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Joint Force Quarterly 101 (2nd Quarter, April 2021)
By NDU Press | March 31, 2021

Joint Force Quarterly 101
Joint Force Quarterly 101
Joint Force Quarterly 101
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 210331-D-BD104-029

An early conversation I had with Admiral Mike Mullen just after becoming the Editor in Chief of Joint Force Quarterly centered on a crucial request: “Bill, I need you to make sure I can read what our next generation of senior leaders are thinking about, what matters to them. At my level, it is very hard to hear what they have to say.” It is important to note that every Chairman, beginning with General Colin Powell in 1993, has encouraged in JFQ a range of topics they may not necessarily agree with, yet nonetheless state they need to read these ideas. With the words of General Powell and Admiral Mullen as guidance, our team has constantly sought out the best ideas and the best way to communicate them to you. While we have been successful over the past 100 issues, we must continue to remain focused on what you need us to be: the voice of the joint force.

In JFQ 1, General Powell wrote, “Don’t read the pages that follow if you are looking for the establishment point of view or the conventional wisdom. Pick up JFQ for controversy, debate, new ideas, and fresh insights—for the cool yet lively interplay among some of the finest minds committed to the profession of arms.” After 100 issues, this continues to be our informal mission statement.

While you will find many articles that reinforce the military status quo, our authors and readers have done their best over the years to sound off on what they see as the “facts on the ground,” which often clash with conventional wisdom. Success in furthering any profession comes from seeking to do better than was done in the past, through careful examination, debate, and refinement of arguments and facts, ultimately leading to revising and renewing techniques, tactics, procedures, process, policies, and doctrine. A constantly evolving and ever-changing environment moved forward by people and ideas, both good and bad, which are seen through the lens of time.

Journals like JFQ allow our rising leaders to express themselves in a way that is often not available any other way up the chain of command. Military journals continue to help move the profession of arms forward in ways that rapid-fire, light-speed mediums cannot. And it is hard to say what will endure in this instant gratification, 24/7 news cycle, Twitter-driven world. We should not abandon our more traditional means to read, process information, and make lasting decisions on important issues. Industry data show that despite the promise of paperless offices and e-readers wiping out traditional print media, readers of all ages, and especially “digital natives” under 35, continue to use both, and for different purposes. Digital natives still read physical magazines and books to gain the deeper learning experience those media provide. Electronic media is proving to be useful for quick bursts of information that may be interesting, but not something the reader needs to hold in long-term memory or study as one would for an academic examination. In print, you do not have the distractions that accompany an online experience, but we are there as well for those who need to have Google or Twitter at the ready.

As we begin the first of our next one hundred issues, our Forum offers four important views on current national security issues: defense of the homeland, military planning, diversity inclusion, and gray zone conflicts. Discussing military issues in defending the homeland, the commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Air Defense Command, Glen D. VanHerck, gives us a tour of his unique responsibilities. To improve military planning, Daniel Rauch and Matthew Tackett offer their ideas on using design thinking to enhance our chances of developing better operational and strategic choices. Long a subject of strong opinions, Monica Dziubinski Gramling and Warren Korban Blackburn provide their research results about the impact of integration of women in the military profession. While the focus has been on peer competition in recent years, Heather Bothwell helps us do a better job dealing with the “in between” or gray zone conflicts that have become endemic these days.

JPME Today has two excellent articles that discuss leadership, long a valuable and lasting conversation from our JFQ authors. The military has often incorporated business lexicon into its concepts, and with interesting results. Helping those in leadership positions understand who “gets a vote” and why they matter, Alexander Carter discusses the ways to learn about how best to manage one’s mission stakeholders. As military officers rise up in responsibilities, so do temptations to do the wrong thing, potentially damaging a career and more importantly risking the lives of those they lead. For those of you in the field grades, long our target demographic, Clinton Longenecker and James Shufelt have some practical advice to keep you on the right path to success.

Looking for a lively debate? In Commentary, classic operational to strategic reporting on wars we have fought has been hard to come by. There are a few notable exceptions, such as the research of one of our veteran JFQ authors, Benjamin Lambeth, who brings us his view on how the initial war against the so-called Islamic State was fought.

Planners know the universal truth of planning: you always have to plan for areas you do not have the expertise to do properly. In Features, we offer a great selection of articles on medical force issues, strategic logistics, and a look inside the Iranian national command during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Mixing operational art and medical force structure considerations, Joseph Caravalho, Jr., and Enrique Ortiz, Jr., discuss how best to meet that challenge. A team of researchers from the Netherlands, Paul Christian van Fenema, Ton van Kampen, Gerold de Gooijer, Nynke Faber, Harm Hendriks, Andre Hoogstrate, and Loe Schlicher, offers their views on how advance innovation in strategic logistics in the military. Helping us to look more deeply into Iranian strategy in one of the longer and more horrific wars of the Middle East in modern times, Spencer Lawrence French breaks down their national security strategy from 1983 to 1987.

In Recall, Justin Lynch furthers our understanding of how the Great War of 1914–1918 can still provide lessons on the importance of adaptation for today’s joint force. In Joint Doctrine, George Katsos returns with his views on how the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been influenced by U.S. joint doctrine development. As always, we offer three excellent book reviews and the Joint Doctrine Update.

In 1993, General Powell encouraged members of the joint force to “Read JFQ. Study it. Mark it up—underline and write in the margins. Get mad. Then contribute your own views.” What do you think? How do you read JFQ? How can we make it better suited to the world you find yourself in? We are soon posting up a way for you to provide us more feedback. Watch this space. In the meantime, read on!

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NDU Press produces Joint Force Quarterly in concert with ongoing education and research at National Defense University in support of the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. JFQ is the Chairman's joint military and security studies journal designed to inform and educate national security professionals on joint and integrated operations; whole of government contributions to national security policy and strategy; homeland security; and developments in training and joint military education to better equip America's military and security apparatus to meet tomorrow's challenges while protecting freedom today.

