Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin


To the Editor:

We take issue with Major Lamberson's letter to the editor (July-September 1995), particularly where he states that identifying the enemy's center of gravity is a frivolous matter for battalion and brigade S2s. We contend that it is critical and the most important intelligence the S2 provides his commander. If the S2 does not identify the center of gravity, then the commander cannot focus his efforts. If the S2 omits the center of gravity, he infers everything the enemy has is important. If everything is important, then nothing is important. When the S2 overlooks the center of gravity, he forces the commander and his staff to piecemeal their effort.

However, if the S2 correctly identifies the center of gravity, then all friendly effort can focus on the one entity that will ensure enemy defeat. When the staff focuses on the center of gravity, their efforts are synchronized. Synchronization allows employment of the battalion's battlefield operating system at the critical time and place using its full synergistic effect.
This concept is true at all echelons. The battalion S2 has every reason and obligation to identify the enemy's center of gravity. For example, if the friendly battalion is to attack an enemy company strongpoint, that strongpoint defense has a specific center of gravity. There is one crucial element that the enemy commander will rely on for success.
If the S2 identifies this, then the friendly commander can mass his effects against it. Defeating the center of gravity defeats the enemy. Therefore, this process allows the friendly effort to concentrate on the one sure thing whose defeat will directly correspond to friendly mission success.
Identifying the enemy's center of gravity is not hard. Each situation and possible enemy course of action is analyzed. It is important to think as the enemy commander thinks: what is he relying on for success? Once identified, this center of gravity is broken down into its parts or high value targets. With this information, the commander and S3 can develop a plan that targets the enemy's critical structure. If the S2 fails to or incorrectly identifies the enemy's center of gravity, it dilutes the friendly effort.
Captain Lisa Bennett and Captain Bruce Niedrauer Fort Huachuca, Arizona

To the Editor:
Throughout history, formulaic thinking has been the high road to military disaster. The French outnumbered the British by odds of over 3:1 at Agincourt, but numerical advantage turned out not to be the deciding factor, and the prevailing idea that armored cavalry would always defeat infantry proved wrong.1 In 1806, the army of Prussia had one of the most impressive reputations in Europe, but Prussia's mastery of 18th- century "chessboard warfare" could not save it from Napolean's onslaught.2 The Wehrmacht managed to smash through France's defenses in 1940, not because Germany possessed any superiority in either numbers or quality of men and machines, but because the French had anchored their strategy upon a rigid and misguided concept of warfare3 (the Maginot mentality). A possibly apocryphal story tells that when President Nixon took office in 1969, members of the new administration applied a computer model to determine how long it would take to win the Vietnam war and, after entering data concerning body counts, kill ratios, gross national products and the like, received the answer: "You won the war in 1964."4

This fallacy of rigid and abstract thought is not dead. In our opinion, such false logic seems especially flagrant among the political scientists who attempt to analyze strategic affairs using what they call "formal modeling" or "quantitative methodologies." In the April-June 1995 issue of the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, Captain David Resch introduces readers to those techniques. However, we urge military intelligence professionals to approach academic theory with caution.

The Nature of the Theory

One should not confuse formal modeling with less pretentious statistical methods, such as operations research. Those who practice quantitative methodology would reduce all of war, indeed all of human affairs, to mathematical equations. Quantitative theorists aspire to formulate what they define as "scientific" laws of human behavior, with the ultimate goal of answering political questions in the same definitive way that natural scientists discuss the activity of subatomic particles. This quest has taken many forms, but all of its variants use the same underlying technique. Researchers make a series of assumptions about the nature of strategy and politics, so that they may then express a real-world situation in terms of numeric variables. Then, such researchers enter these variables into the formula they have created and solve the equation in order to predict the outcome of strategic events.

Mountains Without Molehills

Although quantitative modeling claims to be "objective" and "scientific," all of its variants rest upon the assumptions of the modelers. Furthermore, once one accepts a model, one gives up much of one's ability to test these assumptions against reality. In order to turn human events into numbers, researchers must translate real-world phenomena into arbitrary symbols. Therefore, these models inevitably reflect the intellectual prejudices of their inventors. If, for instance, the French general staff had made a model to predict the events of a German invasion in 1940, we can safely assume that the resulting model would have produced results reflecting the assumption that the defensive would always be the strongest form of warfare.
The assumptions formal modelers make about human psychology seem especially question- able. Most current theories in quantitative political science rely on the idea that people behave as what economists call "rational actors." According to the "rational actor hypothesis," people make decisions by calculating the relative costs and benefits of different options available to them and then take the path which maximizes their own self-interest. Differences in culture, political system, or individual character affect military or political behavior only to the extent that they reflect perceived self-interest. Moreover, political scientists tend to interpret rational-actor theory in a rigid fashion, which denies the existence of any altruistic motivations such as honor, duty, or community spirit.
Furthermore, in the real world, the costs and benefits of each "option" are often blurred. If commanders can improve their ability to carry out operations, they can completely rearrange the "cost-versus-benefit" analysis. Even if we accept the dubious premise that all human options come down to economic calculation, the real difficulty in military operations (or politics) lies in the details of carrying out those options. This, perhaps, is the meaning behind Clausewitz's remark that although everything in war is simple, the simplest things are difficult.
Captain Resch sums up the opposition to quantitative analysis by citing Mr. James Finley's intentionally narrow criticism of the method. With all due respect to Mr. Finley's perfectly reasonable observations, we prefer to invoke others in our critique. The nuclear strategist Bernard Brodie, for instance, notes that while intangible issues of morale, political ideology, and national will may decide wars, these ideas do not fit nicely into models. Therefore, those who find models appealing too often end up shunting these factors aside. As Brodie wrote about his experiences at RAND-
Within RAND itself there was a quiet but strongly-felt differential between those who knew how to handle graphs and mathematical symbols...and those who merely knew how to probe political issues. Elegance of method is indeed marvelously seductive, even when it is irrelevant or inappropriate to the major problems.5
Professor Hedley Bull wrote what has become the classic modern criticism of such methods. Dr. Bull notes that-
I know of no odel that has assisted our understanding of international relations that could not just as well have been expressed as an empirical generalization. This, however, is not the reason why we should abstain from them. The freedom of the model-builder from the discipline of looking at the world is what makes him dangerous; he slips easily into a dogmatism that empirical generalization does not allow, attributing to the model a connection with reality it does not have....He has provided an intellectual exercise and no more.6

