Academic journal article Parameters

On Strategy as Ends, Ways, and Means

Academic journal article Parameters

On Strategy as Ends, Ways, and Means

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This dialogue regarding teaching, understanding, and practicing strategy stems from Jeffrey W. Meiser's article "Ends + Ways + Means = (Bad) Strategy" published in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Parameters (vol. 46, no. 4).

The Value of a Model. Gregory D. Miller and Chris Rogers

Like Dr. Jeffrey W. Meiser, we are frustrated by the formulaic ends, ways, and means model commonly equated with strategy. We acknowledge the handicap created by the lack of a common definition of strategy, and recognize the need for one that does not exclusively rely on a formula but also effectively incorporates the interests and decisions of other actors--allies, adversaries, and neutral states alike. Yet, we were profoundly disappointed in Meiser's criticism, which appeared to diminish not only the Department of Defense's approach to strategy but also how strategy is taught.

We assume Meiser understands models merely simplify reality and are never intended for literal use; they only provide a starting point to develop skilled practitioners who can wisely deviate from them. From Meiser's perspective, a dangerous impression might develop of American profesional military education churning out automatons incapable of critical, much less creative, thinking, who simply rely on a formula to develop and implement strategy. We think Parameters' readers will be encouraged by the fact that Defense Department programs actually expose senior military officers to a number of strategic models and require critical analysis of such fundamentals.

At the National Defense University's Joint Advanced Warfighting School curriculum, no single definition is taught as the "right answer" and no specific model of strategy is the "right approach." Future practitioners are not only required to articulate their own definitions and models but also to justify when, how, and why they deviate from or improve upon existing models. Thus, the curriculum incorporates complexity and design thinking, both of which challenge conventional approaches to solving problems, especially complex problems, which would include nearly all national security decisions.

Consequently, senior US military officers and their equivalent civilian counterparts who complete this and similar programs are more than capable of moving beyond simple formulas when advising senior leaders. This is true precisely because these students do not rely on simple constructs of ends, ways, and means when developing theater strategies and theater campaign plans. Moreover, these professionals understand the nuances of incorporating a whole-of-government approach (interagency collaboration) and of applying instruments of national power (diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement tools), which Meiser mistakenly treats synonymously. With this understanding, strategy practitioners recognize the military frequently does not want to address problems outside its expertise, even though its capabilities and capacities often result in it being tasked to "do something."

In closing, students should never be told they can solve the world's problems by checking all the boxes. Instead, students should learn complex problems rarely have simple solutions because of second- and third-order consequences and the competing interests arising from other actors' cultures, histories, and principles. At best, a strategist's efforts can help mitigate conflict or produce more favorable outcomes.

Where Are Policy and Risk? Francis J. H. Park

While I agree in principle with the flaws Dr. Jeffrey W. Meiser identifies in the practice of strategy, his analysis omits the roles of policy and risk as critical elements influencing strategy. The relationship between ends, ways, and means had been part of the US Army War College curriculum for some eight years when it appeared in Military Review (1989). Colonel Arthur F. Lykke Jr. …

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