Joint Doctrine Update
By The Joint Staff | March 31, 2021

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Joint Publications (JPs) Under Revision (to be signed within 6 months)

JP 1-0, Personnel Support

JP 2-0, Joint Intelligence

JP 3-0, Joint Operations

JP 3-03, Joint Interdiction

JP 3-07, Joint Stability

JP 3-XX, Information


JPs Revised (signed within last 6 months)

JP 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, Volumes 1 and 2

JP 3-05, Special Operations

JP 3-26, Combating Terrorism

JP 3-36, Joint Air Mobility and Sealift Operations

JP 3-72, Joint Nuclear Operations

JP 3-85, Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations

JP 5-0, Joint Planning

U.S. Joint Doctrine Development and Influence on NATO
By George E. Katsos | March 31, 2021

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Colonel George E. Katsos, USAR (Ret.), is a Program Manager on the Joint Staff.

Waterborne Romanian troops prepare to move
across Danube River as part of U.S.-led exercise
Saber Guardian 2017, in Romania, July 17, 2017
(Courtesy NATOChannel, Jack Somerville)
Waterborne Romanian troops prepare to move across Danube River as part of U.S.-led exercise Saber Guardian 2017, in Romania, July 17, 2017 (Courtesy NATOChannel, Jack Somerville)
Waterborne Romanian troops prepare to move
across Danube River as part of U.S.-led exercise
Saber Guardian 2017, in Romania, July 17, 2017
(Courtesy NATOChannel, Jack Somerville)
Waterborne Romanian troops prepare to move across Danube River as part of U.S.-led exercise Saber Guardian 2017, in Romania, July 17, 2017 (Courtesy NATOChannel, Jack Somerville)
Waterborne Romanian troops prepare to move across Danube River as part of U.S.-led exercise Saber Guardian 2017, in Romania, July 17, 2017 (Courtesy NATOChannel, Jack Somerville)
Photo By: Jack Somerville
VIRIN: 210331-D-PN951-008

Those possessed of a definite body of doctrine and of deeply rooted convictions will be in a much better position to deal with the shifts and surprises of daily affairs.

—Sir Winston Churchill

Joint doctrine captures and socializes fundamental principles that guide the Armed Forces in campaign activities and military operations. Moreover, its content forms the foundation for assisting partnerships such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in its implementation of collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security activities. Joint doctrine’s importance is so influential that NATO modeled its own allied joint doctrine development system after it. While the library of U.S. joint publications (JPs) continues to be a steadfast repository of information, joint doctrine’s Achilles’s heel is its inability to reflect changes quickly enough to optimally serve today’s generation of warfighters that is actively implementing policy. As such, it cannot drive rapid systemic changes in the NATO system. This article examines how the U.S. system is becoming more responsive to change and could influence NATO more quickly.

Military advice can often be conflicting unless coming from the same school of thought.1 In 1985, a Senate Armed Services Committee staff report identified poorly developed joint doctrine as one of the symptoms of inadequate unified military advice.2 Joint doctrine’s purpose is to provide a common framework that U.S. military leaders refer to when providing advice to civilian counterparts and leaders. As a result of that report, at least in part, the following year Congress issued legislation that vested overall responsibility for U.S. joint doctrine development in a single individual—the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS).3 Shortly after, the Chairman placed joint doctrine and terminology standardization responsibilities in the Joint Staff J7. Over the next few decades, the joint doctrine development system brought together some of the brightest minds in the Department of Defense (DOD) to build a common foundation for the modern era of joint doctrine.

Joint doctrine is official advice and should be followed unless a commander determines otherwise. However, joint doctrine offers much more than guiding mission success; it informs DOD and allied personnel on joint warfighting capability improvements, senior civilian leadership on approaches to military workforce employment, and non-DOD and non–U.S. Government personnel on how the U.S. military perceives and interacts with their organizations.4

A recently published document by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) states that the U.S. military workforce requires leaders at all levels who can achieve intellectual overmatch against adversaries.5 In the face of new geopolitical realities, expanding warfighting domains, emerging technical capabilities, and accumulating resource constraints, reflections on these issues are already challenging the doctrinal status quo.6 From global integration to the competition continuum to creating a new military Service or adding members to the JCS, it is important that joint doctrine navigates leaders and readers away from outdated approaches that may not allow military workforces to adapt quickly enough. New challenges and anticipation of them—whether impacting cooperation or stemming from adversarial competition or conflict—are occurring faster and with less warning from more directions simultaneously and with far greater precision, lethality, and disruption than ever before.7 While joint doctrine has served the United States and supported NATO efforts well in the past, its system must constantly be reassessed as to whether it is agile or responsive enough to meet the challenges presented by external factors that now drive change.8

In the past 30 years, the process of the U.S. joint doctrine development system is often described as a consensus-driven function that links together a capstone, keystone, and subordinate JP pyramid hierarchy based on traditional Joint Staff directorate lines of responsibility (J1, J2, J3, and so forth) through vertical and horizontal alignment. This system continues to survive waves of expansion, contraction, and reorganization.9 The NATO system was originally structured on the U.S. model. It bins allied joint publications (AJPs) content in three categories: Level 1, capstone/keystone; Level 2, functional area publications that make up the AJP library; and Level 3, lower level publications. Both U.S. and NATO publications are developed within a consensus-based system.

The issue with a consensus-based system is that it usually drives to the lowest common denominator of agreement and is often seen as one interest group rolling another or the development of content watered down, losing original intent.10 For the topics of library expansion and contraction, the iterative challenge is whether one process automatically course-corrects the other or whether correction has to happen with brute force. For library reorganization, the balance is fought between necessity and political will. Other challenges include the interpretation and separation of broad policy direction versus strict joint doctrine guidance, the expectations of individual subject matter experts versus enterprise gatekeepers (doctrineers and terminologists), and military Service capability relevance in the face of joint force integration.11

In order to be adaptable and better support allies, the U.S. joint doctrine community must refine its policies and streamline its procedures to address these and other challenges and overcome status quo tendencies. To reinforce both Alliance purpose and unity, the United States agrees to abide by certain NATO policies and procedures and participates in the allied joint doctrine development process. The following groupings provide an overview of U.S. and NATO systems and processes as well as potential efficiencies.

