Wednesday 01 July 2015
Today our region is facing multiple strategic challenges. Strategic leaders must have not only an understanding of the tools of national power and the ways they may be used to implement strategies and policies, but they also must be capable of focusing effort. Even when use of power at the national level is fairly well understood, the ability to focus all effort on the key goal to ensure success at the strategic level remains a challenge in periods of turmoil. Thus, methods of focusing effort, often known as principles of war, deserve greater understanding.
The earliest known principles of war were documented by Sun Tzu in ancient China, 500 years before the modern era. Machiavelli published his General Rules on war in 1521. Then in 1805, Antoine-Henri Jomini published his Précis de l’Art de la Guerre and two decades later Carl von Clausewitz wrote his classic Vom Krieg; both built on the work of earlier writers and stand today as the most influential thinkers on war. More recently, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Julian Corbett, Basil Liddell-Hart, Mao Zedong and Rupert Smith have offered additional views on the fundamental principles of war.
Although there are no universally agreed principles of war many nations have identified key elements of success. The principles of war identified by Clausewitz have been the most influential over military thinking. He wrote that the Center of Gravity “the hub of all power and movement on which everything depends, the point at which all energies should be directed” should be the main focus of a nation in war. A similar but different concept is the Decisive Point: a geographic place, specific key event, critical system, or function that allows commanders to gain a marked advantage over an enemy and greatly influence the outcome of a strategy. Both focus effort.
In the UK, Selection and Maintenance of the Aim is a first and dominating principle of war. For the British, a single, unambiguous aim is the keystone of successful military operations. Selection and maintenance of the aim is regarded as the master principle of war. In the US this same principle is considered differently but still holds great import; Americans would consider that the key is to focus on the Objective and that one should direct every military operation toward that clearly defined, decisive and attainable goal. The ultimate military purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy’s ability and will to fight; the ways and means to do that commonly illuminate the objective.
In the conduct of war it is essential to select and clearly define that objective. In a practical sense, maintaining the aim requires a country to direct every national effort towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable goal. Each phase of any strategy and each separate operation must be directed towards this supreme aim. Once the aim is decided, all efforts must be directed to its attainment until a changed situation calls for a re-appreciation and consequently a new aim. Every strategic plan or action must be tested by its bearing on the chosen aim. A related principle, Mass, calls for the concentration of national power at the decisive place and time.
With ongoing crises in Iraq/Syria and now in Yemen, the UAE will be faced with potentially conflicting requirements on a regular basis that could pull our national effort in two different directions, thus focusing effort and maintaining that focus on our national objectives will require constant attention. So, Selection and Maintenance of the Aim must be regarded as the “master” principle during these challenging times. Focusing on the objective should therefore be placed first on every strategic leader’s to-do list when crisis calls.