As each day passes in the pandemic, we seem to have to embrace a world that continues to bring additional concerns that soak up any emotional bandwidth we have left. Dealing with the personal impact of COVID-19, natural disasters, domestic and international economic troubles, and the chilling moments of January 6th at the Capitol and its political fallout may seem more than we should have to bear. We saw a man who clearly had issues with the government hold a five-hour standoff with police at the Library of Congress just yesterday.
But a single event brought home a 20-year war to our collective doorsteps: Afghanistan, graveyard of empires. The place where our response to the terrorists of 9/11 first experienced the power of the United States and its allies. A place that stirs the complete range of emotions for anyone who has been touched by that war. Many will ask was it worth it. Others want to know why we stayed so long, and others why we left. Everyone will be interested in knowing what comes next. The United States may be done with Afghanistan this time around, but that is not the end of the story for Americans or anyone else, especially the Afghan people.
As I write, Kabul has fallen. A story and a place that received no attention a year ago is now getting wall-to-wall media coverage. One interesting and needed set of messages I saw was for Afghanistan veterans to reach out to any number of services for them to cope with the memories that the end of this war has stirred. I am not sure I ever saw such offers before. Perhaps this is an indicator of our improving capabilities to treat the invisible scars of war. A classic book by Fred Iklé titled Every War Must End is always close to my mind in moments such as this. One of the many ideas Iklé offered was that “governments tend to lose sight of the ending of wars and the nation’s interests that lie beyond it.” While the cost is ultimately born by many, national leadership of wars between nations will always own the responsibility for the decisions to start, continue, and end war. Our hope is that they have the wisdom to know what to do.
At the global level, the ability of various nations to deal with the chaos in Afghanistan is being tested. By now, you and I can see a bit better what lies ahead as the literal smoke clears and Hamid Karzai International Airport stops being the focus of the exit of U.S. and other personnel. In the moment, much pointing of precise or not-so-precise fingers at the person, persons, organization, nation, or group that “lost” that war is ubiquitous. But perspective is difficult to frame in such moments. Even if one is correct in his or her assessment of blame, what if anything should be done? As many of us often wonder, “If I were king . . .” What is the end of that sentence?
With the turning of a page in our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, our Forum helps us look forward to what we might expect in the global arena. The U.S. Army’s Futures Command Commanding General John Michael “Mike” Murray and Richard Hagner provide an update on Project Convergence, which is the Army’s effort to achieve “the full integration of effects across all domains to reach overmatch on the battlefield.” As a longtime proponent of the use of the term effects to best describe how the military and other elements of power are applied, I find their discussion edifying. (Maybe battlespace will come back in vogue, too.) We next welcome the return of T.X. Hammes, my colleague here at NDU, who surveys the always shifting balance of offense versus defense in military operations and in doing so points out several important vulnerabilities for the joint force to consider. The shift in policy focus toward Great Power competition began a few years ago and is now taking stride as Thomas Lynch, another of my teammates and editor of the recent NDU Press book on the subject, Strategic Assessment 2020: Into a New Era of Great Power Competition, outlines the patterns and principles to focus our attention looking ahead.
This year’s Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Essay Competitions was completed virtually in May of this year with a record number of entrants at more than 110 submissions from across joint professional military education institutions. My thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Smotherman both for his leadership and for stewarding the 27 judges in this great effort. Once again, we had a tie in one of the categories, so we are publishing four winning essays. Winning the Secretary of Defense Essay Competition, from the U.S. Army War College (second year in a row for Carlisle), Charles Carter describes how we should decode China’s deterrence moves. This year’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Essay Competition, Strategic Research Paper category, resulted in two winners from the Marine Corps University. Aaron Smith describes how the Marines could best defeat enemy armor formations with purpose-built teams. Douglas Verblaauw next outlines how best to slow a Chinese maritime campaign. In the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Essay Competition, Strategy Article category, Timothy Renahan, from the U.S. Army War College, helps us decide how to achieve energy independence at our home bases.
From one of our teammates at the National War College, our JPME Today article by Kelly Ward provides excellent insights on how to teach our rising senior leaders about cutting-edge and potentially disruptive technologies. In Features, Curtis Pinnix provides a proposed methodology to speed up targeting across all mediums, long a vexing problem at the beginning of campaign planning and while in execution. David Bickers discusses the radical reform that has taken place in the People’s Liberation Army over the past 5 years and points out vulnerabilities in this new PLA joint force. Mortuary affairs—often an afterthought in force deployment planning—is examined by Timothy Dwyer, who discusses the real lessons that will guide us in dealing with the dead on the battlefields in a future peer conflict.
We offer two excellent articles in Recall and an important Joint Doctrine article this issue. From the Joint Staff’s Joint History and Research Office, Christopher Holmes provides a concise and informative history of the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Adding to his already impressive catalog of writings in this journal and elsewhere, our teammate Frank Hoffman continues his efforts to help us understand how innovation and learning play out in wartime, especially during Operation Barney in the Sea of Japan during World War II. In Joint Doctrine, looking back at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) use of airpower in humanitarian interventions in Kosovo in 1999 and in Libya in 2011, Michael Clark, Erik Jorgensen, and Gordon Schriver recommend we take another look at what our doctrine has to offer. You will also find three important book reviews and the latest joint doctrine update.
Fred Iklé had one more appropriate thought on wars as his short book ended: “Those with power to start a war frequently come to discover that they lack the power to stop it.” He was writing at the height of the Cold War, when annihilation of humanity hung in the balance—at least, theoretically, if a nuclear exchange occurred between the Soviet Union and NATO. While our most recent wars did not involve such stakes, the cost to all involved is still being paid and will be long from now. Wars seem to linger in our collective memory and our involvement in Afghanistan will likely remain on the minds of those who lost, on all sides.
Let us know what questions and answers you might have about one of humanity’s most difficult issues—war. We are here to listen.
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NDU Press produces Joint Force Quarterly in concert with ongoing education and research at National Defense University in support of the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. JFQ is the Chairman's joint military and security studies journal designed to inform and educate national security professionals on joint and integrated operations; whole of government contributions to national security policy and strategy; homeland security; and developments in training and joint military education to better equip America's military and security apparatus to meet tomorrow's challenges while protecting freedom today.