Twentieth-Century Growth (1905–1991)

U.S. doctrine can be traced back to the Civil War, but formal U.S. doctrine comes into focus in 1905 with the publication of Field Service Regulations (FSRs).12 (European history also contains many individual doctrine writings, most from military scholars from the 18th century onward.) U.S. origins stem from the early 1920s Army and Navy joint action in pursuit of coordination during operations.13 In 1939, FSRs were superseded by U.S. Army field manuals. During World War II, the Army developed its first military dictionary to improve interoperability among military Services and allies. In 1948, that document transformed into the first U.S. joint dictionary.14 After World War II, Service-driven doctrine became the backbone for 29 JCS publications guided by joint action policy.15 While the nomenclature system was at best random, the JCS publication footprint and subsequent 1959 guidance on united Armed Forces action policy informed the modern 1991 JP library structure. Through this period, the Services were still given wide latitude in JP development responsibilities. While NATO early on had communications, technical, and other publications, in 1958 it also developed its first official glossary of NATO terms and definitions subsequently published in the 1959 U.S. dictionary of military terms, further strengthening the foundation of cooperation between entities.16

Croatian soldiers discuss logistics during Immediate Response 19, co-led by Croatian armed forces, Slovenian armed forces, and U.S. Army Europe, in Croatia, May 27, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Croatian soldiers discuss logistics during Immediate Response 19, co-led by Croatian armed forces, Slovenian armed forces, and U.S. Army Europe, in Croatia, May 27, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Croatian soldiers discuss logistics during Immediate Response 19, co-led by Croatian armed forces, Slovenian armed forces, and U.S. Army Europe, in Croatia, May 27, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Croatian soldiers discuss logistics during Immediate Response 19, co-led by Croatian armed forces, Slovenian armed forces, and U.S. Army Europe, in Croatia, May 27, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Croatian soldiers discuss logistics during Immediate Response 19, co-led by Croatian armed forces, Slovenian armed forces, and U.S. Army Europe, in Croatia, May 27, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Photo By: George E. Katsos
VIRIN: 210331-D-PN951-009

Post–Cold War (1991–2000)

Before the 1986 National Defense Authorization Act, there was no individual responsible for U.S. joint doctrine development. There was no standard process for initiating, coordinating, approving, or revising joint doctrine. Moreover, there was no requirement for congruity between joint and Service doctrine, nor was the difference between joint and Service doctrine clear. Significantly, there was no mechanism that incorporated the expertise and knowledge that commanders were expected to use. In addition, the joint doctrine development system had no means of either identifying or addressing doctrinal voids.

Joint doctrine was also published without formal evaluation. Initially with approximately 58 JPs in 1988, development continued; however, command staffers years later found it difficult to maneuver through joint doctrine’s 120-plus approved and emerging JP titles. In essence, readers did not know where to start or what they needed to know.17 NATO’s development policies and architecture formulated in the mid-1990s had approximately 35 AJPs and were built and based on the U.S. model.18

At one joint doctrine semiannual conference, General John Shalikashvili personally addressed the U.S joint doctrine community and certain NATO attendees about the joint doctrine development system and process being stovepiped, time development horizons too elongated, and library subject matter unorganized (and of lesser quality and consistent content).19 Compared to previous practices, the Chairman was now solely responsible for joint doctrine development and, through the J7-managed development system, refined its process and established new definitions, procedures, processes, and structures along with refining key positions (that is, lead agent, primary review authority, JCS doctrine sponsor, coordinating and technical review authorities).20 Moreover, not only did J7 lead the effort to organize the joint doctrine library structure, but it also spearheaded ongoing JP consolidation and creation. This change brought structural logic to the joint doctrine library under traditional JCS directorate lines of responsibility, while new JPs filled joint doctrine gaps in support of joint operations.

Additionally, combatant command involvement was now mandatory, and the 5-year JP revision cycle required content consistency within and without revised JPs. As such, the J7 began to exercise a more assertive role to include JCS directorate involvement and to keep them active in the process while the Services adhered to the primacy of joint doctrine.21 Overall, actions taken between 1991 and 2000 got the U.S. joint doctrine house in order.

For allied joint doctrine development, the J7 Joint Education and Doctrine Division was responsible for ratifying Levels 1 and 2 AJPs for the United States. The J7 also ensured U.S. joint doctrine was used as the initial basis for U.S. inputs during NATO Levels 1 and 2 AJP staffings and worked with multinational partners and U.S. representatives to minimize impacts of variances between the United States and NATO. Other DOD entities were responsible for Level 3 allied publication ratification. The J7 also acted as the U.S. Head of Delegation for allied joint doctrine and terminology standardization purposes at the NATO Military Committee Terminology Board and Allied Joint Doctrine (AJOD) working group. NATO foreign liaison and exchange officers on the Joint Staff also attended and briefed at the semiannual joint doctrine planners conference, thereby staying informed of U.S. military workforce challenges and improvements and using lessons learned to improve their own allied joint doctrine development system.

9/11 (2001–2010)

On September 10, 2001, the Joint Staff J7 published JP 3-0, Joint Operations, and the Joint Doctrine Capstone and Keystone Primer.22 Linked to existing strategic guidance and the primacy of traditional approaches to warfare (violence used to dominate opponents), the very next day these two documents became obsolete in the preparation for conflict with state and nonstate actors and their irregular approaches to offsetting dominant opponent advantages. The response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the subsequent second conflict with Iraq, generated a strategic shift in policymaking that overcame a nonexistent National Defense Strategy (published in 2005) and an out-of-date National Military Strategy (published in 1997 and replaced in 2004).23 While strategic guidance took its time to arrive, so did its impact on joint doctrine.

The U.S. joint doctrine library retained its hierarchy with a capstone JP underpinned by six keystone JPs supported by a subsequent layer of subject matter JPs. Changes to joint doctrine’s keystone layer of JPs were slow to appear, based on traditional versus irregular content after 9/11, as the joint force awaited senior-level policy guidance. A reissuance of JP 1-0, Joint Personnel Support, took almost 5 years; JP 2-0, Joint Intelligence, almost 7 years; JP 3-0, 5 years; JP 4-0, Joint Logistics, 6 years; JP 5-0, Joint Planning, 5 years after 9/11 and over 2 years after the planned invasion of Iraq; and JP 6-0, Communication Systems, over 4 years. Most concerning, however, was that joint doctrine’s capstone document, JP 1, Doctrine of the Armed Forces of the United States, took years to be reissued, waiting for National Defense Strategy and National Military Strategy direction and publication. Regardless of national limitations in strategy formulation, the aforementioned senior-level JPs were what U.S. military planners and operators went to war with both in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).

