Archive for the 'Strategy' Tag
In a great example of “creative friction” at its highest level of practice, we find ourselves with the authors of Red Star Over the Pacific on one end – and a great naval mind, Dr. Norman Friedman, on the other.
I think good people can fall on either side of the arguments presented – and I encourage you to read both articles to decide for yourself even if you have not read the book in question. That isn’t what this post is about though.
In their response to Dr. Friedman, the authors brought up a topic that will have everyone with an Operational Planning background nodding their heads. Especially those who have taught Operational Planning or better yet have had to lead an Operational Planning team – their words will ring true, and might even open up a scar or two – or even trigger a migraine.
Friedman’s worst sin, though, is to succumb to (if not revel in) what the late Michael Handel termed the “tacticization of strategy.” Battlefield commanders and many civilians are prone to become spellbound by technological and tactical wizardry. In so doing, they lose sight of the higher – and ultimately decisive – levels of competition and warfare. Since World War II, observes Handel, “technological means have started to wag the strategic dog.” Andrew Krepinevich strikes a similar note in The Army and Vietnam, faulting the U.S. Army for prosecuting a “strategy of tactics.” U.S. forces seldom lost a tactical engagement with Vietnamese regular or irregular forces, yet they were unable to derive strategic or political gains from these engagements. Conflating equipment and tactics with strategy rendered an unbroken string of battlefield triumphs largely moot.
Knowing your place; a concept even more difficult to accept in the era of the “Strategic Corporal” and all the implications of it. To keep your place takes discipline, knowledge, and better yet a command climate that allows someone to pull you back when you drift away from your proper place.
Strategic planning does not need to concern itself with tactical details (AKA 3,000 nm screwdriver) if all three levels function properly. Not just a Strategic level problem, the temptation is even greater at the Operational level where the tendency to drift down to the Tactical is greatest. People plan where they are the most comfortable, and if you just came back from the Tactical level and haven’t mentally adjusted to the fact you now have to think and plan at the Operational or Strategic – you are setting yourself up for disruptive planning, intrusive direction & guidance, and eventually Tactical level paralyses.
Worse that that – if you are in a decision making position at the Strategic or Operational level – and you are not doing that job from that perspective – who is? The answer is, no one. That is where historians have their fun.
Adding to that problem is the amplifying effect. A poorly constructed or ill-disciplined Strategic guidance results in disjointed and inefficient Operational level direction & guidance. That in turn leads to Tactical anarchy. Where does that lead? Well, not to the “W” column.
Fun stuff … fun stuff. As a side note, if you are interested in hearing the authors discuss their book and China in general, EagleOne and I interviewed them back in Jan; you can hear the archived show here. We’ve also interviewed Dr. Friedman twice, once in 2010, and again earlier this year.
Last Sunday, fellow USNIBlogg’r EagleOne and I had a little something for everyone on Midrats. If you missed it, head on over and download the archive and give it a listen.
Our guest for the first half of the hour was Douglas A. Macgregor Col. USA, (Ret), the author of USNI Press’s Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting, and Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights. We covered DESERT STORM, OIF, the influence of Counter Insurgency on today’s Army, and how the US Military may want to restructure in the future.
For the second half of the hour, we pivot and update a subject we last covered in Episode 7 this February. Our guest was retired Navy Reserve Commander Zoe Dunning, Board Co-Chair of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. We discuss the whole spectrum of the challenges of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, how the lobbying effort has evolved, and what hiccups there may be in a post DADT military.
Don’t forget – if you want to make sure and never miss a Midrats – subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
I am set to enroll in a course entitled “Readings in Grand Strategy” next semester. The course description features many of the “greats” of strategy: Bismarck, Clausewitz, Philip II, etc. I began to wonder: as America struggles to find the way forward, are we searching for a great man or many good men?
I am fascinated by the knowledge problem in strategy. It’s the same problem which faces societies as they struggle to create an economic order. In “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” Friedrich Hayek wrote brilliantly on this issue,
“The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”
Knowledge within an organization (or society) is decentralized. If America wants to make the “best” grand strategy, it has to somehow utilize all the dispersed bits of knowledge. Yet, we have an overwhelming amount of knowledge, which only serves to swamp decision-makers. For example, 50,000 intelligence products are created every year, to which Thomas Fingar, former DNI deputy director for analysis, concedes, “There can’t possibly be a market for.”
