Archive for the 'Innovation' Category
Time is a limited resource for leaders. While many leaders are passionate about leader development, they don’t always have time to study for self-development or plan development sessions where participants sit around and discuss an article, book or other topic. Both avenues of development are easily disrupted by competing priorities. Social media and mobile technology platforms are great resources for leaders to interact with others and build relationships that will lead to learning and development. One platform that works well is Twitter. The capabilities of Twitter combined with mobile platforms allow both self-development and leader-led professional discussions to take place in any location, at any time, and not be restrained by time and location. This post is about using Twitter for self-development and leading professional discussions as part of a leader development program.
Twitter 101 (Skip ahead to Leader Development if you are familiar with PLNs, self-development and Twitter)
Twitter is one resource that leaders can use for learning by developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). A PLN is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner connects and interacts with for the purpose of learning. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge(Click here for a good blog about PLNs) .The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. This network is relatively easy to set up over Twitter and is a simple and powerful way to both self-develop and develop others. Twitter can be a great source of information if you know how to search for and evaluate the sources. There is a wide variety of information available on Twitter; for example, almost every magazine or professional publication posts on Twitter.
People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase in their Tweet to categorize those tweets and help them show up more easily in Twitter Search. The learner simply searches for the topic or, if they know a hashtag associated with the subject, they can use that as the terms for the search (see screenshots below). For example, one of the screen shots below shows a search for “Land Warfare” and the results delivered range from various individuals to “Doctrine Man”, to ”Pakistan Defence”.
Once the results are delivered learners can sort through the posts and evaluate the information. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows all the other tweets marked with that keyword. Many of these posts will have links to blogs or articles that contain information the learner is looking for. As the learner finds reliable posts, they can follow the user and build their PLN ( It is also interesting to see who the users you are following, follow as well.) One way to evaluate whether a user on Twitter is credible is by the number of follows and followers they have. Learners can also check out previous tweets by the source, which is another way to evaluate if the source is credible or not. The reporters and other contributors that work for most major news organizations post to Twitter as well and can be a good addition to a PLN.
Leader Development Program
Twitter is a great way to share information to develop others. Leaders connect with their subordinates over Twitter and share relevant content with a hashtag. Twitter can also be used for “Twitter Chats” . Twitter chats are chats that occur using a hashtag. Instead of tweeting one-on-one learners are now engaged in a conversation with many people around a particular topic or piece of content such as an article or blog post. Pictures and other media can be used as well to add more context to discussions. Twitter chats lets a group maximize their time on Twitter and participate in existing conversations when it is convenient for them. Twitter chats can take place over extended periods, and from any location, extending learning and development well beyond the walls of an office, building, or other location commonly used for these sessions. This capability lengthens the period of engagement and can lead to higher quality discussions, which might not be attainable in a normal face-to-face professional development session that is constrained by time and location (a leader development session scheduled from 1-2pm in a conference room). There are also tools available, like Storify for example, that can help learners manage and archive the chats for later reference. Through professional discussion, leaders can get to know their subordinates better and evaluate their level of competence, which can help build trust in an organization.
Leaders develop subordinates by creating experiences. Professional discussion is one of those experiences. It canimprove learning and leader development across an organization. When time is a limited resource, social media is an excellent and simple way to engage subordinates in professional discussion.
Deckplate innovation is receiving unprecedented attention these days, as well as its fair share of sniping from the skeptical sidelines. Innovation is indeed nothing new under the sun, and its traditional obstacles are no less prohibitive than they ever have been. What is new is the unprecedented speed at which ideas can promulgate through modern social media. The controlled brainstorming or “ideation” drive has been compared to panning for gold, but the internet has allowed us to increase the size of our pan.
In his recent post about the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum, BJ Armstrong urged us to publish and promote our ideas to those empowered to act on them; to “influence the influencers,” so to speak. Execution is, of course, the graveyard of good ideas; for our ideas to become results they must find the backing of some influential executive or “principal.” The “pitch” to a receptive principal is the most sensitive stage of an embryonic idea’s lifespan. Having made no small number of failed pitches (and a few that didn’t fail), I’ve identified a few common themes to rejection. For those potential innovators getting ready to make the pitch, please consider the following as you prepare:
Know Thyself: Hazards to Credibility
Old ideas. It’s often the case that your idea has been tried before and failed. It’s not necessary that an idea be new for it to be good—many failed innovations suffered from flawed executions, and are worth attacking again with a better plan. The important thing is that you do your homework to understand why the idea failed and what should be done differently before you try to revive it. If you don’t know until mid-pitch that your brilliant idea was tried and failed twenty years ago, then your innovation is dead on arrival.
