Military Review English Edition July-August 2014 - Page 54

These are not the types of questions any military organization encourages commanders and staffs to ask (publically, at least). Instead, most military organizations proceed on the assumption that civilian policymakers already will have connected the dots between strategic intent and military capability. History shows repeatedly how wrong such assumptions can be. Still, such questions are fundamental to planning because they probe strategic aim: What change in the military and political context would a series of military operations ultimately achieve? Put another way, strategic questions look for answers to similar metaquestions: What is the qualitative change in conditions (e.g., destruction of the war-making capability of Region X) that war plans should achieve, and how well would those changed conditions support national strategic goals? This is especially important for military leaders to ask when national goals seem unclear or clearly in excess of what military force can do at acceptable cost in time, blood, and money. What is a Qualitative Approach? Qualitative approaches can be understood by their function and their form. First, the function of qualitative research is to interpret context—the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.3 To interpret context means to understand conditions within a cohesive whole. Any categorization of conditions—including any statistical analysis, if appropriate—would be based on their relationship to the whole. Second, the basic form of all qualitative research is the gathering or developing of what could be called “texts”—referring to spoken and written language—because reading and conducting interviews are the primary means of obtaining data and information. Qualitative researchers gather existing texts from archives, memoirs, and other sources, or they generate texts through interviews and interrogations or derivative methods such as focus groups or surveys.4 To interpret a subject’s utterances during an interview or understand an archived memorandum, the researcher would need sufficient training in the appropriate language and culture. During a 2012 lecture at Duke University, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, discussing his experience in strategic decision making, emphasized the significance of context: 52 When I go into a meeting to discuss policy, discuss strategy, discuss operations, plans, whatever it happens to be, he who has the best context generally prevails in the argument, not necessarily who’s got the best facts. There’s a difference. It’s who has the best context in which those facts exist.5 Context differentiates a qualitative from quantitative way of seeing the world. By thinking in context— using qualitative approaches—commanders will be better able to set the on-the-ground conditions they are asked to establish. Not being an adept partner in strategic discussions that include context is a guarantee of military misfortune. Why is a Qualitative Approach Needed Now? The modern American military tradition is techno-scientific to the extreme. In practice, this means the American tradition is defined chiefly by what Antoine Bousquet calls “systemic application of science and technology,” as a way to gain “complete predictability and centralized control over armed conflict…”6 In the Army, this pattern became exaggerated after the Vietnam War. Gen. William DePuy, founder of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), sought to refocus the new all-volunteer force toward what he saw as a future war dominated by technologically skilled teams operating advanced weapons systems as efficiently as they would a lawn mower.7 In the 1990s, the debate over what was known as the “revolution in military affairs” trod similar ground.8 DePuy sought tactical superiority through systematized training and the development of generalized, quasi-scientific rules and methods for battle. These rules and methods would maximize the chance of success in any engagement by minimizing the risk of not maintaining control of the situation. This approach would reduce tactical engagements to predictable events in which basic variables (on-fire rates, weapons performance, mobility, and so on) could be controlled reasonably well. Crucially, the guiding tactical principles were regarded as valid in a predictive, hard-scientific sense. Mission accomplishment surely would follow their application. This was only possible, though, because the nature of the imagined war against the July-August 2014  MILITARY REVIEW