Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Centrality of the Marine Corps in the Emerging Defense Posture

Modern post-war drawdowns have several repeatable features.  Among them: first, critics wonder aloud why we need two land armies--usually looking to minimize in some way the Marine Corps.  Second, USMC boosters wage a furious "waving the bloody shirt from Guadalcanal" effort to justify their existence.  For some reason, I think this drawdown is (and will be) different.

This post on National Review started out to me to be reminiscent of "bloody shirt" arguments we've heard in the past, summoning the ghost of Louis Johnson and others.  But then it moved itself onto a defensible strategic rationale for not only the existence of the Marine Corps, but for--in my opinion--the centrality of the Marine Corps.

America's overseas interests continue to be where they have always been; clustered at the land-sea interface where human endeavor predominates.  This is the environment of the Marine Corps.  As the United States wrestles with its capabilities, capacities and interests amidst serial legislative and executive malpractice in Washington,  we will come to rely on modern American Seapower more heavily to exercise influence and protect and sustain our interests.  Central to this Seapower is the world's most feared, middle-weight, sea-based military force--the Marines. 

The argument THIS time is unlikely to be "why a Marine Corps?".  It is the Army who now must ask deep and difficult questions of itself.  Is it mobile and transportable enough to be useful in theaters where the land to sea ratio suggests movement and force application from the sea?  Even if it were, does the US possess the means to move and transport it in operationally relevant ways?  Can it sustain itself logistically without co-located "iron mountains" from which it provides?

It is the Marine Corps that will provide operationally relevant land-power in the emerging defense security environment--short of war.  As our Army re-deploys to the United States following a decade plus of war in Asia, it must renew itself and rededicate itself to its traditional, historic role as a strategic reserve.  There are elements of the US Army that will be crucial in the emerging security environment--Air and Missile Defense, Special Forces, and Logistics among them--but but it will take significant institutional and cultural change in the Army to recognize and act upon these forces.

American Seapower will take on an increasingly heavy share of the load, and the Marines will be critical to this effort.  Those conflicts beyond the capability of deployed and available USMC forces backed by the Navy and Air Force, will require a robust US Army combat capability.  The questions before our leaders and strategists is how much, how ready, and at what cost?

Keep making sound strategic arguments, USMC friends.  They are convincing.  Leave the bloody shirt at home.

Bryan McGrath

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