Sizing U.S. Ground Forces: From ''2 Wars'' to ''1 War + 2 Missions''

Michael O'Hanlon
Content Type
Journal Article
The Washington Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Spring 2014
Center for Strategic and International Studies
During the Cold War, the United States varied between a "1 ½ war" and a "2 ½ war" framework for sizing its main combat forces. This framework prepared forces for one or two large wars, and then a smaller "half-war." Capacity for a major conflict in Europe, against the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, represented the enduring big war potential. This period saw simultaneous conflict against China as a second possible big war, until Nixon's Guam doctrine placed a greater burden on regional allies rather than U.S. forces to address such a specter, and until his subsequent opening to the PRC made such a war seem less likely in any event. The half-wars were seen as relatively more modest but still quite significant operations such as in Korea or Vietnam.
Cold War
Political Geography
United States, China, Europe, Vietnam, Korea