Positive Ends

Towards a Strategy of Positive Ends by Huba Wass de Czege and Antulio J. Echevarria II [pdf version] : America's role in the world today is a bit of a question mark, and it has been since the end of the Cold War. There have been a lot of proposals by defense planners in recent years, but few of them go beyond the Cold War paradigm of threat-based strategic thinking. Such proposals are based on preventative measures (deterring or defeating specific threats, for example), but prevention is a negative aim; this document proposes an effort of creating positive conditions, those that promote long-term peace, stability, and prosperity. The strength of such a strategy is that it would prevent many threats before they emerge in the first place. Interestingly, this strategy differs from its preventative alternatives in that it is oriented toward achieving a condition, rather than preparing to respond to specific threats. The major weakness of this approach is that others could misconstrue its goals as a form of Pax Americana. Another weakness is that positive aims generally require more energy and resources than its alternatives do.
These weaknesses notwithstanding, a strategy built around positive ends permits the United States to define its vital interests in terms of conditions-such as peace, freedom, rule of law, and economic prosperity-rather than as the containment or defeat of inimical state or non-state actors.
In theory, I rather like this optimistic approach, but there were some worrying aspects of the essay that make it seem as if a strategy of positive ends might not be as practically applicable as it may seem. In particular, though it does away with the Cold War notion of threat based analysis (which depends entirely on developing a correct list of threats and could fail when confronted with a new or emerging threat which our forces are not trained or equipped to handle), it stubbornly holds to the notion that stability above all is the most important factor of international policy. At a high level, of course, stability is something to be desired, but not at the expense of the overall good. Particularly worrying is the assertion that a good example of achieving positive ends is the non-military sanctions applied to Iraq during the 90s.

Still, this is an interesting proposal, but it's worth noting that it was published in September of 2001, at which point, the world and America's place in it changed drastically. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest triumphs of the present war in Iraq owes its success (at least partially) to the theories of one of the authors: Huba Wass de Czege. In 1982, Wass de Czege rewrote US Army doctrine, outlining a strategy emphasizing agility, speed, maneuver, and deep strikes well behind enemy lines. In 1983, he founded the School for Advanced Military Studies, which was set up explicitly to start implementing this new doctrine. By the time Desert Storm got underway, his ideas had begun to take hold and were important to the ground campaign. When we went to Afghanistan, Wass de Czege's ideas had taken an even stronger hold, as the campaign was truly a cooperative effort (one of his goals was to create a military which coordinated efforts between several branches of the armed services ) The most amazing thing about Operation Iraqi Freedom has been the agility, flexibility and active cooperation among all branches of the armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) and special operations.

Writing a new doctrine is one thing, but having it actually work on the battlefield is a true achievement, and one has to wonder how much weight ideas such as this strategy of positive ends carries... I suppose now is the perfect time to implement this strategy of positive ends; Iraq is truly in need of a serious commitment of resources and energy to bring about a peaceful, prosperous, free state, and such a commitment could seriously imply further reform on the region. If we're able to overcome the weaknesses of this strategy (i.e., being portrayed as Pax Americana), I could see it succeeding...

Update 4.27.03 - More on the US mistake of valuing stability above all here.