Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Perez on “Strategic Discontent, Political Literacy, and Professional Military Education”

At The Strategy Bridge, Celestino Perez Jr. has an excellent piece on the importance of cultivating political (science) literacy among military officers, and the obstacles to doing so.

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?

Expanding on this point, he argues:

…U.S. strategic performance suffers from a remediable neglect: the failure to appreciate the central role politics plays in war. “Politics” extends beyond the “high politics” of heads of state and diplomats. It includes also those ground-level economic, social, cultural, psychological, and ethical dynamics that determine power distributions in cities and villages, among armed actors and civilians, and between criminal and political organizations. These dynamics arise as salient features during peacetime training, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, insurgencies, and the conduct and closeout of conventional wars fought between near-peer competitors.[10]

War is both destructive and constructive. Destructive force makes sense only when it helps engender desirable, ethical results. Hence, the U.S. Army expects soldiers to help “create conditions for favorable conflict resolution”[11] and “possess the capability to translate military objectives into enduring political outcomes.”[12]

Lethal force is merely one of many factors affecting outcomes. Soldiers must also “understand the cognitive, informational, social, cultural, political, and physical influences affecting human behavior and the mission.”[13] Put otherwise, political literacy—which is also a kind of causal literacy—is necessary for military and strategic success.

Addressing this deficiency, however, is not easy:

Educators can help, but a prevalent approach to military pedagogy—what I call a “bailiwick approach”—hinders the attainment of political literacy. Bailiwick educators consider fine-toothed questions about sociopolitical dynamics and conflict resolution to be irrelevant to military work; their bailiwick is to educate solely for the doctrinal delivery of ordnance.

This separation between violence and politics is counterproductive, whether in the classroom or during military operations. Rose explains: “The clear-division-of-labor approach is inherently flawed…At some point, every war enters what might be called its endgame, and then any political questions that may have been ignored come rushing back with a vengeance.”[14]

Despite Rose’s warning, too many educators are content to teach little more than the doctrinal and historical application of violence. According to one (anonymous) senior and influential instructor at Fort Leavenworth, only military factors matter:

We all recognize that there are things that other government agencies and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] do in pre-conflict/conflict/post-conflict environments in mitigating problems and stabilizing the environment. We seek their input during our planning process, but we don’t ourselves try to bring to the table what they would. So we shouldn’t try in the classroom either.[15]

Military education invariably foregrounds the military and neglects the political. The focus, with few exceptions, is on military history, military leadership, and military doctrine. Occasional seminar discussions about, say, “soft power” or regional electives that facilitate mere “wave-top” familiarization are insufficient. Students must wrestle with how politics and violence combine in concrete ways to affect ground-level interactions. They do not wrestle today. The mid-career student at Fort Leavenworth (and perhaps elsewhere?) has no requirement to study—in a sustained, rigorous manner—a single unfamiliar, real-world population, conflict, and potential adversary with the degree of detail necessary for adequate intelligence analysis or planning.

As is evident from the quotes above, Perez’s article isn’t about wargaming at all. However it speaks to two key issues in making wargaming more effective: the institutional and attitudinal barriers to alternative analytical techniques and broader analytical scope; and the resistance to incorporating social science methods and theoretical insights into the gaming that does occur—a point that both Jon Compton and Yuna Wong (among others) have made repeatedly at MORS, Connections, and other professional venues.

h/t Adam Elkus


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