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The Other Half of Strategy

The Other Half of Strategy

Have you ever thought something should go one way, but it goes another—not the wrong way, necessarily, just a different way?

From our point of view, that’s what happened to “red teaming.” Years ago, it involved seeing a problem as an opponent might, viewing a hostile challenge through their eyes, thereby improving one’s own decisions. It was, in short, the other half of strategy, the all-too-often overlooked half.

Today, it has become either (1) finding flaws in a technical system or (2) a mix of creative and rational thinking. The effort required to get inside an opponent’s head has become—strangely enough—almost an afterthought.

Consider the following insights from Colin Gray, who underscores the enduring nature of the challenge.

First, he tells us the enemy gets a vote:

People unfamiliar with the arcane world of defence analysis might be surprised to learn just how common it is for imaginative, energetic, and determine strategic thinkers and defence planners to forget that the enemy too has preferences and choices. (Gray 1999, 20)

Second, he reminds us that the enemy, in study, is only too easy to dismiss or stage-manage:

Strategy is not a game played against nature. Instead, it is actively geared to secure advantage over, or deny advantage to, and adversary who is motivated, and not infrequently able, to thwart you. Because strategy is always devised ‘at home’—nationally or within a coalition—through the workings of a process beset with myriad domestic difficulties, the enemy is often neglected in deliberations. In fact, from the peacetime point of view of the strategic planner, the adversary is actually the easiest variable to manipulate. (Gray 1999, 42)

And finally, he laments that we tend to take the easy way out:

Strategy is so difficult to design and do well that consideration of an intelligent and self-willed foe is frequently a complication too far. Many are the studies on modern strategies that impress in all regards —especially their promise of devastating military performance—save that of coping with the malign machinations of a dedicated, competent, and devious foe. (Gray 1999, 42)

Unfortunately, half a strategy often looks damn good when wrapped up in a slick deck of slides. Rarely does anyone think to ask about the missing half.

Cui bono? Our adversaries.


Gray, Colin. Modern Strategy. 1999. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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