Small Wars Journal

Our National Military Strategy: What About the Blank Pages?

General Fritz Kroesen, U.S. Army ret., critiques the current National Military Strategy of the United States in the July 2011 issue of Army magazine. His article, The NMS and More Blank Pages, deplores "more blank pages" which, like the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, fail to link ends and ways with means, a defect that GEN Kroesen labels a "do more with less" philosophy. (H/T Warlord - COL John Collins for the pointer and intro)


Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 7:42pm

"Now is the time to find our own core."

This, it would seem, is what other peoples and cultures, post-the Cold War, are struggling with also.

Herein, within individual states and societies, "liberalism" is competing with "conservatism."

A paradox has emerged wherein:

a. We tell other peoples to give up their core beliefs and, instead, become super-liberal (to wit: "open" their states and societies up to enormous foreign influences and embrace rapid and massive change re: their political, economic and social orders). In fact, such ambition (to promote rapid and radical "change" in certain other states and societies) would seem to be a central focus of our foreign policy and national security strategy.

b. Meanwhile, here at home, more-"traditional," "core" ideas are again in vogue.

Thus, while we want certain other states and societies to give up their "core" beliefs and "modernize;" here at home, we seem (for good or for ill) to be moving in a somewhat different direction.

Bob's World

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 5:13am

Give the NMS guys some slack, after all they had to nest under the NDS and the NSS.

This is the problem with living in an age of strategic uncertainty, one's strategy tends to come out a bit, well, "uncertain."

Currently we have one foot cemented to a family of Cold War based institutions, policies, plans, alliances, thinking, friends and foes. The fact that much of that is now either irrelevant or in need of a major overhaul is largely lost. We use it as our baseline for what we think of as "normal" or "regular." Meanwhile, our other foot is on a bag of marbles that we change the name of every 12-18 months or so; and even though we can't figure out what it is, we assume it must therefore be "complex" and that it is not just a phase but a new reality. Alllllrighty then.

We really need to come to grips with the fact that the Cold War was a phase, an anomolly of time where the entire globe broke into two camps, who then in turn competed for influence over the other 1/3. There was nothing "normal" about that, and it is well over.

Everything designed for or learned during that era needs a good review, and either 86'd or updated. We also need to come to grips with the empowering effects of globalization. They are very real and they raise some interesting challenges in terms of non-state actors such as AQ and their ability to conduct networked global UW operations without the benefit (or burden) of a state to operate from. Or the way modern information tools allow an oppressed populace to skip a long, complicated (and risky) organization phase such as Mao and other insurgents in earlier times had to work through, and now can explode into action, coordinate on the fly with no true leadership or ideology required, and organize after the fact.

Fascinating stuff; but that does not mean that geopolitics and state on state competition are somehow obsolete. There are just new factors to consider.

The US has been enjoying a window of hegemony in the post Cold War era, so much of the major state on state geopolitical issues have been largely frozen. That is changing. The global warming the US needs to focus on most has little to do with polar ice, and much more to do with state actors beginning to move on these long suppressed issues.

Now is not the time to expand our vital interests to be so incredibly broad that they cannot be resourced.

Now it not the time to weave a uniquely American moral agenda into our vital national interests so as to be so impossibly offensive and arrogant as to create friction in virtually every populace on the planet, friend, foe, or neutral.

Now is the time to find our own core. To focus on how our own actions impact this much more connected, much less controllable global ecosystem. To be much more aware of cause and effect, in a manner that realizes that sometimes its a lot easier to just adjust the outputs of US policy than it is to police the impacts of the same.

Just a few thoughts to consider. What was old will be new again, and it will be in an environment where people are much more impowered to act for or against state actors as they choose. Right now we have a Cold War owner's manual and an IW toolbag. That probably won't cut it on either count.



slapout9 (not verified)

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 2:16am

General Kroesen was my first commanding General so I was surprised to see he was still alive. He must be near 90, however being Airborne he is just coming into his prime.

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 4:39pm

Is it just me or are the terms 'Operating Force' and 'Generating Force' rather tortured. When I hear or read the latter, I tend to look around for a covey of Engineers with 50kw generators...

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 12:25pm

While agreeing that it is a shortfall to not discuss the linkage of ends to ways and means in a strategy, I did find the inclusion of section devoted to what is essentially force management of the Joint Force very interesting. While this is the CJCSs document, it seems clear that it benefits from partnership with Secretary Gates. There is an opportunity at this point given the last decade of war (and other operational commitments) and the existing (and future) fiscal constraint to examine the fundamentals that guide the generation and management of DoD capabilities employed to achieve policy objectives. This extends all the way down to the services. It may be very insightful that GEN Dempsey has been nominated as the next CJCS. As a leader who has proven his skill in both senior Operating Force positions and senior Generating Force leadership, the Secretary has provided his successor with a uniformed partner capable of planning and implementing the type of large scale Transformation that is being planned for the Army of 2020. While it does not appear to be a RMA type of Transformation that we saw in the later part of the 90s and early 2000s, it does speak to one built on breaking down service stovepipes, overcoming the negative aspects on bureaucratic culture, creating Joint efficiencies while preserving some unique capabilities, and ultimately building a Joint Generating Force concept that fully meets the requirements of Combatant Commanders.

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 11:59am


Good comment, I'd only add, at the very end "or possessed."

Saying "Yes,sir, yessir, three bags full..." when one only has two bags which have a lot of holes in them can lead the 'Sir' to a flawed decision and to ones own less than stellar performance...


Tue, 06/28/2011 - 11:22am

The NMS is a waste of the paper it's written on, as it does nothing but record vague pledges of support to national interests and objectives without actually tying any plans or activity to them.

The NSS should outline national security interests; the NDS should establish broad objectives and endstates; and the NMS should translate those national objectives into concrete military objectives (ends), as well as outlining the action plans (ways) and capabilities (means) that will be employed to accomplish them.

The reality is that none of the three documents actually accomplishes any strategic purpose. Good on GEN Kroesen for drawing attention to that fact, and for highlighting the Joint Staff's complicity in sustaining the fiction that the military can accomplish all missions and secure all objectives no matter the resources dedicated or capabilities developed.