wishes to engage in and which ones if can avoid. In some cases this may be true, but in others, the U.S. may find itself dragged itself into a conflict. McMaster reiterated the line from Leon Trotsky who said, ‘you may not be interested in war but war is interested in you.’
LTG McMaster’s fallacies are largely accurate; however, I believe there are others that need mentioning. There are two specific fallacies I offer for consideration in light of our current security and economic environment. The two fallacies are The Arsenal of Democracy and Exquisite fallacies.
The Arsenal of Democracy Fallacy. This fallacy emanates from the idea that the development of strategy should not be resource-constrained. As some say, strategies are resource informed. If tactical leaders cannot plan in an unconstrained environment, I am not sure strategists are able to get away with it. If we are serious about the ends-ways-means construct, how the hell do we make the claim that our strategy is resource informed? Strategists produce deeply flawed geo-strategic plans when there are no considerations for how the means are produced and paid for. For many in the U.S., this fallacy has its roots in the historic American Way of War of throwing material and personnel mass at our enemies from the Civil War to WWII. In WWII, FDR pronounced that the U.S. would be the "Arsenal of Democracy" and Major General Albert Wedemeyer in the U.S. Army War Plans Division led this effort with the Victory Plan. While the Victory Plan may have identified what the nation needed to produce in order to win WWII, as a military document it lacked many of the financial and economic details needed to determine whether the nation could produce the stated requirements stated or make adjustments as global conditions changed such as the need to materially support our Allies. The actual means needed to make the Victory Plan a success was determined by groups of economists and industrialists who figured out how to transform American industry and develop novel ways to determine the nation’s affordability such as the development of the Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indexes. History proves this worked as a mechanism to defeat our enemies in WWII; however, what many forget is that the U.S. was the largest industrial power in the world entering WWII. Today, that is no longer true. Globalization has shifted much of industrial capacity of the U.S. overseas. Much of this capacity shifted to China, a rising near peer competitor seeking to reform the current international order to its favor. China’s dominance of rare-earth metals exposed this critical weakness in U.S. military-industrial capacity. Due to the U.S.’s current fiscal weakness and decades long de-industrialization, the U.S. would be severely tested in its ability to materially out produce China in any future conflict. As a result of the 2008 Financial Crash and subsequent sequestration legislation, the U.S. military has confronted the realities of resource constrained strategy making. This will continue for the foreseeable future and will shape the next fallacy.
Exquisite Fallacy. This is the combination of the Vampire and Arsenal of Democracy fallacies. In WWII, Nazi Germany produced the best tank, the first operational fighter jet, and the world’s first operational cruise (V-1) and ballistic (V-2) missiles. While all these weapons systems were exquisite, Germany produced them in insufficient numbers and had difficulty maintaining them. As a result, these exquisite systems failed to help Nazi Germany win. On the other hand, the U.S. Arsenal of Democracy out-produced the Germans and Japanese with good enough technology to prevail. Now, roles are reversed and since the mid-1990s, the Defense Industrial Complex led the Department of Defense down the path of the Vampire Fantasy with programs such as the Army’s FCS to the largest debacle of all, the Joint Strike Fighter. Most of these programs caused billions of dollars while showing very little. While the U.S. will invest over a trillion dollars producing and fielding the JSF, the Chinese have produced knock-off variants of the JSF as a result of aggressive industrial-cyber espionage. While the U.S. JSF may be technically superior, it must overcome the “Tyranny of Distance” in the Asia-Pacific region and confront the element of mass from Chinese 4th and 5th Generation fighters. In this case, mass has a quality of its own. The maturity of China’s A2/AD strategy of mass producing low-cost asymmetric systems means the U.S. must reconsider its reliance on high-technical, maintenance intensive, and low production models in order to maintain a credible deterrence in the Asia-Pacific region. And, the biggest obstacle to changing is the resource constrained environment the U.S. is operating in.
While the U.S. still remains the world’s most powerful nation, it faces a more multipolar world where its strengths and influence are being challenged by other global players to include Russia and China. In order to maintain its position moving forward, it needs to confront LTG McMaster’s four fallacies and the two I have offered.
Chad M. Pillai is an Army Strategist. The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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Header Image: USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) kicks off Exercise Valiant Shield, the largest war games of the United States Navy since the Vietnam War. (Public Domain)