The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

‘Full Spectrum’ Dominance and a Triumph for Counterinsurgents

As predicted/foretold, Defense Secretary Bob Gates had quite a lot to say during the rollout of his budget request about the concept of full spectrum

Karan Emery
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Apr 06, 2009

As predicted/foretold, Defense Secretary Bob Gates had quite a lot to say during the rollout of his budget request about the concept of “full spectrum” operations in the context of getting the counterinsurgents a foot into the budgetary door. Taking questions from reporters, Gates broke his budget down “crudely” by saying that he was devoting 10 percent of it for irregular warfare, 50 percent for conventional conflict and 40 percent for dual-purpose capabilities. However, as it actually works out — Gates said he wouldn’t be able to calculate actual program cost savings until the request actually gets to the Office of Management and Budget and then the Hill in the coming days — it’s an exponential increase for the counterinsurgents in the budget.

For instance, check out how Gates institutionalized funding for U.S. military partnerships with other militaries to boost their counterinsurgency capabilities:

To boost global partnership capacity efforts, we will increase funding by $500 million. These initiatives include training and equipping foreign militaries to undertake counter terrorism and stability operations.

If I’m not mistaken, the money before this budget for such partnering was catch-as-catch-can — in other words, the military found money for such partnering by borrowing from existing, barely-related programs or creating new ones ad hoc for specific purposes. Now partnering and mentorship is included in the Pentagon’s base budget. While it’s true that $500 million is a rounding error in a Pentagon base-budget that’s $537 billion, the fact that the effort is included in the budget at all is a significant step. I asked John Nagl, the retired Army lieutenant colonel who now serves as the president of the Center for a New American Security, for his reaction, since Nagl has been the leading champion of creating such an institutional capability. Here’s what Nagl told me:

The most important military component of the Long War against radical extremism may not be the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our friends to fight against our common enemies. This budget takes significant steps in the direction of helping our friends defeat the internal threats to their stability that also threaten us.

Gates took pains to say that this isn’t a zero-sum process and that the institutionalization of counterinsurgency lessons shouldn’t be seen as coming at the expense of conventional forces. Whether or not that’s just spin — after all, the Air Force just lost the F-22 and the Army’s number-one vehicle-modernization project are targeted for cancellation — the counterinsurgents have reason to be pleased by this budget. Here’s how Gates put the balance of concerns:

I think that this debate between conventional and irregular [warfare] is quite artificial. Most of the people that I talked to are now increasingly talking about one or the other [along] a spectrum of conflict. [We can] face at same time an insurgent with an AK-47 and his supporting element with a highly sophisticated ballistic missile. We’ve been calling it, in the last year or so, complex hybrid warfare. … I’m not trying to have irregular capabilities take the place of conventional capabilities, I’m just trying to get the irregular guys a seat at the table.

Karan Emery | I'm a research scientist interested in learning more about how neural activity influences and shapes human behavior. Project design and management, data analysis and interpretation, and the creation and implementation of testing tools are among my specialties. I enjoy coming up with new ideas and coming up with practical solutions to issues that are widely applicable. My colleagues would describe me as a driven, resourceful individual who maintains a positive, proactive attitude when faced with adversity. Currently, I’m seeking opportunities that will allow me to develop and promote technologies that benefit human health. Specific fields of interest include data analytics, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.


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