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2012 USAWC Strategy Conference on Youtube Part I.

Friday, April 20th, 2012

2012 US Army War College Strategy Conference is under way. Fortunately, the major events are being videotaped and uploaded to Youtube.

Keynote address by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage:

The Myth of British Counterinsurgency?

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

This SSI monograph by Dr. Andrew Mumford should stir some robust debate in the COIN community:

Puncturing the Counterinsurgency Myth: Britain and Irregular Warfare in the Past, Present, and Future

Most of Mumford’s points are valid criticisms but I need to quibble with Myth # 1 The British Military is an Effective Learning Institution:


According to John Nagl, the British succeeded in Malaya-in contrast to the American failure in Vietnam-because the British army had an organizational culture akin to a so-called “learning institution,” whereby the army quickly adapted to COIN conditions and changed tactics accordingly.2 The array of operational activity, ranging from limited to total war, that the British army has experienced has arguably led to a greater degree of pragmatism in its military outlook. A dogmatic adherence to rigid military doctrine has been absent, which, when compared to the generation-long postmortem on the failure of U.S. strategy in Vietnam, perhaps explains more than most other factors why an almost mythic reputation has descended upon the British. However, this does not explain, nor should it obscure, the languid application of appropriate irregular warfare tactics and the absence of swift strategic design. When it comes to COIN, the British are slow learners.

The early phases of nearly every campaign in the classical era were marred by stagnancy, mismanagement, and confusion. The military was 2 years into the Malayan Emergency before it conceived of a cohesive civil-military strategy in the form of the Briggs Plan. The crucial early years of the troubles in Northern Ireland were marked by displays of indiscriminate force and an inability to modulate the response.3

The Director of the United Kingdom (UK) Defence Academy also concedes that, in relation to Northern Ireland, “[I]t is easy in the light of the later success . . . to forget the early mistakes and the time it took to rectify them.”4 As Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely rightly observes, the Malayan Emergency was, “a much lauded counterinsurgency campaign, but often overlooked is the fact that in the early years . . . the British Army achieved very little success.” In COIN terms, therefore, the British have been consistently slow to implement an effective strategy and achieve operational success. Moreover, the vast body of campaign experience has not translated into a cogent COIN lesson-learning process within the British military. The very need to re-learn COIN in the post-September 11, 2001 (9/11) conflict environment has undermined assertions as to the British military’s being an effective learning institution. Such amnesia has created an imperative for the armed forces now to hone their lesson-learning abilities while simultaneously adapting to the intricate challenges of sub-state and transnational post-Maoist insurgent violence in the third millennium.

What sort of time frame is reasonable for “organizational learning” – that is, transforming a large, hierarchical, bureaucratic entity’s conceptualization and understanding of a situation and reforming and adapting it’s practices in light of experience? How fast can this really happen? An org is not an individual, two years while under fire does not seem slow to me. Am I missing something in Mumford’s argument?

Furthermore, I infer from the third paragraph that Mumford expects evidence of learning were for the Brits to have arrived in Basra good-to-go on COIN doctrine. Learning, whether in a person or org, is not represented by doctrine (lessons frozen in time) but rather a capacity to adapt to new circumstances. Mumford is on firmer ground criticizing British general officers for their blind assumption that they had all the answers on counterinsurgency  while the ragtag Mahdi Army bullied and ran circles around British units.

A monograph worth reading.

Hat tip to Lexington Green and SWJ Blog)


Monday, August 1st, 2011

Two more for the pile….


Another Bloody Century by Colin Gray

Iraq & the Evolution of American Strategy by Steven Metz

Comments or opinions?

Metz on Libya

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

We may have to go “All Libya, All the time” here this week. We won’t, but it is tempting.

Dr. Steve Metz of SSI has a featured op-ed in The New Republic:

Libya’s Coming Insurgency 

….History offers a number of sign posts that an insurgency will occur. Unfortunately Libya has almost all of them. At this point the political objectives of the government and anti-government forces are irreconcilable. Each side wants total victory-either Qaddafi will retain total power or he will be gone. Both sides are intensely devoted to their cause; passions are high. Both have thousands of men with military training, all imbued with a traditional warrior ethos which Qaddafi himself has stoked. The country is awash with arms. Libya has extensive hinterlands with little or no government control that could serve as insurgent bases. Neighboring states are likely to provide insurgent sanctuary whether deliberately-as an act of policy-or inadvertently because a government is unable to control its territory. North Africa has a long history of insurgency, from the anti-colonial wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to more recent conflicts in Chad, Algeria, and Western Sahara. Where insurgency occurred in the past, it is more likely to occur in the future. All this means that there is no place on earth more likely to experience an insurgency in the next few years than Libya.

What is not clear is whether the coming insurgency will involve Qaddafi loyalists fighting against a new regime or anti-Qaddafi forces fighting to remove the old dictator and his patrons. In either case, a Libyan insurgency would be destructive. Because they take place within the population, insurgencies always fuel refugee problems and humanitarian crises. They provide an opportunity for extremists to hijack one or both sides. And insurgency in Libya would destabilize a region undergoing challenging political transitions

Read the rest here.

