CCLKOW: The 2% Doctrine

Dr. Hugo Rosemont is Assistant Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College, London.

This week Kings of War and CCLKOW are happy to introduce a new author to the audience and participants, with Dr. Hugo Rosemont discussing British security policy, budgets and priorities as a key part of the impending General Election. Marking something of a departure from the usual, in this case our conceptualization expands beyond defence to consider the implications for policing as well as other facets of the security machine. Although the most obvious nexus lately among these worlds is in the unfolding stories of citizens leaving to join foreign extremists, the wider universe of human and contraband smuggling, money laundering, cyber crime and other transnational “crim-sec” activity is demolishing the neat sense of separation between these state functions which had arisen under modern administrative practices. While it is folly to redefine every problem according to a security framework, it is equally dangerous to ignore the relationship among these sectors and their influence upon the broad terms of security because of bureaucratic boundaries. In governmental policy, I think Hugo is correct to identify the absence of more holistic thinking and approaches as a serious gap in thinking on security. And although the focus is, at the moment, upon the United Kingdom, with an election impending in the US next year these issues will resonate as well. So, enjoy the article, give a thought to the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW. — Jill S. Russell  

 

Whilst some people might look at the treatment of foreign policy, defence and security issues during the 2015 UK General Election campaign as a farce, is it not now becoming something much more akin to a tragedy? Several commentators have rightly pointed out (for example, here and here) that, with the exception of only a few issues, these topics have not featured prominently during the campaign. This is disappointing for a few reasons.

First, where it has taken place, debate in these areas has focused almost exclusively on the status of the UK political parties’ varying (non?) commitment to allocate 2% of UK GDP to defence expenditure, in line with the country’s stance on the associated NATO guideline, with a sprinkling of discussion emerging more recently on the national security credentials of party leaders, and on the prospects for renewing the country’s nuclear weapons capability. Most notably, the Prime Minister received a high profile grilling on the first issue in a BBC leadership interview last week – his performance was subsequently critiqued by many analysts, including the editor of The Spectator.

The 2% question is a critical issue and it is important that both politicians and public opinion are flushed out in particular around their level of commitment to the UK meeting the NATO guideline (full disclosure: the present author shares the belief of many people – including the 33 Members of Parliament to have signed an Early Day Motion on the issue – that the next Government should commit itself to the NATO figure). But the current, understandable emphasis on this matter is now beginning to do us all a disservice because it leaves little room for consideration of the parties’ approaches to other national security issues. In particular, it is striking how little contemplation there has been to date around some of the more eye-catching security policy ideas to have been proposed in the parties’ manifestos, and indeed on their relative silence towards some of the most urgent issues. With respect to the former, for example, why has there not been a deeper level of interest or more mainstream media attention towards such issues as:

– The Conservatives’ plan to ‘hold’ a National Security Strategy later this year

– Labour’s proposal to abolish elected Police and Crime Commissioners

– The Lib Dems’ belief that intervention is justified by a legal ‘and/or’ humanitarian case

– UKIP’s proposal to establish a new Director of National Intelligence for the UK

– The Scottish National Party’s idea that nuclear weapons are morally offensive

Second, whilst opinion will be likely to split on whether any or all of these ideas are good, bad, or even ugly, unfortunately there is an even bigger problem. It is the apparent lack of detail (consideration?) from the parties on how under their leadership – or as a result of their involvement – the next UK Government would approach such serious current issues as winning the battle of ideas underpinning the radicalization of British ‘foreign fighters’ inclined to travel to Iraq and Syria, and notably in respect of other ongoing crises in, for example, Yemen, Ukraine and Libya. Additionally, a serious connection has seemingly not yet been made by any of the leading contenders in respect of how they propose to handle what Professor Vernon Bogdanor calls ‘The Crisis of the Constitution’ and the impact that policy in this area might have on national security – including the integrity of the country, and its long-term economic prospects. Judging by the manifestos, there also appears to be an ongoing failure on the part of all parties to develop creative solutions for engaging the private sector in addressing many of the most complicated issues the UK faces, upon whom it now depends in numerous areas of national security.

Third, it is concerning that more attention has not been paid in the pre-election discussions to how the next Government should develop its overall approach to national security considered in the wider sense. In other recent election campaigns, most notably in 2010, UK voters were spoilt for choice in being provided with detailed and creative new thinking from the parties (should they want it) around how policies, structures and processes would be developed and implemented by way of a genuinely ‘joined-up’ approach to national security. There have been few such discussions this time but, happily, Charlie Edwards (the author of National Security for the Twenty-First Century, an important pamphlet that originally advanced the need for a ‘holistic’ UK national security strategy) and Calum Jeffray of the Royal United Services Institute have recently co-authored an excellent new paper that adopts such a broad perspective with its analysis on the future for research and development for security and intelligence purposes. It must be hoped that this prompts the UK security and political community into again considering alongside defence the importance of what the coalition Government has called ‘wider security’ issues. For now, it is worrying that, with the possible exception of some attention to limited aspects of police reform and the future powers for monitoring digital communications, deeper discussion on non-military security issues has been largely absent from this campaign to date.

There is clearly very limited time now before 7th May, so the emergence of a renewed emphasis on security issues might be difficult to achieve. It also has to be recognized that, in contrast to high profile proposals on domestic priorities such as health and education, it has often be observed that policies on defence, security and foreign affairs are simply not the same kind of ‘vote winners’. But a case can also be made that two straightforward changes in approach would help to improve the level and quality of the discussions. Firstly, in parallel to any ongoing scrutiny of their policies on defence, the parties could be encouraged (if not pressured) by national security journalists, academics, and any other interested parties, to clarify whether (and how specifically) they would propose to work with partners to develop and fund their approaches to non-military security risks such as terrorism, organized crime and cyber insecurity, at home and overseas. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly at this stage, all those with an interest or voice in the current UK defence funding debate should consider resisting the temptation to add further fuel to the fire on the 2% issue, as important and tempting as it is, or at least contemplate raising in the debate the merits (and importance) of discussing other proposals and obvious (often non-military) security priorities facing the UK.

The reality is that we now have a good idea of where the parties stand on the 2% defence spending issue, however satisfactory or unsatisfactory positions on this matter may be seen to be. Clearly this will need to be revisited after the Election but, in the meantime, it is imperative that answers are also now sought on how the parties would approach other pressing security concerns, including in respect of how (if?) non-military security risks would be genuinely considered in any Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) process held under their watch.

It is against this backdrop that it is hoped that the following questions will help to stimulate some more varied discussion on the future shape of UK defence and security policy in the remaining few weeks of the 2015 General Election:

 

1 How useful is the 2% NATO guideline as a measure of UK national security capability?

2 How much should the next Government spend on other security capabilities (e.g. cyber, counter-terrorism policing, intelligence etc.)?

