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Educating the Force for Strategic Land Power
On 28 August 2013, a general officer steering group consisting of Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Force communities released its Strategic Land-power findings. The findings identified several areas of consensus, including:
- The current and future Operational Environment (OE) is and will continue to be characterized by a complex environment, with rapid rates of change, hybrid adversaries, proliferation of WMD, and conflicting narratives
- DoD has insufficient appreciation of itself, allies, adversaries and neutral parties, and economic changes and opportunities
- We are too focused on threat at the expense of other factors
Part of the prescription for addressing this OE includes:
- Training that accounts for the ‘human domain’ in operations
- Planning and operations that account for culture
- Future generations of leaders who intuitively address the human domain in training, planning, and operations
A DoD program designed specifically to address many of the issues identified above already exists. It includes faculty representatives from each of the three land power components that participated in the Strategic Land Power study. It is so valued by both the Marine Corps and SOCOM that they have each assigned full time Lieutenant Colonels to an Army school as part of the instructor team. On a daily basis, Marines, Special Operators, and Army leaders wrestle with the role of culture, critical thinking, and planning strategic and operational land power problems within the context of the current OE. The program is called “Red Team,” and it is focused on challenging prevailing assumptions, generating alternative perspectives, and cultivating cultural apperception in support of decision making. This is the story of how that partnership evolved, where we are today, and how the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) can play a role in defining the education and training required for our leaders of tomorrow.
UFMCS and SLP
This article provides a small subset of the key takeaways associated with the UFMCS program and their relationship to preparing for and conducting SLP operations. SLP requires operation in a complex environment with understanding of the ‘human domain’ and where consideration of 2nd and 3rd order effects must inform decision making. As the three SLP components come together towards the purpose of better planning, decision making, and operations in the complex SLP environment UFMCS can be part of the training solution.
While originally designed to produce red team-trained cadres UFMCS has expanded beyond that limited charter. While still educating students for award of the Additional Skill Identifier requirements for Army red teams, UFMCS also offers a series of tailored programs and mobile training teams to a wide set of DoD and non-DoD agencies. UFMCS provides Red Teams in support of both operational and institutional needs across DoD. In the past two years alone, UFMCS has provided Red Teams on site in support of USFK planning, the ISAF commander, the CJCS J-7, and the USSOCOM staff. Additionally, UFMCS has provided tailored programs to Customs and Border Patrol, USAID, divisional Analytic Control Elements and allied staffs in NATO and Australia. Today, UFMCS serves as an agile and adaptive forum in which the land force trains leaders to deal with planning and operations in the current and future OE.
The Marine Corps has sent students to UFMCS from the school’s inception. In 2013 the USMC Executive Steering Council (3- and 4-star generals) met; one of the agenda items was the integration strategy for Marine Corps red teams. As a result of that meeting, the Marine Corps assigned a Lieutenant-Colonel to UFMCS to serve as a faculty member, and directed 16 Marines to attend the program in FY 14.
In 2012 The Director of the Army’s Combined Arms Center Special Operations Forces cell met with UFMCS to discuss tailoring a red team course for SOF students attending the Army’s Command and General Staff course additionally, the SOF branch proponent met with UFMCS to explore the creation of a red team program as part of SOF PME, which would include campaign planning. In January 2013, UFMCS executed the Special Operations Campaign Artistry Program (SOCAP) as a recognized part of SOF Professional Military Education. In July 2013, SOF assigned an SF Lieutenant Colonel to UFMCS as a faculty member.
UFMCS’ Major Ideas and Their Role in SLP Education.
Irrespective of service, nation or agency, UFMCS inculcates the following ideas in its graduates. These ideas are congruent with the central theme of Strategic Land Power; complex operational environments, appreciation of other ways of viewing problems, and the pre-eminence of the human dimension. All of the observations in italics reflect goals the Army has established as part of SLP.
1. All culture is local. People from Brooklyn and Binghamton New York have differing values and do not think the same way. Why should people from two different regions in another country be represented by a single ‘cultural advisor?’ Immersion in the ‘human domain’ requires a nuanced understanding of how that domain varies.
2. While orders come from the top-down, cultural understanding flows from the bottom up (see 1 above). Leaders must co-create context between those on the ground with the best local view, and those controlling resources and setting priorities from above (with a synoptic view). Understanding the SLP environment requires global scouts who understand both the local OE and the strategic goals and objectives.
3. Groupthink is a certain function of human behavior. While good leadership can mitigate groupthink, it cannot preclude it. Organizations need specific techniques (which include anonymous solicitation of best ideas) to really get to the truth of a wicked problem – UFMCS teaches these techniques. Inculcating lessons, maintaining relevant and adaptable doctrine regarding SLP requires an open internal conversation.
