Old doctrine never dies…

Over the weekend both Neptunus Lex and Small Wars Journal have commented on the address by ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, at Kansas State University which has been heralded as the death of the Powell Doctrine which dominated US military policy from the 1991 Gulf War. The Lex item links to a LA Times article Top U.S. military official outlines tempered approach to war which doesn’t quite get the right end of the stick in opening with “…The U.S. military must use measured and precise strikes, not overwhelming force, in the wars it is likely to face in the future, the nation’s top uniformed officer said Wednesday in outlining a revised approach to American security…” That’s not quite correct – the full text of ADM Mullen’s address is online and what he is actually advocating re overwhelming force is “…We must not try to use force only in an overwhelming capacity, but in the proper capacity, and in a precise and principled manner…” That is not discounting the overwhelming force option at all – he is saying the force and the approach should be customised to the threat – and inline with a philosophy of comprehensively employing all instruments of national power where they can have the best effect.

The SWJ item is actually a CNP of Robert Haddick’s article Foreign Policy The Long Death of the Powell Doctrine; unfortunately this story has been combined with another story re the potential for Myanmar to build a clandestine breeder reactor on behalf of the North Koreans and/or other bad  people – didn’t they learn from one visit from John Rambo…? The Mullen story is significant of a column all its own, more so when it appears that many are only drawing what they want in isolation from the entire speech. SWJ has a robust discussion on the speech.

The ‘Mullen Doctrine’ which supplants the ‘Powell Doctrine’ rests upon three principles:

The first is that military power should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state.  Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers.  We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior.  Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy.  We can assist rapidly in disaster-relief efforts, as we did in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake.  We can help gather intelligence, support reconnaissance and provide security. And we can do so on little or no notice.  That ease of use is critical for deterrence.

No arguments there – this finally goes someway to closing the artificial gap between peacetime engagement and operations…there should only really be two types of military operations (always under a national policy framework a la Clausewitz): stability operations which counter any destabilising influences (irregularity) in national areas of interest (domestic or offshore), and war-fighting where specific and intense use of force has become necessary.

Force should, to the maximum extent possible, be applied in a precise and principled way.

I would be more comfortable with this point if it stated ‘military options’ in lieu of ‘force’ as all actions should be applied in a precise, principled AND tailored way.

Policy and strategy should constantly struggle with one another.  Some in the military no doubt would prefer political leadership that lays out a specific strategy and then gets out of the way, leaving the balance of the implementation to commanders in the field.  But the experience of the last nine years tells us two things:  A clear strategy for military operations is essential; and that strategy will have to change as those operations evolve.

I’m not sure that I agree with this last point – the wrangling between senior US military and government officials since 2003 has absorbed and diverted national focus and effort from the job at hand. Perhaps what ADM Mullen means is that the military and government need to have a clearer idea of where each is coming from. We don’t want a military that blindly follows policy without discussion, nor government that blindly ignores concerns from professional operators (this applies in government departments other than the military). The real issue arising from both high level policy strategy is knowing the answer to two key questions:

Why are we here? Clear objectives and the means by which to measure when they have been achieved.

What’s our plan for getting out? Apply the Princess Leia Doctrine “…when you broke in here, did you have a plan for getting out?” A clearly-defined exit strategy, based upon best and worse cases, that is developed as part of initial planning and robustly and regularly reviewed…

What does my boss expect me to achieve and why?

What freedoms enable me?

What constraints restrict me?

Has anything changed since I last thought about this?

My first thought when people start talking about the death of a doctrine is that doctrine never dies – it just gets filed for future reference. This first came home to me at  doctrine working group in Australia in 2006. There was a call from a number of operators and schools for doctrine NOW on convoy escort, roadside IEDs and other pressing contemporary topics and there was certainly a feeling that ‘someone’ had dropped the ball (not New Zealand as it wasn’t a World Cup year) in this regard. One of the things that the Aussies did then – and which I hope they still do – was to have a representative from the Army History Unit attend such working groups; when this call for contemporary doctrine was made, the elderly gentlemen from the AHU called for some semblance of order and advised all assembled that the Australian Army already had such doctrine “…ask your dad, young XXX [the officer who raised the original inquiry] , when he was in Vietnam…none of those topics is new and we have been here before. I suggest you review what’s in the archives and go from there…” In Australia, the Centre for Army Lessons is the default archive for retired doctrine (strangely, not the Doctrine Centre) and over the space of a coffee break, had located a number of Vietnam-era publications that certainly provided a useful start point for contemporary TTPs. I think is because of this, that the NZ Army’s Doctrine Centre (based not far from here in sunny Waiouru) maintains a doctrine library with publications that extend back to between the (world) wars classics like MAJGEN Charles Gwynn‘s Imperial Policing (strangely the only Wikipedia entries on this publication are in Spanish and German).

In last month’s The CoGs in the war go round and round… I discussed the applicability today of some of Napoleon’s writings in his Maxims as part of a broader piece on the Centre of Gravity construct. In this forum, doctrine as defined as what we teach on courses, expand and develop in collective training, and apply with judgement (implied in the real world, not solely on operations) so the traditional ‘out’ that doctrine is only a discussion of fundamental philosophies does not apply here. In purist terms, the Powell Doctrine will not die – the closest it may come is to be quietly filed away until such time as circumstances cause it to be dusted off and reviewed. That so many US pundits are joyous at its ‘death’ is indicative of the urge in the US to disassociate itself from the false beliefs in overwhelming technology, ‘shock and awe’, and adversaries who would cooperatively fold when confronted with the immutable logic of the manouevrist approach that ultimately drew them into the seven years of pain in Iraq.

I selected an image of Trafalgar as the header for today’s post because it is illustrative of both dogmatic application of doctrine (perhaps the  first lesson in any course on doctrine is to emphasise the difference between dogma and doctrine?) and the application of doctrine with judgement. In 1805, it was a capital offence for any captain or commander to not rigidly adhere to the Fighting Instructions in vogue at the time which essentially required opposing fleets to close up in parallel lines and hammer the living bejesus out of each other until a victor emerged or it got too hard due to weather, wind or nightfall…Looking back, this is really not too much different from our approach to state v state warfare where we lined up on respective sides of borders or other lines drawn in the sand until someone pushed the button. Certainly I believe that this linear approach dominated our thinking for the past four to five decades and to a large extent still does as we wrest with the geometrically more complex environment of today.

Nelson opted to disregard the Fighting Instructions at Trafalgar and break the French and Spanish lines in order to defeat them in some detail. Trafalgar was a hard-fought battle and the issues was in doubt for some time – certainly neither the French nor the Spanish were so devastated by this tactic as to strike their colours immediately; if they were devastated by anything it was good British gunnery…It is this ability to appreciate a specific situation, draw from relevant historical and personal experience, and develop a plan tailored to the current situation that we need to (re-)develop and foster amongst our planners and operators. In an area where the military is but just one of a number of instruments of national power, the growth must be applied across government…

Things are Blowing up but no more than usual

Coming Anarchy has an independent view of the progress of the elections in Iraq that is not polluted by the mainstream media’s need for sensationalism and loud noises…it would be nice to think that all the casualties and loss since 2003 will have a positive outcome…


The Ironman 2 trailer will screen after the Academy Awards today


Still waiting for Michael Yon’s Dispatch resolving the Tarnak Bridge episode and publicly apologising to Canada’s GEN Daniel Menard…as his tempo of releases has not slowed, it seems that it is easier for Mr Yon to get rounds of accusation in the air than it is to equally publicly tidy up the mess he makes when he gets it wrong – interestingly still no US or ISAF PAO comment on this story…

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