3 What ‘security’ issues should/shouldn’t be covered in the 2015 SDSR?

Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

Standard

Colonel Panter-Downes: Tending One’s Bureaucratic Garden

Greeting’s readers. For this week’s professional discussion we have a piece from our Colonel thinking about how to tend the military bureaucracies. Often derided for the inanity of the extremes, it must be admitted that but for these internal organizing principles and apparatuses large and complex institutions like the armed forces would exceed human administration. Thus, evil though it might perpetuate, the bureaucracy also means that things really do get done rather than collapsing under the weight of every detail. The challenge is in discriminating such that you preserve the good and manage the bad, identify the flab while maintaining the muscle.  So, read the piece, consider the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

 

I enjoy gardening. There is something both satisfying and therapeutic about working with nature in the pursuit of growth.  I would not however say that I am a good gardener; in fact my gardening skills have been described as somewhat apocalyptic. In an attempt to improve my green fingered skills I often listen in to BBC Radio’s “Gardeners’ Question Time” a thoroughly British institution. A hardy perennial on this show is the subject of pruning which is often necessary to encourage new growth, and it is with the subject of pruning in mind that my thoughts turned to that of military bureaucracy.

It is a given in every military that military bureaucracy is bad and needs pruning.  The former might or might not be the case but the latter is definitely true.  There is a lot of dead bureaucracy out there, bureaucracy that has served its purpose and is no longer required.  This needs cut back to focus on the essential bureaucracy, for bureaucracy is essential.  Now my well thumbed copy of Charles Handy’s “Understanding Organisations” (an excellent book, every field grade officer should own it) uses German sociologist’s Max Weber’s definition of a bureaucracy as:

  1. A division of labour in which authority and responsibility is clearly defined for each member, and is officially sanctioned.
  2. Offices or positions are organized into a hierarchy of authority resulting in a chain of command.
  3. All organisational members are to be selected on the basis of technical qualifications through formal examinations or by virtue of training and education.
  4. Officials are to be appointed, not elected.
  5. Administrators work for fixed salaries and are career officers.
  6. The administrative official does not own the administered unit but is a salaried official.
  7. The administrator is subject to strict rules, discipline, and controls regarding the official duties.

From this definition it is very clear that we, the military, are indeed a bureaucracy (whether we like it or not). What I want to talk about however, is the manifestation of bureaucracy in the rules, regulations, requirements and paperwork peculiar to our institutions.

The intent of a bureaucratic structure is to enable an organisation to function effectively and efficiently.  Bureaucracy, the manifestation of a bureaucratic structure, is supposed to be the oil that lubricates the cogs of power, not the grit that jams the gearing.  All too often however the means (a bureaucracy) becomes the end; in the British Army we refer to this state as a “self-licking lollipop”. The same is often perceived as true for the forms in which bureaucracy takes, the process seems to become an end in itself.  Yet all those rules, regulations and paperwork we chafe at serve a purpose, or did so at one time.  Where that purpose is redundant the bureaucracy has become dead bureaucracy, the purpose is dead but the process remains; like old growth it too needs pruning.

As a rough bureaucratic gardener’s rule of thumb the more bureaucracy irritates us the greater the requirement for pruning. We chafe most against those elements whose purpose we cannot discern, or whose utility we see as peripheral (at best) to operational output. Few chafe at the requirement to sit a driving test and hold a driving license before driving.  Furthermore that which we chafe against reveals much about our organisation. Bureaucracy is supposed to enable the effective and efficient functioning of the organisation, it assists in minimizing risk; but what kind of risk and risk to whom? Bureaucracy can be a window to the soul of the organisation exposing what is acceptable and what is not, where risk is tolerated and where not.  It can tell us uncomfortable truths about who we are.

In thinking down this path I was struck by elements on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the UK leave for field grade officers and above is self-certified.  For those below field grade an application is made to the chain of command which simply states when you want leave and where you will be spending it.  Here in the US the following are required:  Leave Pass request sheet, Hard Copy DA 31, Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPS) completed and a detailed Travel Plan, Privately Operated Vehicle (POV) inspection certificate (is your car safe to drive), flight itinerary (as applicable), and the AKO MEDPROS printout.  It seems to me a little excessive and I was surprised that anyone let alone field grades, was required to complete this.  Presumably if you have commanded a company or a battalion you can be trusted to plan your leave or does mission command only apply in the field?  In this instance the bureaucracy in camp seems at odds with the command ethos in the field.  Now I can understand the purpose of this bureaucratic requirement, but does one size fit all? What mechanism exists for pruning back this when it is no longer relevant?  When I think of my experience of the US Army’s bureaucracy I think of “bureaucracy by attrition”. It tells me that this is an organisation that does not welcome people “stepping out of lane”; its manifestation and ethos seems at odds with the Army Operating Concept.

Much of the UK bureaucracy that I find irksome, owes as much in my opinion to minimising political and reputational risk as it does to operational effectiveness.  I understand the requirement to maintain an operational training record of all training a soldier receives prior to deployment. I cannot help but feel however, that the bureaucracy that now surrounds this requirement owes more to providing an audit trail in the event of an inquest than it does to ensuring that soldiers are sufficiently trained to deploy. The amount of bureaucracy seems excessive to the (operational) value gained, but guards reputational risk (we train our soldiers effectively) and minimizes political risk (training was resourced correctly).   Likewise I was struck by the bureaucracy regarding working with Personally Identifiable Information (PII).  Successive UK governments have been embarrassed by the loss of PII by different government departments (including the Ministry of Defence).  Naturally this has resulted in a regime to enforce best practice and accountability.  But again, the handling of PII has been normalized, we know how to do it, The annual training and certification programme now seems excessive  to the requirement and indicates the absence of risk tolerance in this area.  It seems to me that the UK bureaucratic emphasis indicates acute political sensitivity and a focus on minimizing (organisational) reputational risk.

We military personnel are largely bureaucrats in a bureaucratic organisation.  We should acknowledge and embrace this, because it is only by doing this that we can recognise the impacts of our bureaucracy on our organisations for good and for ill.  To parody Clausewitz  “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the leader has to make is to establish . . . the kind of ethos on which they are embarking and the bureaucracy to support it.”

 

So my questions for this week are simple:

What does your bureaucracy tell you about your organisation?

What would you prune?

Where would you encourage new growth?

Standard

Women and children first?

Welcome to this week’s CCLKOW discussion piece. We are looking this time at the complications arising from certain of Isil’s irregular strategic choices. To be brief, contrary to current practice they are weaponising children and women’s domestic functions. Child soldiers are nothing new globally, but they have not figured prominently against the West. And one suspects Isil’s strategic intent is specifically to confound Western forces with this choice. Similarly, the active recruitment of women for the purpose of marrying a fighter and supporting the cause in that manner has overtones of that intent as well. So, read the piece and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

There is a looming problem in the fight against Isil. As they include recruitment of women and the military training of children in their operating philosophy, we are fast racing to a point of uncomfortable decision regarding how to treat them on the battlefields and in the long run.

Turning first to the children, the greatest issue is at the tactical level. At some point, in the fighting to retake the towns and cities held by Isil, children will be deployed. And let’s be clear. Children are what we make them in large measure. There are no shortage of cautionary tails regarding the potential brutality of children run amok, and we should have all read Lord of the Flies. Now consider what happens when they are trained. At the point of combat, these “young cubs” could well be dangerous. Of course, what children survive those battlefields present the longer term problem of their treatment, whether as victims or prisoners of war.

