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Knowledge Base

Think Before You Act: Defining The Political End State

Do clearly defined political end states need to be kept secret?

No. Political leaders who attempt to keep their options open by remaining vague or opaque about their ultimate ends actually limit their nation’s ability to attain them and squander trust and resources in the execution. Perhaps more importantly, confusion about the end state destroys trust that has been years in the making, and takes even more time to restore.

Does a strong military substitute for the lack of a clearly defined political end state?

No. A healthy military is a crucial component of maintaining our national security and allowing us to operate effectively in foreign affairs, but it is not a substitute for effective strategy. The military’s role in strategy is to convey insights and lessons up the chain of command to political leaders and to wield deadly force to attain the nation’s political objectives.

How do tactics and strategy fit in with clearly defined end states?

Strategy is a process, not an endpoint. It is a process of problem solving in circumstances where much is outside one’s ability to control. The role of strategy is to reduce uncertainty to the degree we can and to be prepared to respond even when we are surprised.

The strategic process beings with defined political ends: If you don’t have those, then you can’t have a strategy. Tactics are what you use to make your strategy happen.

For more, see James Ellis, James Mattis, and Kori Schake’s chapter “Restoring Our National Security” in Blueprint for America.