NATO’s joint doctrine development system began similar to the U.S. one but has significant differences that influenced its evolution. One difference is that NATO manages voting participation from individual nations with their political influences compared to the U.S. system managing DOD voting organizations (combatant commands, military Services). Another is that NATO allows its military committees to formulate and catalogue both doctrine and policy terminology, while the United States eventually halted that practice and generated criteria for joint doctrine terminology primarily from JPs.

For the U.S. process, joint doctrine development managed the JP life cycle adequately, but with multiple draft benchmarks, many JP dates did climb well beyond the 5-year threshold. Joint doctrine revision and production time horizons were so long and slow that there was a demand to send out draft joint doctrine to push updated information to the warfighter quicker. The NATO process was similar in time and steps. To address revision practices and library expansion, the U.S. joint doctrine enterprise not only refined procedures but also embarked on its second consolidation effort to reset the JP library structure by decreasing it by over 33 percent. This reset was similar to the first organization—forced by circumstance, but with J7 now advocating for top-down driven approaches both to protect resources and for its process to be more responsive to change and to the warfighter.24 To further expedite joint doctrine development, a test publication process was refined that became a vehicle for field-testing validated joint concepts.

Both U.S. and NATO processes provided more opportunities for individual publication consolidation and quick revision. While these processes were born 10 years apart and the models operated similarly, there was a year-and-a-half lag time for NATO to capture related changes made in the U.S. system. Moreover, a joint doctrine survey to the joint force revealed the size of, and impact to, full-time staffs and government billets dedicated to joint doctrine development. This survey opened the aperture for future discussions on what and how much product the joint doctrine development community should or could focus on. Additionally, the irregular warfare construct finally began to make its way down from policy into filling voids in joint doctrine.25

While J7 socialized more top-down changes, community consensus limited progress. Efforts did bear fruit, however, with the standardization of military terminology. As an ever-expanding doctrinal dictionary was impacted by policy term infiltration from DOD directives and NATO proposals, this lack of clarity in and protection of the DOD dictionary added much confusion as to who was in control of the language that U.S. military forces used to communicate with each other.26 As a result, the dictionary changed focus to reflect well-vetted JP glossary doctrinal terms with acceptance of senior-level policy terms that filled temporary gaps in joint doctrine development. While the strategic surprise in this era of the 9/11 attacks showed how slow the joint doctrine development process and system were to change, the example of exercising a top-down approach with terminology cascaded into subsequent reform efforts in joint doctrine formulation.27

For organizational purposes, U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) stood up in 2007 and became a part of the joint doctrine development community. As more U.S. military support activities occurred on the continent, USAFRICOM’s area of responsibility brought new perspectives on doctrinal gaps relating to civilian populations on the move from natural and manmade threats.28 NATO also created bilateral strategic commands. In support, the U.S. European Command commander served as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and the U.S. Joint Forces Command commander served as the Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation (SACT), with command over force development activities including doctrine development and NATO’s centers of excellence.29 Additionally, former Warsaw Pact nations began to join NATO, increasing the numbers of allied joint doctrine voting members, and France rejoined NATO’s integrated military command structure.

The Next Decade of War (2011–2020)

The publication of the titles Decade of War and Lessons Encountered exposed that military forces and leaders had to change their approaches to working with civilian-led organizations.30 While the incline was real, some writers credited the joint doctrine enterprise with being one of two remaining U.S. Government Beltway entities that consistently reached out to cooperate with civilian-led organizations on whole-of-government efforts. Richard Hooker and Joseph Collins wrote, “Unfortunately, emphasis on working whole-of-government issues is fading across the U.S. Government, except in the field of joint concept and doctrine development.”31 Furthermore, J7 addressed previous reports on the lack of interoperability with interagency stakeholders by cooperating with them to build the first Joint Guide for Interagency Doctrine. Released in 2019, the guide expanded on current knowledge and assisted in the strategic art of navigating government bureaucracy to make workforces collaborate more efficiently in pursuing national policy objectives. Additionally, J7 formulated an annual call process that many of these civilian-led organizations now have as a direct link to the highest levels of the U.S. military for the first time through the joint doctrine development process.32 In this process, interoperability improved between workforces through input on joint doctrine assessments and draft JPs that reflect organizational perspectives and interaction that put civilian organization perspectives in front of senior military leaders and warfighters.

In pursuit of resource efficiencies, some progress in reorganizing JP content to the warfighter was stunted by support for, and translation of, outdated restrictions and policies. In turn, J7 adopted a more assertive top-down approach to joint doctrine development under a senior-level initiative termed Adaptive Doctrine. Under Adaptive Doctrine, J7 instituted a more agile process to optimize the JP library in becoming more adaptable and flexible in organization as well as meeting joint force demands to best support joint operations and not be overrun by individual communities of interest. The J7 reduced its library 15 percent over the last 2 years.

Annually, JPs are now selected for revision by the joint doctrine development community based on necessity and importance. This approach removed the traditional 5-year JP time horizon revision cycle. With an annual master priority list and new single draft system, changes streamlined the revision process, putting JPs that fell under annual cut lines and those with similar content to other JPs as well as others with older dates under more scrutiny.

For library reset purposes, J7 split its capstone JP into two volumes, an evolving one that reflects senior-level guidance and a static one that is concerned with theory and foundations. JP 3-0 continued its vertical alignment with JP 1, but now other keystones align horizontally with JP 3-0 to best support it. The primacy of individual keystones now reinforces subsequent vertical alignment. Library organization now has reinforced logic and can support top-down directed policy insertion placement. Procedures now support updating doctrinal expertise from multiple sources into a specific JP with a one-time horizon. Under Adaptive Doctrine and new business rules, the United States cut 8 to 10 months off staffing timelines, removed lower level staffing that subsequently emphasized 06/planner-level involvement, and supported one product per routine revision in 12.5 months with the development stage as well as more streamlined U.S. staffing efforts on NATO Levels 1 and 2 publications without losing quality.

