UPDATE / WAR COLLEGE : Officers Prepare to Run a Smaller Army in a Fast-Changing World : Studies for the military elite are quite different this year. The Cold War takes a back seat to arms control.


An official Kremlin portrait of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev hangs on the wall of one of the classrooms here at the U.S. Army War College, and some wag has scrawled on it: "To Seminar 14: Raisa and I think of you often. Gorby."

That may be so, but these senior Army officers lately are spending a lot less time thinking about Gorbachev and a lot more time studying non-superpower concerns: drugs, terrorism, Third World conflicts and the role of an Army officer in a democratic society.

War College officials say the institution exists not to teach current affairs, but for the study of enduring precepts of strategy and leadership and to give the Army's fast-track officers a 10-month respite from the daily demands of military life.

Yet even the staid War College is not immune to the epochal changes swirling around the globe. The school's curriculum is undergoing more radical revision this year than at any time in recent memory, officials say, even as they try to hold back the tide.

"The student here is like anyone else. He wants to tune in CNN when something's going on," said Maj. Gen. Paul G. Cerjan, the War College commandant. "I allow students to address current events, but I want them to do it in the context of the broader curriculum."

Manuel A. Noriega, meet Karl von Clausewitz.

Cerjan has ordered next year's course work revised to add hours on drug interdiction, arms control, the changing military map of Europe and how the scaled-down Army of the 1990s should be shaped. Elective courses in economics, the Pacific Basin, the environment and U.S.-Japan relations are being added.

Receiving much less attention next year will be segments on the origins of the Cold War, nuclear weapons strategy and targets, and the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars."

In other words, the War College is doing to its curriculum what the Congress is about to do to the Pentagon budget.

One day last week, the students of Seminar 14, a group of 18 colonels and lieutenant colonels, were playing out a war-game scenario in which Iran has invaded Saudi Arabia to seize Saudi oil fields and the holy city of Mecca. The United States has committed large air, land and sea forces to defending its allies in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, while the Soviet leader, preoccupied with political and economic problems at home, has quietly assured the President that he has no intention of intervening.

The scenario, which takes place in 1993, envisions Iran threatening to use chemical weapons against U.S. troops, a decidedly realistic assumption. Less realistic is an American plan to use poison gas in retaliation. It is an idea from which even some of the officers in the seminar room recoil.

"I'm the guy that's going to have to use those things (chemical weapons) and they just don't work," said one artillery officer in the class. "It's just too much trouble hauling them over there and using them. I'd much rather be hauling H E (high-explosives)."

The game also assumes the Army would have shrunk and reserve forces would have to be called up. The Army would lack the air-lift and sea-lift capabilities to move large numbers of troops quickly to the Middle East--striking touches of realism, given the current budget crisis.

Col. Jerome Comello, the War College faculty member in charge of designing "mid-intensity" war scenarios such as the Seminar 14 Persian Gulf conflict, said that keeping the war games up to date is a lot of work, "particularly this year, with events exploding everywhere."

"Can you imagine what happened when (Violeta) Chamorro won the election in Nicaragua? We had to throw out the whole Central America scenario. But at some point you have to stop and send the books to the printers and accept some level of artificiality," Comello said.

Col. David A. Bouton, director of academic affairs at the War College, occasionally has to rein in his students and faculty, to remind them that they were selected for the elite school not to refight last week's war, but to gain perspective and look to the Army's future.

He said: "Some things don't change--the time-enduring processes, concepts and strategies followed in the national security decision process, the way we man, train, equip and sustain the Army in wartime and in peacetime. Those things are immutable to time."

Bouton noted that the Army exists today in an environment of "ambiguity, complexity, volatility. . . . Simply keeping up with the course of events, let alone transposing them into the curriculum, is no small task."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World