Should politicians do "ways" and should generals do "ends"

Discussion in 'Staff College and Staff Officers' started by alfred_the_great, Oct 30, 2016.

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  1. A classic Staff Course discussion point...

    I'd suggest that, at very least, Politicians should do both 'ends' and 'ways', and Generals should do all 3.

    There is no reason - beyond Cold War habits - that says each of "passion, chance and reason" is circumscribed to one particular group or another.

    thoughts, cares, boredom inducing and want to look at What's the "Holy Grail" of unseen celebrity tits? instead?
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  2. Caecilius

    Caecilius LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    I'd say that both do all three.

    Politicians set the ends based on the advice of Generals.

    Generals decide on the ways, within the constraints set by politicians. They should obviously provide expertise to politicians on this point as well but in the end it's the politicians who carry the can for any deployment so they will be guided by the political acceptabiiity of certain actions in a way that a general will not.

    Means are 50/50. It'd be nice for politicians to butt out and let the generals decide which parts of their train set they want to use once HMG have set the ends and guided the ways. However we all appreciate that the reality is somewhat different, especially in modern limited conflict, with caps on troop numbers. There's also a financial balancing act to be struck by politicians which definitely should not be within the generals' remit.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2016
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  3. jrwlynch

    jrwlynch LE Book Reviewer


    Longer answer, not properly supported or referenced (it's late, this is not for marks) this is one of the fundamental and yet frequently-ignored points of everyone's favourite dead Prussian, that the people, the government and the military need to be aligned in pursuit of the goal if it's difficult or dangerous (especially when the difficulty and danger have been underestimated - the "short victorious war to get the People behind us, dead easy, all over by Christmas" has been a repeated catastrophe when either the military means, the popular will or the government backing prove inadequate)

    Getting the balance right is, of course, the problem: it's a pyramid, and while the apex might be the ideal it's also the hardest to reach and the easiest to slip off. The Prussian/German approach that the military's job is to create a greater Reich and the government and the people are just there to pay the bills and to provide the manpower to be fed through the meatgrinder had some limited early success but then fell over hard when the wars bit hard at home.

    The US in the 1950s went for an explicit "ve vas only obeying orders" doctrine that the elected leadership picked the war, declared the aims and provided the means, then the military clicked their heels and got on with it, probably in an overreaction to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. That didn't survive contact with reality and by the 1960s you had the "we're in Vietnam to show the USAF is more essential than the US Navy, which is why if the President cares about "sortie count" we'll make sure we generate more than the other service..." together with the "why are we even here?" argument (standfast @Caecilius, I know we differ on this one)

    If you don't know the ends - "what does victory look like? How do we know we've won?" then victory is likely to be elusiuve (shades of Harry Summers Jr. describing the RAND study of 1968 that modelled the progress of the Vietnam conflict using all available data with the best means available... apparently the US had achieved a decisive victory in 1964 and the North Vietnamese were merely deluding themselves that resistance was not futile).

    If you don't have the means - or if the means prove inadequate - then you find yourself in the position of the Russians in 1904, or more marginally the Argentines in 1982, and whatever the merits or objectives, you'll be defeated.

    And if you haven't got the will to see it through for longer than your adversaries, then you risk the situation of Germany in 1918 when Ludendorff breaks down, the High Seas Fleet mutinies rather than steam out for a glorious death ride, and the war ends with a whimper because the German people care more about "not starving or freezing" and getting to eat bread not baked out of turnips and sawdust, than they're willing to continue the struggle for glorious victory.

    I would happily agree that politicians and military have different weightings on the trinity, but both need to consider all three aspects, and "what if this turns into a long campaign which the taxpayers aren't willing to keep funding?" is one of those (as is "you want us to *what*, boss?")

    Big question, interesting area, too late to do much more with at the moment though...
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  4. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    The catch, I think, is that the war you get is never the one you expected or planned for (of good, let's bomb Libya, or Syria, or destroy society and stability in Iraq, and then come home for tea). So there may come a point where the means are ever going to achieve the ends and the difficulty then is the military propensity for bashing on so as not to seem weak or disloyal and the political ditto which is Micawberish hope that something will turn up so that we don't lose face, whereas both are at the bottom of the hole and still digging away.

    The USAF example above, chronicled in the novel 'Rolling Thunder' (vvg btw) is the cousin of air marshals going 'Look at me sir, look at me sir, I can send a Vulcan and it won't half shorten the war' regardless of the consequences of retasking all the Victor tankers..

    With our modern shortage of resources the politicians have to accept that if we take on X, Y won't get done and so and so are the consequences (like looking flaky to the US etc). Pols might like to do a post-implementation cost analysis (fat chance) on some of our recent adventures including the WHOLE residual cost, MENA refugees etc.

