Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Mission command, circa 1805

I see the Spanish seem to be contemplating a replay of the battle of Trafalgar. That reminds me of something I read the other day, that Lord Nelson’s form of mission command was very intensive conversation before the fight, very hands off once it began, observed A.B.C. Whipple: Nelson believed in sharing tactical options with ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

I see the Spanish seem to be contemplating a replay of the battle of Trafalgar.

That reminds me of something I read the other day, that Lord Nelson's form of mission command was very intensive conversation before the fight, very hands off once it began, observed A.B.C. Whipple:

Nelson believed in sharing tactical options with his captains, discussing every possible situation and emphasizing that when battle was in progress, every captain would be on his own. If a captain saw an opportunity to do damage to the enemy, he was free to attack without awaiting signals from the flagship's masthead. The old line-ahead dogmas of each ship's blindly following the leader was not only dead, it was replaced by something previously unheard-of in the Royal Navy: delegation of authority.

I see the Spanish seem to be contemplating a replay of the battle of Trafalgar.

That reminds me of something I read the other day, that Lord Nelson’s form of mission command was very intensive conversation before the fight, very hands off once it began, observed A.B.C. Whipple:

Nelson believed in sharing tactical options with his captains, discussing every possible situation and emphasizing that when battle was in progress, every captain would be on his own. If a captain saw an opportunity to do damage to the enemy, he was free to attack without awaiting signals from the flagship’s masthead. The old line-ahead dogmas of each ship’s blindly following the leader was not only dead, it was replaced by something previously unheard-of in the Royal Navy: delegation of authority.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.