Academic journal article Parameters

Strategic Leader Readiness and Competencies for Asymmetric Warfare

Academic journal article Parameters

Strategic Leader Readiness and Competencies for Asymmetric Warfare

Article excerpt

"We have to put aside the comfortable ways of thinking and planning, take risks and try new things so that we can prepare our forces to deter and defeat adversaries that have not yet emerged to challenge us."

-- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (1)

Both current and past senior civilian defense officials reportedly have grown increasingly frustrated with the conventional mindset of many strategic-level military officers. In their view, too many senior leaders are too cautious, lacking the "fresh thinking, creativity, and ingenuity" to engage in the "out-of-the-box" thinking required to fully understand the new asymmetric (2) threats and challenges posed by the global war on terrorism. (3)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in a speech delivered at National Defense University on 31 January 2002, made clear that in his view, "The future will require us to think differently and develop the kinds of forces and capabilities that can adapt quickly to new challenges and unexpected circumstances." (4) General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also recently noted how al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have "made lots of adaptations to our tactics and we've got to continue to ... try to out-think them and to be faster at it." (5) At the heart of the issue is whether and how the operational art and leadership attributes differ, if at all, in symmetric versus asymmetric approaches to warfare.

The conceptual underpinning of these statements and criticisms also raises significant questions about whether asymmetric warfare (6) poses unique challenges for strategic leaders or whether it more appropriately requires time-tested leadership competencies applied with more creativity and risk-taking. The answers to these important questions would seem to hold great significance for strategic leaders' readiness and the leadership competencies needed for asymmetric warfare.

This article seeks to identify the adaptive linkages that exist between strategic leader competencies and the mental readiness (7) for asymmetric and more conventional warfare. Fortunately, the writings of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz seem to offer a framework to help guide the needed adaptation in strategic leader thinking with regard to asymmetric approaches to warfare. (8) An identification of these characteristics in the writings of both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz offers the opportunity to adapt their concepts to the present and anticipated challenges of asymmetric approaches to warfare. However, it is also important to recognize that while "asymmetry is important to strategy... not everything is asymmetry." (9)

Conventional Leaders and Asymmetric Warfare

It is unfortunate that so-called "conventional warriors" (10) are finding both their relevance and adaptability being challenged because of asymmetric warfare. At its core, this issue raises the question of whether conventional warriors can effectively lead in unconventional (i.e., asymmetric) wars. (11) For some, the answer to this important question will seem obvious. They will intuitively sense and view asymmetric approaches to warfare as counterinsurgency once was viewed, as "secondary or peripheral to conventional threats." (12) However, "conventional" and "symmetrical" are often seen as synonymous, since by definition symmetrical refers to instances when "our force and the enemy force are similar (e.g., land versus land)." (13) For many, this similarity implies predictable, and denying that predictability lies at the heart of asymmetric approaches.

This is no small matter given the various adjectives used to describe the current national security environment: uncertain, dynamic, fluid, unpredictable, unknown, turbulent, asymmetric, and complex. (14) Identifying and finding ways for strategic leaders to bridge and "leverage" the leadership competencies required in symmetrical scenarios to apply them effectively in asymmetrical warfare could have important implications for strategic leader training, development, and doctrine. …

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