Small Wars Journal

Prevent, Shape, Win

Mon, 12/12/2011 - 3:43pm

Prevent, Shape, Win

by General Raymond T. Odierno

Chief of Staff of the Army

First, our Army must prevent conflict.  Prevention requires a credible force with sufficient capacity, readiness and modernization.  Our ability and will to win any fight cannot be open to challenge.  As part of a joint force, we must be clear that we can fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict.  That means realistic training, expert leaders, modern equipment, and quality Soldiers.  Prevention is achieved by convincing your potential opponents that armed conflict with your force would be extremely unwise.  Our land forces must continue to be a credible force around the globe.

Second, our Army must help shape the international environment so our friends are enabled and our enemies contained.  We do that by engaging with our partners, fostering mutual understanding through military-to-military contacts, and helping partners build the capacity to defend themselves.   This is an investment in the future, and an investment we cannot afford to forego.  It is cultivating friends before you need them, being a reliable, consistent, and respectful partner.

Finally, we must be ready to win decisively and dominantly.  If we do not, we pay the price in American lives.  When MacArthur said, “In war there is no substitute for victory,” he was making a plain statement of fact.  Nothing else can approach what is achieved by winning, and the consequences of losing at war are usually catastrophic.  With so much at stake, the American people will expect what they have always expected of us: to never lightly enter into such a terrible endeavor, but once there to win and win decisively.


Winning is achieving your policy objectives, and since the Army doesn't set policy objectives, its ability to define "winning" is constrained. It seems to me that our problem with defining "winning" is that all too often our policy objectives are vague, ephemeral, and unrealistic, defined more by domestic political priorities than by realistic assessment of the conditions we seek to change and of our own ways, means, and will. As long as that's the case I expect the Army to have a recurring problem with the definition of "winning".

gian gentile

Mon, 12/12/2011 - 6:50pm

In limited wars of choice (US in Vietnam) winning--militarily--can sometimes be an overrated concept. To be sure in existential wars (for the US the American Revolution, Civil War, and World War II) winning militarily is of course paramount and Geneal Odierno is certainly correct in that regard. But what happens in limited wars of choice when the political says that the wars just are not worth fighting to achieve the military's definition of victory?

In Vietnam in order to win we would have had to stay there forever and would have in all probability destroyed the country to save it, and caused political and social implosion within the United States.

It seems to me that in Afghanistan we may be approaching this contradiction where the military still defines victory in a way that no longer is in line with political and popular will. If we allow the military to define victory in war then this it seems to me becomes militarism.