Fight Together, Parade Together

| Jason Healey
Jason Healey
Cipher Brief Cyber Advisor & Senior Research Scholar, Columbia University

If the United States is to hold a military parade, as President Donald Trump witnessed last year in Paris, it should be the right kind of parade. Our true power is not, and has not been for a long time, just fearsome weapons and trained and experienced warriors.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis recognizes that “we are going to be stronger together in recognizing that our military will be designed and trained and ready to fight alongside allies.” He should accordingly invite America’s friends and allies to march alongside our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

The member nations of NATO stood side-by-side to win the Cold War, and after the attacks of 9/11 they immediately declared solidarity with us, fighting and dying alongside us in Afghanistan. Estonia has only 6,000 active-duty soldiers yet for over a decade deployed a full company there. NATO air forces and special forces fought together in Libya.

Nearly three dozen countries joined the United States as part of the coalition against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1991, and the United Kingdom has paid dearly for heeding our call to invade again in 2003. We work with France in the Sahel, Italy in Libya, and with the Philippines on counterterrorism. U.S. troops stand united with South Korea and Japan against North Korea.

It appears the Department of Defense is resisting the idea of a parade, and for understandable reasons. There will be high monetary cost and it would be just more distractions for a force already run down from constant deployments. There are more to pressing issues: a resurgent Russia; a revisionist China; ongoing wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and so much more, this is not the time for more drill and ceremonies.

The parade “very likely runs contrary to Mr. Mattis’s priorities,” The New York Times wrote, so he should do what warriors have done for ages: listen to our superior’s orders and make the best of it.

This means a parade built around one principle: fight together, parade together. If it is unclear what it would celebrate, then let it celebrate friendship and shared sacrifice.

The possibilities are endless. In the skies above Washington, D.C., our pilots might fly alongside the Norwegian and Emirati pilots, as they did in Libya. The joint U.S.-Singaporean training squadron, based in Idaho, could follow behind Canadian interceptors representing their contribution to NORAD, and a NATO AWACS. French troops from Operation Barkhane, and the Africa G5 nations, combatting terrorists in the Sahel, deserve their place in the line of march.

Estonian veterans of the Afghanistan campaign might march with the Danish tanks, and German and Czech special forces who deployed. Elements of NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force can march to signal readiness and resolve to Russia. A Columbian contingent could celebrate the successes of their peace process and our partnership in counter-narcotics operations. Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Germany: all these and more should join.

The Defense Department might use the opportunity for subtle signaling by, for example, featuring NATO allies who meet the two percent threshold of military spending or those who have committed troops with the fewest operational restrictions. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been actively trying to feature Japan’s military prowess and might be eager to participate.  Turkey might be invited but only if it eased back on the purge of officers since the 2016 coup. These opportunities for messaging would all be lost if the parade were U.S. only.

It is a dangerous world and militaries have better things to do than parading pounding the pavement of Pennsylvania Avenue. If the Command in Chief does order a parade, Secretary Mattis should make it mean something and march together proudly with those we train with and fight alongside. The best message the Department of Defense can make to America and the world (including the Commander in Chief) is that we are strongest with our allies.

The Author is Jason Healey

Jason Healey is a Cipher Brief Cyber Advisor and Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs, and Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, specializing in cyber conflict and risk. He started his career as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, before moving to cyber response and policy jobs at the White House and Goldman Sachs. Healey was founding director for cyber issues at the Atlantic Council where he remains a... Read More

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3 Replies to “Fight Together, Parade Together”
  1. Everybody loves a parade. Pure B.S. on his one. Perhaps if the U.S. Military was in the winners circle, came home, left the world to fend for it’s self, in stead of being propped up, there might be some justification to having a “Parade”. But, 5 deferments from serving his country in uniform, he doesn’t deserve any parade. Of coursem neither do any other government head who hasn’t served, but is instrumental in sending those that do, into harms way, up to the ultimate sacrifice. Thumbs down on this.

  2. Military parades as stated in the article are performed by countries that can’t afford their own defense and hence serves as a bad example for the US to follow. Military parades are costly, complex, take too much time and diverts troops and material from their normal duties. If there’s a specific reason for a parade such as a victory parade after a war, then a modest parade of manageable portions involving military units that routinely perform parades is appropriate, but the days of having a Roman Triumph or a Grand Parade of the Armies is long past. The Joint Chiefs of Staff report troop shortages at every public press meeting. Our forces are in such constant deployment that the military is having difficulty maintaining troop levels and training standards. The US military is having a difficult time safely operating equipment and weapon systems with the short staff situation and now some idiot wants to pull major elements out for a month or two just to get everyone “pumped up” with a parade. The author, who no doubt is very smart and well educated, suggests that if we were to have a parade we should invite “allies” to participate in it. I wonder if by “allies” the author means the same people who can not afford to meet their budgetary commitments to NATO or provide enough equipment to field their own military forces ? I suppose the author thinks the American people should pay for the French and the British to send contingents, along with the Poles and the Germans…etc., etc., etc..

  3. A parade even with allies who would not come is out of touch with our high military Optempo and military member PersTempo. If SecDef Mattis was forced to support the President’s “desire” for a parade, I suggest that only the “undeployable” military members fill the marching ranks. I would not count on any country sending it’s Special Troops on battle tanks to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue unless this was a victory celebration. Perhaps if we collectively conquered the war on hunger, disease, or terrorism, a grand parade would be justified.