This paper sets out to provide hypotheses of a new defence model for understanding the system of defence used by a particular country; what each model sets out to accomplish, and what that model actually delivers in reality. The paper is intended to help Ministers, diplomats, advisers, and all those involved in Defence Institution Building work from a common understanding. The paper does not discuss the defence system of any particular country because this would certainly detract from communicating some new ways to assess these unique organizations. The paper intends to conceptualise the existing forms of defence organisations into a single model that is relatively easy to comprehend, explain, depict and compare with others.
Therefore, what is presented reflects a cumulative image based on the existing reality, easily identifiable from open source documents, from comparing national defence budgets to force and structure sizes, from official national positions concerning defence and operations, as well as from MOD websites, military death figures, visible defence equipment purchases and announced acquisition intentions, the media, and the outpourings from ubiquitous defence and security seminars.
The need for a new defence model
The need for a new model to aid understanding of National Defence Organizations is evident more than ever as the mission of national defence becomes more complex and the international security environment keeps changing. At the same time individual nations, and especially international security and defence architectures clearly struggle for harmonisation and coherence when try combining their members’ military capabilities for combined operations and missions. The simplicity of the days of World War One – or even Two – with relatively simple defence systems and organizations, based almost solely upon large numbers of men and women (often the entire national population and economy) with a clear enemy on the state border, has given way to a wide range of new complex factors. We now have enemies using the same national passport as the soldier (not wearing uniforms or insignia) and operating inside the borders of the particular state. We have unmanned remotely piloted drones that can kill at a distance, the military increasingly collaborating with civilian organizations, implementing ever flatter organizational structures, high personnel costs, and with increasingly questioned international moral and legal frameworks.
This new model needs also to be defence-specific. As with any public organisation, defence systems deal with public resources, for which the public holds them accountable and expects effective and efficient performance for delivering their stated purpose. But unlike any other public system, defence organisations are unique stemming from their role of being the custodian of the nation’s monopoly of organised violence. This monopoly is associated with two important traits: significant and indispensable confidentiality in actions and considerable uncertainty of tasks. These two make, from the one side, the public control over the organisation’s effectiveness and efficiency very difficult. From the other, it allows defence officials and politicians more easily to stray or creep away from the systems raison d’être to their own ends with relative impunity knowing the public will have little understanding of what they are doing.
Generally, the popular common models used today for describing defence systems, are based upon comparing numbers of men in arms, tanks and guns, warships and fighter aircraft, and defence budgets, and sometimes declarations of moral values and political norms. These statistics, oftentimes deceitful even for own national purposes, do not provide a reliable foundation for comparison and working with other allies. They are even less appropriate, if not useless, as a basis for deciding short-term corrective measures let alone for making an informed and realistic strategy.
The inadequacy of such statistical approach stems from the failure of this method to account for important factors and elements of the modern defence and security environment; from the decoupling of resources from capabilities, of political will from public support, and perhaps most importantly, from ignoring national culture.
This challenge becomes clearly visible when creating a multinational defence organisation for real world operations. The quasi-globalisation of defence – omnipresent today and certainly expanding in the future – creates the challenge of how to compare each-others’ defence organisations for effectiveness, efficiency and affordability, and also for moral basis, public acceptability and political support.
Many countries today, including those of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and their allies world-wide, have defence organizations that are still heavily influenced by Cold War legacies. Some countries are newly established with totally new national defence organizations. Some countries have allowed their defence organizations to degrade year–on–year as they cut budgets piecemeal thereby producing “Potemkin village armed forces”, i.e., merely existing as organizations, but with constantly degrading capabilities. Others have had serious organizational change forced upon them by political circumstances like wishing to join NATO or managing dramatically reduced budgets. Some are at war and have to change and improve. But many are still left in a sort of “defence management limbo” with old obsolete leadership thinking, structures and ideas, as many in the military and political circles seem to yearn for the simple days of old, visibly keeping their defence systems for a world that has long gone.
Some countries seem happy to stay that way; others have political desires for change, but possess little management clarity or skill. However, almost without exception worldwide, there are today few Ministries of Defence with their defence organizations that can realistically claim to be fully fit-for-purpose for the challenges of the day, and even less – for those of tomorrow.
