Five Questions with Steven Metz on U.S. Landpower


This is the latest edition of our Five Questions series.  Each week, we feature an expert, scholar, or practitioner answering five questions on a topic of current relevance in the world of defense, security, and foreign policy.  Well, four of the questions are topical.  The fifth is about booze. We are War on the Rocks, after all.


Steven Metz, Ph.D. has been an analyst and writer on national security politcy and military strategy for three decades specializing in American strategy, strategic futures, and insurgency.  He is the author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy and writes a weekly column on defense issues for World Politics Review.  Follow him on twitter: @steven_metz.


1.  With the imminent withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, do you see this as a bookend of a finite period in which the Army was engaged as a counterinsurgency force?  Do you foresee the Army serving in a long-term stabilization or COIN role again in this generation?

I think counterinsurgency support will remain an important part of U.S. strategy and hence an important task for the Army.  We need to realize that initially Iraq and Afghanistan were not counterinsurgency support, but nation creation and counterinsurgency (i.e. where U.S. forces were in the lead).  I don’t believe we’ll undertake that in the near future with one possible exception – the collapse of North Korea.  And maybe not even there.

I would hope that the Army would do this time what I recommended in 1995: keep the capability for counterinsurgency alive even when it is not predominant.  This could be done by analysis, education. experimentation wargaming, and regular limited exercises.  This would, I think, be better than doing what we’ve done in the past: simply assume we’ll “never” do it again and erase all memory.

2.  Based on your expectation about its future role, then, how would you define the Army’s most appropriate end strength and force structure, and how would you prioritise acquisitions over the next ten years?

I have no idea on specific end strength numbers but I think the lodestone for structure should be adaptability and expansibility.  I’ve also argued that the world is at the beginning of a robotics driven RMA so I would prioritize acquisition and experimentation in that realm.  Adaptability means smaller autonomous units – perhaps even smaller than a BCT – and more effective interface with multiple types of partners outside of traditional foreign militaries.   To give one example of this, I’ve long argued that far futures wargames, rather than working with an extrapolation of the current force and current capabilities, should provide the players with a complex opponent or challenge and then task them to design a force (specifically an interagency force) to deal with it.  In other words, rather than asking “How can the current projected force deal with future opponents and challenges?” we should ask “What would a force optimized to deal with future opponents and challenges look like?”  Than we focus on the delta between the projected future force and the optimized future force to see how we can make it smaller.

3) We recently published a piece by Kori Schake, in which she argued that the Army is failing to “sell itself” to the American public and to Congress.  Do you agree?

I have a first draft of a rebuttal piece.  I do agree that the Army has not made a convincing case for the strategic importance of effective landpower.  In part this is because it is so obvious to people inside the Army that they have trouble understanding why anyone would question it.   The Army has largely based its argument on the “we’ve been surprised many times in the past” position.  The problem is that the anti-landpower folks have made a pretty convincing case that the future will not be like the past.  My own take is to specify what sorts of things a future U.S. President would NOT be able to do sans effective, quickly deployable landpower which can undertake protracted operations.  Then the nation can decide if it’s really willing to eschew those things.

4) You’re quite a prolific tweeter.  How have twitter and other social media platforms changed the way you conduct research, engage with other scholars, and write?

It’s certainly broadened by intellectual aperture by giving me insight into people and sources that I otherwise might not have been aware of.  It is particular valuable for my weekly World Politics Review column which I’ve been doing for a year and half now.  I found that I have a hard time coming up with a topic on weeks when I’m on Twitter hiatus.  I normally use Evernote during the week to capture links and ideas from Twitter, then use those to write my column on Sunday.

5) Finally, what is the ideal happy hour drink to cap off a long day ruminating about landpower?

The only consistent thing about me is the absence of consistency, so I go through cycles.  That said, I’m kind of a maximum sensory blast person – hence Laphroaig because of its intense peatiness, the hoppiest IPAs I can find, espresso rather than regular coffee.  At a restaurant, I normally go for the most intense thing on the menu, whether in terms of spiciness or unusual ingredients.


John Amble is the Managing Editor of War on the Rocks.  A former United States Army intelligence officer, he has been featured in print and broadcast media in the U.S. and Canada.  Follow him on Twitter @johnamble.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army

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