Center for Strategic Communication

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

A short list of recent strategy or at least strategy-related posts and articles.

Steven Metz – The Paris Attacks and the Logic of Insurgency 

Even before the smoke cleared from last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, people were struggling to make sense of them. Because the initial victims were associated with Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine known to deride Islam, attention fell on questions of free speech and whether it should be limited when religion is involved. But even if the belief that Islam is being insulted influenced the killers at a personal level, the al-Qaida strategists who claim to have directed the Charlie Hebdo attack had other goals. For them, the notion of blasphemy is useful propaganda, but their objectives are much bigger than punishing cartoonists.

In 2004, Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, who went on to be a key adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and an architect of U.S. thinking about counterinsurgency, proposed an innovative perspective on what had, by that point, become known as the Global War on Terror. Islamist terrorism was, Kilcullen argued, “best understood as a global insurgency, initiated by a diffuse grouping of Islamist movements that seek to re-make Islam’s role in the world order.” This insight still applies today. To understand jihadist organizations like al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State (IS) first requires understanding the core logic of insurgency. …

John Hagel – The Big Shift in Strategy – Part 1 and The Big Shift in Strategy – Part 2 

Most strategies (strategies of terrain) tend to look from the present out to the future. Strategies of trajectory start with a view of the future and work back to the implications for action in the present.  

Here’s the paradox: strategies of trajectory become more and more essential in times of rapid change and uncertainty, while at the same time becoming more and more difficult.  But that’s exactly what makes strategies of trajectory so valuable. Most of us tend to fall back into our comfort zone and just focus on the present, leaving us vulnerable to the changes just ahead.  Only a few will venture beyond their comfort zone. Those few who craft strategies to focus action today based on an anticipated future that’s quite different from today will be in the best position to reap the rewards of a rapidly changing environment. They will stand out from the rest of us who are scrambling to respond to the latest event and, in the process, spreading our limited time and resources more and more thinly.

So, what’s required to craft these strategies of trajectory? Five elements can help to make these strategies successful:

  • Challenging

  • Shaping

  • Motivating

  • Measuring

  • Learning 

Global Guerrillas – Saudi Arabia Plunges into an Abyss 

Here why this attack is signficant.  

  • It tells us that ISIS is starting to focus on Saudi Arabia –> with good reason.  The reason is that there’s simply no other way to unite the various groups under the ISIS banner.  ISIS, like all open source movements, needs to keep moving in order to stay alive (like a shark).  Right now, ISIS has stalled.  A jihad to retake the holy sites from the corrupt regime in Riyadh can serve as a simple plausible promise that can reignite the open source war ISIS started, on a global scale.

  • The Saudis are vulnerable.  The attackers knew exactly when the general was going to be at the outpost.  This tells us that the Saudi military is rife with ISIS sympathisers and/or active members.  If so, the Saudi military may melt away when facing jihadis (or switch sides) in the same way 30,000 Iraqi troops did early last year a couple of hundred miles to the north.  

Proceedings ( VADM Thomas Rowden, RADM Peter Gumataotao, RADM Peter Fanta) Distributed Lethality 

….A new emphasis on sea control derives from the simple truth that navies cannot persistently project power from water space they do not control. Nor can navies guarantee the free movement of goods in the face of a power-seeking adversary whose objective is to limit the freedom of the maritime commons within their sphere of influence. Sea control is the necessary precondition for virtually everything else the Navy does, and its provision can no longer be assumed. Threats ranging from low-end piracy to the navies of high-end nation-states pose challenges that we must be prepared to counter—and ultimately defeat.

Sea control does not mean command of all the seas, all the time. Rather, it is the capability and capacity to impose localized sea control when and where it is required to enable other objectives to be met, holding it as long as is necessary to accomplish those objectives. We must begin to treat expanses of ocean the way we viewed islands during World War II—as areas to be seized for conducting follow-on power-projection operations. Additionally, we should recognize that the enemy gets a vote, and that all of the elements of the Navy’s Fleet architecture are unlikely to be available when the shooting starts. The day-to-day persistence of the surface force means that it must be prepared to immediately go on the offensive in order to create conditions for the success of follow-on forces.

The enablers for this shift to the offensive are an array of existing platforms and capabilities, planned capabilities in various stages of acquisition, and future capabilities resident in today’s promising research-and-development programs. Employing the concept of “distributed lethality,” the surface force—through innovation, emerging command-and-control concepts, and an increased ability to operate within an acceptable margin of risk—will flexibly adapt to future maritime operations, exploiting seized areas of localized sea control to generate larger combat effects.

Distributed lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power of individual components of the surface force (cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships [LCSs], amphibious ships, and logistics ships) and then employing them in dispersed offensive formations known as “hunter-killer SAGs.” It is the motive force behind offensive sea control. Both parts of the definition are critical; raising the lethality of the force but operating it the same way sub-optimizes the investment. Operating hunter-killer SAGs without a resulting increase in offensive power creates unacceptable risk.

That’s it.