Iraq and its ConsequencesLooking at the consequences of the Iraq crisis I will discuss the political implications, then assess what we have seen on the battlefield and I will end with a few conclusions what this may mean for the military planning of the Non-US NATO nations.
1. The political consequences
If one had to describe the Iraq crisis then one could possibly say that it was handled politically lousier than anything I can recall in the field of crisis management, the military operations were conducted superbly by the coalition, in particular the Americans and the post-war situation proves to be so difficult that it is by far too early to judge whether the Iraq intervention will be a success or a failure.
None of the governments involved performed well but if one had to rate the governments for their performance in crisis management which means after all to be able to influence the events then the French and the German government would presumably compete for the worst performance while Turkey is presumably the real big loser. With Iraq under American influence Turkey lost its geo-strategic importance for the Americans, its government turned out to be as reliable as the "old" Europeans and the economic boost for which the Americans were willing to pump substantial money into Turkey will not occur. But as I said , this is not the time to look back, one should concentrate on damage repair.
There is a lot to do since Saddam Hussein succeeded in damaging severely the UN, NATO and the EU and , as long as the existence of WMD remains to be proven, the credibility of the US.
Moreover, the outcome of the crisis may lead over time to substantial changes of the international law.
The UN were once again unable to see their own decisions through when they failed to do what UNSCR 1441 had threatened as the consequence of Iraqi non-compliance. As a result no one should expect that an American administration will ever turn to the UN again as long as the US believes to be at war. This, however, is the prevailing view in Washington since 9/11. The UN will therefore remain reduced to play a co-ordinating or facilitating role in humanitarian affairs.
But the issues at stake go beyond the UN, they aim at some of the fundamentals of international law. One question raised by this crisis is whether an international order which treats democracies as equals of tyrannies and which therefore offers the same degree of protection against intervention to both of them can really be the order of the 21st century. Another issue to be debated is whether the extant definition of self-defence is good enough in a world in which weapons of mass destruction ( WMD ) are spreading.
There are no answers at this time but to cling to an order which was born in the 17th century and then heavily influenced by the outcome of WW II and the defeat of colonialism is definitely no answer as well.
NATO was damaged as well since three nations refused to allow precautionary planning for the defence of a member nation. This really means to put the axe at the very roots of any defensive alliance since it destroys the credibility of NATO's central promise, collective defence. If no corrective action were taken nations will inevitably look at coalitions of the willing. But increased reliance on such coalitions will turn out to be divisive at the end of the day.
The EU is possibly the organisation which was most severely damaged. Europe does no longer speak with one voice. The majority of nations clearly signalled that they are not prepared to accept to be dominated by either France or Germany. On the other hand Europe must eventually understand that it will only have influence if it speaks with one voice and if that voice is backed by adequate capabilities. This means that all efforts in the domain of defence which do not include the UK are doomed to fail. The recent meeting of four European nations at Brussels who wished to achieve more and closer defence co-operation will therefore fail as did the French attempt to enforce during the Iraq crisis a multi-polar world.
The net result politically is therefore quite a lot of broken china which at the first glance does not seem to bode well for Europe and the transatlantic relationship. But this is admittedly a premature conclusion since political repair work is under way because both sides, the Americans as well as the Europeans, understand that they depend on each other and that they continue to need each other. The repair, however, can succeed only if the European NATO allies were able to demonstrate that they understood the main military lesson : They need to acquire some 21st century capabilities.
2. The military consequences
The war in Iraq saw the quick defeat of a 20th century army by an armed force of the 21st century which was able to conquer a country of the size of France with some three army divisions, to some degree an indeed asymmetric war.
Which were the ingredients of success ?
1. The US achieved operational surprise in an announced war since they began the war by joint and combined operations and not , as many had assumed, by an air campaign.
This was complemented by tactical surprises achieved through operations by Special Forces. Some of them had been in Iraq for quite some time when the first air attack occurred.
2. The US paralysed the Iraqi command, control and communications ( C3 )and the air defence through surgical strikes within a couple of days which led to unchallenged air superiority before the end of the first week.
3. The US applied for the first time ever network centric warfare ( NCW ) by taking advantage of their incredible intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance ( ISR ) capabilities which were linked to excellent C4 and connected to shooters of all kind. They thus reduced the response time to strike strategic targets to less than one hour after its detection.
4. The US forces availed themselves of a firepower which was superior to any they had fielded in previous Post-Cold-War conflicts in terms of precision, effectiveness, flexibility and mobility to support ground forces which were more mobile, flexible and agile than any force employed since World War II.
5. The US commanders operated in a daring and flexible way which took many observers truly by surprise.
The truly new dimension was the degree to which the US forces were able to conduct network centric operations against an enemy who initially offered a stiffer resistance than expected. To explain what this means I will briefly describe one episode of this war.