Giving our attention next to the women, ‎with the story of three young women from East London running off to join Isil’s domestic branch fresh on our minds, the problem is their status in the long term. Much consideration of their intentions, both serious — King’s own Dr. Katherine Brown and Elizabeth Pearson have recently offered their thoughts among many  — and silly (CNN’s “Nutella and Kittens”). While some might try to argue that these young women are being lured on false romanticism which preys on their naivete, please consider that the same must then true for the young men. Furthermore, while taking the step to jihadi bride might not seem like an act of war, they do serve the purpose of holding territory, complicating combat operation as civilians, and providing a next generation of fighter. In a 15 year war scenario, that last is n0t inconsequential. Furthermore, one must also consider their intent in joining, their ideological commitment to the conflict and political culture that Isil wishes to spread. That is, in every respect they have donned the uniform. And it bears remembering that not every male who joins is a trigger puller, neither in Isil nor Western forces – a soldier truck driver is still a prisoner of war. Even assuming these women didn’t pick up a Kalashnikov in the defense, as territory is retaken from Isil, their will not be easy to decide.

So, the question for discussion is simple:

What do you do about women and children in war now? 

 

Standard

Televised Salvation

 

CCLKOW’s discussion this week offers a different vision, literally and figuratively, to counter the horrors of extremist snuff propaganda and re-imagine the use of modern military capabilities. It challenges our discussants to consider in wholly new ways to approach the public brutality of our opponents, arguing that the best response is its opposite, kindness. Read the post, ponder the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

 

Last week the world was justly horrified at the notion of the execution by fire of Jordanian Air Force pilot Lieutenant Moath al-Kasasbeh. I use “notion” particularly because the majority of those who stand opposed to the action eschewed exposure to the images. ‎I did not, because as a historian I must be willing to confront that which I seek to understand: the video was awful, but useful. (1) But even as societies shun the video, embedded within the perverse logic that peddles the horrific exhibition of carnage is the kernel of a counter strategy. The spectacle of relief by way of televised salvation; or rather, the operationalization of Combat HA/RTP.

The truth that must be accepted is that behind the gross displays of the ritualized execution of symbolic and specific targets, the conflicts in Iraq and Syria have exacted a ruthless toll upon a disproportionate mass of civilians. Whether displaced or under siege, local populations have borne the brunt of the violence and chaos. Sinjar is famous, but it is not alone.

We are much in the habit these days of discussing the strategic narrative. But military operations are still too often reckoned in tactical tallies of sorties and targets. (2) There is little in any of that which portends victory, neither on the battlefield nor among the many audiences of concern in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. If taking control of the narrative in this fight is an objective, then a better story than the extremists’ grisly tales must be offered. Humanity, pursued with vigor, would offer a compelling narrative in contrast to the death cult fare. It would be a narrative sustained by the substance of real action and, better still, conveyed by the images of hope and deliverance.

The US particularly has every capability to manage the human dimensions such conflict-induced crises. In all respects it depends upon the strength of full-spectrum logistics. American forces dominate this field, to include expeditionary air mobility, housing, feeding and medical services, and as well the ability to provide security is a given. (3) I am imagining scalable, deployable units, tasked to protect and defend from environmental and enemy harm. Initial focus of application would be on the refugee and displaced populations, but there would be room to expand such operations to consider the provision of defense to those peoples whose political voice coalesces to request it.

None of this ignores the fact that defeat of the extremists will require some fighting, killing and dying. However, the more that is done to move opinion against them, the easier that task will be. It bears considering that perhaps the most important victories of the Cold War were humanitarian: the mighty strategic and political effort of the Marshall Plan and the symbolic tactical victory of the Berlin Airlift. Both acts of strategic kindness, the latter made famous by the iconic image of nothing more than a chocolate bar on a makeshift parachute. In this fight as well, while we have every means at our disposal to bring destruction, it may be that the better answer is in what salvation we choose to deliver.

 

So, for this week’s discussion questions:

What are the terms of a strategic narrative to defeat the extremist movements who trade in barbarity?

Do we need to reconsider how we use military forces? Is force their most effective capability?

Are American and Western political audiences willing to sacrifice life and treasure to defend others?

 

Notes:

1 The worst of it is not the act, but always the coldness of the enemy in attendance. And, in this case, the bulldozer.

2 The Iraqi announcements are at least about ‎the fight for key strategic terrain, about retaking territory from an invading enemy.

3 In varying degrees the NATO allies share this capacity.

 

Simulposted at CCL KOW: https://medium.com/@CCLKOW/televised-salvation-f0c01cd3cfee

Standard

The Thin Red Line? Determining the Future of the British Armed Forces

 

Late last month, General Sir Nicholas Houghton delivered the annual Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. In his speech, Houghton reviewed the past twelve months of operations and expressed his hopes, concerns and anxieties for the year ahead. 2015 is set to be an exceptionally busy one in British politics with a General Election scheduled for May and a Spending Review. Critically for those in the armed forces, it is also time for another Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). SDSR 2015 will help determine the shape of British defence policy and the budget for the foreseeable future.

Houghton addressed many of the military’s perennial concerns (e.g. budget, allocation of resources, and how best to address emerging threats). However, he was most concerned about the state of civil-military relations. Over the past decade, Houghton believes that, ‘to varying degrees, government, parliament and society have become more cautious, nervous and anxious about the employment of military force.’ [1] Furthermore, ‘as a nation we [Britain] could have started to lose some of our courageous instinct: the instinct to risk and make sacrifices for our own security and the common good.’ [2] Throughout his speech, he stressed the need for the government and by extension, the public to clarify what role they wish the armed forces to play. Are they there to ‘mitigate risks from the narrow perspective of national necessity,’ or to serve a ‘grander ambition’? [3]

In the last SDSR in 2010, the government very clearly stated that, ‘our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions. We have a proud history of standing up for the values we believe in and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come.’[4] Be that as it may, the armed forces have felt the sting of severe cuts to both manpower and the budget over the last few years. Simultaneously, they are asked to meet growing security threats from both state and non-state actors. Consequently, the question as to their role remains open for debate.

The UK has long had global ambitions and defined itself within these terms. At the beginning of the 20th century, Britain was a superpower with an extensive empire. Even after the decline of that empire, the country’s leaders remained determined to maintain a place on the world’s stage. Following WWII, the UK entered a period of severe financial austerity not dissimilar to events since the financial crisis of 2008. Nevertheless, the British government still saw itself as a global power and a pivotal ally for new superpower, the United States. Moreover, the UK still had a vast array of defence commitments around the world. Determined to meet these responsibilities, the country fielded a large army that was principally maintained through conscription (National Service). Today, this is no longer politically viable. Since the end of the Cold War, a more transparent and less deferent society has emerged. The British public is no longer willing to enforce National Service. On the whole, we are also much more sensitive to the risks that military service entails, averse to the casualties that inevitably result from operations.