Therefore, without a common model from which to provide a single platform for understanding each-other’s and their own defence systems, there are no ways the nations can realistically judge themselves, or be sensibly judged by others.
Hypothesis one: All defence organizations fall broadly into one of four recognisable models: Rational, Emotional, Politics dominant or Military dominant.
Hypothesis two: It takes effort to stay within one particular model as there are always powerful external and internal forces pulling the organization in different directions, so whilst the organization may be recognisable by one currently prevailing model, elements of the organization may be pulled, or drifting, to-and-from another model. Therefore an ideal “representative” of any of the models does not exist. Reality defence organizations have always an integral mix of the four traits, whereas one is prevailing and as such is determinant for the organisation’s adequacy of performance, efficiency and public image.
The Rational model
The “Reality” defence construct is the defence model of those countries who wish to use their forces for serious external political gain and who are ready to fight and win. They seek to train and employ warriors. To achieve and continually sustain this, their budgets are balanced finely amongst personnel, equipment, and activity. They choose leaders for results and potential. They are quick to change their organizations and structures as the environment changes. In consequence, change and innovation to create improvement is a constant theme and part of the defence mentality, both from the military and civil servants. Their troops are always ready to deploy and they count readiness and reaction times in mere hours, and not days or weeks. Keeping forces that cannot deploy is anathema. They strive for excellence in everything they do, and are always willing to move to a better defence model or idea. They have strong policy guidance, and co-ordinate and co-operate with others when needed, even if not always easily. The forces are usually fully professional and use volunteer reserves that also go on operations, train, and exercise regularly themselves (Regularly being weekly – not annually or less as in other defence models).
There are always problems with the search for highest quality. These countries do not always co-operate well internationally with other forces. This is because the defence staffs of countries using this model often think of themselves as better than everyone else and their undoubted professionalism can easily appear as institutional, military and, intellectual arrogance. Reality model countries also want to preserve their political independence for operations. This may increase their internal speed of response, but this internal focus can reduce overall military capacity for an operation below that of a slower, but broader and deeper multinational venture. The desire for delivering effective capability to robust operations and political and media “adoration”, can also see parts of the system like the intelligence services or special forces separate themselves from the mainstream defence system. This can deliver long-term adverse consequences across a whole range of operational, moral, policy, financial, and legal issues for the country, the organization concerned and the forces as a whole. The National Defence Organization, in effect, becomes unbalanced.
The Rational model is not easy to maintain. There are always dangers with trying to find the extra 10% of quality those costs, and frequently wastes, large amounts of money. Too often, many non-mainstream organizations within defence and security also strive for perfection where there is no real operational need and this also wastes money. The constant high-levels of readiness and operations can create internal stresses that bring a military social backlash in the form of high turnover and wastage. The political class, and senior officials often strive for advancement of their military cause, or simply to please, forgetting that the forces they rely upon are human. The more that those forces are used, the more money needs to be allocated for proper care and support, relaxation, and sport. A serious danger to the Reality model is that those vital enablers that actually underpin the human element and make the model work are often the first things to be cut from the budget.
The Reality model is hard to achieve and maintain, and easy to break. But properly constructed, it is the only organisational model that can be relied upon to deliver force for a country, if, when, and where needed.
The Emotional model
This model is the antithesis of the “Reality” construct. It is a model that often occurs when political leadership and defence officials are less skilled in finance, management and defence and are forced to make decisions based upon emotion and the choice of the day rather than logic, finances, and facts. It is also likely to prevail in “high power-distance” countries where the political elite dominates and is too strong for the military, and thus stops them from developing properly. The model may see the political elite failing to communicate outwards the true level of the organization’s ability, knowing there will be compliance from the forces and complacency – or no opposition – from the public. This can be for a variety of reasons. Politicians may wish to spend money elsewhere in government, it may be false national pride, some politicians may actually believe that the level is much better than it really is, or just the empty or desperate hope of confusing a potential enemy the country can do more than it actually can.
This model also has cultural foundations based upon power. It relies upon the political selection of generals and a commensurately weak and unquestioning media. It is usually symptomatic of a weak Policy Directorate in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and weak and possibly already politicised MOD briefings upwards to Ministers. It can never be a comfortable system. Everyone inside is fearful and no one feels secure even if that fear is more irrational than real. But, old leadership and security habits die hard. Political power, often highly emotional in display, overrules common sense decision-making. Leadership is often based more upon gaining and holding power and dispensing fear, than delivering positive leadership.
