2010/03/08

Who should conceive of strategy in hot conflicts?

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Who should conceive of strategy in hot conflicts?

This question seems to be answered in theory (many times) and yet not be answered at all. Let's take the example of the Afghanistan conflict or to be more exact: Our involvement in it.

Who should do the strategy thing?

- the NATO general secretary and his staffs?
- (U.S.) CENTCOM ?
- ISAF/OEF-A leadership?
- NATO summit?
- special envoys?
- the relevant parts of the Afghan government?
- some NATO committee?
- some NATO HQ?
- the U.S. president with advice by exclusively U.S. advisers?
- the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff and his staff?

And then of course it's possible that outsiders or informal groups conceive of a strategy and only convince the powers that be to adopt it.


The differences are

foreign (us) OR indigenous leaders?

lead nation OR alliance?

politicians (electorate) OR flag officers?

individual leaders OR teams?

institutional or custom choice of leader(s)?


foreigners or indigenous leaders?

This is specific to expeditionary warfare. Both an assistance to an invaded or threatened country and stupidly messing in a foreign civil war require such a decision.

The answer seems to be relatively simple; I would always prefer to give the indigenous leaders priority, with caveats. They must not consume the foreign ressources needlessly, of course.
The higher regional competence of the indigenous leaders is the reason why they should be allowed to conceive of the allied strategy if they are able to do so.


lead nation or alliance?

I think this is quite simple; the larger powers in an alliance tend to have superior resources and thus a natural influence advantage over the smaller allies.
This doesn't mean that a lead nation should conceive of strategy by itself, or have decisive influence. A good strategy is in everyone's interest and thus we should use a mode that allows for the use of best ideas that emerge from unlikely places.
Some of the recent hot conflicts took a shape in which smaller allies were almost(?) reduced to a pool for auxiliary troops - a hardly sustainable mode of operation if said "smaller" allies include several great powers of global significance, some of them even nuclear powers. Even a lead nation would always need to listen much to its allies in order to prevent their breakaway from the project.

In the end, it would be smart to not lead from a lead nation, but to strive for selecting the best and most relevant leaders (the latter especially if it's being done on the political level) for the decisionmaking.


politicians (electorate) or flag officers?

This is no question to me. I was raised in a Germany where the primacy of politicians over flag officers wasn't in doubt. A German General has a weak voice in German media - a Petraeus cult or a political campaign waged by flag officers on the political level in favour of a war project is quite unthinkable in Germany.
I'm a child of this society and thus come to a quite typical conclusion; politicians should decide, offciers should advise.

I added a "(electorate)" to the question for a reason, though. A nation such as Switzerland with a strong direct democracy could approach the matter very differently. It would have the time to make a national instead of government decision on strategy in a conflict. A plebiscite could be used to choose a prepared option among at least two options.
Many people distrust plebiscites (these people don't really believe in democracy in my opinion) , and at least as many distrust politicians. Finally, there are plenty who distrust flag officers (especially Generals). I think all three groups - politicians, flag officers, electorate - are reasonable alternatives here.
I would usually prefer politicians. The plebiscite options deserves more thought, though.


individual leaders OR teams?

The age of individual leaders passed centuries ago. Multi-national efforts make the "individual leader" option look foolish in my opinion.
The choice should be obvious; a team should agree on a strategy as much as necessary to prevent that too many partners opt out. Not every partner needs to agree and stay in the boat.
Some chairman or institutional leader may still become the representative of the decision, for easier public communication of the decision.


institutional or custom choice of leaders?

Let's face it; organizations that have existed for several years are usually *very* suboptimal. Look at the G8, G20 summits; it began as a dicussion round for a couple of top politicians. It was turned into a huge bureaucracy with much show and little ability to decide.
Multinational military-related institutions aren't better.

I'm clearly in favour of assembling a custom team for conceiving of a strategy.
This does merely shift the problem, of course. Who selects the team or the staff?


Conclusion

I tend to favour indigenous leaders, but also an alliance and team work. In other words; the indigenous leaders and experts should have great weight in the alliance. The indigenous power should be very influential if it's capable of it - no matter how small it is relative to others. Caveats to protect the interests of the other allies are necessary, though.

I believe in the primacy of politics over military, and thus the politicians should decide while officers advise and execute. The politicians could delegate the decision by accepting the advice 100%, of course. I would consider that as a quite reliable indicator of their incompetence.

Teams should be custom-created for the job. That's the only way how it could come close to a lean team of the best or most powerful people.

Alternatively, this setup could merely provide the options for a plebiscite. That option deserves and requires additional research and thought, though.


Sven Ortmann
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