Having said that, the government’s ambitions remain big. Britain still perceives itself as a major partner to the US and a key country within defensive alliances like NATO. The country also remains the fifth largest spender on defence in the world. However, commentators have predicated that spending will begin to fall below 2 per cent GDP over the next few years. It is likely that further cuts will be made to both the overall defence budget and military manpower, with a greater reliance on the Reserves. [5]

The armed forces are currently in a state of flux. Too often, debates about this process remain largely within Whitehall and fail to engage the wider public effectively. As another election approaches, areas like health and education seem more pressing. In contrast, defence spending only becomes a concern when the need arises. However, the public should take an active interest in determining the direction of the armed forces and considering the issues outlined by Houghton. Whether comfortable with the idea or not, the armed forces play a key role in shaping perceptions of British identity internationally and this in turn shapes the state of UK security. Over the past century, the military has projected British ambitions abroad. From imperialism to humanitarianism, the state of the military says a great deal about Britain’s place in the world. What role should the Army, Navy and Air Force play over the next few decades? This is a question that urgently needs to be asked if the armed forces are to effectively reflect the values of the society, which they represent.

 

 

Notes:

1 General Sir Nicholas Houghton, ‘Annual Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture,’ Royal United Services Institute (17 December 2014).

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 ‘Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,’ HM Government (October 2010), Cm 7948, p. 3.

5 Malcolm Chalmers, ‘The Financial Context for the 2015 SDSR: The End of UK Exceptionalism?’ RUSI Briefing Paper (Sept. 2014), pp. 1-9; Ben Jones, ‘UK SDSR 2015: Same Ends, Less Means, New Ways,’ European Geostrategy (5 Nov. 2014); Paul Cornish and Andrew M Dorman, ‘Fifty shades of purple? A risk sharing approach to the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review,’ International Affairs 89, Issue 5 (Sept. 2013), pp. 1183-1202.

Standard

The Prophet Chris Kyle and the Gospel of Force Protection

 

At the heart of the critique and backlash over “American Sniper” lurks an unchallenged assumption that his kills meant American lives were saved.

The controversy over criticism of the movie has achieved a level of temper that is rather quite shocking. Reaching the point of hurling death threats at those who have questioned the dominant narrative of heroism, perhaps the most iconic example is that of Sarah Palin’s appearance in a photograph shared through social media holding a poster which read “Fuc_ You, Michael Moore.” The O’s were rendered as rifle scope markings, as if to target the erstwhile director. (To be clear, I’ve never seen any of his movies and I’m not a particular fan.) This cannot be considered a case where a biased media has hyped an inopportune moment as she crowed about the message in her recent speech in Iowa. As well, the photograph feature as well Dakota Meyer, Medal of Honor recipient. He has since promoted the photograph and the poster as a message to Michael Moore.

Let us stop for a moment to reflect that a former Vice Presidential candidate (and possible future Presidential candidate, per her own recent statements) and a distinguished military hero have cheekily joked at the idea of killing Moore. Why? Because the latter had the temerity to question the heroism of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. No Charlie Hebdo cartoons will be tolerated about the icons and ideals they hold dear. It is a shocking backlash given the outcry for freedom of speech of late and makes clear the standard is “your beliefs, not mine” when it comes to critique. According to the Church of Appropriate American Patriotism, the heroic image of Chris Kyle is made sacred.

It is not my point, however, to attack the politicized deification of Chris Kyle or the seeming hypocrisy of our application of values such as free expression. I think it’s worth stating and understanding that where the rubber meets the road, most people hold others to standards they often fail to meet, it’s human. Rather, I am more concerned with the military content, and so the backlash is important here because of the underlying assumption regarding military utility that it requires. That content is in the foundations of Kyle’s heroism and their application in contemporary American conflict. This is important to getting at the second part of the title, the consuming fixation upon force protection which leads to the valuation of any acts which serve that end. Because we must be clear, the mantra has been that the significant portion of Kyle’s heroism pinned to the idea that he killed people who posed a tactical threat to American troops. Prospectively saving their lives ennobled his endeavours. And the high standards and training in the US Armed Forces meant that Kyle was an expert of significant consequence, making him a very effective hero under those terms.

Which brings us to the essential question of this piece: Did killing individuals in Iraq in such a fashion save American lives?

It is important to note that even as I ask this question, and intend to discuss its answer in the negative, that this is not about Chris Kyle or individual personnel, or their duly authorised actions in American conflicts. To the extent that American warfighting has gone awry, the problems are at the conceptual level. Kyle was a dedicated sailor, and he would have ably applied his skills in any way asked of him. The same can be said of the majority of his peers. Nor do I hold cheaply the lives of American personnel. If I question the wisdom of tactical force protection it is for the strategic implications, for the possibility that this posture in fact lengthens and deepens the conflict thus putting more personnel at risk in the bigger picture.

The matter of the strategic utility of tactical force is clearly on some American military minds. Last Friday Breaking Defense published the fantastic “Killing is not Enough: Special Operators,” by Sydney Freedberg, which looks at the force versus persuasion balance in that community of military practice. It should be taken as no small matter that leaders within TRADOC and US Army Special Operations Command are considering the wisdom of our exquisite tactical capabilities to kill. I am not alone in confronting this issue, nor the paradox that the better we become at killing the less effective we will be strategically. It is the problem of diminishing marginal returns, and it will be perverse and horrific because as technique improves to lesser success will only accelerate the cycle.

If we are not apt at the art of positive persuasion because we favor expertise in killing, we may pay an even higher price in negative persuasion. In his “8 Imperatives of COIN” I don’t think Stanley McChrystal expounds on a particularly revolutionary thought when he opined on the ramifications of body counting in local people’s wars.  One dead bad guy probably does more to recruit amongst the mourning community than the serve the tactical to strategic calculus. Even if it’s only two not ten who join in the wake of a personal loss, the war effort will still see itself in a negative cycle wherein every death prolongs the conflict.

Finally, it is also important to take account of how the message that heroism is defined by the value of American lives is taken by any given audience. Yes, innately, we all value our own above all. But is that a strategically useful message? Is it a message we want to shout and highlight at every opportunity? Who can be persuaded to our side if we trumpet the cheapness with which we hold their lives?

The history of people’s wars seems to bear out this calculus, with particular perniciousness at the lower end of the conflict spectrum. It is a peculiar consequence and an area that deserves more concerted study. It is certainly undeniable, however, that the US has not benefitted in the outcomes of its conflicts from the fantastic improvement in its tactical abilities since WWII. We kill bad guys and win battles with great facility, but we don’t seem to win the wars. Force, it seems, is generally become less effective, especially for the strong.

Which brings us back to Kyle’s heroism and why it would be useful to have an honest conversation around these issues. But if that question cannot even be asked because it risks offending and enraging a significant portion of the population then we have a real problem.

Standard

Colonel Panter-Downes: Not a Warrior Army?

