Note #4. Planning to Win

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Leadership, Strategy
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Winning is not a static end-state. It’s a continuous process of gaining and maintaining advantage through combinations of effects.

The competition to produce superior effects involves relationships that are both cooperative and confrontational. Applying such a “coop-frontation” lens to Russia, North Korea, China and Iran enables reveals strategies that seek to persuade, compel, induce, deter, defend, and coerce.

In authoritarian states, confrontation tends to not be a last resort, but rather an integral part of cooperation.  

Three Distinctions

We can understand this aspect of complex warfare and complex competition in terms of different types of effects. In planning to produce superior effects, we can use three distinctions. 

Confront or Cooperate

Psychologically or Physically,

to influence Will or Capability

Desired effects vary in terms of: (1) how confrontational and/or cooperative they are; (2) the extent to which they are psychological and/or physical; and (3) the degree to which they target for influence the will and/or capability of an actor. 

Consider the following distinctions among effects, targets, and tools. Effects may be diplomatic, informational, military, economic and social (DIMES). Targets to influence comprise will and capability. Tools of strategy are DIMES-wide, too.

Together these nuances can yield holistic strategies that produce a variety of causative and preventive effects. How?

Confrontational Ways & Means

Psychologically, Intimidate Will / Neutralize Capability

Physically, Punish Will / Deny Capability

In confrontational interactions, psychologically, an actor could try to intimidate another’s will to deter or compel behavior. Such as bullying a vulnerable neighbor into opening/closing borders on desired terms and times (Iran toward Iraq). Or, an actor can attempt to neutralize another’s capability to perceive, such as using state propaganda to deter the development of external loyalties and to compel attitude formation among citizens (North Korea). Physically, an actor could confront a threat by punishing another’s will, in order to defend against or coerce behavior. Such as dispatching large steel-hulled ships to ram small wooden vessels (China toward Vietnam and the Philippines) in disputed fishing grounds. Or the actor could try to deny another a capability, such as by cutting off energy sources, in order to defend against or coerce that perceived or manufactured threat (Russia toward Ukraine).

Cooperative Ways & Means

Psychologically, Assure Will / Enhance Capability

Physically, Demonstrate Will / Exercise Capability

What about cooperative interactions? Psychologically, an actor may use methods designed to assure the will of another in order to dissuade or persuade behavior. Such as confidence-building measures to promote an agenda (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe toward various disputes). Or, an actor could enhance another’s capability to perceive by providing intelligence, in order to dissuade or persuade another with respect to maintaining a partnership (FVEY partners toward one another). Physically, an actor might demonstrate the will to secure or induce a commitment, such as joint statements and strategic dialogues (Mekong-US Partnership Joint Ministerial Statement). Or, an actor might exercise a military or economic capability to secure or induce a commitment from an ally, a partner, a neutral, or even a competitor (US military-economic aid toward Africa and Latin America [secure], and Asia [induce]).

While planning to win, circumstances matter. Designing superior effects does not mean they can be achieved. Pervasive uncertainty guarantees the need to assume risk. In this type of environment, planning requires anticipating change and shaping aspects of systems, sub-systems and actors. The one certainty is the need for leadership. Crafting an inspirational vision and demonstrating determination to succeed can create opportunities out of challenges. In this spirit, planners should strive to design combinations of effects that are better than those of their competitors.

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

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