Small Wars Journal

Transforming the National Security Culture

Fri, 05/22/2009 - 10:13am
Transforming the National Security Culture

A Report of the Harvard Kennedy School's Defense Leadership Project

Transforming the National Security Culture (Full PDF Report)

From the Preface

General Edward C. Meyer, former Army Chief of Staff, has compared our best leaders to diamonds. Just as the diamond requires three properties for its formation—carbon, heat, and pressure—successful leaders require the interaction of three properties—character, knowledge, and application. We at the Harvard Kennedy School seek to foster an environment in which our student leaders can develop their character, expand their knowledge, and launch into promising career trajectories through the application of newly polished skills for the benefit of our nation's security. The Harvard Kennedy School Defense Leadership Project is a proud example of the work that can be produced in this environment.

As we seek to generate and promote more effective leadership in national security policy, we are deeply committed to bridging the gap between leadership theory and practice. Supporting collabora¬tive thinking among experts in the field is critical to this objective. The student-generated Defense Leadership Project aptly sought to address a critical shortfall in national security leadership through its collaborative endeavor. As this report attests, the Defense Leadership Project specifically created unprecedented opportunities for reflection and discovery for students and prominent practitioners from different disciplines, sectors, and cultures to elicit proactive solutions to tomorrow's challenges.

Well-trained and equipped leaders sharing collaborative mentalities are paramount for successfully preserving our national security. The combined support of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and the Center for Public Leadership speaks to the shared belief in the importance of this initiative, and the associated recommendations. We applaud the students involved in the Defense Leadership Project and the energy this team put into organizing guest speakers and writing this report. We hope our nation's leaders might draw from their informed and insightful findings.

From the Introduction

In late winter 2007, a small group of veterans attending Harvard University decided to challenge the status quo. Frustrated by their experiences overseas and what they perceived as a lack of innovative leadership within their own organizations, they sought to develop new ideas. They wanted to create something the business world would call a skunk works, an autonomous group of creative thinkers, charged with working on advanced projects. Enlisting the help of three separate research centers at Harvard—the Center for Public Leadership, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy (which also had played a role in the publication of the Army's new counterinsurgency manual), and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs—the students took their proposal to the larger student body.

At a special reception for all Harvard graduate students who had served (or were serving) within the national security community, the students announced open applications for an initiative they called the Defense Leadership Project sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership. The response from the crowd—which had been full of veterans returned from combat tours, homeland security officials, intelligence analysts, private security consultants, and others—was overwhelming. Applications poured in, and after selecting the most talented, experienced, and creative individuals, the panel set to work defining its mission.

The students almost immediately came to realize that most of their frustrations were rooted in leader¬ship and organizational culture. In their eyes, the national security establishment was facing a major crisis: leaders at all levels were routinely ill-equipped to understand, visualize, or respond effectively to the modern security environment. The problem was one of adaptation: decades of Cold War doctrine and thinking had left behind a sense of unassailable institutional inertia. Despite the undeniable rise of asymmetric threats such as insurgents, terrorists, militias, and other nonstate actors, the defense establishment had continued to invest overwhelmingly in preparations for traditional, conventional warfare.

While many blue ribbon panels and study groups have been convened since 9/11 to develop recommendations for the security establishment, few have focused on the role of the individual leader. New organizational models and next-generation technologies may improve our nation's readiness, but—in the humble opinion of the students—success or failure would be defined by the ability of individual leaders to operate effectively with minimal guidance, adapt, and collaborate across traditional institutional stovepipes. In other words, victory will not be gained by overwhelming our enemies with brute force, but by empowering our leaders to innovate faster than the enemy can respond.

The panel's methodology would be simple: Invite senior level defense leaders to Harvard for closed door, nonattribution, and brutally honest discussions. Combine the enthusiasm and on the ground" perspective of the students with the strategic outlook of decision makers and experts. Develop bluesky solutions, record notes for every session, and eventually, write the proposals into a report intended for senior policy makers. This booklet is the end result of our efforts. We respectfully submit these recommendations for your consideration, in the hope that a few of the ideas might prove useful or inspire further inquiry.

From the Foreword

When the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School brings together graduate students and national security students at Harvard—military veterans, homeland security officials, intelligence officers, private security contractors, and others—in a Defense Leadership Project, one expects powerful results as they work with distinguished guest panelists. After all, it's Harvard, the Kennedy School, David Gergen's Center for Public Leadership, and our own country's security leaders. We have great expectations.

