TCS Daily

How Pre-Emption Will Work

By Dale Franks - June 14, 2002 12:00 AM

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been making the rounds to push for the new security policy they envision for the United States. Based on the comments of the president and vice president, it seems that a central point of this new security policy will be the use of preemptive strikes against threats to the United States. The president says he will use all his power to combat "the new totalitarians" that would threaten Americans with weapons of mass destruction.

In theory, this is a perfectly acceptable -- and prudent -- security policy. In a world where weapons of mass destruction have proliferated to such a large degree that even non-governmental organizations have access to them, it is imperative that we have the ability to seek out and destroy such weapons before they are used against us. Even more important than the destruction of the weapons themselves is the destruction of those groups who would use them.

Outside the realm of theory, however, implementing such a policy requires a few prerequisites without which the policy cannot work.

First, to maintain such a policy over the long term will require a substantial amount of political will. Already, one can hear the yelps of dismay issuing from the European political elites at the very idea of unilateral military intervention. The president must steel himself against the inevitable criticisms that will probably come not only from our enemies, but from our allies as well. Indeed, European protests against unilateral U.S. action can almost be assumed to be automatic, even in cases where U.S. action clearly profits the Europeans in terms of increasing their own security.

In addition, the general assembly of the United Nations will almost certainly pass resolutions criticizing the United States for violations of international law. Internally, the president's domestic political opponents will be more than happy to use such resolutions for partisan purposes. Moreover, it is not unlikely that congressional opponents of the president will attempt to use Congress' lawmaking powers to inhibit the president's ability to launch preemptive strikes against threats to our security.

The president must make it unmistakably plain to the American people, and to the world, why such a policy is necessary, and he must be willing to endure the criticism that such a policy will inevitably raise. Fortunately, this process has already begun.

Second, to physically implement such a policy, we must increase America's ability to project force around the world. While we do have the ability to project American air power to nearly any place in the world, we do not have a similar ability to project ground combat power in the same fashion. Since there are circumstances in which the application of air power is not enough, we must have the ability to put ground combat forces into places where important objectives must be seized and held.

Presently, only the Marine Corps, through its two Marine Expeditionary
Forces (MEF), has the ability to project such power. Each MEF is a combined arms force, equivalent in size to a heavy brigade, and which includes its own organic air support. Their equipment and 30 days worth of supplies are located on Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships based in various areas of the world. In addition, the Army has sufficient amphibious assets to put between one and two more brigades on the ground with the Marines; however, the Army does not have its own integrated air component.

Increasing our available sealift capability is mandatory if we wish to give a preemptive policy the teeth it needs to succeed. Primarily, this will require the acquisition of suitable transport ships with Roll-On/Roll-Off capability in order to transport the Army's armor, heavy weapons, and supplies. We must also obtain additional C-17 cargo aircraft, which can carry relatively heavy loads and land on fairly primitive airstrips. To keep the C-17s flying will require an upgrade and expansion of our fleet of in-flight refueling tankers, many of which are older than the pilots who fly them.

Last, but certainly not least, we must ensure that our intelligence community is able to provide timely, specific, and reliable information about threats to our security. In the wake of revelations about how the FBI and CIA handled and disseminated information prior to 911, it has become obvious that institutional reforms are needed. Inter-agency rivalry between the FBI and CIA must be eliminated, and the open flow of information between the two agencies encouraged.

A deep cultural change will also be required at both agencies. The FBI must rely less on the type of reactive role that they play in criminal investigations, and become much more proactive in investigations concerning national security. The CIA, for its part, must shake off the bureaucratic aversion to risk-taking that has all too often characterized the agency's operations since the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s.

The preemptive policy announced by the president is appropriate to the security threats we face. But to make it work, we must have the will, the means, and the knowledge to implement it properly.



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