The politically successful no-fly zones over Iraq from 1991-2003, Bosnia from 1993-1995, and Libya in 2011 illustrate not only the utility of employing limited airpower for limited-yet-strategic political effect, but also the need to evolve coercive airpower theory to embrace risk strategies as viable and effective.
The inability or unwillingness to recognize defeat and its implications resulted in both greater material losses and amplified the strategic consequences for inevitable failures. Strategy is a human endeavor, and prospect theory offers unique insights into another dimension of the human face of war, providing a framework for examination of paradoxical decision making and human error in strategy and tactics.
Leaders in the national security community must remedy the incapacitating risk aversion which has permeated both the civilian and military ranks of the defense establishment if they are to successfully respond to the inherent uncertainty of future conflicts. Risk aversion stifles creativity, cedes the initiative to our adversaries, and presents a real, significant, and imminent threat to American national security. However, with the proper application of existing tools and an appropriate organizational comfort with uncertainty, strategic leaders can overcome the challenges posed by an increasingly complex world.
For the past several decades the Army has promoted agile and adaptive leadership. This type of leadership is good when you are the strongest Army in the world and you’re focused on rapidly adapting to dynamic situations during operations. However, an entirely different type of leadership is necessary if you intend to transform the organization from the way it is today to the way you want it to be in the future. In the years ahead our Army needs transformational leaders who will shape our culture to one that demonstrates cunning, embraces asymmetry, generates unforeseen problems, and takes risks in order to win decisively.
For 70 years now the United States has fielded the most powerful military forces in the world. This has led to the US military staying physically, mentally, and culturally in their comfort zone, unwilling and largely unable to think the unthinkable; in a few decades the US Army may be in the position of those armies and non-state enemies we have fought since World War II, struggling to cope with deficits in forces, materiel, technologies, and personnel. In DOD terms we may very well be the “near-peer competitor;” smaller, technologically weaker, with older and less capable systems than those against whom we are called to go to war. In strategic terms, such a future scenario is plausible, possible, and, increasingly probable.
Addressing risk in this case is a simple math problem. Either the strategy needs to be resourced with the appropriate number and type of adequately survivable warships, or the scope of the strategy needs to be reduced. Hesitance in taking either course of action is instead a de facto decision to accept dire risk to U.S. geopolitical strategy.
In the end, providing an explicit and tangible articulation of risk allows military leaders to best inform strategy development and execution. This not only ensures better alignment of ends, ways, and means that will maximize the probability of accomplishing the desired policy objectives, it also ensures that national blood and treasure will not be needlessly spent through poorly developed strategy.
Through the following short essays, we intend to...[open] a dialog on risk that is long overdue. From doctrine to education, from tactics to strategy, the influence of risk has never been greater, yet receives far less attention that is rightfully necessary. If we are to regain the elusive “winning edge,” it begins with a deeper understanding and dialog on risk. It is time to bring risk out of the shadows and into the light where we can all see it, discuss it, and understand it.
...if the model is wrong, we must demand a new model more closely aligned to the question of interest, a model right enough to be useful. And this is not just a task for analysts and mathematicians, though it is our duty. This is a task for planners, strategists, operators, decision makers, and everyone else. We must seek the truth, even if we may not find it in all its Platonic perfection and even if its pursuit is paradoxical in the sense that it requires both humility and the belief that we can reach toward perfection.