Many may remember the days when the American attack had come to a halt just South of the Kerbela gap and when heavy sandstorms transformed days into nights. Malicious comments in the European and Russian media suggested that the US were about to fail. But what happened on these sand-swept grounds on which no European armed forces would have been able to see anything at noon ? The Iraq Medina Division saw its golden opportunity to launch under the cover of the bad weather a counterattack and it began to move South. The Americans who had two Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles ( UAV ) loitering above the area and in addition two or more manned aircraft, so called JSTARS, were able to see everything . Thanks to the operators aboard of the JSTARS they fed the target data into their C4 system, tasked aircraft to destroy the identified and precisely located targets and they thus literally vaporised a full army division comprising of some 10.000 men and equipment worth a billion or so dollars within two days. Simultaneously the US were able to severely degrade forces which were moving from the North of Baghdad to reinforce the Medina Division's attack. These events might well have been the decisive moment in this war since the elimination of the Medina Division may have sent a shock wave through the Iraqi military. From this moment on they all knew that any attempt to block American advances would mean to be killed in action. NCW had seen its real and first time baptism of fire and had proven that it will allow numerically inferior 21st century forces to defeat numerically superior 20th century forces. As a consequence the American efforts to transform their armed forces will accelerate and in addition, as a consequence of the failure to win Turkey's support, the US will make additional efforts to gain full independence from access and over-flight rights within the next ten years or so.
On the other hand, many of the bad guys in our world will draw their conclusions as well since they can no longer be confident that their monuments will not be torn down as well. I am afraid that one of their conclusions is that they should make every effort to acquire nuclear weapons since nuclear armed countries are not sanctionable, at least not for the time being. If my assumption is correct then the US and their NATO allies should make every effort to mend fences and to concentrate on new initiatives in the area of counter- as well as non-proliferation.
3. What does this mean for future conflicts and for force planning ?
For sure, all European nations but possibly Sweden are well advised to review their force planning very carefully since most of them still plan for 20th century forces. Industry should also look very carefully into the lessons learnt since they might wish to widen the range of products they offer and to either reduce emphasis on some of the products which are clearly left-overs from the Cold War or to modify them.
The key to modernisation and transformation is C4ISR, an area in which some European companies such as EADS or Thales have much to offer, in particular if they co-operated with American partners. The main emphasis should be on systems which provide the forces with actionable target information and this will for quite some time require the man in the loop, i.e. manned carriers big enough to accommodate the C4 which allows to link the three levels of operations: ISR, C4 and precision engagement. UAVs and increasingly UCAVs, the combat version of UAVs, will play an important supplementary role provided they have access to GPS or possibly one day Galileo information.
C4ISR is followed by all weather precision strike as the next key element of transformation.
European industries have much to offer in this area, in my view so much that it could well create incentives for American companies to co-operate and to transfer some of their technology in other areas in exchange. To concentrate research on nano - and bio-technology and on supersonic cruise missiles seems to be one option the Europeans might wish to consider. The capabilities are there and that is one of my reasons why I am so optimistic about the future of transatlantic co-operation. Most of the precision strike weapons will be air- or sea-launched long range weapons but one should not forget the dimension of helicopter launched weapons as well since they could play an important role in support of Special Forces who will undoubtedly play a key role in any NCW operation. Special Forces are one of the best instruments to paralyse an opponent's C4 and that is after all the tactical aim of all NCW. High Energy weapons to switch off communications which the US obviously did not use this time might be another area of interest for the European Defence Ministries.
Last but not least air mobility remains a badly needed capability. All assets should in principle be equipped for air to air refuelling, should be as stealthy as possible and should be designed for multiple purpose use, i.e. it should be possible to use transport aircraft, fixed wing as well as rotary, as transport assets and to equip them as gunships if required.
Obviously, these 21st century forces will need protection as well and one of the areas for which the Europeans can provide solutions is missile defence both for expeditionary forces as well as for the homelands. All solutions to be found in this area, however, will require transatlantic co-operation since the critical element is not so much the weaponry but the battle management system.
These observations are not much more than a very preliminary analysis, they cannot be more since the American Secretary of Defence, Mr. Rumsfeld was not expecting the American preliminary evaluation of the lessons learnt before May 10, 2003. But this preliminary observations may have given an impression of some of the basic and obvious trends. They underpin what I said at the beginning of my talk : I firmly believe European industries are well positioned to provide the armed forces of the EU nations with some if not most of the equipment they will need for their transformation into 21st century forces. They might well have some fair chances on the American market as well through co-operative and joint ventures. The weak element in my forecast are the European customers, the ministries of defence, since none of them is very likely to get real big increases in their defence budgets. On the other hand , they will soon start to review their force planning and they will try to cut running cost to win leeway for investment as the short term solution. If industries were then ready to offer their evaluation of the Iraq War and to prove that they have some of the solutions for the adaptation they must go through it might well that the investment budgets might see modest but steady growth.