This is a valuable and provocative article. The excerpt given here describes only one of the scenarios discussed in this paper. At the end are links to some of the many articles by DoD staff on this issue, very much worth reading by anyone interested in this subject.
“Known Unknowns: Unconventional ‘Strategic Shocks’ in Defense Strategy Development“, Nathan P. Freier, U.S. Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, 4 November 2008
The author provides the defense policy team a clear warning against excessive adherence to past defense and national security convention. Including the insights of a number of noted scholars on the subjects of “wild cards” and “strategic surprise,” he argues that future disruptive, unconventional shocks are inevitable. Through strategic impact and potential for disruption and violence, such shocks, in spite of their nonmilitary character, will demand the focused attention of defense leadership, as well as the decisive employment of defense capabilities in response. As a consequence, the author makes a solid case for continued commitment by the Department of Defense to prudent strategic hedging against their potential occurrence.
Table of Contents (excerpted sections are in bold)
- Introduction: the failure of imagination
- “Known unknowns”: predictble but unpredicted strategic shocks
- Trapped by convention: seeing the future we want?
- Seeing the whole future: incorporating shocks in defense strategy
- Routinizing imagination: plausible unconventional shocks
- Strategic State Collapse
- Violent, Strategic Dislocation Inside the United States
- Politics, Economics, Social Action, and Political Violence as Hybrid War
- Conclusion: avoiding the next blue ribbon panel – or worse
The current defense team confronted a game-changing “strategic shock” in its first 8 months in office. The next team would be well-advised to expect the same. Defense-relevant strategic shocks jolt convention to such an extent that they force sudden, unanticipated change in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) perceptions about threat, vulnerability, and strategic response. Their unanticipated onset forces the entire defense enterprise to reorient and restructure institutions, employ capabilities in unexpected ways, and confront challenges that are fundamentally different than those routinely considered in defense calculations.
The likeliest and most dangerous future shocks will be unconventional. They will not emerge from thunderbolt advances in an opponent’s military capabilities. Rather, they will manifest themselves in ways far outside established defense convention. Most will be nonmilitary in origin and character, and not, by definition, defense-specific events conducive to the conventional employment of the DoD enterprise.
They will rise from an analytical no man’s land separating well-considered, stock and trade defense contingencies and pure defense speculation. Their origin is most likely to be in irregular, catastrophic, and hybrid threats of “purpose” (emerging from hostile design) or threats of “context” (emerging in the absence of hostile purpose or design). Of the two, the latter is both the least understood and the most dangerous.
Thoughtful evaluation of defense-relevant strategic shocks and their deliberate integration into DoD strategy and planning is a key check against excessive convention. Further, it underwrites DoD relevance and resilience. Prior anticipation of September 11, 2001 (9/11) or the Iraq insurgency, for example, might have limited the scope and impact of the shock. In both instances, wrenching periods of post-event self-examination did help solve our current or last problem. They may not have been as effective in solving our next one.
DoD is now doing valuable work on strategic shocks. This work must endure and mature through the upcoming political transition. The next defense team should scan the myriad waypoints and end points along dangerous trend lines, as well as the prospect for sudden, discontinuous breaks in trends altogether to identify the next shock or shocks. Doing so is a prudent hedge against an uncertain and dangerous future.
Violent, Strategic Dislocation Inside the United States
As a community, the defense establishment swears to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. DoD’s role in combating “domestic enemies” has never been thoughtfully examined. Thus, there is perhaps no greater source of strategic shock for DoD than operationalizing that component of the oath of service in a widespread domestic emergency that entails rapid dissolution of public order in all or significant parts of the United States.
While likely not an immediate prospect, this is clearly a “Black Swan” that merits some visibility inside DoD and the Department of Homeland Security. To the extent events like this involve organized violence against local, state, and national authorities and exceed the capacity of the former two to restore public order and protect vulnerable populations, DoD would be required to fill the gap. This is largely uncharted strategic territory.
Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security. Deliberate employment of weap-ons of mass destruction or other catastrophic capabili-ties, unforeseen economic collapse, loss of function-ing political and legal order, purposeful domestic resis-tance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergen-cies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters are all paths to disruptive domestic shock.
An American government and defense establish-ment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domes-tic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home. Already predisposed to defer to the primacy of civilian authorities in instances of domestic security and divest all but the most extreme demands in areas like civil support and consequence management, DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.
A whole host of long-standing defense conventions would be severely tested. Under these conditions and at their most violent extreme, civilian authorities, on advice of the defense establishment, would need to rapidly determine the parameters defining the legitimate use of military force inside the United States. Further still, the whole concept of conflict termination and/or transition to the primacy of civilian security institutions would be uncharted ground. DoD is already challenged by stabilization abroad. Imagine the challenges associated with doing so on a massive scale at home.
Conclusion: avoiding the next blue ribbon panel – or worse
The aforementioned are admittedly extreme. They are not, however, implausible or fantastical. Avoiding the next “blue ribbon panel,” chartered to investigate future failures of strategic imagination, requires that DoD continue its commitment to identifying and analyzing the most credible unconventional shocks on the strategic horizon. Increased attention to unconventional shocks in defense strategy should neither supplant prudent hedging against conventional surprise nor routine preparation for the likeliest defense-specific traditional, irregular, and catastrophic challenges. It should, however, become increasingly important in routine defense decisionmaking.
Historically, shocks like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the Iraq insurgency have generated wrenching periods of self-examination. However, these periods of introspection most often focus on solving the last problem versus deliberately avoiding or contending with the next one. For example, DoD is admittedly better at COIN and CT in light of its post-9/11 experience. It is, however, reasonable to ask how relevant these are corporately to the next defense-relevant strategic shock. Absent continued reconnaissance into the future, there is no good answer to this question.
Thus, prudent net and risk assessment of (1) the myriad waypoints along dangerous trend lines; (2) the sudden or unanticipated arrival at the end of the same trends; and finally, (3) rapid onset of the rarer “Black Swan” are increasingly important to DoD. Under this administration, valuable work has begun in this regard. This work should continue to mature uninterrupted. Preemptive examination of the most plausible “known unknowns” represents a reasoned down payment on strategic preparedness and an essential defense investment in strategic hedging against an uncertain and dangerous future.
It would be wise for the next defense team to recall the experience of its predecessors. On September 11th, 2001, the latter witnessed the disruptive collision of defense convention and strategic reality. The rest, as they say, is history.
More articles on this subject
- “The Oklahoma City Bombing: Immediate Response Authority and Other Military Assistance to Civil Authority (MACA)“, Commander Jim Winthrop, (Office of The Judge Advocate General), The Army Lawyer, July 1997 — 70 pages
- “The Department of Defense and Homeland Security“, Major Timothy McAteer (United States Army), School of Advanced Military Studies at the US Army Command and General Staff College, 2002 — 63 pages
- “Homeland Defense: Another Nail in the Coffin for Posse Comitatus“, Nathan Canestaro, Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, 2003 — 67 pages
- “Rescuing DoD From Too Much of a Good Thing: The Wrong Kind of Disaster Response“, Maximo A. Moore III, , School of Advanced Military Studies at the US Army Command and General Staff College, 25 May 2006 — 78 pages
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