Sunday, November 3, 2013

To avoid failure, you must recognize success

I fully concur that we need to be able to develop and execute strategy during austerity and for a long time to come.  But the debate about looking forward or backward reminds me of Cohen and Gooch's book Military Misfortune in which posit that military failures are a result of three "failures" failure to learn, failure to adapt, and failure to anticipate.  I think we have to look back and forward as we develop and execute strategy in the age of austerity (and in any age for that matter).  I do concur that we need to use caution in not over-inflating threats or chase after threats merely to justify force structure and military spending.  I think the old tactical construct of identifying the most likely and most dangerous threats can be useful but I think what might to often happen is that we focus on the most dangerous threat without consideration of the likelihood of the threat occurring.  But good strategy will focus somewhere in between and provide the agility to address emerging threats that may or may not have been identified.

I am also reluctant to toss the futurists out in favor of history.  When we look at the Global Trends reports some of us criticize them because past forecasts did not occur the way they were described or did not happen in the time frames suggested.  I think a good historical study would be to look at the past Global Trends forecasts and conduct an analysis of what conditions arose or events occurred that prevented the negative forecasts from coming to fruition.  I would hope that some things did not occur because strategies and actions were developed and executed that altered the course of the forecasts.  To me this is the value of the Global Trends, if the report can identify future possibilities that we either want to happen or want to prevent from happening, policy makers and strategists can do something about them.  A future forecast may not need to simply translate to the idea that we need to spend more on high end military expenditures or increase or maintain current force structure but could identify how our scare resources might be more effectively allocated to support our national interests and achieve our desired ends.  And perhaps most importantly identify how other instruments of national power, other than military, might be employed to achieved desired ends.

A destroyed Iraqi tank rests near a series of oil well fires during the Gulf War, March 9, 1991, in northern Kuwait. In the 1990s, observers increasingly came to believe that while the U.S. had won the Gulf War, it had lost the peace. But the U.S. was not losing the peace. In fact, it had already won it.
Published: 01 November 2013 04:09 PM
Updated: 01 November 2013 04:09 PM
 By Joshua Rovner 

The Department of Defense is in for some serious belt-tightening.
It already lost $37 billion as a result of sequestration, and much deeper cuts are coming. The Budget Control Act of 2011, along with the end of war-related spending, may end up costing the Pentagon about a third of its budget. It will surely affect the thousands of Texans associated with the defense industry in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Defense officials hope for a political compromise that would help them avoid this fate, but the outlook is not promising, and both parties have shown that defense spending is no longer sacrosanct. Moreover, few lawmakers will take the political risk of cutting military pay and benefits, which account for most of the rise in defense spending, so shrinking budgets will mostly affect decisions about what to buy and how to use it.
For policymakers and military planners, strategy under budget austerity is the new normal.
How can leaders make strategic decisions under these conditions? Last week’s Tower Center Conference on National Security at Southern Methodist University put the question to a range of military officers and national security scholars.
One answer reflected traditional thinking about threat assessment. When faced with uncertainty, the best solution is to survey the world for new threats and focus on meeting them. This is a common-sense approach to dealing with a range of uncertain challenges. Done well, it can alert officials to new issues for which they are insufficiently prepared. But it can be taken too far: The constant search for new threats may cause officials to exaggerate the real danger to national security, turning small problems into large ones and making it difficult to set priorities.
To avoid these pitfalls, a different approach would look not to the uncertain future but to the known past. Instead of warily scanning for new threats, it would focus on evaluating the results of recent U.S. strategy. This would include a frank discussion of mistakes and missed opportunities, but also a recognition of U.S. victories. The ability to see success is not just a feel-good excuse for patriotic backslapping. If we are interested in making prudent decisions about future strategy and defense spending, it is essential to see what worked and why.
Unfortunately, the U.S. is not always able to see victory, even when evidence of success is clear and abundant. In the 1990s, for example, observers increasingly came to believe that while the U.S. had won the first Gulf War, it had lost the peace. They worried that Saddam Hussein would remain a threat as long as he was in power and that he would eventually crack the international coalition arrayed against him. This view was widely held in Washington, and by the end of the decade, regime change became stated U.S. policy.
But the U.S. was not losing the peace. In fact, it had already won it. It had demolished Iraq’s conventional forces in the war, and it was doing so much damage to Iraq’s economy that it would take decades to rebuild. U.S. forces and international inspectors eliminated Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and forced Saddam to mothball his nuclear program.
Most of all, they altered Saddam’s basic worldview. Before the war, he sought to be a regional hegemon and rejected any international criticism as an insult to Iraqi honor. After the war, he focused his attention inward, doing whatever he could to keep his domestic enemies at bay, while simultaneously allowing international weapons inspectors to run around the country. Saddam was still in charge, but Iraq was no longer a meaningful threat to the United States or anyone else.
(Continued at the link below)

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