Choosing or being compelled to fight a particular intensity of war is a grand-strategic issue—depending on the political, economic, cultural, and military capabilities and constraints developed by the rival communities at large. It determines the military objectives and methods employed. Therefore it behooves decision-makers to strive to choose an intensity that provides them with the most advantages vis-à-vis the enemy and, if possible, to prevent the enemy from compelling them to fight at the intensity it chooses.
It is not useful to define wars by measures such as size, scale, or commitment because these are subjective and thus cloud analysis. This is particularly true in regard to such things as cost and casualties. How much a war costs, how many people it kills, and what it consumes and destroys are certainly important issues—no one disputes this—but these are not bases for critical analysis because they fail to generate solid, tangible, universal foundations for discussion, which is exactly what writing on such subjects should provide.
At first it may seem intuitive that wars are measured on a scale from something more limited in commitment to something that resembles “total” commitment from a society. However, reflecting on this idea brings up the very important question of what exactly is being measured when describing a war, by whom is it measured, and what are the criteria that take a war from limits to totality?
Limited war is a topic covered heavily in military discussions since World War II. It is often touted as the diametric opposite of total war, where a nation or society dedicates all of their resources to defeat an enemy. However, the world has changed, and so has limited war. In the modern era, combat systems from ships to planes have become so expensive that they are pushing states to a form of limited war that has not been the norm since before Napoleon. It is these financial costs, more so than the toll in lives, that will dictate future warfare.
Strategic performance is strongly affected by the state’s information management capabilities. Top policymakers must have the ability to understand the environment in which they are acting (outside information) and how their national security organizations are behaving in that strategic environment (inside information). Strategic risk assessment is based on an understanding of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, the challenges and opportunities present in the international environment, and the capability of the state to act in a purposeful way along multiple lines. Without sound outside and inside information, risk assessments will suffer, as will the quality of strategy.
In the Information Institution Approach, Bakich gives critical importance to whether or not key decision makers have access to multi-sourced information and whether the information institutions themselves have the ability to communicate laterally. When information is multi-sourced and there is good coordination across the diplomatic and military lines of effort, Bakich predicts success. When information is stove piped and there is poor coordination, he predicts failure. Where the systems are moderately truncated, Bakich expects various degrees of failure depending on the scope and location within the state’s information institutions.