By Major Matt Cavanaugh
As silly and simple as it sounds, it’s hard to explain what a strategist is and does. I run into this definitional problem when I describe my job title: “Army Strategist.” Eyes glaze over as if they’ve heard the word “strategy” and “strategic” so much that it’s lost all meaning. And that overuse is clear in a world where you can pick up any phone book and find an entry for “Strategic Waste Management” (is that what the janitors at the Pentagon say in bars?). I can imagine some future boss of mine, looking angrily at me and pointing out the door, shouting “go…be strategic!”
So what should we expect a strategist to be and do?
Let’s start with what Army lists as the competencies specific to strategists (reference DA PAM 600-3, p. 285):
- Assess Strategic Environment, Options, and Risk…
- Translate National Priorities into Military Strategy and Plans
- Lead Multidisciplinary Groups…
- Integrate [Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, Multinational] Capabilities
- Facilitate Strategic Education and Perspective Across the Force
And, a PowerPoint briefing that circulated earlier this year suggested we’ll see an update to this DA PAM 600-3 document down the line which will include the following as a Vision Statement:
“Strategists (FA59) lead multi-disciplinary groups and facilitate senior leader decision-making by assessing, developing, and articulating policy, strategy, and plans at the national and theater levels. Through education and experience, Strategists integrate the instruments of power across the Army, Department of Defense, and throughout the Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM) environment.”
These are fine statements and descriptions for bureaucratic documents. But here’s my problem with them. They miss one essential cornerstone of strategy – the existence of a living, willed opponent. There is no strategy with no “other.” And without this point of reference, how do I know how well I’ve done? There is no such thing as a “good” strategist, precisely because “good” is an objective condition. The only thing that matters in strategy is whether I’m relatively better than my opponent. Thus, the one-eyed strategist succeeds in the caliphate of the blind.
There is also no mention of an ultimate objective. Some (particularly BHL Hart) say we fight to achieve “a better peace.” In the documentation, I can’t seem to find any mention of why the strategist plies their trade – a series of important tasks without an ultimate purpose.
So I set about creating my own: “The Strategist’s Mission Statement.” Note that it’s meant to be oriented towards a military strategist’s ultimate expression – the conduct of war. In the graphic above, I’ve listed my inspirations and purpose for each clause, which should serve to help a reader navigate my choices. The core of the mission comes from JC Wylie’s book, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control. In it, Wylie states that the strategist’s mission ought to be “to exploit some degree of control over the enemy for the strategist’s own purpose.” I agree. This little phrase might even serve as a shorthand expression amongst strategists akin to the infantry’s “close with and destroy the enemy” or armor’s “combat arm of decision.” Perhaps when someone asks what a strategist does, one could respond: “exploit some degree of control over the enemy…”
Without more ado, here are the 39 words of The Strategist’s Mission Statement:
“To skillfully select and balance achievable ends, available means, effective ways, and acceptable risk to exploit some degree of control of the enemy and environment to secure military objectives, desired political outcomes, and strategic narratives consistent with national interests.”