StratCom... The Next Generation in War-fighting

TIM RINNE
STATE COORDINATOR

The following article was prepared for distribution at the United Nations Association-USA National Convention, June 12-14 in Washington, D.C.

The consolidation of eight military missions in U.S. Strategic Command (nuclear deterrence; space; cyberspace; full-spectrum global strike; missile defense; intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance; information operations; and combating weapons of mass destruction) constitutes more than a simple expansion of StratCom’s power and reach.

It represents an evolutionary leap — a paradigm shift — in the way war is made.

Just as the invention of gunpowder and the splitting of the atom ushered in a new age of war-fighting, the creation of this global, integrated, space-reliant command has transformed the face of warfare.

Under “CONPLAN 8022” (the Pentagon contingency plan developed in the aftermath of 9/11), U.S. Strategic Command outside Omaha experienced what StratCom Commander former astronaut General Kevin Chilton described as not simply “a sea-state change, but a tsunami of change” in its mission and organization. In the space of five years, this Cold War icon shed its ‘defensive’ role as the headquarters of the U.S.’s nuclear deterrent to become the command center for offensively waging the Bush/Cheney Administration’s international “War on Terror.” StratCom went from being the ‘unthinkable’ weapon that, it was hoped, would ‘never be used’ to ‘being used for everything.’

On the mere perception of a threat to America’s national security, StratCom (on word from the president) is now authorized to preemptively attack any place on the face of the earth within one hour — using either conventional or nuclear weapons. It’s not for nothing that Commander Chilton testified to Congress that he thought Strategic Command should be re-named “Global Command” to better reflect its new role and mission.

The agility and speed with which the command now operates effectively bypass any constitutional checks by the U.S. government’s legislative or judicial branches (not to mention international bodies like the UN Security Council). As the personal preserve of the executive branch, 60 minutes from now, StratCom could have started the next war and Congress and the Courts wouldn’t even know till they heard about it on CNN.

At a “National Defense Industrial Association” conference in March 2007, former StratCom Commander (and current Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Marine General James Cartwright described the changed face of warfare that StratCom now sees itself confronting in the 21st century:

“Anything that comes off the face of the earth” [be it an explosive detonation, a rocket launch or a missile armed with either a conventional or nuclear warhead]…

…you have about 100 seconds to type it, figure out what it is, and act. I can’t even get a phone call through that fast.

But the national system is set up to have a phone conference about that.

You try to do that in the middle of the night. You try to do that in the middle of the day — get people out of meetings. It’s not possible.

In that 100 seconds, what do we do when we get people on the phone? We describe what’s going on so we spend most of the time in discovery rather than in options and activity and execution. We can’t do business that way.

And that, he said, was “the simple one” compared to the potential threat of a cyber attack:

…Virus launched out of Baghdad towards the United States, out to geosynchronous orbit, 23,000 miles out, and back down to Seattle for the attack — 300 milliseconds…

I can’t afford to do business the way we’re doing business, so we have to build the organizational construct to work in these timelines. We have to change the cultural approach to doing business, [from] having people get involved and discuss and review and then decide and then execute… to ‘intervention by exception’ — machine to machine, intervention by exception. Build the business rules. Missile defense won’t work without it. Space does not work without that. We’re at a huge disadvantage if we think of it otherwise.

But what happens to all the people who think they have a vote?

They’re disenfranchised. Business has discovered this. What do you do with middle management in those kind of timelines? It’s a huge problem.

Count Congress, the courts, the United Nations Security Council among the “middle management” that’s being “disenfranchised” under StratCom’s new operating format. The compressed time-frame — of necessity, StratCom would argue — limits democratic input. Decisions have to be made — ”machine to machine.” The ‘checks and balances’ provided for under the Constitution to prevent the executive branch from overreaching have been eclipsed by technology. Under these conditions, the safeguard of ‘separation of powers’ has become a rickety thing of the past, unsuited to the threats of the 21st century.

This fixation on speed, however, comes dangerously close to a policy of ‘shoot first, ask questions later.’

What about computer error or ‘flawed intelligence’? What if StratCom launches and coordinates an attack (as it did with the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign in Iraq) but there are no Weapons of Mass Destruction? What if, as was the case with Iraq, the information was wrong?

Even if it acts in good faith, with the best of intentions, StratCom — by its very mode of operation — runs the risk of flouting international rule of law. It risks a repetition of the same “illegal” act under the UN Charter that Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke of when rendering judgment on that preemptive attack against Iraq.

This ‘New StratCom’ however, is not just a ‘good soldier’ dutifully and obediently following orders it’s handed.

It proposes. It promotes.

It’s walking the halls of Congress, lobbying elected officials, hobnobbing with military contractors and the scientific community, and spinning its public relations message as it makes its views and wants known — on everything from why we need to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons to having direct control over the newly commissioned “Cyber Command.”

With its comprehensive mission array, centralized authority and emphasis on speed and agility, StratCom will not only plan, direct and execute the next military conflict the White House gets the U.S. into — it will collect and interpret the intelligence upon which the decision to attack will be made. The same entity that (under its “Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance” mission) is framing the alleged threat is also the entity that (under its “Global Strike” and “Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction” missions) will execute the strike. A ‘firewall’ no longer separates the ‘accuser’ from the ‘executor.’ It’s a ‘closed loop’ with lots of room for human error — if not outright mischief.

Ten years ago, with the Pentagon’s more decentralized command and control structure — and without the advantages of space technology — it would have been organizationally and technologically impossible to create a weapon with StratCom’s prowess. In the whole of recorded history, there’s never been a weapon that could offensively attack any place on the face of the earth (with nuclear weapons, no less) in such a compressed time frame.

It constitutes nothing less than an evolution in war-making — one that hourly places the security of the entire world at risk.

Operating as it does with such freedom of action and so little oversight, StratCom is on the verge of becoming a law unto itself: a kind of 21st century presidential “Praetorian Guard,” exercising vigilante justice.

And before things get any further out of control, the Congress and the courts of the U.S. — and the General Assembly of the UN — need to start talking about how best to rein in this new war-making menace with a system of international protocols.

Because (a less belligerent Obama Administration notwithstanding), there’s no putting this genie of StratCom back in the bottle any more than in 1945 we could undo the new danger that was unleashed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Back then, the world had to learn how to live with ‘The Bomb.’

Now, we must learn how to live with StratCom.

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