Strategic Horizons: Land Power Myths, Identity Crisis Put U.S. Army on the Back Foot

Strategic Horizons: Land Power Myths, Identity Crisis Put U.S. Army on the Back Foot

As the U.S. military struggles with severe budget cuts driven by political posturing rather than a strategic vision, the Army is facing a deep identity crisis. As defense expert Nadia Schadlow explained, "After 10 years of fighting two major wars and suffering the brunt of America’s military casualties, the most experienced and powerful ground force in the world now has to justify its value and relevance."

The historical American preference was to keep only a small army during peacetime, creating one only when war came and demobilizing afterward. That would not work during the Cold War, however, so, for the first time, the United States preserved its land power as a deterrent to land power-centric enemies, first the Soviet Union and North Korea with Chinese backing, and later "rogue states" like Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Air and sea power might be able to blunt an invasion by an enemy's conventional forces, but control of the land was the ultimate indication of America's seriousness and commitment to an ally, whether stationed abroad during peacetime to deter attack or, if necessary, fighting to repel an invasion. The U.S. Army thus served in part to reassure allies in dangerous parts of the world. Land power also allowed the United States to shape the outcome of conflicts and crises. In addition to large-scale combat, the Army provided a huge range of other capabilities, such as counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, stabilization, security assistance and disaster relief. But its primary mission was, in its own words, "to fight and win the nation's wars."

Today, the chances of an army-centric enemy invading a U.S. ally have decreased dramatically. Russia had a hard time fighting weak, neighboring Georgia—it poses no conventional military threat to NATO. North Korea has a massive army and a bizarrely unpredictable regime, but the South Korean military could defeat the North with modest assistance from U.S. ground forces. China could invade Taiwan but is unlikely to do so given the political and economic costs. Iran remains a threat to other nations in its region but not a conventional military one.

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