Lacking solutions. If you’ve identified a problem but haven’t identified a potential solution, then you’ve really just filed a complaint. Unfortunately, the complete solution might be beyond your level of expertise, and it’s for this reason that many potential innovations die at this stage. Don’t let a lack of expertise paralyze you—great innovations rarely resemble their instigators’ original vision. This is a rare situation where effort can actually be more important than the immediate results—what you’re doing here is getting the process started.
Emotion. It’s rare that potential solutions are not accompanied with some degree of frustration at the original problem or the myopic organization that fails to perceive it. Frustration, skepticism, and resentment are all common sentiments among smart people in large bureaucracies—left unchecked, they can fester into bitterness, and nobody wants to listen to another bitter JO. It’s essential that you prevent emotions from bleeding into your pitch, and it can happen to either written or verbal communication. If you suspect that your passions may be too evident, it might be a good idea to run your presentation by a trusted mentor first.
What about enthusiasm? Keep it under control; remain stoical and professional if you want to be taken seriously. Principals are interested in facts. It’s good to communicate conviction, but too much enthusiasm may instead communicate naiveté, which hurts your case and calls your objectivity into question. Scott Adams beautifully dismissed the usefulness of enthusiasm in a recent editorial: “Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”
Know Thine Enemy: Obstacles to Acceptance
Admitting to the problem. Your principal is familiar with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He or she has probably endured a career’s worth of ambitious Good Idea Fairies and gimmicks, and understands that failed executions are worse than leaving well enough alone. If a system is in place, then somebody thinks it is working, and sometimes that may be enough for your principal—effective or not, if we perform according to expectations we will be left alone to accomplish our real mission.
Finite resources. Funding is the obvious obstacle, but may not be the most difficult. Your principal has limited time and limited political capital, and must carefully budget both to do their job. You have to prove not only that your problem is indeed worth solving, but that it is more important than the other problems they’re going to have to divert resources away from. You have to prove that solving it is their job—they’re not in the business of taking on other people’s problems.
The pocket veto. This is how bureaucracies insidiously devour innovation. Rather than overtly rejecting your proposal at risk of appearing unconcerned with your problem, some principals may agree to “take it into consideration” or to “forward it along” with no real commitment to execution. Since you’re not really in a position to demand commitment, the only thing you can do is be persistent. No great idea ever caught on without a lot of hard work and follow-through.
You may have to seek the attention of other principals– be careful. It’s easy to stray into insubordination this way, but if you tailor your message carefully, your immediate chain of command may be relieved that you would seek resolution elsewhere (depending on the problem). The best way to avoid conflicts of interest is to communicate your intentions aggressively. Then there is always the option to write and publish, in fact it has never been easier.
You might be wrong.
In all of our fervor over innovation, we sometimes forget that not all new ideas are good. At any given moment there is an infinite quantity of bad ideas floating around, and yours just might be one of them. You might not realize it for years, in fact you may never become convinced, and this is why the bureaucracy isn’t always a bad thing. If the principal refuses to choose your battle, it’s not because they’re an unthinking cog in a stolid machine, it’s because they feel it’s their responsibility to “just say no.” Later on, you might even come around to their point of view.
While persistence is necessary if you ever hope for your idea to catch on, it is also necessary that you be willing to move on at some point if it really is a non-starter. As usual, brutal self-honesty is in order, with an eye to improving for the next attempt. Other battles need fighting, and we need your innovation.
Over the Columbus Day weekend I had the great opportunity to participate in the first national Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum conference. The event was hosted at The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and a number of other organizations, like USNI, sponsored events from breakfasts to happy hours. At its heart, however, the conference was independently organized by a group of mid-grade and junior officers to explore the nexus of innovation and entrepreneurship with military affairs and defense industry.
Off the top, the very existence of the event was something to behold. Over a hundred men and women from the junior ranks of the military, civilians from the defense world both inside and outside government, and innovation/silicon valley folks, got together for three days to talk about how to make the military better in the 21st century. They paid their own way. The government is shutdown. Even if it wasn’t, sequestration meant there was no travel money. They filled out a leave chit and pulled out their personal credit cards. These individuals have such a belief in the idea that the military needs new ways of looking at things and doing things, and such an overwhelming desire to be part of that, that they all dropped hundreds of dollars and their long weekend to go to Chicago to meet with one another.
