Friday, January 2, 2009

Commenting on Maneuver

Saw this over at the indispensable Small Wars Journal. A conference in Israel, by and for military professionals, on the meaning and future of maneuver. Dr. Russell Glen had a tough job writing this paper. This was obviously one of those rare jewels in military endeavors: a conference from which one emerges smarter for having attended. Usually, one emerges from conferences 1) lamenting the expended hours of life one can never get back and 2) mourning the loss of several points off of the ol' IQ.
Amalgamating the discussions of a conference like this into a coherent paper that imparts, to at least some extent, some of the wisdom shared and developed to those who could not attend is a daunting task. This article helped me get smarter (which is, indeed, testament to Dr. Glen's abilities). Couple of thoughts:
1. In the brief historical overview of maneuver, Dr. Glen mentions some of the rock-stars of maneuver warfare. But when touching on the American Civil War, he didn't mention Sherman. Sure, Lee and Jackson were mentioned, and Grant (as usual in this type of discussion) was the foil, embodying attrition, but how can one not mention Sherman? Talking about maneuver in the Civil War and not mentioning Sherman is like talking about Rock'n'Roll and not mentioning Elvis.
2. Later in the article, the "new" requirement to consider civilian populations in the application of maneuver in today's predominately COIN environment:
Now a planner or commander must instead incorporate concerns regarding how his organization’s maneuver will influence populations, an indigenous government, and other relevant parties so as not to alienate individuals or groups vital to objective accomplishment. The basic nature of maneuver remains unchanged; how it is applied and the influences that impact the employment of fire and movement to gain an advantage over the enemy have expanded considerably given such context.

But is this really new? Or just reemerging as the wheel turns? One could argue it was Napoleon's (portrayed here, accurately I think, as one of the founding fathers of maneuver) failure to plan for the reactions of the population to his maneuvering that laid him low in Spain. It was, after all, Napoleon's Spanish campaign that gave us the term guerrilla, a term that is not inconsequential today, although overtaken by "insurgent" and "militant."

3. One of the conference's objectives was to determine whether the doctrinal definition of maneuver can stand pat or needs to evolve, to expand in order to cover not just the movement and array of physical forces on the battlefield, but also all of the capabilities of a nation-state trying to reach its objectives. I don't have a dog in this fight, but I think that a word of caution is in order. Expand the term too much, and it becomes meaningless. The best example of this is the recent expansion of "Information Operations." Pretty much every instructor in every US military school right now will expound on how everything is Information Operations. Consequently, we suck at it. I would hate to see so sound and storied a Principle of War as maneuver suffer the same sort of dissolution, or diluted to the point--as with Info Ops now--where any moron can use it to justify his actions, no matter how retarded (or more likely, to justify inaction).

Personally, I'd keep the doctrinal definition as is, and use it as an organizing principle for contemplating the application of state power to a problem set (as the author does admirably in the article).

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