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Joint Force Quarterly 81 (2nd Quarter, April 2016)

Executive Summary

By William T. Eliason | Joint Force Quarterly 81 | March 29, 2016

In a previous career, I was a strategic- and operational-level planner. One of the many quotations I learned early on was from one of World War II’s great leaders who himself was an effective staff officer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Speaking at a gathering of American business leaders well into his second term as President, Ike related a story about a group of officers who were working out how to employ large formations before the Great War broke out. These officers were using maps of the central terrain in Europe, but their superiors at Leavenworth told them to use maps with more familiar U.S. terrain including Gettysburg and other Civil War venues. It seems that planning for the last war is not something new. Unknowingly, the planners’ first intuition to use European battlegrounds was correct; a few years later the maps selected were dead center on the battlefields of 1914–1918, but in Ike’s view, the skills they developed in the planning effort were more important than the plans they produced. He felt so strongly about the value of the planning process that he told these industrialists, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ‘emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning” (remarks at the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference, November 14, 1957). Later, as a planner, I told my teammates that planners learn to plan, and then plan to plan again. Nothing was ever fixed because a plan was only a reflection of the information available at the time. The key to success was how well planners learned from their experiences. This constant renewing is essential for developing the minds of those involved than whether the plan would be useful.

President Kennedy, President Eisenhower, and military aides at Camp David, Maryland, April 22, 1961 (Robert L. Knudsen/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

President Kennedy, President Eisenhower, and military aides at Camp David, Maryland, April 22, 1961 (Robert L. Knudsen/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

For me, teaching the next generation of leaders in the national security world has served to reinforce Ike’s wisdom. Planners plan and then plan again. Then, when a crisis hits, the plan is only as good as the capabilities available and the minds of those charged with figuring out how to adapt. Throwing the plan out and starting over is certainly an option. Sometimes not having a plan yields a better solution. But the more I teach students to think critically—a core capability of any planner or leader in my view—the more I realize the value of any effort is more dependent on how people use their minds than any tactic, technique, or weapon they may call on. After all, smart weapons are only as good as the people who wield them.

From Sun Tzu to John Boyd, from Clausewitz to Ike, all the greats affirmed the value of educated people in dealing with the expected and the unexpected. Feeling underexperienced as a planner or needing some new ideas on how to deal with uncertainty of the future? A good place to help your own personal planning for the future is right here in these pages. We offer you some valuable ingredients for your planning in this and every Joint Force Quarterly.

Thinking, planning, and acting at the strategic level are the central themes of any war college curriculum, and this edition’s Forum provides a wealth of discussions worthy of consideration for strategists and students of strategy alike. Our first article by James Stavridis, Ervin Rokke, and Terry Pierce investigates the connections between the profession of arms and how military leaders seek to develop and achieve the effects desired in the modern battlespace. Helping us navigate the difficult terrain between our ears, Celestino Perez, Jr., warns us about the biases that strategic thinkers are prone to exhibit and provides a number of useful suggestions on how to combat them. As I emphasized above, the key to the military’s ability to develop useful plans are the officers charged with making them. In researching how the military Services develop strategists, M.M. Polski offers a close look at what success the Services have had in this effort. Daniel McCauley next helps us focus on strategic thinking as the key to the development of the next generation of strategic leaders. Virtually every study and article on how to deal with the threats we face today mention the need to be agile, but few have fully connected the dots between theory and practice as Charles Jacoby, Jr., and Ryan Shaw do for us in this issue.

JPME Today continues to attract a wealth of ideas from, for, and about the learners engaged in our schoolhouses, both students and faculty. A team of graduates from the Joint Forces Staff College, Case Cunningham, Patrick Donahoe, Mike Jernigan, and Michael Riggins, gives us a close assessment of today’s jointness and how to sustain it (which is very timely given the approach of the 30th anniversary of Goldwater-Nichols). From the U.S. Army War College, Charles Allen and Edward Filiberti offer some thoughts on how our war colleges are evolving. In what is probably one of the most eye-opening articles I have seen in recent years, Matthew Cancian discusses the uncomfortable truth and implications of a steady drop in the quality of our youngest military officers. (Spoiler alert, more education will be required, not less.)

In Commentary, in what is a first for a military journal, Ross Lightsey chronicles the success of the joint task force assigned to help combat the spread of the Ebola virus in 2014–2015. Key to that operation’s success was the way the military response helped integrate the many governmental and nongovernmental organizations involved, a model Lightsey finds plausible for future similar operations. As our joint force shrinks, one way that leadership can figure out how to meet mission, Paul Kingsbury believes, is to better use the frontline abilities of senior enlisted leaders who directly influence our troops.

Our Features section offers a range of ideas that both acknowledges where we have been and suggests better ways to get where the joint force needs to go. Always looking into the space between military operations and technological change, T.X. Hammes warns us of the potential for significant threats to our major weapon systems from increasingly easy to obtain technologies. Seeing a requirement for a new organizational structure requirement based on recent partner-nation engagements, Kevin Stringer suggests that the Defense Department field a Joint Military Advisory Command to better deal with this growing area of operations. As Europe’s security situation begins to show signs of stress on the NATO Alliance, Christopher Lamb and Susan Stipanovich offer a case study from the Balkans on how to address the growing problem of hybrid warfare. Highlighting another lingering problem from our recent counterinsurgency experiences, Patrick Donley offers his insights on how to build the economic pillar needed to achieve success. As money for defense spending remains tight, James Hasik believes the key to Defense Department entrepreneurship is found in building up the military’s internal institutions that promote innovation.

In Recall, David Winkler reflects on jointness as reported in our military histories, which tend to be Service-centric in his view. We also bring you three important book reviews and two interesting articles that accompany the Joint Doctrine Update. First, our friends at the Joint Staff and other agencies complete their three-part series on interorganizational cooperation with a look at the joint force perspective. Next, investigating the doctrine on force protection, Richard Berkebile discusses his views on ways it could be improved.

So if planning is a constant and many of you are involved in figuring out how to deal with the future you face, we hope this edition of JFQ provides you with some new inputs to your process. As always, we would like to hear from you as you work through your planning cycle and continue to add to your personal planning “software.” Given Ike’s trajectory from staff officer to President and all he achieved along the way, it would seem good planning does produce great leaders. JFQ

William T. Eliason
Editor in Chief