March 1, 2009  

War’s principle’s

Your two-part cover story, “Starting over,” [January] was right on target. Phillip S. Meilinger, in his article “New principles for new war,” has done a great job updating the 20th-century principles of war. I would hope that the war colleges will take his suggestions for study and possible refinement into doctrine. His recommendations, however, appear to be directed only to the strategic and operational levels. I suggest that the existing nine principles of war might be of value for commanders and advisers who fight “small-footprint operations,” such as those in the Philippines and Colombia, that were mentioned by Charles J. Dunlap in the accompanying article, “Forget the lessons of Iraq.” Perhaps even operational commanders might want to keep them in their back pockets.

Lt. Col. Fred L. Edwards Jr. (ret.), Marine Corps

South Pasadena, Fla.

Several of Meilinger’s new principles do not seem to be principles but rather functions, such as homeland security and intelligence. By definition, principles should be guiding tenets or strategic means of organization. Further, he does not provide a context or definition for his principles, but rather loosely defines them through sometimes ill-fitting anecdotes.

In his paradox between unity of command and net-centricity, he fails to discuss commanders’ rules of engagement or command by negation (following guidance from above and making decisions based on that guidance, with the potential for override from the commander). Further, the feasibility of having one person in charge seems unattainable unless he refers to the current model of our combatant commander structure and subordinate components and mission-specific joint task forces. If so, I fail to see what is new about this.

His most misguided statement is that we simply do not know or understand the motivations of the Islamic radicals who seek to destroy us. On the contrary, we can understand exactly what motivates Islamists if we listen to what they say openly. Divining their tactics and targets is the hard part, but their strict interpretation of Islam is their motivation.

He mentions that our current principles were devised by J.F.C Fuller of the British Army, and were adopted and modified by the U.S. Army. How do his modern-day principles apply to the forces of other nations, such as Israel and their conflicts with Hezbollah and Hamas, or NATO and the Taliban? Conversely, if he is organizing for the new wars, do his principles address the needs of potentially confronting China, conventionally or otherwise?

He cites the challenges of global terrorism yet never addresses the crucial role allies and partners play in this fight in his principles, nor the unconventional nature of some of the actions required. Pursuing nonstate actors in foreign sovereign territory either requires cooperation or covert (and unconsented) action, such as Predator-fired missile strikes across the border region into Pakistan.

My last criticism deals with his principle of media awareness and initiative. I wholeheartedly agree with this principle, but I believe he gives it short shrift. The role of media in today’s conflicts is crucial to setting the narrative and influencing the outcome. Consider that in the first Gulf War, CNN was the only true international media outlet, and through their voice, the war was defined. Scroll forward to Operation Iraqi Freedom, after the emergence in the mid-90s of al-Jazeera and competing foreign-based, nonstate-controlled, international satellite outlets, and now foreign audiences can choose from whom to be informed. Often, U.S. voices or even those friendly to us were not present in these outlets, and in the post-Sept. 11 context, with the global war on terrorism being perceived as a war on Islam, the U.S. had an uphill battle all the way. Add to that the potential for intentional and creative disinformation and our inability to react quickly with factual rebuttals, and the U.S. always was lagging in the media cycle to set the war narrative. We focus on our own media to determine the tone, to our detriment, because in doing so, we ignore the media that informs and influences our key foreign audiences.

Greg D. Rowe, Navy Reserve

Centreville, Va.

I completely agree with Phillip Meilinger’s assessment that our doctrine and most importantly the principles of war are in need of refinement to meet the challenges of the modern area. I would recommend he add information operations instead of media awareness and initiative, and cyberspace. Information operations by its joint definition would nest and complement the other principles. Joint Publication 3-13 defines information operations as the integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision-making while protecting our own. The ultimate goal of IO is information superiority: the operational advantage derived from the ability to collect, process and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an adversary’s ability to do the same.

Maj. John J. Garcia, Army

San Antonio

I enjoyed reading Phillip Meilinger’s article. However, I cannot agree on his desire to change the principles of war. The principles of war are fundamental truths governing the prosecution of war. Successive developments in weapons and techniques for waging war have influenced the application of the basic principles, but basically they are as true today as they have been throughout history. Things such as air, space, cyberspace, naval supremacy, integration, jointness and net-centricity are not principles. They are things that must be managed using the existing principles of war. If Meilinger’s logic was followed in the Age of Napoleon, massing of artillery, lightweight standardized Gribeauval artillery, Congreve rockets, mobile kitchen ovens, accurate topographic maps, socket bayonets, field ambulances and a host of other innovations at the time would have been substituted for principles.

Success in battle has always favored the use of new weapons or systems, but the manner of their employment has been guided by established principles that were as good for Napoleon and Frederick the Great as they are for the current masters of the battlefield.

Lt. Col. Thomas D. Morgan (ret.), Army

Steilacoom, Wash.