Saturday, November 17, 2012

For U.S. Military, External Analysis Means An Existential Shift in Strategy


It goes without saying that the United States Military is one of the largest and most complex organizations on Earth.  But as the 20th century fades and the 21st century comes into its own, the military has made external assessments that are leading to a fundamental shift in its overall strategy.  This post will examine the external factors facing American Military as it makes the transition from cold war readiness to a post-cold war environment,  as well as the military's strategic reactions to these trends.

The most important external change the military has had to address is the end of the cold war, and as a corollary: the deëmphsasis of formal threats by sovereign states.  Since the inception of the United States, the military had generally focused its strategy on winning declared wars between sovereign states.  The new threat focus has shifted toward "non-state" actors, both within states and with no formal sovereign affiliation. Obviously, this is a fundamental strategic shift in not only how the military approaches conflicts (and potential conflicts), but also how it arranges itself and dedicates resources. Add to all of this, pressure economic and budgetary pressure from the military's civilian leadership, and the strategic shift is a military that is not only smaller, but more agile and cheaper while still maintaining strategic dominance.  Practically what this means is a shift away from large numbers of troops toward smaller, specialized units, and the increased use of unmanned drones.

Another significant strategic shift (the extent of which is still being debated internally) is from a traditional focus on the physical aspects of warfare to the psychological dimensions of war.  An article in World Politics Review examines this particular issue in great detail.  According to the article, the American military has always been more comfortable addressing the physical aspects of war, but recent analysis has led to the creation of the Office of Strategic Landpower to address the psychological components of conflict. While the physical components compel an adversary to act in a specific way through force, the psychological components are indirect and lead an adversary to choose to act in a specific way.  This uses the strategic advice offered by Sun Tzu: "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." And given the economic and global changes discussed above, ultimately the objective of this strategic shift "is to make the American military more effective at identifying and creating desired psychological effects in diverse cultural settings, and hence more strategically efficient."

The Department of Defense has also announced that in the face of the new international framework it will begin to shift some of its emphasis toward establishing and maintaining defense alliances.  Again, because of the external factors discussed earlier, the military's alliances can be leveraged to increase efficiencies in any number of areas, and also gives weight to the psychological aspects of warfare discussed above.  And so these individual shifts in strategy all address different external changes, they are also a part of a greater unified shift in strategy.

An organization as large and with the longevity of the military is often resistant to change, especially changes as existential as the ones discussed here.  There is often institutional resistance baked into the structure of the organization itself.  What strategies should be used to implement fundamental changes in an organization as large and as old this?  In making the strategic shift to a smaller, more efficient military, what (if anything) is being lost in the shift?

Links:
BusinessWeek - "A Smaller, Cheaper, Stronger Military"
World Politics Review - "Strategic Horizons: U.S. Army Prepares for Human Domain ofWar"
U.S. Dept. of Defense - "Defense Alliances Key to 21st Century Security"
Time - "U.S. Military Might. Then Again, It Might Not."

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