4. How you think is a function of geography, history, economics, social structure, religion, beliefs, and culture. We think differently among ourselves – certainly our allies think differently, as do adversaries and neutral parties. Tools designed to force one to contend with other frames of reference, and to better understand others’ perspectives, are always a good place to start planning. SLP reflects the ‘clash of wills’ that is warfare. Cultural ‘will’ is a function of worldview.
5. It is crucial to ask good questions about values, beliefs and culture
- Concepts that don’t translate well MUST be explored, rather than ignored. (For example, the Chinese pictogram for “individualism,” when translated, equates to ‘selfishness’.)
- Narratives learned at a young age matter. Think of our own Thanksgiving story of the Pilgrims and Native Americans. People who are very different can sit down together, break bread, and find common ground. The narrative reinforces the diversity of American culture—but it is not a narrative common to most other cultures. Graduates are encouraged to seek out those local narratives.
- What is in the “informal economy” matters. Economic life is a basic function of all societies. Understanding the role of the informal economy is a critical component of the operational environment.
- Understanding the role that tradition, ritual and ceremony plays in society are vital to recognizing the underlying beliefs and values of a society. Contrast the change in ritual and ceremony between George Washington’s simple first inauguration and today’s inaugural week. Our current presidential inauguration ceremonies demonstrate our place in the world order and that the United States transitions power democratically.
Successful strategies have a human objective, the influence of people, based on better understanding them.
6. Problems are on a scale between the simple and complex and it is important to identify which you are dealing with and understand the characteristics of various problems. Copying a car key is simple, building the car the key will start is complicated, driving that same car everyday commuting to and from work is complex. While mechanics and physics dominate the simple and complicated task they only play a role in the complex task. The driver must constantly assess the local OE, and practice creative and agile thinking throughout the drive, while in the first two tasks following directions and knowing how to operate required equipment is sufficient. In SLP OE we cannot predict actor adaptation thus we must be open to adapting ourselves in response to unforeseen events that result from complexity.
7. The more complex the problem, the less willing we are to let go of our frames. When struggling with truly complex problems, we search for a clean analogy or frame that will allow us to approach the problem with a semblance of understanding and without the cognitive pain of coping with complexity. It is vitally important when operating in complexity that we are always prepared to challenge what we think we know, especially in an environment where the truth changes rapidly. Understanding the role of bias and framing in our thinking and decision making is a key component in addressing this human predisposition. We need to be better able to identify emerging threats, strategies, tactics and weapons – accept new developments and not hold on to preconceived notions of the OE.
8. We all sit somewhere on a spectrum of “culturally relative” to “ethnocentric.” Many of us think of ourselves as truly culturally aware, and would challenge those who say we are prejudiced towards others’ beliefs or cultures. In practice, we all tend to believe the values and mores with which we were raised are correct and that other practices are either unenlightened or completely wrong. SLP requires we expose leaders to a broad array of perspectives based on real world scenarios.
9. Self awareness, introspection, and empathy change your worldview. In the classic Strategy and Ethnocentrism, Ken Booth explains that it is difficult to appreciate an adversary’s problems, feel their pain, understand their ambitions, internalize their experience, understand how one’s actions appear to them, or know how threatened they may feel or what threatens them. These questions are founded in developing empathy and are critical when conducting Strategic (or Operational) land power planning.
10. Developing alternative perspectives in the planning process is an unnatural act and requires tools beyond MDMP to generate options. Tools like Pre-Mortem analysis (imagining the plan has failed, imagining why it failed, then examining the plan for the mitigation of that potential failure), the 4 Ways of Seeing (how X sees X, how X sees Y, how Y sees Y and how Y sees X), Stakeholder Analysis (formalized method of identifying key parties and their perspectives and goals), the 9-Step Cultural Analysis methodology, and others all help generate additional perspectives on the problem. Education that is redesigned and tailored on the learner, proving them with a wide variety of tools for understanding the human domain is a critical need for SLP.
Way Ahead – UFMCS and SLP
The UFMCS curriculum is designed to create critical thinkers. Students are exposed to the ethnocentrism of their own thinking and examine their tendency to default to Western/Aristotelian logic. Students are exposed to how other cultures think differently. From the outset, students are provided with tools to help them view problems from the perspectives of nonwestern human domains and to challenge their own biases. UFMCS education is exactly what the Army describes as needing in order to train and educate leaders for the current and future SLP OE.
As the Army faces a future dominated by the need for rapid adaptation, by a resource constrained, CONUS based force, in support of expeditionary operations; the type of education UFMCS provides is a critical component in preparing our commanders and staff. As UFMCS continues to evolve its curriculum with the input from Soldiers, Marines, and Special Operators it will serve as a thought leader and key trainer in support of Strategic Land-power. UFMCS through curriculum redesign, podcasts, and provision of distance learning tailored tools for developing cultural apperception can and should be at the center of our evolving approach to SLP.
For additional information about this program please contact the author.