Within alliances, this model can only be sustained by allies turning a blind political and military eye to the realities of a country upon which they may later rely. They either do not want to accept the reality of the ally, for political or social reasons, or simply cannot make skilled judgment for lack of experience.
In defence of the political reality, this construct may have developed over time from another baseline such as having been in the Warsaw Pact; or becoming a new democracy, but the nation now finds itself with a defence system that needs radical reform. Ministers of Defence and Chiefs of Defence may wish to change the model, but there is insufficient political strength at the national level, and possibly lack of modern management understanding, or business skill to do so either. But in some cases this myth of a functioning defence is retained because politicians simply cannot face the public. Equally, it may suit Generals and Admirals to keep their large pretend force as justification for their social status; or worse, profits. Even if there is reform, the new structure can be captured by a select group – with jobs created for friends rather than the best soldiers – and this way entire groups of military ineffective units/weapon systems are saved for the sake of retaining people as opposed to rational restructuring for operational effectiveness combined with financial efficiency.
The forces will likely have few effective modern capabilities. In readiness terms, they may be able to deliver limited capability for international operations, or for third tier non-military tasks like supporting the public during floods and snow storms at home, but they are likely years away from being able to deliver true organizational capability across the whole system. Ships will be in harbour and planes on the ground, vehicles will be aging in garages, and barracks will be deteriorating steadily as funds go elsewhere. The budget will be heavily skewed towards maintaining manpower numbers, or on retaining large numbers of ships hulls or old planes. True defence activities and modernization will be poorly supported. But this should not denigrate the servicemen themselves. They may be brave and capable (and individual soldiers are often as good as anyone anywhere), but with limited training and support, their capabilities as warriors deteriorate and shrink annually. They move further and further away from having true defence spirit and abilities as the leadership, training, and support around them degrades.
The model is easily recognized from the outside by the wide variety of activities undertaken by the MOD, few of which have any relevance to delivering operations. The Ministers of Defence will travel widely and speak often, generals will be regularly shaking hands in public usually with foreign and credentialed generals, the MOD will run copious seminars and write distracting papers on non-core subjects, initiatives and even on core subjects, but then veiled behind a deceitful eloquence. Needed changes will be “studied”, possibly even by high-grade consultancies, but then shelved quietly. Defence academies will concentrate their efforts on low-level tactical thinking and soft power subjects at the expense of “real fighting subjects”. What defence activity is public will be limited, rarely showing more than a few “Special Forces”, or single helicopters with high activity and noise, serving to bluff the public rather than educate.
This model is perhaps the easiest to maintain and some countries have kept up the charade for years. When the truth finally does dawn at the political and national level, then the only solution is dramatic and radical change to rebalance the budget and reduce to a truly sustainable size. Tinkering at the edges, talking loudly in public, and attempting gradual change may help with appearances, but can never solve the true, root problems of a tired system and unbalanced budget. Even to the contrary – delay prolongs this obvious gangrenous agony leaving no option later but military amputation. But as this change requires strong and consistent political will that has been absent for years, it is likely that the charade will simply continue until there becomes total defence irrelevance, the country loses a war, or gravely embarrasses itself on an international operation.
The Politics Dominant model
The Politics Dominant model is where a country has used a political justification to follow a particular, singular and long-term national defence model (but not the Rational Defence Model described above). They see this as best fitting their culture, geography, or budget. Typically this will be based upon constructs like territorial defence, conscription, or the heavy reliance upon society or reserves. This model is usually linked to, and enabled by, some other political ideas like non-alignment, neutrality, or independence. The model often relies upon a political decision to mobilize the country for war with a ‘hope’ to produce a working defence organization in extremis. The nonsense of expecting a working military system that suddenly appears at a political wish; no matter how good the preparation (mainly paper-planning and stockpiling), and instantly being efficient, is rarely questioned, but ubiquitously present. This mass fallacy is constantly fed up by political speculations with short time horizons, rarely exceeding the tenure of office, while at the same time committing defence expenditures to less than optimum defence effect or capability.