How do we aggregate the sum knowledge at our disposal? I would submit one brilliant mind cannot do this as well as many good minds. George Kennan’s “Long Telegraph” on the Soviet Union is an excellent example– one brilliant mind dominated policy discussion. Instead of asking one super-expert about the USSR’s intentions, we could have bet on it.
What if we were to have a large pool of experts and ask them to wager on a series of questions? One example, “In 5 years or less, will Russia have another armed conflict with Georgia?” The experts would then use virtual money to gamble on the outcome. It’s called a prediction market and they’re eerily accurate at forecasting. By tapping into the power of many minds, we can detect bits of information which would have previously gone unnoticed.
In many instances, the prediction market uses prices to represent probablilties. For example, if a Russian invasion of Georgia in the next five years were selling at $.20, then the market is forecasting a 20% likelihood of the invasion occuring.
Private companies already use them. Google found they gave “decisive, informative predictions” on ”product launch dates, new office openings, and many other things of strategic importance to Google.”
James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara of the Jamestown Foundation conducted a recent analysis of Chinese naval goals that’s worth reading and considering in full. In short, China appears to have a resurgent interest in the work of Mahan, but Beijing is clearly still digesting the details and trying to square Mahan’s theories with their developing strategic goals. Here are the key conclusions:
An Asymmetric Yet Mahanian PLAN
Even if China does interpret Mahan in warlike fashion, it need not construct a navy symmetrical to the U.S. Navy to achieve its maritime goals, such as upholding territorial claims around the Chinese nautical periphery, commanding East Asian seas and skies, and safeguarding distant sea lines of communication. Beijing could accept Mahan’s general logic of naval strategy while seeking to command vital sea areas with weaponry and methods quite different from anything Mahan foresaw. If the much-discussed anti-ship ballistic missile pans out, for instance, the PLA could hold U.S. Navy carrier strike groups at a distance. Medium-sized Chinese aircraft carriers could operate freely behind that defensive shield, sparing the PLAN the technical and doctrinal headaches associated with constructing big-deck carriers comparable to the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz or Ford classes. Beijing would fulfill its Mahanian goal of local sea control at a modest cost—an eminently sensible approach, and one that Mahan would have applauded. Thus, Western observers should avoid projecting their own assumptions onto Chinese strategic thinkers.
Strategic theory, then, gives Westerners an instrument to track China’s maritime rise, complementing more traditional techniques of net assessment. If Chinese scholars and seafarers continue ignoring the cooperative strands of Mahanian thought, mistaking his writings for (or misrepresenting them as) bloody-minded advocacy of naval battle, Chinese strategy will incline toward naval competition and conflict. On the other hand, a China whose leadership fully grasps the logic governing Mahanian theory may prove less contentious.
I, like many current thinkers, am unconvinced that the United States and China must out of necessity become strategic adversaries. Indeed, given the ever-expanding economic interdependency between our two nations, an adversarial relationship would likely benefit neither. However, the ambiguity in the relationship and China’s strategic goals remain the key problems. And of course, U.S. naval planning and force structure will and must continue to consider the PLAN a potential threat to access until the ambiguity is resolved.
The National Defense Strategy (PDF) of the United States was published under Gates in 2008, and like the Maritime Strategy is a product of the Bush administration. In my opinion, both documents reveal the sad state of grand strategy in U.S. policy formulation, debate or execution today. In the National Defense Strategy of the United States you will find five objectives laid out to be achieved.
- Homeland is Defended
- Long War is Won
- Security is Promoted
- Conflict is Deterred
- Nation’s Wars are won
In “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower”, the Maritime Strategy laid out six strategic imperatives, which are treated as the objectives to be achieved with the strategy.
- Limit regional conflict with forward deployed, decisive maritime power
- Deter major power war
- Win our Nation’s wars
- Contribute to homeland defense in depth
- Foster and sustain cooperative relationships with more international partners
- Prevent or contain local disruptions before they impact the global system
The Webster dictionary on my desk defines ‘objective’ as something toward which effort is directed : an aim, goal, or end of action.
However you look at the objectives, or strategic imperatives, one conclusion that can be reached is that these are not strategic end states that achieve a policy conclusion, rather they strive to reach a policy condition. The distinction is important, because a strategy built towards seeking a policy conclusion must be comprehensive to align itself with specific, Grand Strategy goals of a nation state. Conversely, a strategy built towards achieving policy a condition is not aligned with a Grand Strategy, rather seeks goals that maintain a state within the context of the conditions being imposed on the state. Absent Grand Strategy, the end state is a condition rather than a conclusion. Policies without clearly articulated objectives are the weak foundation for any strategy.
