Academic journal article Military Review

Aligning Mean and Ends: Toward a New Way of War

Academic journal article Military Review

Aligning Mean and Ends: Toward a New Way of War

Article excerpt


The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

THE UNITED STATES has failed to align its strategy with its war aims in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has led to "strategic surprise," manifested by unexpected and costly counterinsurgency campaigns. The source of the mismatch between U.S. strategy and political aims is a misunderstanding of the nature of the aims. Briefly stated, the misalignment arises when the United States employs a strategy aimed at imposing its will, when it would be better off employing a strategy aimed at gaining acceptance for its interests.

To correct this situation, rather than simply preventing our adversaries from realizing their aims, U.S. strategists must better align means with ends and employ all instruments of national power to coerce (or entice) our adversaries into accepting U.S. interests.

A close examination of the U.S. "way of war" reveals the source of the mismatch. The U.S. way of war emphasizes the imposition of our national will on the enemy, and it typically relies on strategies of annihilation and attrition intended to eliminate the enemy's capability to resist. However, in many conflicts the United States only seeks the enemy's compliance with U.S. will. Achieving compliance requires a different kind of engagement than simply eliminating the enemy's capability to resist. In fact, pure strategies of attrition and annihilation often undermine such aims, requiring an approach that uses multiple agency efforts and individual agency capabilities to wield the full range of national power.

The U.S. "Way of War"

Clausewitz famously characterized war as the continuation of politics by other means. (1) However, as the historian Victor Davis Hanson notes, Westerners, in practice, see war as a way of doing something politics cannot. (2 ) Thus, war does not so much continue politics as replace it. When war replaces politics, military objectives become political objectives so that defeating the enemy militarily becomes synonymous with achieving one's political aims. As a result, argues Hanson, the Western way of war favors "head-to-head" battles aimed at annihilating or at least attritting enemy forces until they no longer have the capability to resist. (3)

But the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan is that military goals are not always synonymous with political ones. United States forces entered Iraq and Afghanistan expecting to fight--and win - using an attrition-based strategy that focused on capturing or killing Taliban fighters and Iraqi conventional forces. When that strategy failed to deliver the intended political goals, U.S. forces again employed a strategy of attrition aimed at capturing or killing insurgents. Unfortunately, the continued application of this strategy did not produce the desired results.

In response to this failure, the U.S. military revised its counterinsurgency doctrine to emphasize protecting the population rather than eliminating insurgents. The doctrinal revision, expressed in the Army and Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, argued that attrition alone would not defeat insurgencies. In addition to using lethal force against insurgent forces, the U.S. military would also be required to see to the physical and security needs of the populations where it operated. As a result, U.S. forces would have to emphasize protecting and caring for the population over combating insurgents. (4)

In a parallel effort, the U.S. government emphasized interagency cooperation and coordination. For example, the Joint staff and combatant commands created a number of interagency task forces comprised of representatives from various departments, including the Departments of State, Treasury, and Justice, to coordinate nonmilitary means to achieve military objectives. …

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