 

Greetings readers. Welcome to another discussion piece provided by our British Army officer corresponding from America. Today’s piece challenges the rhetoric of warrior self-identification within the US Army particularly and its armed forces more broadly and questions its effects. I think there is something very poignant to questioning whether those ideals which are meant to describe the positive qualities of these institutions and their people may not in fact do more harm than good. And it further bears considering whether such an identity is necessary to serve military needs. Remember that when assembling the army which would go on to contend successfully against the British Army, as well as defeat at critical junctures, George Washington did not set exquisite ideals as his object, merely the utterly reasonable Respectable, in their discipline, skills, and behaviour.  And it is arguable that even accepting the improvements to military technique by the ranks, officers and units, the American military establishment retained that quality of performance until well into the 20th century. So, read the Colonel’s piece, check out the links to the Strategy Bridge conversation and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

 

The colonel looks left, he looks right, he checks his “six” and confirms, no warriors seem present. There are a lot of very hard-working staff officers masquerading as cubicle gophers, but apparently no warriors.

To be honest when I arrived here to be ensconced in the warm embrace of the US Army one of the bigger differences that I was expecting was that of the US Army’s Warrior Ethos.  As an outsider looking in from afar it is pervasive, but from the inside looking out the effect seems less certain. Indeed the recent CCLKOW and Strategy Bridge Twitter discussion on the military profession elicited but two tangential references to Warriors that I could find.

From the service publication, Army Leadership: “The Warrior Ethos refers to the professional attitudes and beliefs that characterize the American Soldier. It reflects a Soldier’s selfless commitment to the nation, mission, unit, and fellow Soldiers.” (ADRP 6-22, 3-21) While the Service Ethos is comprised of the entire list, those attributes pertaining on to the warrior are highlighted in bold below:

I am an American Soldier.

I am a Warrior and a member of a Team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.                      

I will never accept defeat.                                       

I will never quit.                                                        

I will never leave a fallen comrade.            

 I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American soldier.

(ADRP 6-22 Fig 3-1)

The US military often refers to its personnel as “Warriors”, the recruiting brochures for Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines I browsed last week all referred to their personnel in such terms. Many of the motivational posters that I see on the walls adorning my camp reference this warrior identity and LTG McMaster’s erudite 2014 Veterans Day address to Georgetown University explicitly referenced both a warrior identity and the warrior ethos. Yet in my day to day dealings I work with a fine bunch of professional men and women who are more like than not, to the men and women I serve with in the UK, and in the UK we certainly do not see ourselves as warriors.

We are divided in many ways both by the Atlantic and by a not so common language and culture where the differences can be slight but can lead to misunderstandings large. On arriving here in the United States it took me a while to realise that one cannot hire a car (but renting is permissible) and that while we both refer to ‘tea’ as a beverage one is hot, can be drunk with milk and sugar, and the other is cold and comes with ice-cubes and a life changing amount of fructose corn syrup. Perhaps this reference to ‘Warriors’ is of the same ilk? A different way of expressing a concept we have in the British Army; except the British Army does not have anything that corresponds to either the Soldier’s Creed or the Warrior’s Ethos. This is partly a reflection on the more tribal nature of the British Army where the identities and ethos are bound much more closely with the Regiment than with the organisation as a whole and partly cultural in that as a society we tend to prefer the implicit to explicit (we are the Nation that lacks a written constitution). I think however that it is also of form and function. We have toyed with the idea of a Soldier’s Creed before in discussions, but it jarred with who we are and there did not seem to be a need for it. The British Army does articulate Values and Standards (Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment), but not a creed per se and it does not explicitly inculcate a Warrior Ethos or identity.

In articulating its Values and Standards the British Army states: “It is operational effectiveness that requires the Army to have Values and Standards that are different from society – ‘need to be different’ not right to be ‘different’.” Herein is the heart of the matter. How different from society is its military? My perception prior to arriving here was that the US Army’s Warrior Ethos would be a marked departure from the British Army’s ethos, but its effect is much more understated than that, certainly where I work. But if my perception is that the US Army was very different, how far does that perception go? Is it widespread? At a time of growing debate on both sides of the Atlantic on the seeming growing rift between society and its military, as much a matter of scale as anything else, does the self-identification of the military as Warriors help or hinder in binding the military to society?

Warrior to me is more than being a soldier. A warrior to me lives to fight, a soldier fights for a living. The language of being a warrior is closely linked to the language of caste and status within societies (one thinks of Spartan warriors and Roman soldiers) and it seems to me that in self-identifying as warriors the US Army may be fostering a perception of itself as a breed apart from society as a whole that is entirely unintended, but very real.

 

So the questions for this week are:

Are we Warriors or are we military professionals?

Does the language and identification of Warriors separate us from wider society? If so, are the benefits of the identity worth that cost?

 

 

[Simultaneously posted at CCLKOW on Medium.]

 

 

Standard
The Officers' Mess, 5th Manchesters, Halluin Art IWMARTLD196

Colonel Panter-Downes: A Messy Business

In this week’s installment of blogs intended to generate professional discussion, we have a bit of fun from our British officer abroad in America.  It is the week of the holidays, so a piece on the Mess is perfectly in the spirit of the times.

This is a subject near and dear to my scholarly heart as I have been researching and writing on military dining for several years now. I have dined in a British Army mess and it is an institution. In fact, until WWII the US Army boasted a mess tradition that, if not so bound to unit as merely to officer ranks, was a close rival to that of the British Army, particularly in expeditionary settings. (1)  The influx of citizens into uniform in the WWII kicked over most of the traces of a custom that had existed since Washington’s family table in the Revolutionary War. Although “O Clubs” remained in the post-WWII Army, their appeal – as places to dine and drink socio-professionally has declined. On the other side of the landpower divide, the Marine Corps as well does not institutionalize socializing. There are, however, the odd turns in both the Army and Marine Corps when Mess Nights are held. Often formal affairs, these can be conducted with and without guests. It is, for example, an institution of the Basic School – Marine Corps finishing school for new lieutenants – to celebrate the conclusion with a Mess Night. And I know that while he was 7th Marines CO, the Colonel Mattis held field mess nights during certain regimental exercises at 29 Palms, though these were anything but formal affairs. However, there is no regular socializing to which officers or enlisted are bound or beckoned. Given the value identified in the bonds forged and renewed at the table, this absence is to be considered.

So, raise an imagined glass of Port in toast to our Colonel and enter the world of the British Army mess. And as it’s the holidays, I would simply ask that our band of merry discussants sip and ruminate on the role of professional socializing in the US armed forces. Where the Colonel identifies the value of the Mess for adding “soul” to the officer, consider where it is that the same is shaped for the American officer shaped. Add your comments to the hashtag, #CCLKOW.

 

The Colonel enjoys working with the Americans.  I find them professional, courteous and mostly lacking the cynicism that is every British officer’s birthright.  What has fascinated me the most about living and working in the United States are those nuances of culture, both social and organisational that delineate the two countries and armies.  It is very easy for a British officer to think that he understands his US counterparts, such is the relationship built up over the past decade of conflict and the prevalence of US culture in the UK, but the truth is that we are subtly divided and it is often in the small things that large consequences can be seen.  One of these matters is that of Messes.