Because this is a politically justified construct ignoring the real military world, there is rarely any questioning or testing of the true military capability of this system (until disaster comes). In most cases after a sustained period of time the model develops into a form of national ‘religion’ and simply becomes beyond question by the parliament, military, or public. Although designed as a political-strategic construct the system over time becomes a “repeating tactical conveyor belt” with limited operational, or strategic capability. To the nation, the model appears to be a “good thing”, but in military reality terms, the “emperor has no clothes”.
Real security may actually be coming from the national political stance, but this will prove weak if ever genuinely challenged because the underpinning defence model is a mirage, ready to collapse at the first real national military test.
The budgets in this model are usually badly skewed towards manpower, sometimes towards high profile equipment procurement, and often for purchase of stores for defence reserves to be used when the “big enemy” comes. This focus on stockpiling inherently depletes the nation’s powers today. But, rarely is defence money directed towards delivering the proper amounts of ammunition and training needed to deliver true usable, and sustainable, capabilities. The readiness times to deliver trained and working structures are usually vastly over-long for the current environment, and in some cases almost bizarre to the extreme. Because the organizations rarely go on demanding operations or train and exercise properly, many aspects of key capabilities will be either extremely weak or totally missing. The units exist on paper, but not in reality. Except for the keen volunteers for operations, officers are rarely tested in the field for sustained periods or with full reality-based and mentally demanding exercises. Missing this true challenge, many develop skills more akin to teachers than warriors. In consequence, in the absence of high-quality “warrior-like” officers to teach and mentor their juniors, the skill quality of the soldiery also becomes poor and usually limited to narrow fields of expertise.
Having “accepted” the model the military are likely to develop in one of two ways. They may simply become supine and unquestioning of the political arguments for providing a flawed defence, serving their careers more as teachers and administrators than soldiers. Alternately they may themselves embrace the model as ‘religion’ and in certain conditions turn it into the Militarily Dominant model, keeping the worst flaws of the model going for their own corporate ends. In both cases those who do not like these attitudes leave. Supported by a commensurate weak and unquestioning media the model continues despite evident flaws. This is usually symptomatic of a weak MOD Policy Directorate supported by weak, misleading, and politicised MOD briefings to Ministers.
There are exceptions within this model such as where the government allows forces to deploy on international operations and individual quality flourishes. But these deployments are often of symbolic size and rarely in high tempo operational areas. The forces are often formed of cobbled-together units of volunteers and not properly and sufficiently trained as a team. They are usually unable to be sustained independently for the operation and invariably need international help. This construct delivers no ability for the wider organization to develop a self-learning capacity or organizational memory, and this constrains the overall organizational fighting culture. The defence organization itself has limited institutional capacity to improve from the learning and any possible new lessons, along with modern skills and techniques, are simply wasted. Parts of the system become tested and trained by operations, but most significantly, the organization itself never develops.
Worse than this in some countries showing this model, those individuals who deploy on operations, go abroad for professional military education or to serve on international military staffs are treated poorly on return by the “old school” that never deploy, and are often stigmatised before the public as mercenaries. Modern operations are viewed as somehow different from the political defence construct and are therefore seen as not being militarily relevant. The true warriors resign early, careers unfulfilled, and the whole system suffers.
The real question and fault line of this model is the reliance upon a political decision to mobilize, or deliver funding. This reasoning flies in the face of all experience, logic, and realism because evidence shows that to deliver this decision would be politically and financially unlikely for any government. To do so would be tantamount to declaring war on any enemy, thereby worsening the situation that has prompted the need in the first place. But in addition, few; if any, modern organizations have the human administrative capacity to expand to the size demanded by the model inside a sensible timeframe. Even if they were to do so, it would be poorly trained tactical-level organizations and little else. The questions of who feeds and supports these troops, or who now runs the businesses of the country that has been mobilized seems to be conveniently forgotten and ignored by everyone including the media and defence staffs.
Again, this model depends upon allies turning a blind political and military eye to the realities of the defence system in a country they may later rely upon.
The Military Dominant model
This defence model is where the military have gained political power or influence for themselves and run the military organization for their own ends. There is complete loss of true civilian political control and this becomes extremely difficult to get back. It may take decades.