While some challenges persist, progress was made on issues that existed in the previous decades. J7 initiated joint doctrine notes to encourage still emerging ideas. Standardized terminology and the DOD dictionary received more protection from policy term infiltration by housing it as an appendix in the CJCS-signed JP 1. Consolidation and top-down action reversed hierarchy structural erosion that made keystones weaker than subsequent hierarchical JPs. Campaign schedule and plan efficiencies countered sequestration and resource constraints. Strategic guidance and countering adversarial practices content were captured faster through change processes, top-down driven actions, and mid-year schedule and plan corrections. Furthermore, library reset put in motion the system’s third consolidation effort via top-down guidance, but this time with an automatic 5-year reset disclaimer that protects the joint doctrine development community from future burdensome practices, driving the community toward evolution and away from permanent stasis and automatic expansion.33

Since 2011, NATO’s AJP library has increased 23 percent. NATO’s routine development stage estimate timeline is now 8 months longer than the recently shortened U.S. model with more staffing products. This divergence not only affects national resources in both systems but also brings to light the opportunity for efficiencies. The best example is that the United States began the process of combining content from five standing JPs on joint intelligence under one JP with a single time revision horizon. NATO, however, remains at 10 Levels 1 and 2 joint intelligence–related AJPs with 10 different time revision horizons to update the complete joint intelligence doctrinal footprint. Additionally, multiple drafts push off senior officer input until the end of the process. The number of custodians, revisions, and ratification commitments of intelligence AJPs and other sources should generate reassessment of national resource commitments to non-U.S. efforts. NATO has also expanded its membership to 30 nations, all with voting rights in allied joint doctrine development.

For military organizational structure, the doctrine development community added the National Guard Bureau, U.S. Cyber Command, U.S. Space Command, and U.S. Space Force as voting members. U.S. Joint Forces Command was disbanded in 2013 and NATO’s SACT responsibilities transferred to a French general officer. Joint Warfighting Center doctrine personnel now fall under the Joint Staff J7 Joint Education and Doctrine Division. The DOD Terminology Program reformed and implemented new policy that streamlined 75 percent of the DOD dictionary content and encouraged the U.S. Government to build and publish its own compendium of interagency terms.34 Furthermore, program managers for both DOD terminology and allied joint doctrine development assist in senior-level guidance and influence efficiencies and resource protection.

Soldier from North Macedonia in full “ghillie suit” camouflage during Immediate Response 19, in Croatia, May 29, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Soldier from North Macedonia in full “ghillie suit” camouflage during Immediate Response 19, in Croatia, May 29, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Soldier from North Macedonia in full “ghillie suit” camouflage during Immediate Response 19, in Croatia, May 29, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Soldier from North Macedonia in full “ghillie suit” camouflage during Immediate Response 19, in Croatia, May 29, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Soldier from North Macedonia in full “ghillie suit” camouflage during Immediate Response 19, in Croatia, May 29, 2019 (Courtesy NATO)
Photo By: George E. Katsos
VIRIN: 210331-D-PN951-010

Top-Down Approach

U.S. and NATO joint doctrine system and process challenges are not isolated. Other areas, such as U.S. policy, strategy, and plan formulation, face similar impediments to becoming more agile and innovative in the face of today’s complex threats. Former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy testified to Congress about defense policy formulation becoming a “bottom-up staff exercise [that] includes hundreds of participants and consumes many thousands of man-hours, rather than a top-down leadership exercise that sets clear priorities, makes hard choices, and allocates risk.” The late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) stated:

development . . . in DOD has become paralyzed by an excessive pursuit of concurrence or consensus. . . . Innovative ideas that challenge the status quo rarely seem to survive the staffing process as they make their long journey to senior civilian and military leaders. Instead, what results too often seems to be watered-down, lowest common denominator thinking that is acceptable to all relevant stakeholders precisely because it is threatening to none of them.35

While U.S. systems face procedural challenges in the speed of decisionmaking and content dissemination, a top-down approach could further explore and forcefully emplace improved organizational results.

U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, stands watch during cold weather training in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/William Chockey)
U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, stands watch during cold weather training in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/William Chockey)
U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, stands watch during cold weather training in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/William Chockey)
U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, stands watch during cold weather training in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/William Chockey)
U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, stands watch during cold weather training in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020 (U.S. Marine Corps/William Chockey)
Photo By: George E. Katsos
VIRIN: 210331-D-PN951-011

Next 30 Years

Given the last decade, it is important to continue capturing and formulating content on adversarial approaches and competitor influences and how military force is applied, whether tied to conflict or not.36 In order to further reduce and eliminate policy and process imperfections, the new 5120 Series CJCS Instruction and Manual will establish a more explicit top-down approach that sets boundaries for the Joint Staff to be more assertive in managing change. The policies will empower process owners to consolidate or cancel publications at any stage of the JP life cycle, better navigate the process of updating like-minded information simultaneously, and save the joint doctrine community thousands of hours and free hundreds of thousands of man-hours for other priorities in joint doctrine development. Conservative estimates show that a routine full JP revision cycle costs approximately $300,000 ($100,000 per full revision of NATO AJP) and 8,000 man-hours (2,000 man-hours and 500 custodian hours per full revision of NATO AJP). Per the old 5-year JP cycle, documents lined up in a queue regardless of topic. Now, communities can commit their expectations and resources toward topics of necessity and importance.

A new committed approach to consolidation and library reset could update the full library in 3 years or less. Moreover, joint doctrine was disseminated as hard copies. Distribution went from mailing copies to compact disc management and then to Web page access and downloading. Looking toward the future, more U.S. joint doctrine will be considered sensitive and protectable behind firewalls with limited access.

For NATO, there is a huge efficiency in allied joint doctrine gained using the new U.S. JP 2-0 as a strawman for intelligence allied joint doctrine reorganization. NATO could also explore moving away from its 30 voters, at least in the AJOD, and move toward strategic and subordinate commands as voters to remove barriers. U.S. and NATO challenges to be aware of and navigate are strict U.S criteria-based terminology approaches that at times run into being subordinate to international laws and agreements, U.S. enterprise proposals compared to NATO standardization and national influences, and the capacity of U.S. support versus sustainable maintenance, especially within identified burdensome work practices.37 In this, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation and Military Committee Joint Standardization Board could strengthen the AJOD’s role as the chief operations officer of allied joint doctrine development by driving top-down approaches to change library organization, policy and process formulation, standard agreement streamlining, and system implementation to effect real change in pursuit of a successful comprehensive approach. Furthermore, there must be an understanding that national resource commitments must be reviewed in light of resource constraints.