I live and work in a large US Army base.  I doubt that it is the largest base, but it certainly is not the smallest; by UK standards it would be a super-garrison.  Having lived and worked here for some time it was with a growing sense of disbelief and not a little dismay that I realised that there was no Officers’ Mess on base, in fact there were no Messes at all.  A British Officers’ Mess is analogous to an American Officers’ Club.  If the general staff is the brains and the Senior NCO (SNCO) corps the backbone of an army, then the British mess system is its heart and soul.   There are messes for junior NCOs, SNCOS and officers and they are present in every unit, HQ and garrison.  The best glimpse of what a Mess means to a British officer can be glimpsed in this excerpt from John McMasters’ “Bugles and a Tiger”:

In the mess lived an echo from silver trumpets of the past. There were impressions of light and tone muted and wavering as in a cathedral under the sea.  At dinner the Colours, cased and capped and crossed, stood like huge black rockets against the wall behind the president.  On guest nights they were unfurled and lit the room with the embroidered battle honours of two hundred years.  In their silken richness I saw all that glory, and all of those muskets buried in the mud of forgotten fields, and all those men – my uncle’s generation, Major Tom’s young friends – who had died, broken on barbed wire.

This regiment had a long association with India.  As the 32nd Foot, it held the residency of Luckow through the famous siege of 1857, during the Mutiny.  When the walls crumbled the mess silver, crated, was used to plug the gaps.  At dinner we now ate off some of that silver; the rest, the pieces that had been twisted by enemy fire, hung in glass cases on the walls.  Among them was a soup tureen with a hole in it where a musket ball had entered – and dents where the ball had ricocheted round and round – and the leaden ball itself.  A little farther along hung a long row of bronze medals, each with a short piece of dull crimson ribbon.  These were the Victoria Crosses won by the men of the 32nd at Lucknow. So, in the glow of the Lucknow silver and the self-effacing sheen of the Lucknow Crosses, we laughed and talked and quarreled and felt ourselves lapped in the warm continuity of tradition…(2)

For a British Officer on commissioning, the Mess will be home. (3) He will live in a Mess until such stage as he is either married or of such seniority that his presence is likely to cramp the style of his younger brethren.  I use the term “brethren” deliberately because even without the bonds of shared campaigning the Mess forges a family ethos.  Officers live and socialise together even before they fight together and as a result of these shared social endeavours and not least “in vino veritas” very quickly get to know the whole person and form extraordinarily tight bonds very quickly.  I still count as three of my closest friends the officers I joined my regiment with over twenty year ago.  Only I remain serving but we remain inextricably linked not just by shared bonds of experience but of friendship and family.  As subalterns we ate together and drank together, we became field marshals at the bar in the evening and reverted to subalterns at breakfast in the morning; we saw the best and the worst of each other in the three years we lived together before assignments split us apart.   I was there when they met their girlfriends, present when they married their wives and celebrated the arrival of their children; they are my extended family.

That is not to say that the Americans do not socialise, they do. In fact they are very sociable and generous with their hospitality. I have been on receipt of numerous invites (and I am always open to more, especially if there is red wine or brisket involved), but the socialising is very much individual and not collective, an officer will invite friends and colleagues around for drinks and a barbecue. What I have seen very little evidence for is collective socialising in manner with which the British Army conducts it. The U.S. Military seems to socialise off base (metaphorically), not on base. Whereas the British place the Mess at the centre of base and unit life.

The Mess is also where the junior officer will absorb the ethos of the regiment.  Its history will stare down at him from the pictures and trophies on the walls, the silver will tell tales of past campaigns and characters and even the furniture will normally have a story to be tell.  All this the officer will be expected come to know and in time cherish.  The Mess is where guidance is given, standards are elaborated on and very often measured.  An officer who sets poor standards at home, is hardly likely to set good standards elsewhere. As there is no rank in the Mess, at least not in mine, mentoring is both relaxed and pervasive. (4)  Messes are the trustees of both standards and traditions. If Sandhurst makes the officer, the Mess refines him, adding polish and lustre; Sandhurst builds character while Messes add soul. (5)

There is another aspect to messes and mess life that is often overlooked, and that is of networking.  Messes socialise both formally and informally.  Most messes will hold one, if not two balls a year as well as regular Regimental Guest Nights.  At Regimental Guest Nights the unit and its officers are showcased to guests and relationships either established or confirmed.  Guests are normally from the wider military and garrison community and usually chosen on the basis that they have dealings with the unit; the nights are seen as a way of expressing hospitality and building constructive relationships.  Guests are formally dined and then less formally entertained afterwards. (6)  Informal socialising is simply a matter of the mess bar and common courtesy. Your mess, whether at unit, HQ or garrison level is your home and one should always be hospitable towards one’s guests. What this means in practice is that British officers socialise vertically and laterally within the chain of command and where officers socialise and wine flows so networks are established and the “good idea fairy” springs to life.  My previously recounted expedition to the Hindu Kush was the result of a Regimental Guest Night and said good idea fairy settling on the shoulder of the very senior (albeit retired) officer sitting to the (now) Colonel’s right and recounting when he was on the North West Frontier. (7)  It is at such gatherings that the brigade deputy chief of staff (S4 in US parlance) can for example hear the solution to his logistics issue from the infantry platoon commander who unaware of the issue until then, had a sister whose company solved precisely the same issue the previous year.  In these gatherings alliances are made, deals are struck and things get done; juniors speak to senior and both esoteric knowledge and hidden talents can shine brightly.

What does this mean? Well as an intimate observer the non-deployed U.S. Military does rather seem like a nine-to-five organisation in a cultural sense. There is not the degree of social intimacy that is found in the British Army. Partly because of the lack of a Mess, but also it must be understood, partly the result of 13 gruelling years of campaigning during which the focus was on allowing individuals family time in between deployments. The current US military is without doubt a team, forged in the crucible of operations since 2001, but I wonder if it has lost sight of what it means to be a family, and indeed if it was ever thus? For while I am not blind to the weaknesses of the British Army, one of the strengths of our system is that we remain at heart familial in our social ethos.

So I am somewhat nonplussed by the lack of a mess. Pragmatically I wonder just how to Americans socialise laterally and vertically across their profession; where and how are networks formed? Culturally I wonder, if not in the Mess, then just where does the heart and soul of the US military reside?  Both these matters are best pondered with family and friends, a glass of Islay whisky in hand, over the coming weeks as 2014 draws to a close and 2015 stands to. So I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year, whether you are at the spear’s tip or the families that keep us all strong.

 

 

Notes:

1 Although lengthy, this excerpt from a Fort Leavenworth 1917 manual of Customs of Service prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Miller provides a thoughtful and thorough explication of the form in the US Army at that moment:

The main purpose of a regimental mess is to promote cordiality, comradeship, and esprit de corps, especially regimental esprit de corps, and while such a mess is social in its nature, the meals, especially the dinner, are, in a way, semi-official functions. Do not consider it merely a place where the bachelor officers dine, but rather as the regimental hearthstone where at certain intervals it is compulsory on all the regimental officers to dine together. It should be the place where the old regimental colors are displayed, where all the old regimental relics in the shape of books, pictures, plates, etc., are on file to be looked up and referred to. It should be the place where the colonel and the lieutenant meet in the social equality of gentlemen in that camaraderie and good fellowship which teaches the youngster respect and affection for his seniors, and the elders, kindness and consideration for the juniors; it should be the place where are forged the links that bind the regimental front unbroken to the outside world, and where in their own privacy their can deal with questions affecting the honor and tradition so dear to them; it should be the place where dwells the spirit and the soul of the principles that have made the regiment and that have preserved intact its prestige, its honor, its tradition. There is no single means more full of bright and promising good for esprit de corps than your regimental mess on a firm and zeal-inspiring basis. (Lieutenant Colonel Charles Miller, USA, The Customs of the Service; also Some Suggestions and Advice, p. 16, emphasis added.)

