Monday, November 26, 2018

Constabulary Would Create Problems

This isn't a post. This is something of mine that addresses a pre-9/11 issue in the post-Cold War era that isn't worth your time. 

I wrote and submitted this article more than twenty years ago, but it did not make it into Army Magazine. It did get an airing in the September 1998 online "More Letters" segment (the link is now dead) of the magazine ( 

It was not on the Wayback Machine. But I did put it on my old Geocities portfolio site that evolved into this blog. And that was saved at Which is where I pulled it from. Which is good because I was not going to retype the printed version I had or try to find the old Word document and see if I could open it. Although funny enough I reproduced the article in full in this 2006 post. So maybe it still is relevant!

Twenty years ago I only considered something on dead trees as a real publication. But as I was going through old files to get rid of piles of stored paper from older publications, I was reminded that it was a full-blown article attempt. And now I don't dismiss online-only as not really a publication. So it is going on my publications list and I'm putting it in a TDR post so it lives on despite the death of the online Army Magazine site.


A constabulary force within the U.S. Army as proposed by Col. Don M. Snider, USA Ret. ("Let the Debate Begin: The Case for a Constabulary Force," "Front & Center," June), is the wrong way to respond to the impact of operations other than war on the combat readiness of the Army. An Army Constabulary Force (ACF) would not solve the Army's dilemma; instead, it would create problems worse than those the Army copes with today.

It is presumptuous to assert, as Col. Snider did, that defending the Army's purpose of fighting and winning the nation's wars simply repeats "a tired slogan irrelevant to the completed debate and counterproductive to the Army's needs." I do not believe Col. Snider acknowledges that the debate has been resolved in favor of operations other than war. In his support of the ACF concept, he claimed the ACF will allow the Army to refocus "on the high end of the spectrum [of conflict] where it belongs [and] limit the pernicious impact of [operations other than war] on the Army's major role as America's landpower for the 21st century." If the focus belongs at the high end (as I believe it does) and real-world operations emphasize the lower end to the detriment of the Army's combat mission, clearly a debate is needed over these conflicting strains on the Army. I am pleased that two readers took up the challenge ("Constabulary Force: Home Remedy?" by Col. David A. Fastabend and "Raising More Issues than It Solves" by Lt. Col. Pedro L. Arbona, USA Ret., "Front & Center," August), but I am not entirely satisfied with their conclusions.

The concept of the ACF fails when assessed by the type of force it would be and the effect it would have on American involvement in operations other than war. The author proposes to create the ACF -- equivalent to three military police brigades (15,000 personnel) -- with a mission of maintaining the peace. It would be kept in high readiness, trained in minimum use of force and committed to seeking "viable international relations rather than victory because it has incorporated a protective military posture." Instead of tapping the Army's recruiting pool, the ACF would supposedly appeal to young people opposed to enlisting in the military but interested in promoting peace in exchange for a college education.

I have serious doubts about such a force's ability to coerce or maintain peace and the appeal of service in the ACF to the "tie-dye and granola" crowd. If that is the recruiting base, how will the Army bring about the high level of readiness and capability to instill fear that will keep potential belligerents at peace? These volunteers will be worthless unless they are willing to accept discipline, carry a weapon, learn to kill and control unruly crowds. If willing to do so, they will not be part of the cohort of young people supposedly willing to work for peace in exchange for a college education. An additional issue that Lt. Col. Arbona raised is the fairness (or effectiveness for that matter) of foisting such enlisted personnel on those staff sergeants and above who have devoted their lives to an Army career. They deserve better than that sort of career speed bump.

If the constabulary force simply takes away 15,000 slots from an Army already too small to fully man its current structure, why would the Army want to give up 15,000 real soldiers? If the ACF is to be composed of new personnel, why not create three new MP brigades if Congress is willing to expand the Army by 15,000? Assuming the Army recruits, arms and deploys volunteers committed to minimum force in pursuit of peace, these constabulary troops will become hostages to warriors with no scruples against slaughtering civilians, let alone sheep in wolves' clothing. In addition to the combat support and combat service support units necessary to deploy with the ACF, as Lt. Col. Arbona noted, Regular Army forces will need to be close at hand at all times to intervene and protect the pseudo-military constabulary force.

As for relieving the burden of operations other than war on the Regular Army's combat forces, the ACF is a false solution. Col. Snider made several arguments that are clearly incorrect concerning the positive effects such a force would have on policies regarding operations other than war. He stated that the existence of the ACF as distinct from the Army would, "if political agreement could be reached between the executive branch and Congress," set the upper limit of involvement in operations other than war by having only a limited pool of constabulary troops that all would agree are the only forces suitable for operations other than war. If further missions arose, the author reasoned, the nation would debate the need to end an existing mission in order to take on a new mission. Why? If this political agreement limiting American commitment to operations other than war cannot be reached now, what would the existence of the ACF do to create it? If agreement can be reached, the Army would not need the ACF to limit the strain on its combat forces.

Col. Snider further claimed that mission creep will be averted if the United States sends in the ACF because everyone would accept that the ACF only carries out milder forms of operations other than war. I doubt that civilian leadership will fathom the differences between two organizations with identical uniforms but different orientations if it does not understand current capabilities. Did not our forces in Somalia attempt a more demanding mission even after civilian leadership denied a request for a handful of heavy armor? Where was the policy debate between famine relief and 18 dead soldiers in Mogadishu? Absent political consensus, the ACF would not in itself limit mission creep. Instead of placing a brake on escalation, the ACF would simply be at greater risk of failing when ordered to escalate.

As Col. Fastabend explained, the ACF would simply compete with the Army for scarce resources. The Marine Corps' influential lobbyists are bad enough, without creating another drain on the Regular Army. If policymakers want to participate in several operations other than war requiring 20,000 troops and the Army says it cannot because its 15,000 constabularies are already committed to ongoing operations, Congress will create 5,000 more ACF personnel. Anyone who does not believe that these 5,000 will come out of the hide of the Regular Army is badly deluded. To keep these slots, the Army will have to bite the bullet and send in the regulars -- just as it does now -- or see the regular force shrink in favor of a "more relevant" constabulary force.

Although Col. Fastabend and Lt. Col. Arbona rightly reject the concept of an ACF, they effectively argue for diverting the few combat units the Army has to the plethora of missions that operations other than war represent. While these are missions the Army must master, the world is not so benign and the Army not so dominant that the Service can slash its heavy forces to carry out every operation that compassion can conceive. Unfortunately, all three authors, coming from different perspectives, would reduce the Army's deployable combat forces by design or effect.

The United States does not need a Peace Corps in battle dress uniforms. The proposed constabulary will not only fail to alleviate the high operational tempo U.S. forces are committed to in operations other than war, it will threaten the Regular Army by creating another force that will compete with the Army for people and resources. The ACF will look like soldiers, but they will not be soldiers. Ultimately, they will be called upon to fight as if they were soldiers. If they are recruited and trained on the basis of their nonviolent mission, the shock of combat will be all the greater.

Our enemies will not care that these are peaceful kids, only that they are wearing American uniforms. We may get lucky and never have to face the body bags coming home, but why risk the pitfalls of the Army Constabulary Force when its benefits are illusory? Raising three new brigades of military police would be a better solution than the ACF. Indeed, the status quo would be better than the ACF "solution." In any case, the debate over the Army's future is hardly settled.

For what it is worth, I advocate an Army focused on fighting and winning our nation's wars -- tired slogan though it may be.

Brian J. Dunn
Ann Arbor, Mich.