This model contains a wide spectrum of possible sub-modalities; from the armed forces taking national power, to simply creating a corrupt, soft and easy life for the military elite – or even both. For it to occur demands political chaos, moral collapse, or a total loss of political will on the part of the political and civil elite.
There are also less political and more benign modes of this construct where the military is misusing resources to increase their own social capacity at the expense of the defence budget. The defence forces waste the budget by over-ranking jobs, creating too many generals, developing large wasteful staffs, giving drivers and cars for people with no real operational need, and providing excess allowances, sustaining lavish defence resorts, military travel, and garish uniforms. The officers become lazy, reduce the amount of hard training, and go home early during the work week. This can easily occur with a succession of weak Ministers of Defence or a government that sees defence and security as a sideshow not worthy of their attention. This “soft” military corruption is in some ways more insidious because of the outward pretence of delivering defence, while rendering the system totally inadequate and wasteful. The effects are also harder for people outside of the forces to see and judge.
Often there is political compliance with this model as the politicians are feted by the military with overseas trips, wasteful military dinners, and grandstand exercises and parades all with little military substance and designed to please, flatter and bribe, and creating a façade of political legitimacy. There can also be strong links to ‘hard’ corruption where senior officers and defence officials skew the requirements for high-cost procurement programs. They gain political acceptance for the purchase, but with excess funds, then going to the political as well as the military elite. Senior officers and officials may often leave the forces to work on the projects they had championed in uniform or office.
When the political elite finally acts to change this model – for example where the country is in transition to democracy, departing from a totalitarian political system of full symbiosis of military elite with politics – then there is a need completely to restructure the top-level of the forces. This also means removing links to any former defence related political elite, since hard corruption creates very strong bonds of symbiosis. Those in power have shown their true colours and their moral weakness. In this case, if the senior officer’s corps is not replaced entirely, the transition period will be protracted, possibly taking several generations. There are inevitably some good people damaged in hard political action. Politicians need to take care not to lose those who were unable to do the right thing, because they lacked power or influence, or were under danger of removal or even death.
The Models Interaction
No country can ever stay in one model completely or easily, because external and internal tension, especially the budget, will always pull all or parts of the system towards another model.
The hardest model to achieve would appear to be the Reality construct because common sense and observation shows that today so few countries are doing this successfully. Defence in most of the world sits somewhere on, or close to, the other three models with one or two countries drifting centrally showing confusion about their political direction and military coherence. They can be judged by what they are not, rather than what they are. It is important to accept that a national defence organization does not necessarily stay fully resident in one model, but may be in a balance created over time amongst two or even three forces pulling at different aspects of the institution and also at different organisational levels.
The stresses demanding change are many and varied. War makes organizations become rational very quickly – even if raising military and organizational standards takes years longer. Alliances also have an inherent pull to make the whole organization better and more effective; but conversely, being in an alliance often reduces the political will and courage that danger brings to nations standing alone. Arguably, the weaker member of alliances drifts away from reality by political default.
Many countries suffer unconfident politicians who rather than face reality, simply search for face saving solutions or too easily turn to the military for “expert” advice. One consequence of this is an inevitable disdain for the political class shown by the military, which then if not reversed quickly by political strength and intellect and clear policy, soon becomes military dominance.
At the operational level there is the fundamental desire of many service people to become professional in word and deed, even if just for reasons of pride. When good soldiers are in organizations that are not organizationally professional they will stretch the boundaries to make them so. This will always pull non-reality models toward reality in some areas, but rarely the organization as a whole, because their enthusiasm is a threat to too many vested in the system. At the other extreme, over-use of professional troops or availability of soft money will often fuel demands for more spending on social support.
In truth, apart from the Reality model, the three other models are sub-optimal for the country in political and organisational terms, even if they provide important social benefits. At best they may meet alliance operational requirements, with support from bigger allies. But at worst, they are just wasting public money and acting either as a social service, political façade and ‘theatre’, or as a lucrative source for symbiotic military-political corruption.
Culturally, many nations seem unable or unwilling to notice the fact that the defence leadership and management constructs they use today are outdated and in many cases totally counter-productive to national ambitions. The high power-distance relationship used between senior officers and those they lead – deemed necessary up until the Second World War – has now become a defence burden. Those hero leader politicians, senior officials, and Chiefs of Defence who today still sign every paper and make every decision have themselves become the central problem for reform and modernisation. They are sustaining a defence culture that has as much relevance to modern warfare as the horse to modern armoured units.
