Note #18. a Veterans Day Sequel to “Planning-to-Win”

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Security, Strategy
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Plan with a winning strategy. Follow through with activities to bring about superior effects. Anticipate what competitors will do. Reimagine and repeat.

Decisions, Decisions

ICSL Note #4 (“Planning to Win”) contains examples of eight preventive and causal effects. Each overall effect is a combined outcome that involves three other decisions about strategy:

  • cooperative or confrontational
  • psychological or physical
  • influence will or capability

For the strategist and practitioner, what do these decision points mean?

Foremost, it’s essential to know what our strategy is supposed to prevent and what it is supposed to cause. Otherwise, we end up with ambiguous and vague goals prone to selective assessments as circumstances change. My favorite example to hate is “stability” which, unspecified, can mean just about anything. Despite such nebulousness, what we can do is infer and specify intent into relatively effective strategy—that which out-competes adversaries’ strategies. “Lines of effect” can help do this.

Lines of Effect

From Note #4, here are eight lines of effect, each of which represents a different combined strategy—one that combines various effects (ends) not just arms (means). This time, the strategies are arranged more clearly into four categories: confrontational psychological; confrontational physical; cooperative psychological; and cooperative physical.

Also spelled out this time is a ”Planning-to-Win Example” of an activity designed to bring about each desired effect. Cooperative effects are also italicized. The way that the activity influences the target is bolded (way, as in ends-ways-means of strategy [vi]).

I. Confrontational psychological strategies

A. an actor intimidates another’s will in order to Deter or Compel behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: Iran bullies Iraq into opening and closing borders on desired terms and at favorable times

B. an actor neutralizes another’s capability to perceive in order to Deter or Compel behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: North Korea uses Party propaganda to deter development of external loyalties and to compel attitude formation

II. Confrontational physical strategies

A. an actor punishes another’s will in order to Defend against or Coerce behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: China deploys large steel-hulled ships to ram Vietnamese and Filipino wooden boats in disputed fishing grounds

B. an actor denies another’s capability in order to Defend against or Coerce behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: Russia cuts off gas supplies to Ukraine to force higher prices

III. Cooperative psychological strategies

A. an actor assures the will of another in order to Dissuade or Persuade behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) develops confidence-building measures among various disputants

B. an actor enhances the capability of another in order to Dissuade or Persuade behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: FVEY partners provide one another mutually beneficial intelligence

IV. Cooperative physical strategies

A. an actor demonstrates its or another’s will in order to Secure or Induce behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: the Mekong-US Partnership Joint statement reaffirms collaboration on a variety of issues

B. an actor exercises its or another’s capability in order to Secure or Induce behavior
Planning-to-Win Example: US military and economic aid toward Africa and Latin America secured, and toward Asia induced, favorable foreign policies

Planning, Designing

A key question for these strategies is, what are the activities that sustain desired effects and conditions over time? Particularly given sudden or subtle changes in contexts, proliferation of distributed technologies, pervasive uncertainty, and competitor actions (including deception).

A plan and planning cannot anticipate all pertinent branches and sequels in a complex environment, so we need a design and designing. A recent article in Small Wars Journal by Colonel Andrew “Buster” Crabb, USMC ret., provides trenchant insight into how joint operational design has been reimagined and improved. A designing process can crowd-source creativity. Software that facilitates collaboration can enable broad-based planning, such as Miro’s online whiteboard for stakeholders.

So using the lines of effect terminology above, we will visually design lines of activities, targets and effect. Such lines of effect call attention to the combined outcomes of operations and efforts (line of operation-relational orientation, line of effort-purposeful focus).

This conceptual framework is compatible with current US military doctrine for operational design and planning. One crucial difference, however, is that this design encourages more-than-military teams to consider effects beyond military end-states. Why? So that condition-setting for desired objectives, end-states, and strategic priorities can be broader than US military doctrine proscribes.

Our focus is on how strategy works to achieve desired ends, whatever hierarchy of goals and activities that an organization or constellation of partners favors.

Designing Lines of Effect for Planning

Now let’s abbreviate the effects so we can anticipate combined strategies that make the eight examples more powerful.

Deter (Dt) —— Compel (Cp)
Dissuade (Ds)——Persuade (P)
Defend (Df)——Coerce (Cr)
Secure (S)——Induce (I

We’ll also use the acronym, dimes, to describe outcomes as diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and social. This can help determine supported/supporting ownership.

On the left side below, we have each of the eight examples displayed as combined strategies…on the right side below, we’ve added a synergistic combination of effects, followed by an explanation. Our purpose is to anticipate what competitors might do to strengthen their strategy.

So, here’s some of what to anticipate in the near future.

What to Watch For

I A. dme Cp ………. d Cp i Cr
Iran delivers diplomatic ultimatum to the incoming US President regarding the elimination of US sanctions, while continuing cyber attacks

I B. ims Dt Cp ………. d P m Cr
North Korea engages main powers US and China in diplomatic distraction, while developing long-range nuclear weapons and testing of short-range weapons

II A. me Df Cr ………. i P Cp e I
China disinformation emphasizes sovereignty and rule of law enforcement; investments and growth push the Belt and Road Initiative, purportedly with increasingly indigenous technology

II B. e Cr ………. i P Ds I
Russia, short on funds, fans opportunistic disinformation (elections, civil unrest, racial injustice, corruption) to create uncertainty with respect to Ukraine-West relations

III A. de P Ds ………. is P e I
OSCE information and social connections mobilize short-term COVID-19 recovery and long-term priorities—climate change, political inclusivity, economic growth, digital transformation

III B. dimes P Ds ………. e S
FVEY integration of cyber and information strategies are restrained by differences in domestic authorities, yet common interests in economic security muster areas of agreement

IV A. de S I ………. di P
Mekong partners press the new US presidential administration to expand US investment and enlist US allies’ participation to counter over-reliance on China

IV B. me S I ………. d P
US military and economic aid converges more with traditional allies and partners in a global diplomacy campaign


The need to anticipate counter-strategies is widely acknowledged, but all too often implemented under doctrinal restraints and misty executive guidance. What to do?

At a minimum, we need a common language that specifies strategies in terms of activities to influence will and capability to bring about combinations of effects. The lines of effect framework for combined strategies can help focus engaged minds on clarifying ends, where superiority matters most. We need to consider all types of strategies (I through IV) because a competitor is not likely to stay inside that box we’ve constructed.

Most actors blend cooperation with confrontation. In contrast, US senior leaders—civilian and military alike— fancy a “when deterrence fails” approach to war. As if our information and operational environment is either peace or war.

Planning to win coop-frontation requires more-than-military collaboration in designing and anticipating superior effects, and higher-order outcomes.

To do that, we need analytic frameworks and operational authorities that recognize the all-domain all-effects reality of complex warfare. JADC2, for instance, is all-domain only, at best.

Planning to win is the best way to honor and own past sacrifices this Veterans Day.

Author: Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.

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