I do have a personal note about attendance that I think should be made: while many junior personnel had the guts to vote with their wallets and their time, only one General officer showed up, and a couple of Colonels. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it is worth noting because ALL ranks, rates, and grades were invited. In fact, there was some pretty significant outreach to the Flag and General Officer community by the organizers.
So, the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum 2013 set out in part to inspire, in part to educate, and in part to execute. The events were livecast with the support of Google, and there is a DEF Youtube Channel. The Tweetwall went up and participants were encouraged to tweet as the event went on to highlight ideas and lessons. You can read back through the tweets from the weekend at #DEF2013 if you are interested.
Over the next week or two I’m hoping that there will be a number of blog posts across the web about what we all experienced at DEF. LT Hipple has already reported back at USNI Blog and there are a few others (here, here, here) to get us started.
I just wanted to share one observation that I took away from the weekend. On Sunday, Sean Maday, a former USAF Captain who now works at Google pointed out in his Keynote that a few short years ago, when he was wearing baby blue with railroad tracks on his collar, a three or four-star wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence, never mind listen to his ideas. Today, just because he put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of a uniform, they travel to Palo Alto to meet him, desperate to know what he thinks. This illustrates one of the great truths that was only hinted at in the excitement of DEF: Innovative junior officers don’t have the power to execute their ideas.
One of the mantras of the weekend was that we must have results. Ben Kohlmann quoted fellow board member Micha Murphy that “execution is the new innovation.” This is a valid observation, but only after the innovator is given the nod, a green deck if you will. Someone in a position of power and influence has to buy into the idea that a) there is a problem and b) this is a good solution. In the world of Silicon Valley they don’t have Flag and General Officers who are part of a massive, centuries old bureaucracy. However, they do have the venture capitalists and money men, and if you can’t get a money man to buy into your grand IT innovation or start-up it’s going to be pretty tough to get anywhere.
It may be that the best way to look at this is to think about military strategy, maybe think a little bit about Sun Tzu and stir in some Liddell Hart with a touch of John Boyd, and look for an indirect approach. In the closing hours of the conference Colonel Michael-Bob Starr (USAF, one of the few senior officers at DEF) tweeted:
Implementation is not the goal. Goal is to INFLUENCE the implementers. #DEF2013
— Michael Bob Starr (@mbobstarr) October 14, 2013
So how do you influence the decision makers? While it was not formally talked about, it did come up again and again with comments about communicating your idea. As Howard Lieberman said on Sunday in a breakout: “Publish your idea and get credit for it.”
So, here’s my lesson observed from DEF 2013: It isn’t good enough to have a great idea or to figure out how you would implement it. Neither of those things matter unless you figure out how to influence the influencer, how to get your idea in front of someone who can make a decision and get the green-light. We heard repeatedly this weekend that one of the best ways to get your idea in front of someone is to publish it. The hyperlink, the pdf, or the hard copy of the magazine are a lot more likely to find their way in front of the person with that power than you are just wandering aimlessly around your base with a great innovation in your head.
I think we’ve heard this before: Dare to read, think, write…publish.
The incredible power of innovation and entrepreneurship often produces an unfortunate exhaust of innovocabulations. Ideate is one of those words, and made quite a show of force at DEF 2013, hosted graciously at the Chicago Booth School of Business. However, as irritating as a not-words may be, ideate serves DEF2013 core spirit as a fitting metaphor. Ideate is merely the word “idea” verbed. Rather than concentrating as many do on creativity and the idea-creation process, DEF2013′s central thrust was the array of actions necessary to turn ideas into realities.
To foster that concentration on acting on ideas, the conference content was split between presentations and break-out problem-solving sessions.
Pleasant Surprise- Presentation Twitter-Wall:
Although the break-out sessions would be the conventional show-case of attendee collaboration, the integration of the twitter-wall to the presentations was a great way to get the audience engaged. While following the flow of “#DEF2013″ commentary on the boards, members of DEF could note particular phrases or points of the speaker, argue amongst themselves, or perhaps just be snarky cough #hipstermahan /cough.
The twitter conversation during presentations was also great track-two way of “meeting” forum attendees as you retweeted poignant observations on presentations, debated points of contention, or collaborated in solutions to problems brought up by speakers and form members alike. In the break sessions, I “met” forum members, though often much of the ice was already broken by conversations we’d already had I’ve long incredibly skeptical of twitter, but I found its use in this context a rather redeeming and collaborative experience!
