When Gerhard von Scharnhorst arrived in Berlin in 1801, he had an ambitious reform agenda on his mind. He was appointed to helm the Military School for Young Infantry and Cavalry Officers in Berlin, better known as the Kriegsakademie. Scharnhorst’s aspirations went, however, much further.
Without the right mindset, even the most tactically competent force becomes vulnerable to strategic missteps, and, in the worst case, strategic defeat. Although we can never predict the future with perfect accuracy, we can benefit by trying to understand the parameters and to build a mindset in the force that will help the future leaders address the challenges they will likely face. If soldiers can progress beyond learning what to think and how to think, and learn how to approach thinking, they will be better able to overcome the novel and complex adaptive strategic problems of that future, whatever they may be.
The professionalism of Western militaries is ripe for another discussion. The practitioners who make up the profession of arms—and those that study and teach them—owe it to their citizens, their governments, and themselves to shape their forces, and educate their professionals, in preparation for the future. It is their duty to ensure they are prepared to ethically and effectively achieve the military objectives their leaders lay before them, no matter the adversary or the context of the conflict.
A reading list, quite obviously, is a list of readings; it is a list defined by its content. But a professional reading list is actually more than a list of professional readings. It prescribes its own use: Wrestle with me, it goads. Debate me. Engage. At the very least expect an encounter. The texts listed within serve to further circumscribe the profession and those within it, as professionals. Martha Nussbaum in Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities explains “When people see their ideas as their own responsibility, they are more likely, too, to see their deeds as their own responsibility.” Just as we seek to instill decentralized execution in tactical engagements, introducing critical thinking serves to empower junior leaders to take ownership of their ideas; the list is not a checklist, but a playlist, a library of potential.
National and multinational defence colleges have long provided a significant method of enhancing the strategic thinking skills and inter-cultural networks of national leaders, to better prepare them for developing and implementing national security doctrines and policies, and coordinating crisis management and informal diplomatic efforts. The creation of a pan-Arab security and defence college could provide a mutually-beneficial means for Arab nations to deliver coordinated, strategic-level education for a community of future Arab leaders and allied officers with regional influence.
Wargaming has a perfect home in military education, where officers blend their operational experiences with new methods and fresh approaches. Wargames can provide budding leaders with venues to practice decision-making, support innovation as part of a greater cycle of research, and ultimately encourage initiative and adaptability. Games cannot address all problems and must be tailored to fit the problems under examination. However, gaming has helped past military leaders prepare for daunting threats in future, uncertain environments. This tool may serve Americans well again ahead of the next conflict.
Coach, Counsel, Mentor. Every leader uses these developmental methods...or do they? These principal methods are the cornerstone of leadership development used by all the military services. However, we are only trained to implement two of them. This is a problem because, in the military, we grow our own leaders.
Top military leaders instruct officers to attend more closely to the tangled connections between a military unit's actions, its armed adversaries, and the sociopolitical landscape on which conflicts unfold. Insofar as these causal connections elude military professionals, armed interventions will tend to induce unwelcome consequences and, thereby, strategic discontent. Educators can help. The skilled integration of political science in the classroom provides a way for educators to squarely address these leaders’ concerns. But we first have to rethink fundamentals. Namely, what does military expertise and advice entail?
The operational force and its commanders must deliberately integrate education into their leader development programs, complementing the efforts of the institutional Army. To enable this, we must increase our awareness of the existing educational resources, maximize our use of these resources and identify shortcomings to assist our leaders in their efforts. The Human Dimension and human performance will be more important in future operational environments than ever before and education is the key to our success.
Success will largely hinge on the willingness of the various services (critical thinking is important in all domains) to make significant changes. This is a goal that may be even more elusive than increased funding, however. If that is so, then the product of the U.S. professional military education programs will continue to be largely the result of the quality going in and luck in who facilitates instruction, thus remaining inconsistent.