2 Reprint Society, London 1957, John Masters “Bugles and a Tiger” p. 26-27.

3 I will focus on the officers’ messes as that is where my experience is, but many sentiments hold true for JNCO and SNCO messes.

4 I will focus on the officers’ messes as that is where my experience is, but many sentiments hold true for JNCO and SNCO messes.

5 The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where all British Army officers undergo training.

6 ‘Bucket Reels” and “Fireball Hockey” were both favoured forms of post-dinner entertainment in my mess, quite probably due to the high likelihood of physical harm being incurred by participants in both.

7 Which gives some indication of how senior and retired the officer was, the Colonel is not that old.

Standard

The Blogshop: Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

The flowering of writing within the military community is commendable, but with reservations. Without wishing to spoil the enthusiasm, I do want to offer the caution that simply putting pen to paper (so to speak) is not sufficient, not the end, but rather the beginning of a process which, for the best works, requires seemingly endless and brutal cycles of revisions. Ideas and the frameworks within which they are constructed need to be rigorously challenged, questioned, poked and prodded, and then brought back to the drawing board. A process which I have referred to elsewhere as a good intellectual rogering, a necessity both to keep “bright ideas” from going too far as well as to allow brilliance to justly emerge. And so, in this week’s CCLKOW installment we are introducing the Blogshop, a variation on the academic Workshop, wherein the writing itself is presented for critique. We have a piece provided by one of the regular participants in the weekly dialogue. However, rather than the usual question and discussion upon the substance of the piece, our purpose in this case is critical commentary, which the questions at the end are intended to generate. Additionally, I have recruited colleagues to provide more in-depth responses, which I will post tomorrow in the comments section. So, enjoy the piece, consider the questions, and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

 

Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

When I was replacing the outgoing Infantry battalion in eastern Afghanistan in 2010, an outgoing staff officer and I were casually discussing life, combat, and the year ahead. He said something that stuck with me throughout my second deployment, “You know, if you want to be successful here (in Afghanistan), you have to keep hate in your heart.” This statement to civilians seems spiteful and monstrous, resonates with many Veterans that I have discussed our views on combat, the enemy, and our way of war. Hate viewed as a motivating force, a driving factor to defeat the enemy, overcome internal bureaucracies, and the numerous distracters to mission accomplishment. Often these statements might not come out until after a few beers and heated discussions, often in hushed tones and maybe with a little shame. It’s not an official doctrine, but in historical examples vilification of the enemy to the point of hatred seems to be a part of the American way of war, and maybe any nation’s way of war. Theorists often look at the role of hate towards the resistance for killing, that aversion to killing enemy forces is often driven by several factors proximity to the killing and aversion to the act. A strong training foundation and organizational culture can assist Soldiers in overcoming the aversion to the act of killing throughout the recruit process. When creating a service culture there are several necessary facets: Integrity, Selfless Service, Teamwork, Generating Organizational Loyalty, and in my mind, you have to mention the enemy. The French Foreign Legion does this well, recognizing the inevitability of killing enemy combatants, they engrain in new recruits the important of conduct against the enemy in combat.  In evaluation of creating a service culture in new recruits and developing battlefield ethos, what really matters in creating a Soldier from a civilian?

Why the Legion? I discovered a series of documentaries on YouTube on the modern French Foreign Legion covering troops in combat in Afghanistan and recruits during their basic training. I witnessed the professionalism and capacity of these troops in Afghanistan, and have always held the Legion in high regard. As a small all-volunteer force with incredibly high standards always embroiled in conflicts in undesirable lands they certainly hold some valuable lessons for our all volunteer force. In the American way of war, it seems easier to conduct operations against an enemy you hate. Hate of an enemy combatant allows a Soldier to dehumanize or detach from the involvement with the acts of war. A quintessential tenant of American warfare is to be the combatant in the right protecting the world or allied nation from the evils of the opposing force. Detaching our military from the emotion of killing enemy combatants has been discussed fully in various texts including SLA Marshall’s Men Against Fire and Grossman’s On Killing and On Combat. Grossman wrote in an early article, “If we understand the role of hate in the soldier’s dilemma than we can use it to obtain an understanding of the psychological underpinnings of maneuver warfare.” [1] Many of the battlefield indiscretions of U.S. forces over the years are often blamed on the emotional toll of war. I am not suggesting that the creation of robot like soldiers would make war easier, but simply evaluating how other forces mold their recruits and enforce their battlefield standards. The US Army Soldier’s Creed and the Legionnaire Code of Honor share several key themes on duty, mission, and battlefield conduct. One missing point of the Soldier’s creed is captured very aptly by the Legion.

Au combat, tu agis sans passion et sans haine, tu respectes les ennemis vaincus, tu n’abandonnes jamais ni tes morts, ni tes blessés, ni tes armes.

The seventh stanza of the Legionnaire code d’honneur: In combat, you act without passion and without hate; you respect vanquished enemies….. This emotional detachment from the situation is important. This code brings a complete focus on mission accomplishment, and even when we vanquish an enemy, to hold them in respect as our defeated adversary. This mindset is instilled starting in basic training and carried forward into combat operations. No cheering as CAS hits enemy positions, no joy in the death of an adversary; merely a continuation of a necessary part of the mission. When a target pops up, the legionnaire knocks it down and continues on towards a cold beer at the end of a mission (regardless of the country of operation). The Legionnaire does not hate his enemy; they are two parts of a transactional relationship necessary for survival in war, and in the life of a Legionnaire. This focus on eliminating a major part of the psychological underpinning of combat certainly improves their productivity and strong espirit de corps. Unlike the US Military Soldier’s Creed or Airmen’s creed, the Legion does not mention “I” as an individual in their code of honor. The code is addressed more in a third person, removing the individual identity and contributing to the group identity. The American society particularly in this era, values the individual and the US Army overly focused on this point in the past during the Army of One Campaign (well intentioned as a team ethos, created an overt focus on individualism). If we shed the individual identity in basic training, and create a team or organization ethic, how do we expect Soldiers to display an Army ethic on the battlefield instead of allowing their individual thoughts and ethos to govern their actions? Admitting to the realities of warfare from the beginning is an important first step because it instills respect for the enemy combatant as a means to maintain vigilance from hubris and prevent battlefield indiscretions.