Crystal Balls

Those who employ the quantitative approach to political science readily admit that their explanations of events are simplistic to the point of being ludicrous, but they ask us to judge their work not by the realism of their models, but by the accuracy of their predictions.7 Certainly all of us could use a crystal ball. However, when quantitative theorists claim to predict the future, intelligence professionals have every reason to be skeptical.
Quantitative forecasts often appear successful because, after a certain point, the outcome of any given event does indeed become predictable. As Sun Tzu put it, "To hear the thunderclap is no indication of acute hearing."8 However, if one wishes to control one's own destiny, one must learn to act well before this point has arrived. One must learn not merely to make decisions, or even to predict the decisions of others, but to set the stage on which all decisions will be made.
Captain Resch discusses the near failure of theorists to predict the end of the Cold War. However, we observe that George Kennan's "X Article," published in 1947, clearly foresaw the possibility that a power with the economic weakness, ideological expectations, and over-extended military commitments of the Soviet Union might collapse internally. Furthermore, Kennan did not merely predict how the Cold War would end, he proposed a philosophy of foreign policy designed to ensure that it would end benignly. Kennan's insight came not from the use of a rigid methodology, but from the wisdom gained through an understanding of history.
In order to defend the relevance of their predictive approach, most quantitative theorists refuse to admit that it is possible for us to take this kind of active role in shaping history. Captain Resch states that "respected historians" agree that "major historical events" would have varied little with different actors.9 Although it is difficult to respond to such vague claims by unspecified authors, we find the first chapters of Liddell Hart's Defense of the West relevant. Hart discusses the French collapse in 1940, the German defeat after Stalingrad, and the success of the Normandy invasion, noting that every time, there was a point when the leaders of the losing side could have turned defeat into victory simply by following a different strategic policy. If Hart is correct, these leaders could have changed the outcome of World War II.
Captain Resch also asserts that "switching Generals Robert E. Lee and 'Stonewall' Jackson with Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman would not have caused a different end state for the Civil War."10 Perhaps not. However, it might be more pertinent to ask what would have happened if one had switched Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. With his simplistic historical analysis, Captain Resch may inadvertently point to the weakness of his own predictive technique. Formal modeling can affirm the fact that broad trends will lead to their inevitable results, but it cannot provide the depth of explanation necessary to determine how those trends began, or how to change them.
Captain Resch does the opponents of quantitative analysis a disservice by labeling them as that "large segment of the community" which "detests science, statistics, and theory."11 We opponents of the quantitative method value objective techniques as much as those supposedly "scientific" analysts who practice formal modeling. In fact, we insist that our theories conform to the facts of the material world in a way that quantitative models cannot. We feel that there is an older science of war, which is as rigorous and objective as any other discipline. This is the logical science of determining what one's nation and its potential enemies can do we do not wish to lose it to academic fashion.
Captain Resch began and concluded with a worthwhile point. Military professionals may gain useful insights from the writings of academic scholars. Academia has a wealth of invaluable sources to offer our community, but we must remember that within this body of knowledge there also lies writing that is worse than useless.
1. The New International Encyclopedia, 1911, 201.
2. For a fine treatment of this episode, see Roger Parkinson's Clausewitz published in 1971.
3. Consult pages 3 through 13 of B. H. Liddell Hart's Defense of the West, 1950.
4. Cited on page 11 of Colonel Harry G. Summers' On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context, 1981.
5. Colin Gray's Strategic Studies, 1982, 129, 130.
6. Klaus Knorr and James N. Rosenau, editors, Contending Approaches to International Politics, 1969, 31.
7. Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy, 1957, 21.
8. Sun Tzu (translated by Yuan Shibing), Sun Tzu's Art of War, 1987, 101.
9. Captain David Resch, "Predictive Analysis," Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, April-June 1995, 27.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid, op. cit., 26. First Lieutenant Kevin Falk, USAR, and Thomas M. Kane
Claremont, California.