Rarely do results of such an intellectual engagement provide the call to action that this report delivers. Not an academic treatise, this is a tough report by people on the ground, across the sectors, examining every aspect of the defense community, and this is the powerful result. And it's all about leadership, the leaders of the future required right across the national security community, to lead, respond, mobilize, inspire, build the alliances and partnerships an uncertain future demands in the emerging security environment.

The formal recommendations the panel makes in this report are sobering and illuminating and fall into four categories:

• Finding critical talent

• Transforming talent into institutional capability

• Reforming the existing organization to promote balance and interoperability

• Accelerating generational change.

Three powerful messages flow through the recommendations, the rationale, and the call to action in this report:

• A massive need for change in the national security organizations and community to prepare our leaders to meet future threats

• Emerging leaders, the new generation of national security professional workers, will generate the change essential to meet evolving challenges

• The inspiring ideas will come from bright young minds committed to our security establishment who know change is the leadership imperative of our time.

Transforming the National Security Culture (Full PDF Report)


Rob Thornton

Sat, 05/23/2009 - 11:03am

I'd concur with Niel. Any tool may be useful or useless depending on the conditions. The tank is no exception. In the last 6 years in Iraq I'd say its at least been as useful as not, and no other platform we have could be a surrogate.

There are two reasons I think this is true:

1) regardless of the character of objectives, the conditions must be considered. The M1 and our other tracked vehicles, as well as MRAPs, Strykers, HMMWVs, tubed and rocket artillery (Niel did a nice post on GLMRS somewhere on the SWC), 120mm/81mm/60mm mortars, TOWs, Javelins, Hellfires, 2.75" rockets, MK Is/IIs and probably IIIs somewhere(fitted with a guidance package), MK-19s, M2s and every other system that comes to mind has been useful at some place and at some time given the nature of the enemy.

Have there sometimes been consequences for employing them? Yes, but until the the enemy - who had both the will and the means to create a level of resistance which required their use was defeated - the other programs would be impossible to get going. The reason the enemy there has repeatedly resorted to IEDs, sniper attacks and other such tactics is because where ever/ when ever they tried to challenge U.S. and now Iraqi Security forces openly they were trounced. This did not keep them from trying occasionally as IEDs don't get you a city or a province, they get dealt with, their supplies get interdicted, their command systems get disrupted, cell leaders get captured or killed, civilians get killed as often as not by IEDs and turn on you - in other words, IEDs are not war winners for an insurgency.

2) the second reason platforms such as tanks, fighting vehicles are good is that they are on the ground and as such have a ground perspective, and they also have a psychological effect - one that can be beneficial not only in its effect on the enemy, yourself or your allies, but also in terms of the population. You of course also get the good optics, fire control systems and effect of a suite of weapons (from 7.62mm to .50 to 120mm. Ultimately I think the most beneficial thing is that the crew and the leader are there - they are no in a trailer in CONUS. They see the level of devastation, the people's faces, and the effects of the systems they employ.

A third reason might be the level of deterrence having armor nearby provides neighbors who might be contemplating actions you would prefer they not.

While no tool is a panacea for every set of conditions and objectives, the tank and the others mentioned have certainly proven their worth in my eyes in Iraq. I won't go into the other areas of "tools" on this other then the "materiel" piece, but clearly I think it a dangerous idea to characterize what has been proven to be a very useful tool, has saved a number of lives (probably mine too) both directly and indirectly as being outmoded and a waste of resources.

We want to be the expeditionary guys that have the best tool bag - this is the nature of fighting the "away" games. The enemy already has plenty of advantages we don't. The key here comes back to people - good leaders and planners who can line up the operational requirements based on conditions and objectives and a generating force who can answer those requirements with the range of "right" capabilities. Is it hard to generate, employ and sustain those capabilities - it can be, but I guess that depends on what you are willing to do to succeed.

Best, Rob

Niel (not verified)

Sat, 05/23/2009 - 12:54am

Christopher - you challenged:

"I would challenge anyone, to find a need for them.[tanks]"

I really don't know where to start, since your post is full of assertions completely unsupported by reality. You are obviously completely ignorant of what has been transpiring tactically in OIF and even OEF.

We can start with my Air/Sea/Land Bulletin article here:

"The Armor Effect"

But don't take my word for it, here's some other credible background.