Oh… and it was nice to get a tweet from Harris Teeter about the Oxford Comma too. As you can tell, some of us may have gotten off topic occasionally. But hey, why buy pizza not worth defending? #pizzafort
Presentations- A Mile Wide and a Mile Deep:
Part of me will never graduate college and will always enjoy a rich lecture. While the twitter was fun, it’s foundation was the excellent presentations being given by our guest speakers. You can find those on YouTube if you missed the live feed. Some of the video is uncut and you have to jump around to find the speeches, but many are well worth it.
Rather than turn this into a book report, I’ll delve into a by-no-means-comprehensive collection of points I thought were worth taking away.
You Don’t Have To Be The Innovator/Doing Your Homework: BJ Armstrong’s The “Gun Doctor” presentation is an instant classic, and has appeared in various forms at several venues. It only gets better with time. That said, a key piece of information from that presentation is that ADM Sims started with an innovation from someone else that he considered worth his effort and attention. The conference closed with a presentation by Phil Nevil of Power2Switch taking a similar angle, how his own ideas failed but he succeeded when he championed the cause of another. In both cases, an important part of championing an idea was doing the research: becoming familiar with both your market and your product. If ADM Sims hadn’t done his research and tests on Percy Scott’s continuous-aim firing, no one would have taken him seriously. Likewise, if people in private industry just “ideate” without doing tests, research, prototyping, and probing their market, they’re not “innovating”, you’re just talking.
Fighting a Loyal Insurgency Inside the System: Stealth, focus, and aggression are not always necessary when innovating, but can be good tools when combatting entrenched interests. Peter Munson’s speech was about how leaf-eaters learn to defend the system for at the detriment of adaption and effectiveness and meat-eaters charge forward at opportunity. In an organization like the DoD, there is a reality to the necessity and purpose for the system and its leaf-eater accolytes. Innovators must carefully pick and choose their battles. This idea was summed up by the delightful peregrine falcon, Dora. Play in the system (like dora moves stealthily through the clouds) and aggressively attack when opportunity arises (poor, stupid duck). If Dora flew around squawking all day and making a mess without that focused action, too many leaf-eaters would be alerted and defend their steaming piles of process.
Building an Army: Human capital is a critical part of innovation, if not the tipping-factor in-and-of itself. Howard R. Lieberman’s presentation hit the hammer hard on the point of building a body of stakeholders and champions to help push your ideas. Don’t start with the question of what the value of your product is, but rather push what value it brings to people. Finding the meaning of your idea for other people is what builds stakeholders, who may be champions for your ideas or loyal foot-soldiers doing the testing and development who will sacrifice their time and resources to see your idea through to the end. Some of those stakeholders may provide top-cover. Many of his stories involved his company president giving him cover for his “special projects” that the board didn’t always agree with. The ground-forces are great for “taking the hill” of an idea, but close-air-support flying high in the chain of command can really change the equation. No man is an island, and no innovation is a one-man mission.
Execution, Execution, Execution: Every presentation was about how action, not creativity, is the germ of real innovation. That said, the second day of private-sector entrepreneur presentations was a wall-to-wall show of how the ability to find market-demand while developing the necessary supply is the center of the innovation universe. The difference between a real-life innovator and the chatting classes is action.
My one real criticism of the conference does lie in this category. I felt like the innovations we discussed were mostly historical or from private industry. We didn’t have a body of speakers who, as members of the military, wrestled with and executed significant innovations. That may be an indictment of our system and whether those people have been able to be truly successful or just that it is easier to success in the business world. Whatever the case may be, there will be plenty of years of DEF to find more live-streaming innovation successes within the life-lines. And yes, before you say it, I know DEF itself is a successful inside-the-lifelines success… but you know what I mean!
Don’t Get Killed in a Good Battle: Dan Moore’s presentation on breakthrough leadership through the lense of Boyd was particularly great because I found myself in a room full of Boydians debating the legacy of Boyd, army tactics, thrust lines, decision-analysis, etc… but while all of this was fascinating, the newest detail to a complete Boyd amateur like me was the disaster of his personal life. “To be or to do,” shouldn’t happen to the detriment of “being” things like a good father, husband, or just healthy individual. If you’re a hard charger and an innovator, the military needs you healthy, not burnt out fighting every battle to the hilt. You’re needed in far more than the one fight you might be in now. Dan Moore’s final point, and one to always keep close is, “don’t get killed in a good battle.”
