On Army Doctrine

As I spend my summer at the U.S. Army War College I have read hundreds of pages of Army Doctrine- something that even the people who write it and work on it consider boring.  Here at the War College they have stacks of these things laying around waiting for some young impressionable intern to give them to.  The two main things I have read are Field Manual 3-07, the Army guide to Stability Operations http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/repository/FM307/FM3-07.pdf and the Guiding Principlas for Stabilization and Reconstruction http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/guiding_principles_full.pdf

One of the first things you notice when you are reading these things is how often they repeat themselves, and how vague they are.  Being here, I’ve learned a bit on how these things are written.  One of the people in the office is writing an update for Army doctrine, and when they are done writing it, it gets sent to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, who then check and revise it.  Basically, these things are written by committee, and through the process even single words or phrases are subject to scrutiny, which in turn results in the doctrines using the same words and phrases being repeated until there is a single U.S. Army doctrine voice that drones on in platitudes about how things should be done in such a vague and general way that you can not disagree with it.

Here are a few examples from the doctrine that stood out to me.

From the Guiding Principles:

  • Regional Engagement: entails encouraging the host nation, its neighboring countries, and other key states in the region to partner in promoting both the host nation’s and the region’s security and economic and political development.  It has three components: comprehensive regional diplomacy, a shared regional vision, and cooperation.

This is a very nice sentiment that is hard to disagree with on the surface.  However, our most recent stability operations were in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose neighbors include lovely states like Pakistan, Iran and Syria.  Do we really want a shared regional vision or cooperation?

  • Understanding the local context: Every region, every state and every village has unique economic, cultural, religious, political, and historical characteristics.  In assessing the local context, always carefully consider all of these characteristics.

Yes, I agree, however- how?  Even when we have expertise, there is a tendency to ignore it by the DoD.  For example in Iraq the State Department sponsored a project called the Future of Iraq, http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB198/FOI%20Oil.pdf, that was written by experts before the Iraq War.  When Colin Powell sent two people who were working on it to the Pentagon to help with the planning there, Donald Rumsfeld kicked them out of the building.

  • Local customs and structures that are legitimate are better than transplanted models that are unfamiliar.

So, what does that mean for democracy?  If this is true, then if the local customs include despotism, what does this mean for stability operations?  However, the line of thought stops there without explaining that contradiction.

  • The role of women: The engagement of women is necessary to ensure sustainable peace, economic recovery, and social well-being.  Include women at the peace table, in the recovery process, in the host nation government, and in local public and private sector institutions.  Protect them at all times so they can make their unique contribution to peace.

I agree, what a lovely idea.  However, what happens to these women after the Americans leave…?  That is unmentioned.


About Leon Whyte

I'm a recent graduate of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy. My interests include Pacific Asia and Security. I am looking for related opportunities.
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