Center for Strategic Communication

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper

Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper is featured in the latest issue of Infinity Journal where he gives a superb tutorial or grand strategy and operations. It should be required reading for the legion of young Hill staffers, newbie think tank operatives, junior officers and aspiring war correspondents who envision a career in shaping national security policy.

(Actually, many of their bosses could use it too)

From Grand Strategy to Operational Design: Getting it Right  ( You must register for free to read)

The methods the United States Government currently uses to develop its “grand” or national security strategy are dysfunctional, and the approaches its military uses to design campaigns and major operations are seriously flawed. This article describes how we got into these disturbing circumstances and suggests how the nation’s leaders might go about getting it right.

The nation did not arrive at this dismal and confused situation overnight; thus, it will take time to sort out and correct the many interrelated problems that contribute to the present state of affairs. To understand how the policy-strategy-operations continuum got so far off track we need to review what happened over the last three-quarters of a century.

Early in the Second World War, the United States established the policy and developed a grand strategy to confront the German-Japanese-Italian alliance. Several documents codified that policy and grand strategy. Among the most important were the Atlantic Charter, signed in August 1941, where the United States and the United Kingdom agreed upon the goals of the war, and the Arcadia Conference in January 1942, where the two nations settled on the “Europe First” policy. To meet evolving conditions during the course of the war, the United States modified the policy and the grand strategy formalized in these documents, but for the most part, these documents guided the war effort to a successful conclusion.

Similar operational planning began even before the United States entered the war, with regards to Japan. This planning took on a coalition cast when American, British, and Canadian military staffs met in Washington DC from the last days of January 1941 to late March in a conference known as ABC-1. The creation of the Combined Chiefs of Staff (US Joint Chiefs of Staff and British Chiefs of Staff Committee) in April 1942 made formal a combined planning arrangement. Other Allies, though not members of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, consulted with the CCS throughout the war. The members of the CCS as well as representatives to that body came to decisions and made plans through the practice of frequent discussions.

Looking back, it can seem that what transpired during the Second World War was a “text-book” example of how to establish policy, create a grand strategy, and design campaigns to support that strategy. In actuality, the process was far from smooth, as there were numerous disagreements, and many of the participants experienced angst over what ensued. Still, in its totality the process serves as a worthy exemplar.


Van Riper’s thesis that the current system of formulating policy, constructing strategy and planning operations is legislatively illogical and psychologically-cognitively off-base in terms of actual process is spot on. It is also by now deeply embedded in the bureaucratic DNA of the DoD, JCS, the Armed Services and various agencies of the natsec and intel communities. It represents the career “normal” for most seniors even as politicos come to top civilian policy positions with less and less real natsec or military vice political campaign consultancy experience.

Fixing this problem will involve more than the kind of rearranging of deck chairs and proliferation of bureaucracy that came, say, in the wake of the 9/11 Commission.

Read the rest here.