Last week, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff, announced that the Army, in conjunction with the Marine Corps and the U.S. Special Operations Command, was creating something called the Office of Strategic Landpower. As word spread through the defense media, including blogs and social media, much of the initial reaction treated the development as simple Defense Department politics and interservice wrangling. The land forces, according to this line of thought, were attempting to rebut ideas about future conflict promoted by the Air Force and Navy. Since those services had already created an AirSea Battle Office, the land forces had to create a counterweight to protect their share of the defense budget.
In reality there is much more at play. The creation of the new office is part of an important debate within the U.S. armed forces and the wider community of national security specialists. The outcome of this debate will affect not only the type of military the United States has in coming decades, but also the nature of American national security strategy. It might at first seem esoteric, but the stakes are huge.
Skilled military leaders have always understood that war has both a physical and a psychological dimension. The physical dimension allows an army, navy and air force to compel enemies and noncombatants to act in a specific way. By contrast, effects in the psychological dimension are indirect, leading both enemies and noncombatants to choose to act in a specific way either by fear of what will happen to them if they don't or the promise of reward if they do. The two dimensions clearly overlap: Physically compelling enemies to do something, or killing them, has psychological effects on anyone who observes or hears about it. But skill in one dimension does not automatically equate to success in the other.