Leadership for tomorrow

Harry G. Summers

April 25, 1991|By Harry G. Summers

GEN. H. NORMAN Schwarzkopf is home from the gulf and soon to retire. Marine Commandant Gen. Al Gray and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Carl Vuono are also stepping down. New leadership is coming on board to lead the post-Cold War, post-gulf war and post-nuclear-era military. Most Americans understand the implications of the end of the first two conflicts, but when it comes to the military, the end of the nuclear era has the most profound implications of all.

When the "atomic age" began 46 years ago, the notion arose that these new weapons had ushered in a brave new world that rendered the theories of such "old-fashioned" military theorists as Karl von Clausewitz and Alfred Thayer Mahan worthless. A number of self-appointed civilian nuclear "strategists" preached that all previous military battle-field experience was obsolete and only they could know the truth about the battle field of the future.

The Air Force -- which with its "strategic" bombers then had the nation's only nuclear delivery capability -- jumped on board. The bomber types of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) dominated the leadership of the Air Force, and Tactical Air Command (TAC) fighter pilots and the airlifters of Military Airlift Command (MAC) were relegated to the status of second-class citizens. As Air Force Col. Jacksel Broughton related in his accounts of air combat over North Vietnam, these bomber types severely hampered the conduct of the air war in Vietnam.

The Navy soon got on board as well. Under the leadership of Adm. Hyman Rickover, nuclear-propeled submarines with their nuclear-tipped SLBMs (sea-launched ballistic missiles) became the elite of the Navy, and the Naval Academy was converted into an engineering trade school.

The Army was the most pathetic case of all. As historian Russell Weigley noted, "A national military policy and strategy relying upon massive nuclear retaliation for nearly all the uses of force left the Army uncertain of its place in the policy and strategy, uncertain that civilians recognized a need even for the Army's existence and uncertain therefore of the service's whole future." Under the leadership of World War II airborne hero Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the Army grasped at the straws of the rapid reaction mission as the basis for its existence and promoted the air-transportable 82nd Airborne Division as the Army's elite.

Like their glamorous but equally obsolete horse cavalry predecessors prior to World War II, this "airborne Mafia" kept armored and mechanized forces in their place and instead championed light divisions with which to challenge the Marine Corps' expeditionary force mission. The fatuity of that approach was dramatically revealed in the Persian Gulf war.

Now the "atomic age" has come to an end. Nuclear weapons no longer have any warfighting utility. The INF Treaty has eliminated intermediate-range nuclear weapons and short-range nuclear weapons will soon go as well. Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara has argued that nuclear deterrence can be satisfied with as few as 500 warheads.

Conventional forces, not nuclear forces, are the real "strategic" (i.e., war-winning) military forces of the future, and we need military leaders who understand that new reality. Fortunately, the Army appears to be getting just such a leader.

Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, now the Army's vice chief of staff, has been named the next Army chief of staff. Although he has a combat infantryman's badge and a Purple Heart medal from his combat service in Vietnam -- evidence that he has indeed seen the elephant -- he is at heart a tanker who has commanded armor companies, battalions and brigades in the 2nd ("Hell on Wheels") and 3rd ("Spearhead") Armored Divisions.

A former commander of the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), Sullivan also served as the deputy commandant of the Army's Command and General Staff College, the heart of the Army's AirLand battle warfighting doctrine, and as the deputy chief of staff for military operations and plans on the Army General Staff. He brings with him an understanding of Army field operations and doctrine and an appreciation of the intricacies of the Pentagon and Washington bureaucracies.

As the Army over the next few years shrinks by one-quarter of its present strength, his challenge is to create an Army focused on what it does best -- close with the enemy and destroy it with fire and maneuver so as to break its will to resist. That's what the Army did in the Persian Gulf, and that's what it should be prepared to do in the future.

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