Image provided by U.S. Department of Defense.
By Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Bazin
Recently in Washington D.C., Army strategists gathered to discuss their profession. Discussions revolved around issues important to the Army’s Functional Area 59 and its civilian equivalent, Career Path 60. Among topics such as promotions and assignments, the group discussed areas such as ISIS in Iraq and the growth of the cyberspace domain.
One panel’s discussion focused on the question, what does the Army strategist of 2030 look like? On this point, the panel’s dialogue revolved around what separates a strategist from other specialties (such as Advanced Military Study Program planners), the need (or non-need) for a well-defined brand, and the current policy on what strategists do across the Army and joint force. Many traits needed by successful strategists came up over the course of three days of discussion, including the need for strategists to lead change, think strategically, and speak truth to power.
The discussion of professional identity is a valuable one, and is paramount to the future of the field. This brief article seeks to neither reconcile all of the disparate opinions in one model, nor suggest that one model is even possible. This article simply provides one point of view for future discussion and debate. Moreover, the hope is that this article serves as a point of departure that individuals can use to determine their own beliefs on what a strategist should be, know, and do.
The Future Environment
Simply put, some things change in war and some things remain the same. There are continuities that comprise the nature of war, such as fear, honor, interest; fog, friction, chance; and the expression violence, emotion, policy, and risk. Nevertheless, the character and complexity of armed conflict changes with each unique occurrence. Moving into the period of 2025 and beyond, the Army Operating Concept anticipates the increased velocity and momentum of human interaction and events, the potential for overmatch by our enemies and adversaries, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The Army also anticipates the continued spread of advanced cyberspace and counter-space capabilities and that demographics will drive an increase number of operations among populations, in cities, and in complex terrain. The future strategist should be prepared to make sense of this complex and challenging context and make sound recommendations in the face of complexity, deriving order from chaos. Policymakers and strategic-level commanders will demand future strategists who thrive under these conditions.
The Vitruvian Military Strategist: Physical, Cognitive, and Social Factors
In 1490, Leonardo DaVinci drew the famous sketch of the perfect proportions of the human body, called Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio. In a similar, but much less artistic attempt, the diagram below depicts one view on the perfect proportions of the military strategist of 2025 and Beyond. This diagram is by no means all-inclusive, and each individual should consider its validity to his or her individual context.
The traits listed in this diagram come from a variety of sources. The general framework of physical, cognitive, and social components aligns with the Army’s Human Dimension Concept. The diagram includes the DA Pamphlet 600-3 description of the strategist’s unique knowledge, skills, and abilities (orange text). The depiction also includes some of the timeless traits offered in Clausewitz’s model of military genius and some offered in the Army War College Strategic Leadership Primer. Over time, this model adapted as subject matter experts gave their recommendations for change. The point being, that this is by no means a static model and one should not view it as such.
Each individual is unique, and so too is each strategist. The diagram above centers the individual, in each case a unique product of nature, nurture, and choice. Like all officers, the core purpose of the Army strategist is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The professional character of the strategist centers on the oath of office, code of conduct, the Army values, and warrior ethos. These ethical guideposts should provide the officer the intrinsic sense of direction throughout their Army careers.
Overall, a strategist should strive for holistic and comprehensive physical fitness. The Army holds strategists to the same basic standards as any other soldier. How well the strategist manages sleep, nutrition, and exercise (Army Performance Triad) will determine how well they can execute their duties. The strategist’s level of energy, drive, and ability to perform under stress are other physical factors critical to success.
On the cognitive side, strategists require a wide array of traits. These traits include the ability to understand national security, integration of Army capabilities, and the overall big picture. Strategists should also think well; critically, creatively, and comprehensively. Strategists should have emotional intelligence, the ability to understand their emotions and the emotions of others so that they can deal with complex issues where thousands of lives could hang in the balance.
Strategists should display a vast array of social skills as well. This includes the ability to lead diverse teams toward a common purpose. Strategists should also communicate effectively in writing or in speech. Finally, and perhaps most important, is that a strategist advises senior leaders and should have the trust of those they advise. Strategists can only build this trust by speaking truth to power even when it is unpopular. By building a relationship of confidence and trust, the strategist garners influence and impact, which in turn, begins to bridge ideas with reality.
No one diagram could ever hope to capture every nuance of what a strategist looks like in the future. There exist many ideas and models, all with their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, it is up to each person to decide what is important to them as they progress through their service. In identifying what is important to a strategist, much like strategy in general, there are no easy answers.
Overall, the Army strategist adds value by helping leaders manage the uncertainty inherent in warfighting and other military operations. In the strategist’s world, problems are always complex, and the solutions are almost never black and white. Looking to the future, the world will challenge even the most capable officers in ways inconceivable to us now. As such, future strategists should ready themselves physically, cognitively, and socially to help both the Army and the nation win in a complex world.