    Re the original question, it's a two-way street.
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  5. The Chief of the Air Staff in fact argued against using Vulcan on the grounds that it would take all the tanker support and that the chances of getting even one bomb on the runway were slight, unless an impractical 25 sorties (at least) were launched, since the Vulcan wasn't designed to do that (miss your DMPI by 300 yards with a Yellow Sun? Who's going to know or care?). He said that while not perfect, the SHAR was the better option (there is a hint in the files that he might have been contemplating Harrier GR as well, but I suspect he wasn't), but Admirals Lewin, Leach and Fieldhouse all requested Vulcan so as to conserve SHAR numbers. The files have a lot of CAS suggesting to his RN colleagues that the SHAR would be best for hitting the runway more than once, and them preferring the Vulcan. So the Vulcan was used and the RN unwittingly gave Sharkey Ward a literary career as a result...

    The first plan - complete with charming idea that the aircraft would land in Chile (I sense that the author, under pressure, forgot about AAR) - to use the Vulcan was generated by an RN Captain a few hours before the Argentines set foot on the islands, as the 'Bother. They are going to invade. WTF can we do?' phase of planning was hurriedly undertaken.
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  6. Mrs Thatcher maintained that the best piece of advice she received during the Falklands War came from Harold Macmillan who suggested that Treasury reps be excluded from the decision-making apparatus of the War Cabinet. In short, here he is what we are going to do; make the funds available!
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  7. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    Thanks for putting me straight @Archimedes. That was needed.
  8. Caecilius

    Caecilius LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    That's reasonable in a war that was essentially non-discretionary, or at least seen that way by the government of the time. It becomes more of an issue when in a long discretionary (arguably...) campaign like HERRICK that isn't really UK government main effort. In that instance you have to balance the vast and ongoing NACMO against other costs to the treasury. This will be an inherently political decision.
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  9. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    I'm not sure about the non-discretionary - as I understand it, had Leach not intervened and bet the Navy on the result, other parties like the FCO would have persuaded Maggie to chuck in the towel.
  10. Caecilius

    Caecilius LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Good point, but once we'd gone for it the campaign became UK Govt main effort with significant public support. In those circumstances, especially when combined with inherently limited objectives and a short time frame, you can get away with signing a blank cheque.
  11. There's a DS answer and there's a pragmatic, typically British answer. The latter is essentially political - short of a non-discretionary or existential conflict, the overwhelming calculus is always going to be political, whether it's national political, party political, inter-service - or even intra-service - political. The key decision maker is always - always - going to make his or her decision based on maximum advantage for his or her alignment or, in a worst case, minimal disadvantage. The process of shaping the decision is where the sprinkling of the magic fairy dust happens - that's where the cunning presentation of advantage by unbiased, upright and wholly disinterested advisers (as a sideline from their magic bean business) present the options and potential outcomes to same.

    This isn't bad, wrong, wicked or evil and this view isn't cynical - it's a pragmatic acknowledgement that humans will generally do the rational thing, will generally look for short-term over long-term advantage, will generally make decisions with a strong emotional component and will generally like to make decisions which they see as being popular, both with their own in-group and with their broader network.
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  12. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    It would be really nice if politicians had a well thought through exit strategy before they started the fisticuffs. First class military powers like the US (with the UK hanging onto its coat tails) can give most third world countries a lesson in the projection of military power. However, because they are p*ss poor at winning the peace, they often leave the offending state in worse political state than they found it - and in the case of Iraq, a failed state that was rapidly rolled over by Daesh.

    I would be greatly reassured if, before the next war, politicians said "we have a plan to create a broadly democratic, prospering and corruption free state in a manner that will receive the enthusiastic support of the majority of the population".

    But I'm not holding my breath...

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  13. In my amateur opinion, ways are instruments of how military power is implemented to achieve a political objective (ends). This constitutes a strategy which is devised and implemented by Generals. However, Strategy is subordinate to policy and policy making which is the responsibility of politicians. This means the generals choice of ways and means can be constrained by policy. On the other hand, Grand Strategy sits above and directs policy and can include non-military political instruments.

    Whatever the definition of strategy used Generals will necessarily do ways and should do so. Or In the case of strategy or policy objectives could not be achieved. However, they should not do ways and ends in terms Grand strategy. This is because it would place primary power of setting political policy (ends) in the hands of Generals and out of the political hands authorised by our elective democracy.

    Note: I will do A Google search for a model answer and post if I find one.

    I Found the following references useful:

    Carl Von Clausewitz on War. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Eds. And trans (Princeton: Princeton Up 1984)

    Owen William F. Modern Errors in Discussions on strategy,” Infinity Journal, Volume 5, Issue 4. Summer 2017 pages 37-39

    Milevski Lukas, “can grand strategy be mastered,” Infinity Journal, Volume 5, Issue 4. Summer 2017 pages 33-36

    The Infinity Journal is free at Links | Infinity Journal | Strategy | Analysis but you must register
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2017
  14. But can you answer the Question that was set ?
    Should politicians do "ways" and should generals do "ends"
  15. Well, he did post his reply a year ago...

    It's always worth checking dates when reading threads... joining on Thursday, then dishing out the "Dislike" button by the following Monday, is hardly going to mark you as the reasoned and intelligent debater.