Influencing narrative, human behavior key to national security
August 28, 2013
By David Vergun
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FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, Aug. 28, 2013) -- "War is inarguably the toughest of physical challenges and we therefore tend to focus on the clash and lose sight of the will," wrote Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno and his service counterparts.
"Time and again the U.S. has undertaken to engage in conflict without fully considering the physical, cultural and social environments that comprise the 'human domain,'" he continued, citing interventions ranging from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, where battles were won but viewpoints were not.
The statement was in the Strategic Landpower White Paper, signed by Odierno; Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos; and Special Operations Command Commander Adm. William McRaven, May 6, 2013.
The White Paper was also the centerpiece of discussion for those three land forces during an Army Training and Doctrine Command-, or TRADOC-, sponsored joint Strategic Land Power Limited Objective Exercise held here, Aug. 26-28. Joining them were members of the academic community from war colleges and think tanks, along with international and U.S. government representatives.
Participants at the exercise, most having seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan, agreed that military commanders and planners can learn from their mistakes and successes and apply those lessons to prevent future conflicts from escalating to violence.
Rather than use the military as a last resort, the U.S. can use it as first resort in conjunction with other national and international agencies to build partnerships and interpersonal relationships over the long-term, said Col. Robert Simpson, acting director, Concepts Development & Learning Directorate, TRADOC, who participated in the exercise.
"We have the ability not only to compel, but to persuade people in a positive way," he said.
Simpson has been working on concepts for the Army for more than a decade and he said understanding the psychology of the human domain is one of the hardest but most important things that he's ever undertaken.
Understanding the human domain in the age of social media is especially critical for the military, he added.
Events in recent years, such as the Arab Spring, have demonstrated how the information age has enabled people to mobilize and create strategic events at incredible speeds and then dissolve, shift activity or disappear entirely. This human interaction also creates second- and third-order ripple effects that can be felt outside the region, Simpson said.
In a high-speed world, the military has to "anticipate activities and not just react, but respond to them with a speed that matters," he continued.
The military is now dealing with the human domain like it did with the air domain during World War I, said Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander, Army Special Operations Command, an exercise participant.
During that war, the airplane was used for reconnaissance and very limited engagement, he said. Over time, its use expanded to strategic bombing, battleship destruction, as well as troop and cargo movement, close-air support and medical evacuations. Only then was the air domain fully established, along with the traditional sea and land domains.
The military is only beginning to incorporate the human dimension in its doctrine, training and professional education, he said, pointing out that in the future, the Army and its partners should strive to influence people in the region so that conflict is not necessary or is less likely.
Americans think of the Army and the Marine Corps as the hammer of diplomacy, said Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck Jr., deputy commandant, for Combat Development and Integration, exercise participant.
"We also have scissors, stilettoes, screwdrivers and other tools we can use to influence behavior" through partnering with regions in positive ways long before violent means are necessary, he said.
Elected policy makers have the final say when it comes to war, peace and diplomacy, but Simpson added that military leaders who have a grasp of the human dimension will be better able to advise those decision makers -- something he admits the military has not always done well in the past.
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