In totality, the U.S. joint doctrine development system is entering a third 30-year time period for library reset (1959, 1991, 2020). Joint Staff J7, with new policies and a vision for the future, will be better positioned to generate more practical decisions and informed recommendations to leadership, provide a quicker response to policy guidance demands, harmonize with allies such as NATO, and present a more organized and logical joint doctrine library to warfighters to best support joint operations. JFQ


1 Dudley W. Knox, “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 41, no. 2 (March–April 1915), 325–354, available at <>.

2 Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Defense Organization: The Need to Change, Staff Report, 99th Cong., 1st sess., Committee Print (S Prt 99-86), October 16, 1985, 163–165.

3 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, Pub.L. 99-433, 99th Cong., H.R. 3622, October 1, 1986, available at <>.

4 Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr., and Thomas-Durell Young, “Joint Doctrine Development: Overcoming a Legacy,” Joint Force Quarterly 14 (Winter 1996–1997), 94–100.

5 Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War: The Joint Chiefs of Staff Vision and Guidance for Professional Military Education & Talent Management (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, May 2020), available at <>.

6 Gidget Fuentes, “INDO-PACOM Commander: New Warfighting Concept Requires More Joint Training, Ranges to Prep for Tougher Fights,” USNI News, March 4, 2020, available at <>.

7 Linton Wells II, Theodore C. Hailes, and Michael C. Davies, Changing Mindsets to Transform Security: Leader Development for an Unpredictable and Complex World (Washington, DC: Center for Technology and National Security Policy, 2013), 167, 225–226, available at <>.

8 Ibid., 167.

9 “Joint Doctrine Hierarchy Chart,” Joint Electronic Library, available at <>.

10 William F. Furr, “Joint Doctrine: Progress, Prospects, and Problems,” Airpower Journal 5, no. 3 (Fall 1991), 39, available at <>.

11 George E. Katsos, “DOD/JDD Programs Brief—Allied, Terminology, Interagency,” 64th Joint Doctrine Planning Conference, November 6, 2019.

12 Francis Lieber, Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, Originally Issued as General Orders 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1898), available at <>; War Department, Field Service Regulations, United States Army: 1914; Text Corrections to February 4, 1916, Changes No. 4 (New York: Army and Navy Journal, 1914).

13 United States Joint Army and Navy Board, Joint Army and Navy Action in Coast Defense (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, June 5, 1920), available at <>; United States Joint Army and Navy Board, Joint Action of the Army and Navy (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, April 23, 1927), available at <>; Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, Joint Action Armed Forces (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, September 1951).

14 Dictionary of United States Military Terms for Joint Usage (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, June 1948).

15 United States Joint Army and Navy Board, Joint Army and Navy Action in Coast Defense; United States Joint Army and Navy Board, Joint Action of the Army and Navy; Joint Chiefs of Staff Publication (JCSP) 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF) (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, November 1959); JCSP 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF) (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, December 1, 1986).

16 JCSP 1, Dictionary of United States Military Terms for Joint Usage (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 1959), 147 (North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] Allied Administrative Publication [AAP]-6(A), September 29, 1958), available at <>.

17 Joseph W. Prueher, “Rethinking the Joint Doctrine Hierarchy,” Joint Force Quarterly 14 (Winter 1996–1997), 44. Early 1990s joint doctrine development briefing, date unknown.

18 NATO-AAP-47, Allied Joint Doctrine Development (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, February 19, 2019); NATO-AAP-47, Allied Joint Doctrine Development Supplement to AAP-3 Series (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, December 19, 2013).

19 Joint Doctrine Working Party Minutes, October 22–23, 1996.

20 David A. Sawyer, “The Joint Doctrine Development System,” Joint Force Quarterly 14 (Winter 1996–1997), 36.

21 Lovelace and Young, “Joint Doctrine Development,” 99.

22 Joint Publication (JP) 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, September 10, 2001); Joint Doctrine Capstone and Keystone Primer (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, September 10, 2001).

23 The National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, March 2005), available at <>; The National Military Strategy of the United States of America: A Strategy for Today; A Vision for Tomorrow (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, 2004), available at <>; National Military Strategy: Shape, Respond, Prepare Now; A Military Strategy for a New Era (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, 1997), available at <>.

24 30th Joint Doctrine Working Party Minutes, November 12–14, 2002.

25 37th Joint Doctrine Working Party Minutes, May 24–25, 2006.

26 38th Joint Doctrine Working Party Minutes, November 7–8, 2006.

27 JP 1-01, Joint Doctrine Development System, Change 1 (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, June 29, 2001); Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction (CJCSI) 5120.02, Joint Doctrine Development System (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, November 30, 2004); CJCSI 5120.02, Joint Doctrine Development System, Change 1 (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, July 20, 2005); CJCSI 5120.02A, Joint Doctrine Development System (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, March 31, 2007); CJCSI 5120.02B, Joint Doctrine Development System (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, December 4, 2009).

28 George E. Katsos, “The U.S. Government’s Approach to Health Security: Focus on Medical Campaign Activities,” Joint Force Quarterly 85 (2nd Quarter 2017), 66–75; George E. Katsos, “The U.S. Government’s Approach to Food Security: Focus on Campaign Activities,” Joint Force Quarterly 87 (4th Quarter 2017), 112–121; George E. Katsos, “The U.S. Government’s Approach to Environmental Security: Focus on Campaign Activities,” Joint Force Quarterly 89 (2nd Quarter 2018), 130–139; George E. Katsos, “The U.S. Government’s Approach to Economic Security: Focus on Campaign Activities,” Joint Force Quarterly 90 (3rd Quarter 2018), 106–112; George E. Katsos, “The U.S. Government’s Approach to Civilian Security: Focus on Campaign Activities,” Joint Force Quarterly 91 (4th Quarter 2019), 97–104.

29 Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, available at <>; NATO’s Warfare Development Command, available at <>.