The DoD does not make policy, the DoD develops strategies from policy and executes that strategy to achieve policy goals. That leads back to the question of what policy goals are trying to be achieved, or said another way, what are the Obama administrations national security policy objectives for America?
The challenge all the military services are facing isn’t a void in strategic thinking or direction so much as it has been overcoming ineffective national security policy that miscalculated leveraging opportunities produced during the unipolar world following the cold war. Today we find the US in a position where the Obama administrations National Security Policy simply can’t afford to miscalculate in an emerging multipolar world, or the DoD will find itself strategically unprepared for that world.
A review of the Bush national security policy reveals a political policy seeking a condition, not a conclusion. The Bush administrations 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States stated that following the September 11 attacks, America would:
- launch preventive wars to defend itself against rogue states and terrorists with weapons of mass destruction;
- that it would do this alone, if necessary; and
- that it would work to democratize the greater Middle East as a long-term solution to the terrorist problem.
The problem with this was that it did not set forth end goals, it set forth conditional goals. The Bush policy explicitly laid out a vision of American power and opportunity as seen following the end of the cold war, with America as the unipolar actor, and then stated that America should use this opportunity to try to prolong the period of opportunity. The policy of retaining our freedom and ability to act as we saw necessary never stated for what conclusion we would be acting towards, it was purely a conditional policy of having the freedom and ability act. Even the conclusion of achieving a solution to the terrorist problem came with a conditional goal, specifically democracy.
The Obama administration has not laid out a National Security Strategy of the United States yet, or at least released one to the public, which raises questions what kind of National Defense Strategy might develop as a result of the QDR process. If the QDR will assess the threats and challenges the nation faces and re-balance DoD’s strategies, capabilities and forces to address today’s conflicts and tomorrow’s threats, should it not be guided by the National Security Strategy set forth by the Obama administration? If the DoD is developing strategies absent a National Security Strategy, how can that strategy clearly articulate a conclusion, or end state for strategy? Are we simply developing another series of defense strategy documents with conditional objectives?
It is my sincere hope that the Obama administration recognizes that conditional goals have consistently resulted in ineffective policies. For example, isolation of North Korea and Iran were conditional goals laid out by previous administrations, the isolation of North Korea being a conditional goal for decades and not surprisingly, has not resulted in a conclusion. An alternative approach for the Obama administration should be to clearly articulate the desired end state of North Korea, for example, ending the Korean War that never reached a conclusion. The same should be said for Iran, something like Nuclear power yes, nuclear weapons no, and articulate clearly the severe measures that will be taken to achieve that national security policy conclusion.
Keep in mind these are examples, not necessarily positions I am advocating. NSC-68 was written in 1950 with a clear end goal of defeating the Soviet Union. With that clear end goal stated, that National Security Strategy endured for 5 straight presidential cycles, and the Soviet Union wasn’t actually defeated until 4 decades after NSC-68 was written. Still, NSC-68 was an enduring document primarily because it had a clear policy end state defined to be achieved.
The point is, open ended conditional national security policies have a history of failure, because they lead to national defense strategies that fight symptoms instead of directly aligning strategy to address problems. Conditional goals leave too much ambiguity to effectively achieve a policy objective as a conclusion, and that is particularly true with military forces. The strategy in Iraq with the conditional goal of training Iraqi’s for transitioning security to Iraqi forces did not work, but when the end goal became a clear end state of protecting the population from the enemy, it worked.
As the DoD develops the next series of strategic documents, it is my sincere hope that when conditional goals are stated as an end in policy, the DoD seeks clarification of policy instead of simply accepting the condition as a foundation for strategy. Conditions are not effective end states for strategies, conclusions are. Without well defined conclusions, strategy cannot be well defined and will not be well aligned towards achieving positive policy objectives.
- Midrats Episode 168: “USCG and the Arctic” – Sunday 24 Mar 13 5pm
- Sequestration killed Tuition Assistance… Perhaps it’s a good thing (Update)
- Midrats this Sunday, May 17 2013 – Episode 167: Intellectual Integrity, PME, and NWC
- Remembering our Fallen Coast Guard Shipmates and their Families
- On Midrats 10 Mar 13, Episode 166: “Expeditionary Fleet Balance”