USNI Is Awesome: Sam LaGrone’s presentation was about some self-evident truths.
There is far more material, and none of the descriptions are by any means comprehensive. While these are good takeaways, the speeches are definitely worth watching on the YouTube channel.
Breakout Groups- Thoughtifying:
What would an Entrepreneurs conference be without some actual innovating? It certainly wouldn’t be as fun. The afternoons at DEF were dedicated to breakout sessions intended to building actionable solutions to real-world problems.
I found my time in the PME “ideation” group to be an education in many already-existing processes of other branches that I wished the navy had, from selection-means-attendance to the USCG’s libertine “selection-ignores-rank”. I hadn’t realized how different the different services PME systems were, and I found it a bit depressing how some may put PME in the side-car when others described the rigor and seriousness of their selection processes.
Nathan Finney led our group, and the vast array of “free the beast” ideas to put education in the driving seat were, very pragmatically, whittled down to a single free and actionable item: use of twitter for class comprehension analysis by teachers. A great example of how the system would work was Michael-Bob Starr’s discovery that the reason he had an odd feeling he’d lost his audience for about 5 seconds was that I had tweeted “never trust a man with two first names,” during his speech. Of course, in the PME version, it wouldn’t be on all the screens and would be more a way for teachers to get input on comprehension, class observations, and the like.
Other great innovations were produced, from the Emotional Vitality Assitant (EVA) to create a hand-held link directly to mental health professionals to the DEF X-prize, rewarding military members for great ideas or great execution of ideas (we hadn’t decided yet). The dream of pushing half the acquisition system into the sea and replacing it with a 100 page paper was quite the utopian ideal, but no knives yet exist that are long enough to penetrate to the heart of the procurement beast.
The People are the Product
The lectures and break-out sessions were great, but the real reward of DEF2013 was meeting the people I’d only known through writing and reputation (or the ones I didn’t know, for that matter). In his closing words for the conference, a closing speaker said it best, “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” No one came to DEF2013 to see a particular innovation or idea, but to spend a weekend chatting about their passions with people of the same level of intensity. Every branch was represented with civilians and veterans alike, but we were all there for the same “why.” They came because they believed in that process of critical thinking and seeking the greater good. We didn’t seek innovation for innovation sake, but we sought mission victories, safety and effectiveness for our fellow warfighters, good stewardship of the resources in which we were entrusted, and the importance of good ideas having their day in the arena. DEF2013 didn’t create an innovation, it bolstered the community that is going to build them together.
By Jeong Lee
Speaking at the Association of the United States Army on the 12th, Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that in future ground wars the tempo will be “shorter, faster-paced and much harder” because America’s adversaries will work to create a “fog of war.” Thus, the Admiral suggested that the Army “place more emphasis on the growth industry…of protecting American citizens abroad” in order to adapt to the fluid geostrategic environment.
Indeed, since the sequestration went into effect in March, many defense experts have been debating what the future may hold for the Army, the Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Whatever their respective views may be on the utility of landpower in future wars, all seem to agree on one thing: that in the sequestration era, the ground components must fight leaner and smarter.
For John R. Deni, a research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, the answer seems to lie in the “Army-led military-to-military activities” which may provide stability in politically volatile regions “if only because most military forces around the globe are army-centric.”
Others beg to differ. Generals James Amos and Raymond Odierno and Admiral William McRaven seem to second Admiral Winnefeld’s claim when they argue that today “the need to conduct large-scale aid and consequence management missions, both within the United States and internationally, is certain to grow.” General James Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, also recently echoes this view when he advocates a lighter but mobile Marine Corps because he believes tomorrow’s conflicts will likely involve “violent extremism, battles for influence, disruptive societal transitions, natural disaster, extremist messages and manipulative politics.”
However, if the United States Armed Forces is truly concerned about raising a cost-efficient and versatile ground force, it can merge the Army, the SOCOM and the Marine Corps into one unified service branch. This idea is not new. As far back as 1994, the late Colonel David Hackworth advocated the merger of the Army and the Marine Corps because their missions seemed to overlap. He went so far as to claim that the Department of Defense (DoD) could save “around $20 billion a year.” Nevertheless, absent in Hackworth’s column was a coherent blueprint for how the DoD could effectively unify its ground components into a cohesive service because Hackworth did not flesh out his strategic vision for what 21st Century wars may look like.
