WHAT WILL AMERICA RISK?
A Survey of Recent Articles
W hen the United States has used military force in the Balkans and other hot spots in recent years, protecting the lives of its pilots and soldiers has been a high priority — too high, some analysts contend. As several make clear in Aerospace Power journal Summer 2000) and elsewhere, they worry that the worlds only superpower is losing the ability to use force effectively. Thus encouraging foes and quite possibly costing more lives.
In the Kosovo operation of 1999, President Bill Clinton early on explicitly ruled out the use of ground troops, and pilots serving under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), mostly Americans, were ordered to fly above 15,000 feet to avoid being shot down. On the ground below, the Serbian army was largely able to keep out of the bombs’ way, and its “ethnic cleansing” accelerated. Thousands of Kosovar Albanians were killed and injured and more than one million forcibly were displaced. Then after the ‘78 days of bombing ended in a self-proclaimed NATO victory, with nary an American life lost, U. S. Troops became “peace-keepers.” .” But once again, self—protection was paramount, R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post (October 5, 1999) reported. Whereas, British soldiers, for instance, were widely dispersed and patrolled on foot, in small numbers, Americans were based in an isolated, protected enclave, allowed out only in helicopters or convoys of armored vehicles.
This is force—protection fetishism,’ argues Jeffrey Record, a professor at the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), Alabama, and one of several writers addressing U.S. attitudes toward casualties in the same issue of Aerospace Power Journal. was preserving the life of a single American pilot -- a vu1unteer professional —worth jeopardizing the lives of I ,600,000 Kosovar Albanians and God-knows—how—many future victims of Serbian aggression? Record asks. If protecting the lives of American pilots and soldiers is the top prior, not just keep them home? Vincent J. Goulding, Jr., a marine colonel, asserts in Parameters. (Summer 2000) that in Kosovo, the United States “sent the strongest possible signal that, while it is willing to conduct military operations in situations not vital to the country’s national interests, it is not willing to put in harms way the means necessary to conduct these operations effectively and conclusively.
The excessive concern with casualties, these analysts say, not only hinders accomplishment of the mission, but also makes it harder to credibly threaten the use of force in the future. Slobodan Nihilosex Record notes, “called the West’s bluff repeatedly and successfully during the war in Bosnia and later rejected NATO’s ultimatum on Kosovo.” In Somalia — an example often cited by those who hold that Americans will not tolerate casualties— the United States swiftly withdrew their forces after 18 American soldiers were killed iii Nogadishii in 1993. But while public support did fall after the deaths, it had also dropped sharply before the firefight, notes James Burk, sociologist at Texas A&M University, Political Science Quarterly (Spring 1999). The public did not go along when the humanitarian famine—relief effort turned into an attempt to end the civil war in Somalia and build a new nation.
Citing a 1996 RAND study, U.S. Air Force Major Charles K. Hyde writes in Aerospace Power journal that Americans balance their regard for human life “within a continuous cost—benefit analysis ...... It is only logical that increased casualties will result in a decline in public support unless an increase in the benefits or prospect for success offset the costs.” A recent study of the ‘Triangle Institute for Strategic Studies, Hyde points out, found that the public “is far more tolerant of potential casualties” than its leaders are. In one hypothetical scenario, a question was put to 623 senior military officers, 683 influential civilian leaders, and 1,001 members of the general public: How many American deaths would be acceptable to complete the mission of stabilizing the government in the Congo? Though that mission might be deemed remote from U.S. vital interests, the public was willing to accept, on average, more than 6,800 deaths, while the civilian leaders would accept only 484, and the officers only 284—gaps that are revealing, even though real—life numbers might he very different.
Record traces the leaders’ caution to the Vietnam \\ar. An officer corps traumatized by the experience of fighting with declining public approval embraced the doctrine that force should be used only when vital interests are at stake, objectives are clear, public support is assured, and all alternatives have been exhausted — and then the force used must be over-whelming “These tests effectively deny” the use of force for “coercive diplomacy.” he says.“ The U.S. military may he inure adverse to taking casualties than other nations’ armed forces. But American sensitivity in that regard “long predates Vietnam,” observes Daniel R. Morteiosen, of the Airpower Research Institute, at Maxwell AFB. In U.S. military history’, technology, especially airpower, has often been relied upon to avoid casualties, “even when airpower itself precipitates heavy civilian casualties, as it did in World War II.”
T he high level of caution among American military and civilian leaders, writes Karl P. Mueller, a Professor at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Max-
well AFB, in Aerospace Power Journal, partly reflects “the increasing potential cleanliness of warfare and the West’s slow, ongoing shift away from barbarism.” Over the last two centuries, conventional combat has grown ‘less horrible,” thanks to medical care and casualty evacuation, mechanization , amid refinements in
weaponry. “The more that casualties can and should be avoided, the more justification they require and the more unacceptable the profligate waste of soldiers’ lives becomes.”
Mueller also sees “a kernel of truth” in the belief that the American public will not tolerate casualties. “U.S. public support for wars that seem inordinately costly relative to their objectives — or that appear to offer little prospect of success—has indeed disintegrated as body counts have risen, most visibly in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia.” Even so, “historical experience offers no reason to believe that the American public will fail to support costly’ wars in which the lives of U.S. troops arc not apparently being wasted.” The real issue is reluctance to suffer casu-
alties iii situations not in the national interest,” Goulding argues. “But since U.S. forces are routinely employed on such missions, that argument is moot. “We certainly’ ought to protect our forces and protect noncombatants, insofar as we can, regardless of popular opinion—-not because dining so is politically prudent but because it is morally right.” Mueller writes. “Conversely, however, there arc objectives that are worth dying— and killing— in order to achieve; iii such cases, it is morally’ wrong not to risk or take lives when necessary.” How’ are national leaders to tell when and how to use military force? Inconveniently for [them],” he say’s, “the answer is that these choices call not for simple rules of thumb but for actual wisdom. Deciding which causes are worth risking American lives to pursue and what amount of risk is appropriate ultimately’ requires a moral, not simply a political, compass.
WQ The WILSON QUARTERLY, Autumn 2000, (pgs. 97-98)
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