Friday, March 04, 2005

The cart driving the horse

Babble on.

Nicholas Russon at Quotulatiousness discusses the trend in both the U.S. and Israeli armed forces towards decentralized decision-making, and highlights the changing relationship between civilian society - especially the business community - and the military.

...the Israel military is supplying a de facto business education, as Betsy Cummings suggests in the title of her excellent article in today's Times: I got my MBA in the Israeli Army.

This is certainly not your father's army, nor even mine. Elite military forces have emphasized individual initiative and decentralized decision making for decades, but this is moving the entire army in the direction of individuality. This is, to mix a metaphor, quite a sea change.

For western countries, this is probably an inevitable shift, as we grow less and less willing to subject ourselves to the kind of rigid military discipline and less willing to support existing military disciplinarians. This would have been a weakness twenty or thirty years ago, but today can be a huge strength — because the technology to empower the individual soldier is now coming out of the lab and into the field.

The push towards an "Army of One" also takes advantage of demographic trends in western society, instead of resisting them. As Donna Winslow states in the Canadian Military Journal:

For the military, the core values of Army culture are subordination of the self to the group and the idea of sacrifice: the individual must be willing to subordinate him or herself to the common good — the team and common task. Furthermore, there must be a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the team in peace and war — without this, an armed force will risk defeat. However, in a more individualistic Canadian society, a lower priority is given to values of the community and the subordination of the self to that of the team. We can say that Canada is not a militaristic society, nor is it likely to become one in the future. Patriotism, as it might be expressed in “proud service to one’s country”, is not widespread.

But if our armed forces can properly encourage and harness individual talent and initiative in the pursuit of the organization's goals, the conflict between military and civilian cultures becomes far less pronounced. Military training and experience also becomes far more attractive to the business world.

Unfortunately, since unification in 1968, and the establishment of the monolithic NDHQ in 1972, the Canadian Armed Forces seems to have incorporated all the worst aspects of the business world and society at large. Bureaucracy reigns in an ossified, top-heavy command structure that rewards career climbers over true contributors. The prime qualification for flag or field rank seems to have become an ability to manage downsizing rather than to lead troops at a strategic level.

Canadian military structure and ethos should be leading business, as the U.S. and Israeli militaries have, not following it.

Babble off.


At 5:10 p.m., Blogger MB said...

You make some good points here.

However, all is not lost. In the past few years, at least in the lower levels, there has been an effort to move towards more decentralization. It is already happening. The Army has, for a number of years, talked about the "strategic corporal". In addition, as you seen the Ray Henault's retire and as more of the Hillier's move up, this more individualistic style will permeate military culture.

In my view, the highest levels of the military still have a way to go, but rest assured, no one lives forever.


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