Strategy, National Interests, and Means to an End
Authored by Lieutenant Colonel Stephen D. Sklenka.
The U.S. inability—or unwillingness—to connect strategic ends and appropriate means to accomplish those ends has occurred so often over the past 15 years that one could make a credible argument that it has become a disturbing and pervasive characteristic of the modern American way of war. Beginning with a theoretical discussion of the relationship among ends, means, and strategy, this paper continues by examining specific cases of U.S. intervention from the previous decade and Operation Iraqi Freedom to demonstrate that when the U.S. commits its military forces, success can only be achieved if clear ends are identified, appropriate means are leveraged against those stated ends, and a coherent strategy is developed to coordinate the ends and means.
This paper focuses on the interrelationship among national interests, stated ends, means to achieve those ends, and the strategies required to tie all of them together into a cohesive and effective vision for the commitment of U.S. forces. The introduction addresses the current U.S. debate regarding proposed actions in the Iraq War and postulates that the lack of true strategic discussion, particularly by our national leadership who instead prefer to focus on far less appropriate discussions such as tactics and techniques, inhibits the development of a comprehensive and effective overarching vision and ultimately is to blame for the setbacks that the U.S.-led coalition has experienced in Iraq. This lack of strategic foresight, however, is not surprising and has become endemic to American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. The fact that so much of U.S. post-Cold War foreign policy involves interventions merely exacerbates the difficulties a lack of strategic foresight engenders. The U.S. inability—or unwillingness—to connect strategic ends and appropriate means to accomplish clearly defined goals has occurred so often over the past 15 years that one could make a credible argument that it has become a disturbing and pervasive characteristic of the modern American way of war.
The first section briefly explains the theoretical concepts behind the development of ends, means, and strategy. Understanding the manner in which ends, means, and strategy relate to one another is crucial toward developing a national vision, particularly when determining whether an intervention of U.S. military forces may or may not be mandated.
Once the basic theoretical construct is explained, that design is placed against four recent interventional actions in which the United States has participated: Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, and Iraq. In each of these cases, an examination of the declared stated ends is conducted, an assessment of the means dedicated to achieving those ends is made, and a look at the overall strategy tying those ends and means together is performed.
The paper concludes by asserting that the strategic failures that occurred within the four recent interventions are not coincidental. Rather, they represent predictable outcomes that are to be expected when strategic vision is lacking. Clear, succinct, and obtainable ends must be articulated by national leadership prior to the commitment of force to ensure that force is actually representative of appropriate and corresponding means to achieve those ends. Moreover, only a unified strategic design can ensure that the means are properly employed and that the ends remain focused—especially when the environment changes in such a way as to engender a necessary adjustment to those ends that require a commensurate adjustment in dedicated means as well.
Accordingly, the principal lesson to be learned is that when the United States commits its military forces in support of interventions, success can only be achieved if clear ends are identified, appropriate means are leveraged against those stated ends, and a coherent strategy is developed to coordinate the ends and means. While such a statement can be dismissed as common sense, our recent history clearly demonstrates that such is certainly not the case.
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