The Strategist as Demiurge

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

“Genius is above all rules” – Carl von Clausewitz

“Creativity is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of nature.” – Eric Hoffer

An intriguing, thought-provoking and frequently on-target paper by Dr. Anna Simons of SSI  (hat tip to SWJ Blog). First the summary excerpt and then some comments:

Got Vision? Unity of Vision in Policy and Strategy: What It Is and Why We Need It (PDF)

….Moving beyond “unity of effort” and “unity of command,” this monograph identifies an overarching need for “unity of vision.” Without someone at the helm who has a certain kind–not turn, not frame, but kind–of mind, asymmetric confrontations will be hard (if not impossible) to win. If visionary generals can be said to possess “coup d’oeil,” then unity of vision is cross-cultural coup d’oeil. As with strategic insight, either individuals have the ability to take what they know of another society and turn this to strategic–and war-winning–effect, or they do not. While having prior knowledge of the enemy is essential, strategy will also only succeed if it fits “them” and fits “us.” This means that to convey unity of vision a leader must also have an intuitive feel for “us.”

[ For the readers for whom military strategic terminology is unfamiliar, “coup d’ oeil” is an instant, intuitive, situational understanding of the military dynamics in their geographic setting. The great commanders of history, Alexander, Caesar, Belisarius, Napoleon – had it]

The key concept  here is “visionary generals” creating a mutually shared “general vision” of policy and its strategic execution. While military figures who hold high command – Eisenhower, MacArthur, Petreaus – are obvious examples, technically, it doesn’t have to be a “general” in immediate combat command, so much as the final “decider”. A figure whose authority is part autocrat and part charsmatic auctoritas. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill epitomized this role, as did George Marshall, the orgainizer and architect of the Allied victory in WWII. On a less exalted scale, we see Edward Lansdale (cited by Simons) or Thomas Mann, LBJ’s behind the scenes, Latin America “policy czar” during the Dominican Crisis of 1965

Simons is arguing for finding “great men” of strategy rather than explaining how to contruct a strategic vision per se. There is a very strong emphasis here of successful strategy as an act of great creativity, with the strategist as a master artist of force and coercion, imposing their will on allies and the enemy to shape the outcome of events. Colonel John Collins, wrote of this article by Dr. Simons at his Warlord Loop:

Be aware that the following article is NOT about unity of vision. It is about visionaries who convinced a majority that their vision was the best available policy at a given time and place in a certain set of circumstances. Implementing plans, programs, and operations follow. Most successful visionaries indeed must be supersalespersons, because priceless theories and concepts otherwise gather dust.  

I agree. There’s a combination of actions here – strategic thought, proselytizing the vision, competent execution, empirical assessment and strategic adjustment – that feeds back continuously (or at least, it should). While Simons argues her point well and draws on several case studies from India from which I learned new things, there is a flaw in one of her premises:

Take Andrew Krepinevich’s and Barry Watts’s recent assertion that it is “past time to recognize that not everyone has the cognitive abilities and insight to be a competent strategist.”4 As they note, “strategy is about insight, creativity, and synthesis.”5 According to Krepinevich and Watts, “it appears that by the time most individuals reach their early twenties, they either have developed the cognitive skills for strategy or they have not.”6 As they go on to write:

If this is correct, then professional education or training are unlikely to inculcate a capacity for genuine strategic insight into most individuals, regardless of their raw intelligence or prior experience. Instead, the best anyone can do is to try to identify those who appear to have developed this talent and then make sure that they are utilized in positions calling for the skills of a strategist.7

Mark Moyar concurs. The point he makes again and again in his new book, A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq, is that “counter-insurgency is ‘leader-centric’ warfare, a contest between elites in which the elite with superiority in certain leadership attributes usually wins.”8

Watts and Krepinevich are statistically correct regarding the rarity of strategic thinking and are probably largely correct regarding the effects of professional military education and the career path of most military officers. They are most likely wrong on the causation of the lack of strategic thinking ability. It is not exclusively a matter of winning the genetic lottery or losing it at age thirty, cognitively we are what we frequently do. Discourage a large number of people by regulation or culture from taking the initiative and making consequential choices and you will ultimately have a group bereft of strategic thought. Or possibly, thought.

As with most professionals, military officers tend to be vertical thinkers, or what Howard Gardner in Extraordinary Minds calls “Masters” – as they rise in rank, they acquire ever greater expertise over a narrower and more refined and esoteric body of professional knowledge. This tendency toward insularity and specialization, analysis and reductionism is the norm in a 20th century, modern, hierarchical institutional culture of which the US military is but one example.

However, if you educate differently, force officers out of their field (presumably into something different from military science but still useful in an adjunctive sense), the conceptual novelty will promote horizontal thinking, synthesis and insight – cognitive building blocks for strategic thinking. While we should value and promote those with demonstrated talent for strategic thinking we can also do a great deal more to educate our people to be good strategists.

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