Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Future Strategic Thinking... Lambs and Lions

Guest reviews by Nancy Harrity

I remember my grade school teachers saying March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb about the weather. Watching the news at the beginning of this month, I truly hoped this saying would be true about world events, too. As this month comes to a close, it’s clear March will not go out like a lamb this year.

So many things happened around the world that no one saw coming – the peaceful fall of the Canadian, Egyptian, Syrian and Tunisian governments, popular uprisings in Bahrain, the United Emirates and others, a 9.1 earthquake followed by tsunami and a nuclear plant meltdown in Japan, and a coalition of allies coming together to protect the people of Libya from its leader.

The U.S. Government would find responding to the scale and number of these events to be taxing if they occurred over the course of a single year, much less over the span of six weeks or so.

How does the U.S. Government plan for the unexpected? Throw up its collective hands in defeat? Ask the old timers how they responded to similar situations? Punt? Attribute it all to 2012? These are all gut level responses. Fortunately, many government departments have teams who constantly reevaluate what we think we know, exercise creativity by thinking through the most likely and the most unlikely things to happen and build some scenarios of how to effectively respond. This process is known as scenario planning and the Department of Defense uses it extensively. While all major military exercises are designed to test the readiness of military units, they also are based on likely scenarios and help military units to prepare and test possible response before they are needed.

In Seven Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century, Andrew F. Krepinevich, asks what is the worst that could happen, how would the U.S. respond and is it ready about seven scenarios he thinks could threaten the U.S. in the coming years. As I read this book, I could see the possibility of any of his seven scenarios coming true. Krepinevich explores the collapse of Pakistan, nuclear warheads ripping through San Antonio and Chicago, a global avian flu pandemic, Iran attacking Israel using Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah as proxies, a Chinese blockade of Taiwan, a mass disruption of the global supply chain, and an Iraqi chaos following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. For all of his meticulously written scenarios, Krepinevich didn’t even begin to hint at the reality of the worst of what the world is facing today. Yet, that doesn’t mean his advice to American leadership isn’t valid.

Krepinevich sees the value in a stronger strategic planning process for the National Security Council. With this recommendation and all of his others that stem from it, Krepinevich hits the crux of the problem the U.S. finds itself in with all of these events – a lack of a coordinated, cohesive strategy to respond to events abroad equally.

Developing and consistently applying a coordinated, cohesive foreign policy strategy also is the theme of Leslie H. Gelb’s Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy. Gelb, a longtime fixture in America’s foreign policy scene, examines what power is and is not, rules for exercising power, how policy enhances or detracts from a nation’s power and changes the U.S. Government can make to restore America’s footing on the world stage.

As anyone who as completed a course on military strategy or joint professional military education was taught, the military is but one part of a nation’s power, with diplomacy, intelligence and economics being the other components of the DIME. Gelb takes this paradigm a few steps further, explaining how strategy and power are intertwined with the ability to set the world stage and the strength of intelligence,
U.S. domestic policies, military and the economy all playing a role.

With the U.S. supporting a no-fly zone in Libya, yet not supporting the rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, many Americans are trying to figure out where the commonsense and consistency is in U.S. foreign policy strategy today. They looked for it in President Obama’s March 28th address to the nation, where he provided a glimmer:

“There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security -– responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us. They’re problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.”

Let us all hope the government can build on this foundation and that April showers do bring the May flowers our grade school teachers promised – the U.S. military, the U.S. Government and the world could use the break.

Editor’s Note: Nancy Harrity is currently enjoying a career sabbatical after 20 years of naval service.

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