08 January 2010

Excellent articles from Adam Elkus

If you haven't checked out Adam Elkus' latest articles in Red Team Journal and at Open Democracy, you need to. A few snippets...

From "New Years' Resolutions for Strategic Theory", regarding the COINdinistas and COINtras:

The emerging strategic debate of the 2010s is the clash between “COINdinistas”–soldiers and civilian thinkers who believe that counterinsurgency and stability operations is the immediate future of war and deserve special consideration–and “COINtras” who are suspicious of the COIN’s doctrinal assumptions, warn of strategic overreach, and focus instead on building up traditional combined arms competencies. While it is difficult to see how both views can be reconciled (and rightly so, we need the debate), both get important things right. The military is ultimately a tool of policy, and counterinsurgency has to be integrated into the strategic toolkit available in order for US policy to be accomplished. U.S. involvement in insurgency and counterinsurgency has been constant since 1776 and shows no sign of going away. That being said, COINtras, who tend to espouse Realistviews, are correct that the United States is currently overstretched and should not seek out intervention with general purpose forces. Moreover, even the favored model of special forces and drones should not be so easily resorted to. Lastly, the COINtras do have a point about COIN theory’s weaknesses. The larger problem, however, is the nation’s post-Cold War strategic drift–and both COINdinistas and COINtras can and should agree that the real issue is not COIN or “Big Army” but America’s problem with strategy.

From "Science, Defence and Strategy" regarding the development of doctrine"

For the military, the quest for doctrine and training adaptive enough to create a military capable of carrying out complex conventional and irregular missions is likely to be a decades-long pursuit. It took thirty years for the Army to experience a post-Vietnam renaissance in doctrine and training that would eventually result in the lopsided victory over Iraq in the first Gulf War. But military needs will be ultimately driven by the nature of American strategy. And when strategy is absent, science, whether rooted in technology, operational art, or social science, will take over. So what is to be done?

One of America’s greatest (but little-known) strategic thinkers ironically found the answer in science itself. Air Force Colonel John Boyd busied himself with an expansive reading list after retirement, synthesizing insights from the emerging discipline complexity science along with the timeless lessons of classic military history. An iconoclastic figure, Boyd is known for declaring “If you've got onedoctrine, you're a dinosaur.” While Boyd’s insights are often reduced down to the idea that one should simply be faster than the enemy, his real ideas were far more complex.

In Boyd’s paper “Destruction and Creation,” the widely read Colonel synthesized mathematicians Kurt Gödel and Werner Heisenberg’s insights in pointing out that inward-oriented efforts to force observed reality to mesh with internally derived concepts only increase chaos and destruction. It is impossible to determine the consistency and character of an abstract system within itself (See John R. Boyd, “Destruction and Creation,” September 3, 1976). Boyd noted that this had potentially dire consequences for rigid closed systems...

...The human decision-making process, Boyd argues, deals with this conundrum through a constant dialectic of creation and destruction of mental patterns and perceptions in response to a changing and complex observed reality. We cannot escape from chaos, rather we are most successful when we embrace it by shattering the rigid mental patterns that have built up and then synthesize the new realities we observe to create a new understanding. Such a process of structuring, dissolving, restructuring, and dissolving again must be repeated endlessly.

Contemporary American strategic problems flow from the fact that we cannot adjust the ossified thinking of Washington D.C. to the constantly shifting observed reality of the outside world. A failure to match concepts to observed reality has amplified the already formidable entropy of the American political system. The corresponding failure to make strategy results in a search further inward towards the “science” of war. Better strategy will come about only when the process by which strategy is made becomes supple, flexible, and less dominated by sacred cows and special interests.

And finally, your daily dose of Clausewitz:

Clausewitz did not believe in the “trinitarian” framework often ascribed to him. Neither was he responsible for World War I. He didn’t invent political correctness. And the 200-year old Prussian is not responsible for the formula-like (and very Jominian) way that his ideas are used in US military education and doctrine. Rather than using poor old Carl von as a foil for new ideas, those ideas should be advocated on their merits.

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