Strategy is expressed in terms of ends, ways and means. Ends, ways, and means that lead to the achievement of the desired end state within acceptable bounds of feasibility, suitability, acceptability, and risk are valid strategies for consideration by the decision maker.
Objectives (ends) explain “what” is to be accomplished. They flow from a consideration of the interests and factors in the strategic environment affecting the achievement of the desired end state. Objectives are bounded by policy guidance, higher strategy, the nature of the strategic environment, the capabilities and limitations of the instruments of power of the state, and resources made available. Objectives are selected to create strategic effect. Strategic objectives, if accomplished, create or contribute to creation of strategic effects that lead to the achievement of the desired end state at the level of strategy being analyzed and, ultimately, serve national interests. In strategy, objectives are expressed with explicit verbs (e.g., deter war, promote regional stability, destroy Iraqi armed forces). Explicit verbs force the strategist to consider and qualify what is to be accomplished and help establish the parameters for the use of power.
Strategic concepts (ways) answer the big question of “how” the objectives are to be accomplished by the employment of the instruments of power. They link resources to the objectives by addressing who does what, where, when, how, and why, with the answers to which explaining “how” an objective will be achieved. Since concepts convey action, they often employ verbs in their construction, but are actually descriptions of “how” the objective of a strategy is to be accomplished. Strategic concepts provide direction and boundaries for subordinate strategies and planning. A strategic concept must be explicit enough to provide planning guidance to those designated to implement and resource it, but not so detailed as to eliminate creativity and initiative at subordinate strategy and planning levels. Logically, concepts become more specific at lower levels.
Resources (means) in strategy formulation set the boundaries for the types and levels of support modalities that will be made available for pursuing concepts of the strategy. In strategy, resources can tangible or intangible. Examples of the tangible include forces, people, equipment, money, and facilities. Intangible resources include things like will, courage, spirit, or intellect. Intangible resources are problematic for the strategist in that they are often immeasurable or volatile. Hence, intangible resources should always be suspect and closely examined to determine whether they are actually improperly expressed concepts or objectives. The rule of thumb to apply is that resources can usually be quantified, if only in general terms. The strategist expresses resources in terms that make clear to subordinate levels what is to be made available to support the concepts.
Validity and Risk.
Strategy has an inherent logic of suitability, feasibility, and acceptability. These would naturally be considered as the strategy is developed, but the strategy should be validated against them once it has been fully articulated. Thus, the strategist asks:
Suitability—Will the attainment of the objectives using the instruments of power in the manner stated accomplish the strategic effects desired?
Feasibility—Can the strategic concept be executed with the resources available?
Acceptability—Do the strategic effects sought justify the objectives pursued, the methods used to achieve them, and the costs in blood, treasure, and potential insecurity for the domestic and international communities? In this process, one considers intangibles such as national will, public opinion, world opinion, and actions/reactions of U.S. allies, adversaries, and other nations and actors.
The questions of suitability, feasibility, and acceptability as expressed above are really questions about the validity of the strategy, not risk. If the answer to any of the three questions is “no,” the strategy is not valid. But strategy is not a black and white world, and the strategist may find that the answer to one or more of these questions is somewhat ambiguous.
Risk is determined through assessment of the probable consequences of success and failure. It examines the strategy in its entire logic—ends, ways, and means—in the context of the strategic environment, and seeks to determine what strategic effects are created by the implementation of the strategy. It seeks to determine how the equilibrium is affected and whether the strategic environment is more or less favorable for the state as a result of the strategy. Risk is clarified by asking:
What assumptions were made in this strategy, and what is the effect if any of them is wrong?
What internal or external factors were considered in the development of the strategy? What change in regard to these factors would positively or adversely affect the success or effects of the strategy?
What flexibility or adaptability is inherent to the components of the strategy? How can the strategy be modified and at what cost?
How will other actors react to what has been attempted or achieved? How will they react to the way in which the strategy was pursued?
What is the balance between intended and unintended consequences?
How will chance or friction play in this strategy?
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