Which raises a very salient question as to what America’s strategic priorities should be. In a perceptive op-ed, Mark Fitzgerald, David Deptula and Gian P. Gentile aver that the United States must choose to go to “war as a last resort and not a policy option of first choice.” To this must be added another imperative. The United States Armed Forces must prioritize homeland defense as its primary mission and rethink the mistaken belief that the United States can somehow secure its interests through “lengthy military occupations of foreign lands.”
Thus, this newly merged service must redirect its focus towards countering cyber warfare and CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear and explosives) attacks and should work towards bolstering its counterterrorism (CT) capabilities. This is because, due to the convergence of the global community, the United States may be vulnerable to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures.
Reorientation of its mission focus may also require that the new service reconfigure its size. After all, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Washington should remember that the size of the armed forces is not the most telling metric of their strength.” One solution is to adopt the so-called “Macgregor Transformation Model (MTM)” centered around the combat group concept which may reduce the strength of the new service “yet in the end produce a force that has greater combat capability…[and] more sustainable.” This model may provide the United States with a deployable fire brigade in the event of a national emergency or an international crisis. Already, the bases from which to adopt this viable model exist in the form of Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) and Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) of various sizes.
Should the United States decide that it needs to project its hard power abroad to guard its interests, it could deploy the Special Operations Forces (SOF) components of the new service in tandem with UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities. Moreover, doing so could minimize the risks inherent in power projection and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) missions which may potentially mire the United States in messy and protracted conflicts.
Last but not least, this new service could buttress interoperability and capabilities of allied forces around the globe through military-to-military exchanges. Although Deni was referring specifically to the Army-led initiatives when he suggested this, he may be correct that military-to-military engagements may help to promote America’s image abroad as a trusted guarantor of peace. But even more important, such activities may “mean fewer American boots on the ground.” However, implementing what the retired Marine General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy” may be a better means by which the United States could “lead from behind.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.
Contrary to what many in the defense establishment believe, the austerity measures wrought by the sequestration have not been entirely negative. If anything, this perceived “crisis” has provided the much-needed impetus for innovative approaches to national defense. The proposed merger of the ground forces may provide the United States with most cost-effective and versatile service branch to defend the homeland and safeguard its interests abroad.
It is interesting to note that the debate concerning any intervention into Syria is a binary one, where we debate either using hard power to ‘punish’ the Assad Government for use of chemical weapons, or we do nothing. This is interesting because somehow we are unable to publicly consider using soft power in this instance–we are unable to conceive alternate courses of action that circumstance demands from us.
Look at where the world is right now. First, at the UN Security Council Russia and China will block any punitive measures against the Syrian Government. Their reasons for this are varied, but we would be remiss to not acknowledge that Libya and Operation Unified Protector are not ancient history. Their begrudging acquiescence to western intervention was, from their perspective, too much. We shouldn’t now nor should we into the future count on any approval from the UNSC for military interventions in the old Soviet sphere. Syria is not a big enough issue to eschew the auspices of the UNSC, especially in light of the importance placed on UNSC authorization by NATO and the western powers in Libya.
While this may cause some teeth grinding among many, it should not. After all, the US was the cornerstone in designing the UNSC, and Russia and China are well within their rights on the UNSC to do as they do. So, what’s next? Something short of direct application of hard power.
The argument could be made that the transfer of small arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Syria is the ethical thing to do in light of our own forces not being permitted to take any action. However, taking such action does not lead directly enough to a desirable end-state for the current civil war in Syria. It leaves open too many outcomes and flies in the face of lessons learned from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
So, what is a best case for resolution to the Syrian civil war–what should we work towards?
In short, we should work towards: A much more friendly neighbor for Israel in any new Syrian government, Iran losing their proxy, Russia has loosing the lease on their naval base, the Russian strategic communication strategy they’ve employed being turned around and used against them, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s ability to handle situations like Syria being strengthened, and lastly that the United State’s position in global leadership reestablished.
Israel has spent the last two years in the eye of a hurricane. Most of Israel’s neighbors have experienced some degree of revolution and civil war. However, at least in the public’s eye, Israel has remained passive and not gotten involved in the Arab Spring. But, in regards to Syria, Israel has a real opportunity to change the dynamic on their Northern border. In fact, Israel has already begun to do this. Israel has spent much of the last 15 years on the wrong side of the news cycle in the Arab world and in the West. The pictures and videos of Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks at Israeli tanks can’t come across in favor of Israel. The narrative this has fomented has not been to the benefit of Israel, and yet it is not an accurate portrayal either.
