Thursday, January 30, 2014
Peace, Art and … Special Operations by Brian S. Petit
As I have mentioned, I am using Brian's book in a graduate course I am teaching this summer on UW and SOF for policy makers and strategists. This despite the fact that I do not like the term "Phase Zero" (and I have told Brian this). I think that we need strategy and campaign plans that function in the space we call "Phase Zero" (as Brian is discussing in his essay) but the use of the term Phase Zero seems to imply two things - one, it is a lesser important phase and two, it implies that there will be something next and that the "real" phases come later (e.g., decisive operations). I would really like to see strategies and campaign plans successful in the so-called "Phase Zero" space without having to go to Phase 1, 2, etc. (while at the same time recognizing that we do need contingency plans if the strategy and campaign plans are not successful) I also think most agree with that idea and would chastise me and say that I am pole vaulting over molehills and that the use of "Phase Zero" is merely semantics. But I would argue that some words have meaning and they influence the mindset and I think we need a mindset that will drive us to success in that the "Phase Zero" space while at the same time if success is not achieved we do have the agility to execute contingency plans. The bottom line for me is that operations in that "Phase Zero" space are so important that stand alone strategy and campaign plans are needed and that they be given the same priority (or even higher perhaps) than the Phases 1,2, 3, etc (e.g., if we can prevent going to the decisive operations phase by successful operations in the "Phase Zero" space then we truly could achieve decisive effects - perhaps that is unrealistic but one can dream).
All that said, Brian's essay is important and except for my terminology criticism we are in agreement (though perhaps instead of or at least in addition to Kissinger I think we should look at George Kennan and Charles Hill and some others).
Please go to the Small Wars Journal web sit to read the entire essay.
Journal Article | January 30, 2014 - 6:44am
Peace, Art and … Special Operations
Brian S. Petit
It is early 2014 and the United States is surrounded by war. Iraq is behind us, Afghanistan and Libya are beside us, and ahead of us lay a number of regions in turmoil, with Syria and Egypt topping the list. With persistent talk of military actions and war, we need an intensified conversation about military options and peace.
Warren Buffett said “Most people are interested in stocks when everyone else is. The time to get interested in stocks is when no one else is.” With wars simmering on all sides, Buffett’s contrarian logic has great strategic wisdom. So in this moment of war, let’s get interested in peace. Let’s be further contrarian by examining the role of the notoriously lethal US Special Operations Forces (SOF) in peacetime, or at least non-wartime, environments.
The post-Iraq and Afghanistan US national security environment is predictably yearning for a renewed era of engagement. Engagements, described as “the active participation of the United States in relations beyond our borders,” are the centerpiece of the current (2010) US National Security Strategy. The desire to exert American influence through engagement reflects the foreign policy guidance of The White House and, arguably, the mood of a war-weary American public. Yet a key question remains: How are engagements designed, arranged, and implemented to accomplish US policy goals and strategic aspirations abroad?
Engagements occur where the US is in dialogue with allies, partners, friends, and competitors in reasonably normal diplomatic relations. In military parlance, engagements occur in Phase Zero, the pre-crisis environment in which state relations are relatively peaceful and routine. Beyond Phase Zero lies the military phases that represent an escalation of conflict: Phase I (Deter), Phase II (Seize the Initiative), and Phase III (Dominate). Phase Zero then, is a slang descriptor for both the actions and the environment in which the US pursues its strategic interests prior to any act of war.
Closer to Peace than War
Although economic, diplomatic and informational elements of US national power generally take precedence in Phase Zero, the US military plays a significant role in peacetime foreign engagement. Among the US military options to engage foreign partners are US SOF. US Army SOF includes Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Military Information Support; US Navy SOF is comprised of SEALs and specialized maritime capabilities; and from all armed services come skilled aviators and counterterror forces. Public knowledge of US SOF is centered on tales of derring-do and inspired stories of lethal military prowess. But there is another story to be told about SOF that is less sexy but more central to the national security interests of the United States.
Specially selected, culturally attuned, and language trained US SOF operate in small teams with select, vetted host nation security forces. Very often, these Phase Zero engagements are in and among local populations with committed, military partners. At other times, engagements unfold with potential partners who are judged to be less than ideal. In such cases, these US SOF engagements are exploratory in nature and can be expanded or retracted according to partner suitability and US policy aims. When engaging new, potential partners, US SOF engagements do not represent deep policy commitments; by design, they are limited policy expressions that start where the pavement stops. Subsequently, the assessments derived from special operations engagements help guide policy decisions about expanding, contracting, or retracting relations with putative partners.
Special operations engagements range from simple tactical-level training (marksmanship, radio operation and communications, medical training, small unit tactics) to more sophisticated topics like armed forces professionalization, security philosophies, and institution building. A typical engagement might last six weeks and involve twelve to twenty US personnel. When performed correctly, these exchanges are both transactional and relational – delivering mutually beneficial exchanges (finite) while deepening the trust and partnership required for true strategic relationships (infinite).
Enter Operational Art
In Phase Zero, highly skilled US military capabilities are required but capabilities alone can only take the US so far. A closer look reveals a compelling problem: Phase Zero military engagements lack a coherentoperational art, the sound link between tactics and strategy. While many military operations are physics-based problems of time, space, and capability projection, the application of military power to solve problems does, in fact, take a great deal of creativity, design, and even intuition; thus, the term art.
How could the US Armed Forces, 238 years old, and with few global peer competitors, lack an operational art? To be clear, there are volumes of operational art. But operational art principally exists for the type of warfare where two military foes duel, within a bounded realm, intent on the harmonious synchronization of maneuver, firepower, and logistics with the singular purpose of destroying an opposing armed force. In Phase Zero, no such contest exists. Without this contest, boundaries are less clear, foes are uncertain, and military options are radically reduced. Subsequently, traditional military operational art often becomes inert. For the US to fully maximize engagements in the pursuit of its strategy, the US military, within an interagency team, requires a revised, modernized operational art.
In Phase Zero, policy and diplomacy are the dominant disciplines – and should be. In this setting, the military operational artist is, appropriately, more confined and lacks a free hand to creatively apply military effects. Thus, in peacetime environments, military art options are limited. But complaining about such restrictions misplaces the desire for military efficacy with the need for policy supremacy. Military actions are expressions of policy and need to be calibrated and applied correctly to achieve policy aims. But even when these principles are understood, tensions are inevitable. Foreign policy, incremental in application, often produces a nebulous framework to guide military actions. And the military artist, by his nature, seeks those free, unfettered arenas to unfurl the flag and put full military capabilities into play. Lacking a foe to defeat on a tidy field of conflict, one can see the tension forming: military actions (Full speed ahead!) and policy aims (We’re negotiating.) can be uncomfortable bedfellows.
Coupling Warriors and Diplomats
(Continued at the link below)
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