Join us 2 March for our next Red Teaming 101 Webinar.

Complexity and Continuity

What’s new and what’s old? Debate over defense theory and practice has focused much in recent years about the novelty of respective defense theories and terminology. This debate, like the COIN debate, is probably going to continue to go around in circles. Is war more complex than it has been in the past? Probably not. So why do we feel like it is?
      First, complexity is often a product of lived experience. A soldier serving in Allenby’s campaign in Palestine in World War I would take a different view of the complexity of his tasks than a soldier in the Western front, although both operational problems were equally complex (the considerations behind the infantry offensive and its coordination with artillery in the Western front were equally complex as the war of movement waged by Allenby in battles such as Megiddo in 1918). Second, complexity is often a product of structural factors. If you have a poor strategy and you are trying to design a campaign plan, things will by definition look scary and complex because the intent you seek to realize is hazy and ambiguous. Poor training or a very mechanistic education in strategy can also make problems look complex when methods only appropriate for one kind of situation fall through.
      One thing that can probably help us is to look back at complex and intractable problems in strategy of the past often forgotten in our field of study’s presentism. The Cold War, for example, was really complex–as any look at the mathematics of deterrence theory and game theory indicates. The cognitive challenge of adapting to French superiority of a new method of war in the early 1800s was also a difficult task for Prussia. The Civil War and the American Revolution are also great case studies because of the way they exposed one of the fundamental weaknesses of American strategy–divided government and the conflict between the decentralized democracy the founders preferred and the centralized command necessary to integrate political and military effects in war.