Formulate defence vision and strategy

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The art of defence, its vision for achievement and its strategy have have been at the forefront of setting procedural and analytical  benchmarks. From the likes of Sun Tzu, through to Machiavelli, Bismarck, Fuller and modern day generals, the thinking about strategy, especially in the art of defence strategy has largely beaten the path towards the current compartmentalisation and integration of policy, followed by a strategic approach and then detailed plans.

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1. Defence Policy

A coherent national defence policy is one of the fundamental sectoral policies within the security and justice sector. Defence policies should be derived from already agreed national security policies and strategies. The  analysis of and consultation on defence policy needs typically results in what is often termed a defence white paper which, once approved by the government, establishes policy directions for the defence sector for the period of its validity. 

'Military subservience to political control applies to existing policy, not to policy debates. The political process requires the unfettered opinions of military leaders, and military leaders who lack the courage to offer such opinions are just as accountable to their people as the politicians who have secured their silence.'

Senator Webb 1999

Defence policy formulation or development is only one step in a group of interdependent activities that collectively define national defence. As well as policy formulation, the defence system has to be able to implement the policies effectively which in turn requires the ability to develop strategies, plan, programme and budget across the sector. As well, there has to be continued political and bureacuratic oversight of defence policies and activities to ensure that the policy settings remain relevant and that the activities contribute to policy ends.A white paper is a political document. Although it will (and should) normally be prepared following detailed analysis of the issues, the final product is a statement of the government's intent and as such might not necessarily conform to strict analytical or evidence-based conclusions, although the policy statements will usually be couched in ends-means terms. The policy's  underlying analysis should always be evidence based.

The graph below sets the basic activities undertaken in a comprehensive defence policy process. Each activity may involve several sub-activities, a variety of actors, and require or produce various inputs or outputs respectively.

RISK: The final output of the process is a Defence Paper, which is a statement of policy directions and decisions. Much of the policy might be new, some of it might be amendments to the current settings. In each case the new policy will have to be implemented. This will involve analysis, planning, programming and the adoption of specific practices related to the policy. Without these activities, the declared policy itself will not be successful.

Although an end point of 'implementation' is shown on the graph, the end point is more apparent than real. As with all other policy areas, defence policy settings should be kept under continual review. Once activities, or force structures, or equipment plans, or forecast budgets diverge significantly from declaratory policy, it is likely that a re-examination of policy settings is needed in which case the process needs to start again.

Even once the policy has been implemented it still needs to be monitored and evaluated to ensure it is meeting the professional and political intent behind it. If specific policy implementation does not work new methods of implementation might be needed, or in the worst case the policy might need to be revised. Inevitably, with the passage of time, policy settings will become irrelevant to the strategic, political, economic, technological or social environment in which case a new policy development round is likely to be necessary.

2. Defence Strategy

Defence Strategy is the use of military means to achieve higher national or defence policy ends. Defence strategy should be derived from national security policies and strategies and from an overarching defence policy. Many countries (especially less developed ones) will not have these higher statements of intent. In these cases defence strategy will need to be developed from  first principles. Higher order questions to be asked by the strategy writer include:

  • what policy ends are we trying to achieve?
  • what military resources currently exist to achieve those ends?
  • what further military resources do we need to supplement those we have?
  • how do we want our country to be seen by the international community through the employment of military forces?

Those primarily military considerations must, of course, be set against the larger context within which military activity takes place. Political, diplomatic, economic will almost always be considerations that could alter purely military conclusions, and a country's historical experiences, political preferences and national culture will shape strategic directions in ways that might not be obvious at first sight.

The strategy formulation process may be considered as a series of steps as in the diagram below (but we should note that in practice strategic development does not develop in this kind of clear cut way. Instead competing factors will often lead to a strategy that is 'imperfect' but which is all that is achievable. Nonetheless, an initial attempt to develop an optimal strategy should be made, even if the final outcome is satisfactory rather than ideal).

There must be a clear-cut, long-term relationship established between ... intentions and administrative resources...'

Montgomery 1958

3. Defence Plans

A defence strategy is a high-level description of what a country wants to achieve with its armed forces. But a strategy is useless without planning to ensure that all the individual military components are in place and focused on achieving the strategy.

Planning is the process of transforming a strategic 'vision' or approach into an operational reality. It involves attempting to reduce elements of uncertainty, chance, the activity of other actors and the 'friction' of military activity and instead ensuring certainty of outcome by considering all possible factors and the appropriate response to them. In practice, plans do not stand the test of events, but even the worst plan 'is better than no plan at all' (Monash 1918) and any plan must at least be able to 'change its shape without changing or cracking its substance' (Fuller 1923) in response to events.

Plans are required for all military activities from the largest to the smallest. Those plans developed in response to national strategies will involve activities for all parts of the armed forces and will be directly concerned with achieveing the national strategy. Plans must:

  • have an aim
  • have sufficient resources
  • have a process for using the resources
  • be timely
  • be flexible
  • take into account the likelihood that external activities will affect the plan, at least in the detail

Even with all of these points taken into account, plans are likely to have to be altered and improvised as real events overtake the planners' idealised model of events.