What do the models mean for others looking in?
What this defence models paper tries to show is that each country has a unique model that it presents to the outside world made up of a combination of the unique national political and military cultures but that these can be recognised generally as dominant in one of the four quadrants. This model reflects how the country thinks and how it acts. It reflects how it makes policy, but more importantly how it thinks of policy as a concept, how it talks about policies, and how that shapes defence decision making. But the language construct and meaning within any model is unique to that model and is not the same as that used by players outside. The philosopher Wittgenstein calls this understanding a “language game” where two or more sides are speaking the same language but the meanings are totally different. To aid understanding of this, two simple examples are outlined below for the words “policy” and committee”.
What this language game does is create an internal world within each model where whatever is said becomes self-fulfilling because the language can only be heard and understood from the point of view of the country using it. The culture dominates the understanding. Outsiders can rarely understand it, let alone feel the emotional drives behind it. In this respect, to help a country change models, outside assistance becomes imperative, even INDISPENSABLE, because at the top level of the system the only language that can and will be used is the language that explains the model as being a success, therefore internal change becomes impossible. To change is to admit that all previous policies and acts were failures and the language, the very basis of thinking, meaning and being, was itself wrong.
So understanding a model and the creation of organisational glue such as required by NATO and the EU requires more thinking about and understanding than just collective utterances about “ways forward”. The truth is that on return from any meeting in NATO the players come back with their own vastly differing interpretations of the language and concepts displayed and then adapt or reject the policies according to how their own model language perceives them. NATO Smart Defence, European Defence and burden-sharing are ideas that are seen with completely different interpretations depending upon the national model they affect.
But understanding that there are different models and cultures and that languages are interpreted very differently itself aids international understanding. The next stage of development will be for the authors to create by a series of questions, a method of identifying the national defence organisation in a way that shows which model a country is closest to. In this way officials can better understand themselves and start to decide if and where exactly change is needed. The next stage will be getting countries to accept that the model they have may not be serving their best political and military interests. This challenge seems more difficult. Nevertheless, once the model of the defence organisation is detected and understood, this will greatly facilitate decisions regarding the next steps.
This paper has not explored in any depth what makes a good defence system as there are too many national historical and cultural exceptions that must be taken into account. But there are a few things that are vital and must be faced politically within any model if the defence system is to have long term viability as a national tool.
The first of these is a balanced budget with personnel, equipment and activity taking close shares. An unequal budget always leads to loss of capability and guarantees the need for regular dramatic change to bring the system back into balance.
Second is the need for genuine equality between the highest and lowest in the forces, supported by a radical improvement in peacetime staff training and business practices. Without these changes, no modern force can manage to achieve the level of mental flexibility and low-level responsibility-taking needed to be operationally effective in the current environment. This change is especially challenging in cultural terms for all senior defence officials and officers, but it must be faced.
The third is that professional forces of all ranks and all organizations (especially MODs) need every second of their career to train and prepare if they are to reach the world-class standards of potential enemies. Time and money spent on anything non-core defence and security is dangerously spent.
Example of how models shape or are shaped by language and concepts
An understanding of the meaning of “Policy”
Rational – an agreed formula to position the defence organisation strategically for maximum political and military benefit
Politically dominant – decisions that gain maximum long term popular political and public support and ostensibly provide national security confidence even if with no logical military underpinning.
Emotional– short term decisions that make the defence organisation and senior officials look good today irrespective of any possible long term consequences
Militarily dominant – positions the military for maximum benefit to them not the country they serve, although that may be given publicly as an excuse.
An understanding of the meaning of “Committee”
Rational – A grouping of experts and decision makers to produce the best possible outcome for defence and the country
Politically dominant – A grouping to reinforce what has already been politically decided
Emotional – a chance for officials to abrogate personal responsibility and take the easiest and most popular course
Militarily dominant – a forum for ostensibly handing down senior officer decisions but also to provide collective responsibility for illegal actions.
This paper is not intended to be definitive, but to open up discussion and bring some clarity to this complex and little researched area of military and public life.
Glen Grant (Masters Programme, York St John University, UK)
Vladimir Milenski (Defence Consultant – CCMR Monterey)