Crossroads in U.S. Military Capability: The 21st Century U.S. Army and the Abrams Doctrine

August 7, 2001

In his book Citizen Soldiers,  Stephen Ambrose writes of the courageous and unrelenting sacrifices made by regular GIs in World War II in Europe and Japan. Implied in this portrayal of the citizen soldier, however, is the notion that American soldiers had no desire to serve in the military any longer than was necessary. While a small, professional and career-oriented standing force remained after World War II, a large standing military was not what Americans wanted. They wanted instead to direct their energies to the pursuit of economic prosperity that was, for most, the foundation for democratic civic life. If the fate of the nation were threatened, Americans would interrupt their business, civic and personal interests and go to war. But in the big picture, military service was only a temporary, albeit necessary, interruption in the peacetime life of the nation.

Prolonged peace in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been clouded by an absence of peace in other areas of the world. Try as it may, the United States has been unable to remain disengaged. As the peacetime U.S. military finds itself with no letup in sight, military and civilian leaders are voicing concerns about the lack of resources and people to carry out the missions of the new century. However, a more systemic challenge may lie ahead. Aside from the issue of numbers, the question of mix arises. “Mix” refers to the balance of active and reserve forces, including the National Guard, that will be employed across the spectrum of future military missions. Central to this discussion is a contemporary application of the Abrams Doctrine in a global environment that finds the U.S. military called upon frequently to do nonwartime yet militarily compatible missions worldwide.