Or heck, read this whole issue of ARMOR:…


Or you can ask the families of the men of C/2-5 CAV, who certainly would have had 20 less soldiers if not for the daring tank action of April 4, 2004 in Sadr City.…

or the story in book form from an ABC Reporter:…


Or you can ask the marines who fought in Najaf during August 2004, or Fallujah that following December:

[long cite from Marine friend]

"... I did work closely with Marine and Army M1s, M2s (Army), AAVs (amphibious assault vehicles), and LAV-25s (USMC light armored reconnaissance vehicles) in the Aug '04 battle in Najaf. Based on lessons learned from the three weeks of fighting in the cemetery, "old city," and in Kufah, I agree with Maj Smith on the immense value of the M1 and M2 in 21st Century urban combat.

We (11th Marine Expeditionary Unit / Battalion Landing Team 1/4) started the fight on 5 Aug with 4 M1s, 14 AAVs, 4 LAVs, and 16 machine gun HMMWVs (weren't uparmored at the time). Despite having ~700 determined infantrymen in BLT 1/4, our lack of armored assets was a significant problem as we faced ~2000 insurgents in prepared defensive positions in the cemetery and surrounding multi-story hotels. Roughly three days into the fight 1/5 CAV was sent down from Baghdad to reinforce. This unit had at least a company of M1s and two companies of M2s, but lacked dismounted infantry. A few days later, 2/7 CAV also came down from Baghdad with another M1 company, if not two companies of M1s, and another two or three companies of M2s.


during the first three days of the fight, at least two of the four Marine tanks were in the fight at all times. This was no small feat given the 130-degree temperatures and lack of air conditioning in USMC tanks (Army M1s have air conditioning... huge combat multiplier). I don't recall the exact numbers, but the Marine tankers each received numerous IV's per day. ** They withstood near constant pounding from RPGs, mortars, snipers, machine gun fire, etc. **

Unless in an M1 or M2, a Marine or Soldier had no business being in the streets in the immediate vicinity of the mosque (especially during the day). Other vehicles only moved into the objective area for re-supply and casevac purposes (and normally with M1 protection). Additionally, due to the USMC need to isolate multiple roads and limited number of tanks, 1/5 CAV attached a Bradley platoon to 1/4. This Bradley platoon did incredible things and proved incredibly survivable."

** "If sent to fight in an urban battle in the future, I definitely want M1s and M2s (and a lot of infantry) on the team." **

(all emphasis mine)


Or that the Canadians, who literally were weeks away from mothballing their entire Leopard A1 fleet, put in emergency orders for Leopard 2's and deployed them to Afghanistan?…


There are several threads along these lines on the council, perhaps you would like to get educated, but here's the best one:


Finally, of all the vehicles in OIF, the M1 tank has the least casulaties taken of any platform. Very few have been "destroyed", if your meaning is "obliterated". Even fewer have had crew injuries. Most "destroyed" M1's in theater received structural damage that required a rebuild, but not "destruction". I would love to see your cite on this.


Even in the "hybrid" conflict of Israel vs. Hizbollah, the Merkava tank fared pretty well:

Posts 30 and 31:


I won't even address the ignorance of the statement that Reapers can magically identify insurgent targets on the ground. If we could do this, we wouldn't have anywhere near the challenges we currently do.

Ball is in your court. I have facts, sources, and my personal combat experience to back all the above up. I can give you many more links if you want more.

I was in college during the cold war. I remember that there was a class titled something like.."Modern politics in the Soviet Union" had a textbook that cost about 45 dollars. In 1991, when the soviet union fell, the class was abruptly cancelled, and there was a bunch of students returning the books. The curriculum was no longer applicable, so it was a no brainer. I'm sure, at the same time the people in charge of target packages of ICBM's were revising their books too. Things needed to change, the targets were no longer applicable. But really, It was that ICBM that was no longer applicable. That needed to change too. There was a ton of other stuff around that was not applicable either, much of it, we still keep. I'll give you an example. The M1 Abrams. During GW1, it destroyed many an enemy tank. But so did the M2 Bradley, and Apache helicopter. It suffered few losses, because it was designed to fight other tanks. In OIF, the losses went up, because it wasn't fighting other tanks. It was being destroyed by IED's and RPG's. It is not applicable to that kind of warfare. It needs to be removed from the theater, and all of them mothballed. I would challenge anyone, to find a need for them. When much more modern tools like a Reaper drone, can kill a target from the safety of a trailer in Nevada, no one needs to be in a steel box on tracks, 1000 yards away.