- By Thomas E. RicksThomas 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 email@example.com.
By Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, PhD, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense office of mission command
Anthony King’s essay in the new issue of Parameters, titled “Mission Command 2.0: From an Individualist to a Collectivist Model,” is accurate and insightful. In my view, however, mission command has both an “individualistic” and a “collective” dimension. Further, both dimensions of mission command apply to all three levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic.
The “individualistic system” remains necessary. Battlefield realities have not changed: They are still dynamic, with opportunities emerging in surprising and unexpected ways. To wait for orders is to miss opportunities. Individual initiative, within the intent of senior commanders, is absolutely still required of all leaders. The “individualistic system” is not license, however. No leader is a free agent; all lead within nests of other leaders — which is why teaching subordinate leaders how to use their initiative within their senior’s intent remains one of the key purpose of training and leader development.
The “collectivist model” that King identifies is also necessary. Units must be aligned with each other. What one unit does affects others. King’s addition recognized this interrelatedness. In my mind, King has identified a recurring requirement: the alignment necessary among units who are aimed at a common goal. The larger the unit, and the more complex the environment, the harder alignment becomes. In my own development as a senior commander, I benefitted from George Labovitz and Victor Rosandky’s The Power of Alignment: How Great Companies Stay Centered and Accomplish Extraordinary Things. So in this sense, the “collectivist model” is not entirely new, but provides a label to an important aspect of mission command and thereby should provoke a necessary doctrinal debate. Although King limits his comments to the military, his idea is applicable beyond his case studies.
To win a war, not just battles or campaigns, leaders at the strategic level must achieve organizational integration among the actions of military and non-military agencies. This kind of integration is lacking now and, with few exceptions, has been lacking from the start of our post-9/11 wars. The McChrystal and Mattis cases that King uses are instructive, especially at the tactical and operational levels of war. But applying his ideas to the strategic level — how the political and military leaders of the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations have waged war — would be even more instructive.
General Dubik is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and a professor at the Georgetown University Center for Strategic Studies. He is the author of Just War Reconsidered.
Photo credit: ANTHONY JONES/Department of Defense