Sunday 01 April 2018
It’s easy to get distracted from thinking strategically, so let’s focus on fundamentals. Strategy is a process in which we link ends, ways and means at different levels of activity. We do this to anticipate threats, opportunities and challenges.
Ends are goals or purposes. Examples could include: defeating violent extremism; diversifying economic growth, preventing catastrophic attack; and countering insurgency.
Ways are how we use resources to achieve these ends. Often described as approaches to strategy, the ways often are what the strategy becomes known as, or named. With respect to the previously mentioned ends, example of ways could include: direct or indirect; knowledge-based or energy-based; assured destruction or flexible response; and population-centric or enemy-centric.
Means are the resources we use, the diversity of which should suit the ways and the ends. Examples for the previously mentioned ways and ends could include: police, educators and civic leaders; financial competition, skilled labor and risk-tolerant entrepreneurs; military forces and intelligence analysis, public diplomacy and trusted courts.
In order to promote flexibility, we should consider possibilities in which ends, ways and means may be interchangeable, rather than categorizing something as only an end, a way or a means. This is hard to do if we are organized to frame and conduct strategy a certain way. To fight this tendency, consider one of the ends mentioned above, “diversifying economic growth,” as either: a valued end in itself (such as, diversity is good); as different ways (such as, how diverse and in which sectors?); and as a means to achieve other ends (such as, reduce dependency).
While we strive to promote sharing of common concepts of strategy, we also need to think differently lest we be surprised by an adversary’s novel rearrangement of ends, ways and means.
For instance, due to a widespread shared belief in Clausewitz’s assertion that war is a continuation of politics, some strategists might always regard politics as the ultimate end of war. For some groups however, war may be a continuation of economic primacy. Or, politics may be a way of social warfare, the primary means of which is the destruction and creation of relationships.
What about a cyber event that destroys virtual networks of relationships, reducing living standards and denying people basic necessities? This attack does not fit the expectation for war to be violent. So we need to think outside the box of our own ends, ways and means.
A holistic campaign aligns various ways and means to achieve strategic ends. Basically we plan different activities to create conditions that achieve objectives. An operational approach describes the desired conditions and the lines of activity that create them. Desired conditions may be described as end-states, which have two important features. First, maintaining an end-state is actually a dynamic process requiring various resources. Second, the new political, economic and social conditions of the end-state provide actors opportunities to rearrange their strategies.
To have a competitive strategy, we need to think about the constant interaction of ends, ways and means. With these fundamentals in mind, the next article introduces combined effects strategy.