Israel must do all it can to connect with the Syrian people by helping their refugees and victims of the civil war. This is vital because it enables another narrative to emerge that can in turn become the foundation upon the next Syrian government being friendly to Israel. In the best case, it would also allow for a new dialog to emerge with the Palestinians and others that to date have not had enough evidence for Israel to be an acceptable neighbor to them.
If Israel can build enough confidence with the Syrian people the likelihood of Iran maintaining their proxy in Syria becomes much more unlikely, and makes serious headway towards containing Iran’s influence to the Gulf. It is at this juncture that the interests of Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council converge, and it behooves both to work together towards their shared strategic goals. What’s more, the relationships established here between Israel and the GCC can be built upon in the future as needs arise.
Russia is attempting to rebuild their naval influence, and it is in the interest of the US and west to counter Russia’s waxing influence on the world stage. The Borei class SSBN, Bulava class SS-N, Neustrashimyy FFG, and missiles like the SS-N-26 and the jointly developed Brahmos missile all put into action the words of the Kremlin. This growing naval clout will depend on a Mediterranean port to extend Russia’s influence outside of the Black Sea. With a very real chance that Russia’s Navy could outnumber all other nation’s navies in the Mediterranean. If Russia seems assertive with their oil and gas reserves towards Europe, what will they do with the strongest Navy and a port in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Russia’s newly waxing influence on the world stage is in the interest of the US and West to counter. Over the Syrian civil war we find a moment to counter Russian moves. Russia has positioned itself through rhetoric as being against Western and US imperialist inclinations. The narrative they draw with their words is backed by the numerous interventions the US and West have been involved in since 2001. They are able to play against the sensitivities many citizens in the West feel for their Governments seemingly constant need to use hard power in dealing with the threat of terrorism.
In addition, Russia has been able to set out a predicted course of action that the governments of the West will take in dealing with Syria. However, in Russia’s most recent remarks they unintentionally highlight their own hypocrisy regarding Syria. The rhetoric from the Kremlin speaks only towards maintaining the status quo in Syria – a civil war that has caused upwards of 100,000 deaths; while also positioning itself to be the mediator (with the US following their lead) in any final peace settlement. The words they speak to the public are backed by their actions in supplying the Syrian Government with weapons.
The United States must take a global leadership role in resolving the Syrian civil war. However, as outlined above this leadership will not encompass hard power being directly applied against the Assad government. In assuming a global leadership position the US needs to build a coalition of nations to deploy humanitarian aid around the Syrian borders and augment the humanitarian efforts already underway there. In seeking to do as such, the US is assured to build a very broad coalition of Nations.
Any deployment of medical and humanitarian teams to include hospital ships would naturally need to have security provided for them. With having refugee camps and a robust security presence in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel the pressure on the Assad government would be great and the ability for any outside sources of support to smuggle in weapons to government forces would be greatly reduced. The presence of coalition forces along the Syrian border would approximate the desired outcome of hard power being directly applied.
In taking real action to support the victims of Assad’s government we are doing more than what the Syrian government’s supporters are willing to do. We highlight the hypocrisy of their words and place them on the defensive, having them to defend why they are willing to allow the disintegration of the ‘Paris of the East’. We bring the World towards examining the motives behind why China and Russia are willing to allow a country that holds chemical weapons to disintegrate into a failed state on Europe’s doorstep. And most importantly we place doubt in the world regarding the future of a world that has Russia with a fascist like Putin at helm.
Russia is content to allow Syria to destroy itself before they go ahead and try to broker peace. They are content with having a failed state far from their borders, but figuratively in the lap of the West. It is time to get ahead of their decision making cycle and help the Syrian people and thereby ensure that Russia does not enjoy undue influence over the Levant at the expense of the US, Europe, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Between Europe, the US, Israel, the GCC there are many points where strategic interest converge. In years past, capitalizing on these shared strategic interests was the hallmark of American global leadership. The strategy I’ve laid out here can bring the US back to the role that so many other Nation’s admired in the US. This strategy does not rely on any direct application of hard power against the Syrian government. But, it also does not have the US and the West standing idly by as weapons of mass destruction are employed in a near-failed state.
