Small Wars Journal

When a Cup of Coffee Becomes a Soy Decaf Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 8:09pm
When a Cup of Coffee Becomes a Soy Decaf Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino

by Brigadier Justin Kelly and Ben Fitzgerald

When a Cup of Coffee Becomes a Soy Decaf Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino (Full PDF Article)

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War marked a point of departure for military analysis. Until then, strategic problems, although complex and thorny, were necessarily dealt with in the context of the greater competition between the East and West. From then, each new strategic problem outwardly enjoyed a degree of singularity and, accordingly, required a greater amount of a priori examination. The profusion and novelty of these emerging strategic problems stimulated an equally profuse and disparate amount of analysis and prescription.

The new wave of military theory began a little earlier, in the late-1980s, when Soviet theorists began to discuss the implications of emerging weapons, and sensing and communications technologies -- conventional means that replicated the power of, and provided a useable alternative to, tactical nuclear weapons. They anticipated that the impact of these weapons was a Revolution in Military Affairs that would require a fundamental re-ordering of the tactical battlespace in the same way that the introduction of smokeless powder in the 1890s and tactical nuclear weapons in the 1950s did. The 1991 Gulf War offered a practical demonstration that hinted at what might be achievable through the thoughtful combination of these technologies and triggered a flood of seemingly new ideas, including proselytizing the proposition that there was an RMA underway. The idea of an RMA triggered a veritable flood of books describing the long waves of military innovation and identifying earlier periods of discontinuous or extremely rapid change. Depending on semantic arguments about what constituted a revolution, and historical arguments around the causality of victory and defeat, this resulted in lists of from none to 10 historical RMAs.

Academics, enthusiasts, think-tanks and contractors piled on. In the revolutionary fervor of the time, everything that had existed before was a suspect legacy and being up-to-date required coining new terms that seemed to capture the most recent sensation. As a result the militaries of the world found themselves rushing from enthusiasm to enthusiasm like spoiled adolescents. The RMA morphed into Network Centric Warfare, Effects Based Operations and a general desire for 'transformation'.

At the peak of this triumphant cascade of gleaming new concepts and technology came the strategic shock of 9/11 followed by Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As has been variously documented elsewhere, the early stages of these operations provided validation for the supporters of transformation but were followed quickly by costly insurgencies for which the military was unprepared. This in turn has seen a proliferation of new theories for counterinsurgency, population-centric operations and so called 'irregular' warfare. The net effect of these events is an increasingly diffuse array of ideas about the nature of current and future war, often described in dichotomies or mutually exclusive terms. While it is important to debate these issues, at present we are inadvertently adding to, rather than reducing, our strategic uncertainty.

When a Cup of Coffee Becomes a Soy Decaf Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)


Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 12:33pm

In reply to by Geoffrey Demarest

That's hilarious.

(OTOH, on behalf of neurotics everywhere, at least a neurotic isn't going to fall for some we-are-on-your-side foreign military psychological manipulation! Or, er, maybe we would. That's a funny link).

Brant (not verified)

Tue, 09/15/2009 - 11:47am

There is a great point at the top of page 8 about making concepts executable, and expecting that you won't get it perfectly right the first time. Refinement in theater will <i>always</i> happen and needs to be expected. Iterative development should be the standard, not an exception, and full requirements before the construction of concepts, processes, doctrine, software, or hardware is not just a pipe dream, but counterproductive for many of the reasons described in this article.

As to the "RMA"s... the last one was WWI:

I agree that this is a great paper. However, for Michael C, I wouldn't paint Clausewitz into a corner. If you read Paret's biography, "Clausewitz and the State", I think you'll find he had a much broader understanding of who could/should apply force. Many times he was less than enthusiastic about his own state's ability and saw the people as possibly wielding violence directly (similar to Spain at that period).

Michael C

Mon, 09/14/2009 - 2:36pm

The syllogism at the beginning of this article perfectly describes warfare (from my experience and my reading). And, not surprisingly, it all comes back down to politics. The authors, then refer to Clausewitz extensively.

I don't disagree with using Clausewitz in part, but it must be remembered his theories distinctly viewed the state as the sole instrument of power. The article, however, makes a vary nuanced view of power and politics. Unlike Clausewitz, who states warfare begins when diplomacy ends, the authors realize warfare continues with politics in an ongoing, intermingled affair.

The recommendations to refine the process both the Australian's and US use to create doctrine were excellent as well.