30 Decade of War, Volume 1: Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations (Suffolk, VA: Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis, 2012), 2, 25–28, available at <>; Richard D. Hooker, Jr., and Joseph J. Collins, eds., Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2015), 9, available at <>; James C. McArthur et al., “Interorganizational Cooperation—Part I of III: The Interagency Perspective,” Joint Force Quarterly 79 (4th Quarter 2015), 106–112; James C. McArthur et al., “Interorganizational Cooperation—Part II of III: The Humanitarian Perspective,” Joint Force Quarterly 80 (1st Quarter 2016), 145–152; James C. McArthur et al., “Interorganizational Cooperation III of III: The Joint Force Perspective,” Joint Force Quarterly 81 (2nd Quarter 2016), 129–139.

31 Hooker and Collins, eds., Lessons Encountered, 9.

32 Joint Doctrine Interorganizational Cooperation Program, available at <>; Joint Guide for Interagency Doctrine (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, November 4, 2019), available at <>.

33 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual (CJCSM) 5120.01, Joint Doctrine Development Process (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, January 13, 2012); CJCSI 5120.02C, Joint Doctrine Development System (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, January 13, 2012); CJCSM 5120.01A, Joint Doctrine Development Process (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, December 29, 2014); CJCSI 5120.02D, Joint Doctrine Development System (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, January 5, 2015).

34 George E. Katsos, “Department of Defense Terminology Program,” Joint Force Quarterly 88 (1st Quarter 2018), 124–127, available at <>.

35 Joe Gould, “QDR Dead in 2017 Defense Policy Bill,” Defense News, April 25, 2016, available at <>.

36 Scott Kendrick, Vice Versa: An Artistic Appraisal of Joint Doctrine’s Expression of Campaigns, Major Operations, and Objectives (West Point, NY: Modern War Institute at West Point, July 11, 2018), 10, available at <>.

37 George E. Katsos, “DOD/JDD Programs Brief—Allied, Terminology, Interagency,” presentation to the 64th Joint Doctrine Planning Conference, November 6, 2019.

Strategic Humanism: Lessons on Leadership from the Ancient Greeks
By Christopher Kuennen | March 31, 2021

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Strategic Humanism: Lessons on Leadership from the Ancient Greeks
Strategic Humanism: Lessons on Leadership from the Ancient Greeks
Strategic Humanism: Lessons on Leadership from the Ancient Greeks
Photo By: Claudia Hauer
VIRIN: 210331-D-PN951-006

Strategic Humanism: Lessons on Leadership from the Ancient Greeks
By Claudia Hauer
Toronto Political Animal Press, 2020
180 pp. $24.99
ISBN: 978-1895131444

Captain Christopher Kuennen, USAF, is an Intelligence Officer at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

At some point between the legendary Greek siege of Troy and the infamous defeat of Athens at Syracuse, the philosopher Heraclitus rather astutely discerned that Êthos anthrôpôi daimôn (Character is fate). His assertion might be thought of as a pithy distillation of the practical wisdom of ancient Greece. In Strategic Humanism, Claudia Hauer urges leaders to engage with this tradition; military officers and defense policymakers stand to gain not only theoretical insights from an attentive reading of the Greek classics, but also a way of perceiving the world and its conflicts as beyond total human mastery and yet shaped by the virtues and vices of human character.

Hauer’s presentation of the value of humanistic study is especially compelling in light of the evolving implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for the profession of arms. In February 2020, the Department of Defense (DOD) officially adopted five ethical principles to guide its ongoing development and use of AI: namely, that it be responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable, and governable. Though these principles are meant to embody “existing and widely accepted ethical and legal commitments,” DOD has nevertheless recognized its need to better understand how to actually apply the principles. It is this perennial and important challenge of putting principles into practice that Hauer addresses in Strategic Humanism.

The primary obstacle to imposing ethical norms on the technical development and operational application of AI is the infinitely complex context in which practical choices occur. The finite aims and mechanisms of a given technology pose inherent obstacles to unfettered appreciation for the range of morally relevant factors surrounding its use in any particular situation. In the crowning chapter of Hauer’s book, she emphasizes this fundamental lesson of Aristotelean ethics: “As something essentially interactive, moral action cannot be worked out in advance, prior to our immersion in whatever situation calls for our response.” This condition of moral decisionmaking should influence not only the objectives of algorithmic design but also the manner in which tech developers and operators are trained in ethics. If there are no “categorical imperatives”—no universally applicable rules for judgment—then moral action demands a character capable of discerning what is best in any given situation. AI cannot be “ethical” if the human beings designing it and employing it lack a virtuous ethos, an excellent character.

Strategic Humanism presents Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristotle as partners in an ever-fruitful dialogue aimed at educating such a character. Hauer argues that these thinkers provide an important check on the somewhat ironic, though widely influential, Cartesian prejudice against the role that human subjectivity plays in even the most rigorously scientific analysis. She draws on the account of King Croesus in Herodotus’s Histories, for instance, to illustrate the danger of interpreting situational ambiguity according to a framework constructed of one’s own preconceived hopes and biases. Herodotus recounts how around 550 BCE a mounting Persian threat prompted the Ionian Greeks to prepare for conflict. For his part, King Croesus of Lydia offered sacrifices to the Delphic Oracle for divine counsel. The oracle answered Croesus’s supplications by predicting that if he attacked the Persians, a great empire would be destroyed. Croesus proceeded to begin a campaign against Persia—but in the end, it was his own empire that was ruined. According to Hauer, Croesus’s failure exposes the limits of his interpretive imagination; he failed to consider how the particularities of his situation bore on the information at his disposal.

Since technology too has the effect of not only solving problems but also framing them in a specific way, our tools can sometimes impede our interpretive imagination, our ability to perceive all the factors relevant in making ethical decisions: “If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” Indeed, reducing unintended bias (for example, for race or gender) is already one of the foremost topics in the discipline of AI ethics, and DOD directly addresses such bias in its own “equitable” principle. Strategic Humanism offers a strategy for expanding the moral imagination of its readers—including military AI developers and users—by putting key themes of the profession of arms in dialogue with the Greek humanists.

