Economic training for junior ranks resonates with military chief
March 5, 2010
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 4, 2010) -- As a student at the Command and General Staff War College here, part of Maj. Jackie Thompson's studies have included examining how broad economic theories relate to warfare.
While such macroeconomic lessons provide an entrAfAe to the relationship between markets and military missions, scarce practical economic education exists for training junior- and mid-ranking officers and enlisted troops bound for places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where development is considered a key to success.
"To have the overall 'why' without the 'how' doesn't work," Thompson, who served as a JAG officer in Mosul and Basra, said of the contrast between theoretical and practical lessons. "You have to have a method to implement the economic program."
Creating a fiscal "how-to" guide to inform deploying U.S. forces on economic decisions -- a concept floated in a discussion here with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- resonated across a spectrum of military officers today.
As part of its current intellectual arsenal, the military boasts a doctrine known as the "Money as a Weapon System Manual" that serves as a primer to the role of finance in armed forces operations. What's missing is practical guidance to help steer the economic decisions of troops endowed with significant discretionary spending to gin up local business and help jumpstart the economies of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have handed young captains and senior NCOs millions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the CERP funds to essentially create jobs, to essentially create communities, to build a chamber of commerce, if you will, in ways where a structure didn't exist," said Mullen, referring to the Commander's Emergency Response Program. "So having some training, some education, some focus on that before we go and do that, I think is really important."
At a roundtable discussion here among senior military officers, academics and policy think tank members, Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., commander of the college, embraced the notion of spreading economic knowledge throughout the ranks.
"From a division commander who had responsibility for the seven northern provinces of Iraq here recently, we had an economic line of effort and we put a lot of energy into the development of the economy through CERP or starting new businesses," he said. "If I had had this background, and if our officers had had this training, this was exactly the kind of thing we need to go into these kinds of operations."
Mullen listened during the discussion to a proposal for a new armed forces field manual focused on so-called "Expeditionary Economics." Though in its early phase, the concept would provide guidance on how young officers and more senior noncommissioned officers could help set the conditions for economic growth downrange.
Robert Litan, vice president of research at the Kaufman Foundation which is underwriting the project, said the goal would be to spark an interest in entrepreneurship among local populations. His caveat was that the chaotic nature at the root of capitalism might create a clash of cultures for a military more accustomed to strict regimentation.
"A key point that has come out of a lot of our work is that this can't be too planned. By nature, capitalism is messy as hell," Litan said. "The question is, can you pull off a situation where you have just enough planning to ignite the messiness that's called capitalism, then let a thousand flowers bloom."
In a riposte that elicited laughter, Mullen, who was receptive to the overall objective, said, "The military doesn't do messy." Acknowledging the contribution of Wall Street that lead to the current financial woes, the chairman said the credibility blow to U.S. fiscal advice wouldn't preclude the nascent economies of Iraq or Afghanistan from benefiting from American-led development as they seek to sustain themselves.
Speaking more broadly about the nexus of economics and the threat of terrorism, Mullen cited a drive inherent in human nature that could be facilitated -- or thwarted -- by on one's economic situation.
"Parents around the world would like to raise their kids to a higher standard of living," he said. "And that means young sons and daughters choosing careers that don't include blowing themselves up and killing innocent people. The economics behind that are very important, as are the beliefs."