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Gordon Cucullu- Contributor

Former Green Beret lieutenant colonel, Gordon Cucullu is now an editorialist, author and a popular speaker. Born into a military family, he lived and served for more than thirteen years in East Asia, including eight years in Korea. For his Special Forces service in Vietnam he was awarded a Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Presidential Unit Commendation. After separation from the Army, he worked on Korea and East Asian affairs at both the Pentagon and Department of State as well as an executive for General Electric in Korea. His first major non-fiction work, Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, is based in large part on his extensive experience in Korea and East Asia as a governmental insider and businessman. [website] [go to Cucullu index]


Separated at Birth : How North Korea Became the Evil Twin
Gordon Cucullu

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Being a Superpower – Part I – The Equipment
Running thin...
[Gordon Cucullu] 9/2/04

You can tell the men from the boys by their kinds of toys. What a quintessentially American expression. It equates degree of growth, development, strength and power with material possessions. Actually, though we may not realize it, that’s what we mean when we refer to America as ‘the world’s only superpower.’ Maybe we are, but then again, we might be fooling ourselves, making a living on yesterday’s strengths. First, let’s look at the ‘toys.’ Americans still have a decidedly Cold War attitude toward military superiority, basing our ‘superpowerness’ on nuclear capability. We possess the world’s most devastating nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver those weapons. But nuclear weapons are intended to deter a similarly armed enemy. In the war on terror – fighting terrorist groups and states that sponsor them – our nuclear arsenal counts for nothing.

Let us be brutally frank here: how likely are we to employ nuclear weapons against a terrorist enemy? We know, for example, that al Qaeda plans to attack the US and that it operates in collusion with Iran. If what Paul Vallely and Tom McInerney call the ‘nightmare scenario’ happens – if suitcase nuclear weapons are detonated in American cities – it is doubtful that we would retaliate against Teheran with atomic weapons. We would be wracked with anxiety to ‘prove’ the guilt of a nation-state and we would have difficulty using WMD ourselves. Examine the political realities of the situation: the left cannot even seem to grasp the necessity of US leadership in eliminating a dictatorship in Iraq that sponsored terrorists. Can we reasonably expect that American leftists would sit still for use of nuclear weapons even in retaliation for an attack? We must not be complacent that mere possession of megatons of nuclear weapons alone makes us all-powerful. We need the proper quantity ! and quality of non-nuclear weapons and equipment to fight terrorists effectively.

We also need to realize that all buckets have bottoms. Many non-specialists imagine that military resources are infinite. We think all strategic quandaries are resolved by invoking a technology based solution. Got to move troops to some awful, remote place? Airlift them, we say. Drop in a Ranger battalion. Insert the paratroops of the 82nd Airborne. Deploy Special Forces. Make a ‘surgical’ air strike against that target. Helo in some Marines. All sounds very easy, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately our resources for new equipment acquisition have been cut drastically for more than a decade. What equipment remains is worn exceedingly thin. Example: when we air-dropped the 173rd Brigade - about three thousand troops - into the Kurdish territory of northeastern Iraq it required almost every C-17 cargo aircraft in the USAF inventory to carry out the mission. Recall that the opening operation of Normandy was a three division airborne operation that dropped more than thirty thousand troops. Perhaps the comparison to WWII is not the most relevant, but it gives perspective. Not only could we not do Normandy again as presently equipped, we could not do Desert Storm again. And that ought to scare us.

When we focus on non-nuclear weaponry we see that while America is capable – maybe better than anyone else out there – we are not overwhelming. But we ought to be; we’re the leader in the anti-terror fight. We are spread too thin and our gear could be more up-to-date. From an equipment standpoint our infantry fights with basically the same generation weapon that was used forty years ago, an M-16 derivative. Armor vehicles haven’t changed in fifteen years. Our air fleet is aging and relatively small. B-52s are flown by children of the men who flew them originally. Some of our rotary wing aircraft are Vietnam era. Good news is that there is giant improvement in the fields of communications and data management thanks to miniaturization and shock-proofing of computer and signal technology. Night vision technology is outstanding. But from a military standpoint we need to shift our R&D and fielding of equipment from a peacetime to a wartime mode. And we need to do it quickly.!

On the intelligence side – finally recognized as vital to superpower status – we face a different kind of equipment problem. The CIA has become absolutely dependent on technology to solve complex problems. Due to gutting of funding for human information gathering and unrealistic restrictions placed thereon by Congress, the CIA relies totally on information gathered by overhead imagery, signal intercept and other technology based systems. In contrast to the need to modernize military equipment, improving our information-gathering capability means weaning it away from a technology-only approach. Obviously we need the satellites, reconnaissance flights, cryptographic analysis, signal intercept stations and all the rest, and must make certain that we lead in those categories, but we have seen the frustration that utter dependence on equipment has imposed. We’re simply not developing useful, ‘actionable’ wartime intelligence by this process. It cries for change.

In the minds of the institutional bureaucrats the days when a westerner could darken his face, adopt Arab dress and travel through the backcountry are long gone. Or are they? Limitations are dictated as much by an institutional mindset as by legislation. How can we get back into the spy game more effectively? The answer, as it often is in war, in both the military and intelligence communities, may lie with people, the troops on the ground. CRO

Coming: Being a Superpower – Part II – The Troops

copyright Gordon Cucullu 2004




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