Back to top

Think Before You Act

Share

Defining the Political End State in Military Conflicts

When we decide we need to take military action, how do we make sure we do it right? Whether it’s fighting against ISIS in the Middle East, driving the Iraqis out of Kuwait, or confronting the Axis Powers in World War II, every military campaign should start with a very clear idea of how we want the situation to end – what we call a “clearly defined political end state.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Do all clearly defined political end states require military force?
  2. What would a clearly defined political end state look like if the United States decided it wanted to commit resources to destroy ISIS?
View Transcript

When our country decides we need to use military force, how do we ensure that we achieve our objectives swiftly and decisively?

Whether it’s fighting against ISIS in the Middle East, driving the Iraqis out of Kuwait, or confronting the Axis Powers in World War II, every military campaign should start with a well-defined idea of how we want the situation to end – what we call a “clearly defined political end state.”

It may seem obvious, but this fundamental principle of foreign policy is ignored too often. And when this happens, we end up fighting wars that could have been avoided, losing wars that could have been won, and threatening the lives of both soldiers and civilians.

Having a clear endpoint allows diplomats and military planners to prioritize and coordinate the resources needed to accomplish the objective. It also reassures our allies that there is an achievable goal and a clear strategy, allowing them to make military commitments with confidence.

Obviously, no military action ever goes exactly according to plan. But knowing our intended outcome allows us to better see, adapt, and change our course when things don’t go as planned.

Not every conflict will have an end state as clearly defined as Word War II’s “unconditional surrender” of the Axis Powers. Clearly defined end states are rarely obvious or straightforward, and they’re almost never easy to accomplish. But in every case, they’re critically necessary to preserve and protect our credibility, resources, and human lives.