Through our actions we must move our position on Syria from the very nebulous gray area that other nations exploit to weaken US position. We must, through our actions, demonstrate our willingness to limit suffering and for regional stability. Such actions are good for the US, for Europe, for Israel, and for the GCC, and certainly for the Syrian people. It increases our cooperation with allies and partners, it diplomatically isolates our competitors, and it takes the initiative from those who are willing to watch that part of the World burn.
By Jeong Lee
Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”
To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.
The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.
Of all the missions the Surface Navy does, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) might be the least sexy. It involves sitting in a small box in the middle of the ocean for weeks, usually far away from land or even any commercial shipping traffic. Ships on station need to be in a specific engineering and combat systems configuration at all times so they can track or engage a target at a moments notice. This means there aren’t many opportunities for training, ship handling, gun shoots, swim calls, and other evolutions. Sometimes, a poor middle-of-the-ocean satellite uplink makes the internet unusable, and “River City” could be set (meaning the internet is turned off completely) for bandwidth constraints or upholding Operational Security (OPSEC) due to mission sensitivities. Depending on the ship’s heading and location, TV-DTS (the Navy’s satellite TV connection) could go down as well. Hopefully the seas aren’t rough, because there’s little chance to get a modified location (MODLOC) to divert for better weather. If it’s a nice day, fishing from the fantail seems to be the most exciting thing to do; although there never seems to be much luck in getting a catch (it seems most fish know how to avoid the BMD box at all costs). Forget port calls, but even when ships aren’t on station, they could still be on a formal or informal “tether” which prevents them from going anywhere too far away from the BMD Theater (yes that means no Australia!).
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
- Mark Twain
In the introduction to his book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN speaks to a problem with a lot of the foundational thinkers on the military art. Referring to modern policymakers, naval leaders, and analysts who do bring up Mahan, Armstrong states,
These writers and thinkers are mistaken. They focus solely on his most famous work and unthinkingly repeat the analysis taught by some academics. Few of these writers appear to have actually read the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Bingo. Many people have a Cliff’s Notes thick understanding of Mahan because they have never been asked to, or made the independent effort to, read the primary source. As a result, many of them are reading modern commentary run through the intellectual grinders of deconstructionism and critical theory to the point that they aren’t even really reading about Mahan any more. They are reading one academic’s commentary on another academic who read a summary of Mahan.
The utility of Armstrong’s work is really rather simple; in each section he tees the ball up for a few pages and then steps away. He lets Mahan speak for himself in long form; not pull quotes or some temporally transposed mash-up of different works stitched together to make a post-modern point.
Some of the worst commentary on Mahan I have read has come from people who really should know better, and a lot of the fault lies in how we teach Mahan.
If you try to take a short cut about learning about a thinker by simply quoting what other people have said about them using a two-line pull quote followed by 55 pages of pontification – then are you really studying the thinker? Are we teaching from primary sources, or are we letting commentary and conjecture of lesser minds come to the fore?
Live by the gouge … be ignorant by the gouge.
Along those lines, there are other naval and military thinkers out there that most of us know about, but do we really know what they said – have we been provided the primary source in an easily digestible format like we see in 21st Century Mahan? As such, have we had a chance to see what can inform our decisions as we prepare for this century’s challenges?
Who would you like to see given a treatment like Mahan was given by Armstrong? Who should be next in line to be introduced anew?
Put your ideas in comments.
For those that have done a tour with the Forward-Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) in 7th Fleet, it is known especially well that the long-term schedule is taken with a grain of salt. Stateside deployers have the luxury of knowing their deployment timeline years in advance. However, the Japan-based ships in 7th fleet, especially the nine destroyers and cruisers that make up the backbone of the battle force, face uncertainty every day.
Due to rising Asia-Pacific tensions, FDNF operational tempo (OPTEMPO) has increased dramatically and the continued requirements that ships have to meet also continue to increase. It is quite frequent for ships to be called out to sea at little-to-no notice for any number of different missions including anti-submarine warfare (ASW), ballistic missile defense (BMD), and even humanitarian operations! The jam-packed schedule does not allow for any wiggle room – this means that ships are also called up last minute to replace others that are down a warfare area, have an engineering casualty, or need extra time to prepare (or re-prepare) for a major inspection such as Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) or Type Commander Material Inspection (TMI). Unfortunately, Sailors and their families take the blunt of the unpredictable schedule, and in my opinion, it is one of the main reasons one chooses not to do another FDNF tour.