Saturday 01 November 2014

National leaders need to understand the tools of state power and the ways they should be used to implement strategies, including the challenges of executing strategy during crisis or conflict. Using diplomacy, economics, military capabilities and information at the national level is easy to understand conceptually, but strategic implementation remains exceedingly complex. Columbia University professor Richard Betts has called strategy “the essential ingredient for making war either politically effective or morally tenable,” and for Betts, without strategy, power is a “loose cannon and war is mindless.” But, just because strategy is necessary, does not mean that it is straightforward. Understanding regional dynamics, accounting for domestic concerns and employing national resources effectively are each difficult, all together during crisis they can be exhausting. Why? Because conflict in particular and strategy in general are often characterized by fog, friction, and chance.

The fog of war is the uncertainty that comes from poor situational awareness; ambiguity regarding a state’s own capabilities, its adversary’s capabilities, its partners’ capabilities and particularly its adversary’s intent. Unfortunately, even given the massive amounts of information available today, nations often know precious little about their adversaries.

Clausewitz warned strategists about friction, noting that in conflict “the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction, which no man can imagine who has not seen war.” Clausewitz also noted that no organization can be considered a single entity, because “each is composed of individuals, every one of whom retains potential for friction.” Some believe that modern technology (pin-point accuracy) reduces the negative effects of friction, however recent U.S. issues with drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan tell a very different story. Plus, danger’s impact on the ability to think clearly and act effectively during conflict only increases friction, magnifying the inherent flaws of every person and each technology making up the tools of state power; thus friction dominates and hinders every strategic effort.

Finally, simple chance, that “interplay of possibilities, probabilities, good luck and bad” that is endemic to conflict also plagues all strategies during crisis. A nation is composed of thousands of individual teams, each of which can be affected by chance. Endless complexities, ill-defined limits, irreconcilable conflicts between theory and actual practice, calculations requiring variable quantities intertwined with psychological forces and effects - all mean unnoticeably small factors can be disproportionately amplified and minor inconveniences can combine to create major problems, every one potentially unforeseen by leaders. Danger and physical exertion only multiply the huge number of negative potential effects of chance. Chance also magnifies the impacts of both fog and friction during strategy execution, exponentially increasing complexity.

Fog, friction and chance degrade execution of plans and confuse signals; any strategy dependant on those schedules and signals can then collapse, leading to missed opportunities or even worse, to failure. Today, with the UAE embarked in conflict as a member of an international coalition against a dynamic and crafty threat, dealing effectively with uncertainty to accomplish the objectives of the nation needs to be foremost in all of our minds. Uncertainty will confound everything during conflict, but thankfully, strategic leaders of creative intellect and determination can persevere despite its challenges and win.