February 1, 2012  

In this issue

Students of military affairs have for centuries pondered whether there exist universal principles of war, or whether the uniqueness of each conflict renders such lists irrelevant. Clausewitz, who early in his career drew up a set of tenets, later renounced the very idea, as did British Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, some years after he penned “The Foundations of the Science of War.”

For its part, the U.S. Army has found it useful to promulgate an official “Principles of War” since 1949; its nine rules have been adopted by other services and inserted into joint doctrines. Frank Hoffman, who runs the National Defense University Press, argues for something of a middle ground. He says the winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns offers evidence, as well as an apt time, for the addition of a new precept to sit atop the Army’s half-century-old list. In Hoffman’s formulation, Mass, Objective, Unity of Command and the rest would be joined by Understanding, the effort to comprehend the cultural, political and geographic contexts, among others, of the impending fight.

One way to build understanding is to create a staff red team. Alan J. Petersen and his co-authors offer a detailed look at how such a team can be wired into a command staff.

2012 is certain to bring at least one kind of battle: wars over defense spending, both here and abroad. As the White House prepares to send its 2013 budget proposal to Capitol Hill, Mark D. Troutman looks at how last year’s Budget Control Act reduces policymakers’ options. Douglas Macgregor looks on the bright side, saying straitened finances may spur innovative thinking as the Army confronts change. And in Europe, John L. Clarke suggests cash-strapped militaries reinvigorate their withered reserve forces in a bid to retain vital capacities.

And finally, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis deployed to the shooting war in Afghanistan hoping to find evidence of the strategic and tactical progress touted by senior military leaders. After 9,000 miles of travels and hundreds of interviews with U.S. and Afghan personnel, he says there is little such evidence — and plenty to indicate things are going poorly indeed.

— Bradley Peniston, Editor, Armed Forces Journal, bradp@armedforcesjournal.com