Academic journal article Parameters

Ensuring Effective Military Voice

Academic journal article Parameters

Ensuring Effective Military Voice

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Culture, psychology, and decision-making structures place limits on the development, delivery, and impact of effective military voice in national security policy discussions. Only by working together and overcoming these limits will both military and civilian leaders ensure the robust dialogue necessary for solvent national security policies and successful waging of wars.

The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or on the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war... [it was an] abdication of responsibility' to the American people.

H. R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty

The Vietnam War was not lost by Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert S. McNamara alone. Regardless of tactical successes on the battlefield, senior military leaders in both Saigon, Vietnam, and Washington, DC, shared culpability for failing to achieve American policy aims. (1) Today, 15 years of largely inconclusive war should demand similar introspection on the moral responsibility of both civilian and military leaders to work together better to wage war effectively, not just fight battles well. This article examines how civilian and military leaders can effectively encourage and express military voice, and thus, improve outcomes from the national security policy process.

In discussions of options and risks occurring prior to the final civilian decision on use of force, military officers have the opportunity to voice their considered advice and, if necessary, their differing opinions. But, what about the moral responsibilities of both civilian and military leaders to align war aims and resources to wage a war successfully, not just to fight a war? (2) If, as Clausewitz writes, "war is a continuation of political discourse by other means," how can military leaders help civilian decision-makers strike a balance between political ends sought and resources allocated so the lives of soldiers and civilians in the theater of battle are not wasted?

Over the past decade, debates about the surge in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have put a spotlight on the responsibility of senior military leaders to participate fully in discussions leading to use of force decisions and the ensuing dialogues necessary to adapt those initial decisions to the changing realities of the conflict. (3) The goal of this often bruising dialogue is to improve solvency in national security policies--the condition in which policy ends are achievable with the available resources and at acceptable levels of risk. (4) But since full agreement between military and civilian leaders in this back-and-forth dialogue is frequently absent, the issue at hand is how military leaders can best express their considered military advice--including dissent--in line with American traditions of proper military subordination to civil authority. (5)

Yet military leaders are often at a distinct disadvantage when providing military advice not fully aligned with prevailing civilian leadership direction. Although military members often seem to have advantages in policy discussions due to asymmetric information, and even a deferential aura among some policy elites who have never served in uniform, profoundly held cultural values of obedience and loyalty as well as other psychological and structural factors often inhibit effective expression of voice. These factors limit military participation in dialogue that can lead to the best possible national security policies and the best strategies to implement them.

Notably, voice in this context never advocates usurping civilian authority or disobeying legal orders. Providing quality military advice to civilian leaders clearly demands competence in the professional jurisdictions assigned to the military. And, providing this military advice effectively demands moral character, interpersonal skills, candor, education, and experience. …

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