Hauer accomplishes her intended goal—“to familiarize the reader with a Hellenic way of seeing the world, in which character displays itself in action”—by exploring how the Greeks wrestled with such diverse and timely topics as vengeance, intercultural competency, and violent deterrence. Running through the collection of six essays that constitute Strategic Humanism is an insightful metanarrative that connects the fate of the ancient Greeks to their character, socially and individually. The power of Greek city-states grows as they use a common language to share stories of virtue and notions of the common good, and withers as utilitarian nihilism drives them to act out of self-interested fear. Hauer successfully demonstrates how engaging with the Greek classics can help broaden one’s moral imagination, even as the technology one depends on might otherwise limit it.

Strategic Humanism draws on Hauer’s time as a visiting humanities professor at the Air Force Academy, and though her work lacks explicit connections to many of today’s most prominent defense issues (for example, warfighting in the space and cyberspace domains), her perspective manifests a perspicacious and broadly applicable awareness of the poverty of a technocratic approach to forming military minds. Especially as AI rapidly alters the pace and nature of our decisionmaking, we should take seriously the ability of the Greek classics to “liberate human judgment to reflect strategically on what we are doing.”

Readers convinced by Hauer’s account of the relationship between human character and technology can find additional insight in the work of AI ethicist Shannon Vallor, including in her Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting (Oxford University Press, 2016). But even if you do not read Hauer or Vallor, heed their advice: read the Greeks. JFQ

Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East
By Colonel Thomas C. Greenwood, USMC (Ret.) | March 31, 2021

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Losing the Long Game:
The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East
Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East
Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East
Photo By: Philip H. Gordon
VIRIN: 210331-D-PN951-005

Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East

By Philip H. Gordon
St. Martin’s Press, 2020
368 pp. $26.49
ISBN: 978-1250217035

Colonel Thomas C. Greenwood, USMC (Ret.), is a Research Staff Member in the Joint Advanced Warfighting Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses.

Few authors are more qualified to write on U.S.-sponsored regime change in the Middle East than Philip Gordon, who worked as Special Assistant to President Barack Obama for the Middle East (2013–2015) and as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (2009–2013). His book, Losing the Long Game, is elegant, thoroughly researched, and comprehensible; it belongs on the syllabus of every war college and policymaker’s desk for two reasons. First, the author shines a spotlight on the opaque (sometimes secretive) history of U.S.-sponsored regime change in the Middle East and, in so doing reveals many rich insights. Second, Gordon dispels the misguided notion that American exceptionalism endows the United States with unmatched foresight and wisdom to effectively reengineer Middle East governments in a way that advances U.S. national security interests, promotes regional stability, and strengthens the international order.

Gordon examines seven cases of regime change over the past 70 years: Iran (1953), Afghanistan (1979–1992), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Egypt (2011), Libya (2011), and Syria (2011). They all failed to deliver the policy outcomes desired by Washington, made the Middle East more volatile, and more recently, were a strategic distraction from other emerging threats such as China and Russia.

The author explains that these failures did not result from impure U.S. motives (for example, take the oil and run) or even an unwillingness to double down by increasing troop levels and funding, which failed to save the day in either Iraq or Syria. Rather, once policymakers decide on regime change as their preferred option, “they overstate the threat, underestimate the costs and risks, overpromise what they can accomplish, and prematurely claim success if and when the targeted regime falls.” Yet Gordon does not ignore the possibility that the costs of inaction (that is, of not intervening and undertaking regime change) could have been higher and more harmful over the long run.

Two of Gordon’s most riveting ideas, however, are that regime change frequently fails because of the security vacuums it creates (filled by actors who are often more repressive than the toppled regimes), and the unanticipated consequences that escape rigorous analysis by policymakers before they act: raising tension between armed opposition groups, disrupting the distribution of scarce resources, fostering long-term dependency on outside powers, and perpetuating the harmful optic that the United States is the self-appointed global cop.

Gordon uses the example of Libya to illustrate just how dangerous security vacuums can be. When Muammar Qadhafi’s successor, Abd al-Hakim Belhaj—former head of the al Qaeda–affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—declared himself the leader of all liberation forces, other Western-oriented opposition leaders became infuriated and competing militias began killing each other. By June 2014, Libya had two competing governments backed by competing militias, and the country had descended into a multisided civil war with no end in sight.

Gordon is also equally damning about the ripple effect the moral hazard created in Libya had on Syria’s rebel groups. The latter believed that by escalating violence, the world’s most powerful militaries would intervene on their behalf. Sadly, instead of leading to Bashar al-Asad’s ouster, it caused, “the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II, a refugee crisis, the destabilizing of Syria’s neighbors, the growth of the [so-called] Islamic State, and political spillover into Europe and beyond.”

Gordon believes the following factors contribute to regime change failures: inadequate planning for what comes after regime collapse; U.S. forces being viewed as occupiers instead of liberators; not recognizing that local actors will pursue their interests first; regional neighbors seeking to destabilize new regime leadership; moral hazard created elsewhere; a general lack of U.S. knowledge about the Middle East; the difficulty of staying committed after intervening; unrealistic expectations about transplanting democratic values abroad; and a mistaken belief that throwing more money and troops at a problem will make it better. Unfortunately, these factors can become intertwined and unleash their own dynamics that neither the White House nor Pentagon can control.

The book’s overall thesis would have been strengthened had Gordon discussed the limitations of regime change—a means to a higher end—within the context of U.S. grand strategy. Here, introducing G. John Ikenberry’s idea of a “liberal hegemonic order” would have helped readers better understand why U.S. leaders of all stripes feel the messianic urge to spread democratic values around the globe—even if they can only be imposed by force and by violating other countries’ sovereignty and right to self-determination.

After taking the reader on a journey of tears, the author recommends a policy alternative to regime change. It is a hybrid approach of practical measures including a mix of containment, deterrence, diplomatic engagement and support for partners, selective military action, arms control, and economic investment and “the restoration of the United States as a respected, prosperous, and democratic alternative [that] will produce better results than the pursuit of costly, quixotic and unrealistic campaigns to overthrow regimes.”

Perhaps. But even if policymakers adopt the author’s more robust menu of soft and smart power policy options, the temptation to undertake regime change will remain irresistible as long as America fails to internalize the hard lessons of the Middle East and remains wedded to a misguided sense of exceptionalism. JFQ