—End

CCLKOW Blogshop Questions: these are a departure from the usual questions on substance and are instead intended to generate critical discussion of the writing

1. Last week Tom Ricks posted on the quality of the writing in the Army’s institutional publications. Who writes institutional publications? You do. Taking one of the “sins” identified in his work, upon what unexamined assumptions does Denny’s argument rest?

2. Is the comparison between organizations – the US Army or armed forces and the French Foreign Legion – reasonable? If the two are not well matched for comparability, does this fatally weaken the argument? 

3. Does the problem he sets out to address in the piece exist? Is it worth critical attention within the military community? 

My thanks to Mike Denny for being a good sport in allowing me to use his piece this way. He has set a standard here for future and further intrepid warrior scholars. 

 

Notes:

1 David Grossman, “Defeating the Enemy’s Will: The Psychological Foundations of Maneuver Warfare,” Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology, R.D. Hooker (Ed), Presidio Press, 1994.

 

Standard

Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure

Today’s piece is a departure of sorts from that usually provided for the professional discussion. It marks the first in what will be fairly regular pieces from a new author, whom we will be calling Colonel Panter-Downes. This name is taken from a famous London “correspondent” to America in the early years of WWII, Mollie Panter Downes. She wrote regularly for the New Yorker, describing her view of the life of London and the UK at war for an American public. In our contemporary case, we have a British Army field grade officer reporting from the US in a time of different conflict. We can consider these pieces his “American War Notes.”

Obviously it is a delicate thing for a serving officer to report and remark upon life with the armed forces of an important ally. But if done well, a professional observer able to reflect and comment sensibly can offer a novel and valuable perspective of the institution’s many sides. Our author is more than adequately experienced of service in the combat arms, repeated deployments, as well as the rigours of military administration. That is, our author has a trustworthy voice, the fruits of which are what we hope to bring to Kings of War readers.

Today’s piece was commissioned. I had heard about the program from the author and thought it a fascinating thing to put before the American readers. I shall take a small bow now for my prescience in selecting a topic that would resonate so perfectly with the publication of the Army Operating Concept. Many 1s and 0s have already been spilled on the topic over at The Bridge. Here we narrow the focus to a specific idea. 

So, dear #CCLKOW readers, I give you this British idea for your consideration. Read Colonel Panter-Downes’s piece and the accompanying questions and join the discussion on Twitter.

 

20 years ago as a platoon commander I led the planning and deployment of a small team of British soldiers to the volatile North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. [1]  I was responsible for all elements of the operation, from conception, to execution and then exploitation. I researched and developed the concept of operations, arranged the logistics, selected and trained the team, organized the movement and conducted the follow up briefings. In country I liaised with the Embassy and Pakistani government agencies, recruited the in-country support team, dealt with the unexpected when caught up in an anti-Western riot in Peshawar, practiced the robustness of my contingency plans when we suffered casualties [2] and conducted numerous impromptu shuras and medical clinics in my area of operations. All this was done in the absence of radio or cellular communications to my higher headquarters.  Despite already being operationally experienced from a deployment to Northern Ireland, this was the defining moment of the start of my army career. I learnt more about the art of leadership and the loneliness of command, of logistics and working across cultures in this deployment then I had before or even since in structured training. I was adventurous training.

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,”[3] AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” [4] There are currently nine core AT activities [5] and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities. I had my first taste of AT as an officer cadet and have continued active participation ever since, progressing through experience from participant to practitioner in my chosen disciplines. In all this time I have trained in many different countries, developed new skills and learnt hard lessons; I have been a planner as well as a climber, a logistician as well as a skipper and I have placed myself outside of my comfort zone and to confront my fears on more occasions than I care to remember.

The US Army has recently released its Army Operating Concept (AOC), a conceptual doctrine which “determines how we think about what the Army does”. [6] Much of the AOC emphasizes the human aspect of conflict and stresses the requirement to develop its human capability, in particular developing agile and adaptive commanders.  What is the connection between the AOC and AT? If the US Army is serious about developing its human capability, if it wants to develop leaders who “think critically, are comfortable with ambiguity, accept prudent risk, assess the situation continuously, develop innovative solutions to problems, and remain mentally and physically agile to capitalize on opportunities,” [7] then it should consider AT as a means to achieve those goals.

Now not everyone is going to undertake a high altitude trekking trip to the Hindu Kush, attempt Everest or challenge the Antarctic. [8] But year in, year out, U.K. service personnel conduct adventure training exercises in the U.K. and overseas, and in fact most overseas warfighting exercises have an adventure training element incorporated into the deployment. In all circumstances the value is always that this training challenges practical and leadership skills in uncertain environments with real risk. The skills they use are fundamental to soldiering: leadership, planning, and risk management. Conducted out of uniform and in small groups these personnel also often encounter a significantly different dynamic with the locals than when in uniform. Overseas adventure training is by definition expeditionary and physically the conditions are very often austere. Not that the U.S. Army need conduct significant amounts overseas, being blessed with some of the finest adventure training opportunities within its own boundaries, but it can incorporate adventure training into the rising tempo of small scale deployments already envisaged under the AOC.

Important to the training and the value it would offer the needs of the AOC, less specific highly qualified experts, AT tends to be a junior officer and senior NCO dominated activity. This allows these two elements to operate with normally significantly more autonomy than they get in conventional training; it fosters trust up and down the chain of command, that vital and often lacking ingredient in inculcating Mission Command. Significantly AT is also cheap compared to conventional military training. Infrastructure costs are minimal and the expertise can be brought in from a thriving civilian sector. Lastly AT is recruitment and retention positive. Soldiers enjoy adventure training and most activities undoubtedly have an element of glamour to them. [9]

If the U.S. Army is serious about developing its next generation of leaders to win in a complex world, then perhaps it should consider AT within the AOC framework.  If so, perhaps the ‘Ascent of Rum Doodle’ [10] will in future become as well read in the U.S. Army as ‘The Defence of Duffer’s Drift’ currently is.

 

Questions: Today’s questions are brought to you by the Editor.

First, and simply, what do the Americans think of Adventurous Training as a form of military training?

Second, do the US armed forces have the manpower flexibility to allow the pursuit of such activities? Consider personnel policies and routinized progress of billets and promotions.

Third, do the US armed forces have the institutional flexibility to allow and foster the initiative necessary for such a program? Does it trust junior leaders sufficiently?

Finally, how many of the Americans briefly wondered whether there was an exchange program to get on one of these expeditions?

 

Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW and keep an eye out for the Colonel’s next posts.

 

Notes:

1 The expedition staged through Peshawar before undertaking high altitude trekking towards Gilgit.

2 Two casualties total; one was bounced over a car in Peshawar and one suffered from altitude sickness.

Joint Services Pamphlet 419 ‘Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme’ 3-1, para 7.

4 Ibid, p 1-1, para 1.

5 Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

6 Army Times, Interview with TRADOC Commander General David Perkins, Oct 13, 2014.

7 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 ‘The U.S. Army Operating Concept’ page 19, para 3-4 a. (4).

8 Everest and the Antarctic have been recent significant U.K. military AT expeditions.

9 Less caving, in my opinion a strange sport for strange people!

10 A comic novel on how not to run a mountaineering expedition.

Standard