hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Why People Do Things and How to Beat Them…and All That

Alphen, the Netherlands. 21 February. I know, I should be writing about how my Dear Leaders of the Eurozone Onion agreed to Greece having another €130 billion of my money, which I have not got, so that Athens can continue to pretend to reform and that future Greek ‘competitivity’ is more than just an ancient Greek joke re-visited. However, I am so bored by this deceit that I will avail you all of only a summary. The Euro was born of a lie, it is being sustained by a lie and that lie will continue for many years to come. Is that clear?

What is going to happen? That is easy to predict. Greece will get another bail-out next year before leaving the Euro in 2014 when the firewall to protect Italy, Portugal and Spain has been properly topped out with more of my money at which time they will become long-term financial protectorates.  Thereafter, we Dutch taxpayers (and others) will be 'invited' to support our Euro-fellows for many years as an act of 'solidarity' (appalling and empty Onion-Speak) as our Dear Leaders hope against hope that a) sufficient economic growth returns to limit the damage to taxpayers in the so-called AAA countries; b) sufficient growth returns soon enough to prevent other European economic basket cases, such as Belgium and much of eastern Europe joining the hand-out queue; and c) we do not take to the streets in mass protest at the tax-raiding of our meagre savings and pensions to fund all this. Ten years ago when I was working for the European Onion I saw the real cause of this mess; the rejection by Brussels and all our Dear Leaders of any reality that did not accord with Euro-reality and the persecution of any heretic brave enough to point this out. Nothing changes.  This is one hell of a gamble.

No, today, I am going to talk about something close to my heart – defence education in Europe. Why? Well, because the Euro crisis is not only disconnecting European security from world security, it is turning many European armed forces into little more than armed pensions. Something radical needs to be done to bridge the abyss between strategy and austerity through which our armed forces are now falling.

Now, you all know that I do not normally use my blog-blast to push someone else’s book. Indeed, normally this page is reserved for shameless and utterly ill-deserved self-promotion. Moreover, this book at no points cites any of my own works for brilliant insight.  This usually condemns a book in my mind to what Blackadder once said of Dr Samuel Johnston’s “Dictionary”; the most pointless book since “How to Learn French” was translated into French. Sadly, this book suffers from no such failings, although it does have perhaps what Blackadder would have described as the worst title in the history of bookdom since “Paradise Lost” was re-titled “Getting Lost in Chalfont St Giles on a Day Out” (those with a literary bent will get the pun). So, what is the book’s saving grace? Simple - it agrees with me.

Entitled “Behavioural Conflict – Why Understanding People and Their Motivations Will Prove Decisive in Future Conflict”, it should have been called, “Why People Do Things and How to Beat Them...and All That!” It is written by a couple of colleagues of mine – Andrew Mackay and Commander Dr Steve Tatham of the Royal Navy.

The implicit theme running through a book with a decidedly British flavour is that military and defence education as currently conceived simply does not prepare people for the challenges of tomorrow’s conflicts. The status quo is rarely challenged, nor are courses structured or led to encourage the free-thinking vital to future mission success.

My own view of Western military power has long been that it will need to become much more intelligent. Not simply in terms of the weapons it can fire, but how each and every member of the force thinks about his or her role in a mission, and about the people and places where they take place. Indeed, for me the only way for ever-shrinking European armed forces to be effective in a world in which the use of armed force is sadly becoming more not less likely is to exploit comparative advantage – educated human capital.

During my about to end time as Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy I enjoyed some modest success in creating the concept of officer-scholar. A few select officers were taken out of the traditional career chain to undertake doctoral research so that lessons-learned from military operations could be just that – learnt. Too often said 'lessons' end up propping up endless shelves in endless corridors in some classified ‘bibliotheque’ never to be seen again, especially if they say something interesting.

One of the many oft-uttered platitudes that tended to bring on nausea is that armed forces are learning organisations. No they are not. They are too often course-following, box-ticking, exam-passing organisations. Defence academies are thus merely the gate-keepers to promotion. Doing is the thing – not learning. And sadly too often too many defence educators conspire in this cosy conceit, preferring narrow, irrelevant research to the building of life-long learning relationships. A real opportunity is thus missed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our military people…and others. Indeed, with even a smidgen of vision defence academies could be real hubs for the kind of distance and life-long learning partnerships which our armed forces will desperately need if they are to succeed in the complex environments into which they will be inevitably thrust.

The point about learning is that it teaches one how to question and that is the problem. Too often be it staff colleges, defence academies or even defence universities, the role of applied research – the very essence of questioning – is suppressed because it is perceived to challenge the orthodoxy of command authority. If our armed forces are going to have any chance of succeeding this century the entire concept and approach to defence education will need to change. Sadly, there is no appetite for that in either hard-pressed defence ministries or too often in staff colleges and defence academies. Defence academies have become so conservative as to make them pointless.  This is self-defeating as the real enemy these days are governments which see defence budgets as targets for deep and damaging raids to fund the kind of Onion-rubbish apparent last night in Brussels.  A bunker mentality does not tend to promote free-thinking. 

So, those of you ‘in the business’ strong enough to brave the appalling title please read this book. You might learn something. But then what do I know – I am a heretic.

Julian Lindley-French

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