What is the connection between planning for conflict and planning for post-conflict operations? Why does it matter when you do this planning?
Planning for conflict and planning for post-conflict operations are certainly related. We only need to look at our current situation in Iraq to see that post-conflict operational planning is vitally important. It is not only important how we fight a war to bring peace; it is important how we conduct ourselves to create and ensure this peace. Americans seem willing to allow our elected leaders to slide into war; the public takes a bit of a firmer stance when it comes to “getting out.” This may be exaggeration and oversimplification, but we need only to look at Vietnam and Desert Storm to see minimal discussion before the conflict – and major discussion after the conflict was started. Some of that public outcry could, perhaps, be satisfied with better post-conflict planning up front.
Equally important with actually doing the planning is the timing of when this planning is conducted. Military forces will be caught-flat footed if they succeed with their primary strategic objectives and do not have a post-conflict plan. We need only to look at the current Iraqi situation to see a post-conflict which has not gone as to script, perhaps in part because of the speed of success with the major operations.
I offer four key points when considering post-conflict planning. These four keys are not, of course, the only elements of planning for post-conflict operations, but they form a framework for success.
- Begin with the “end in mind”
- Link the desired end-state with the grand strategy
- Have alternate plans in place
- Link post-conflict planning with conflict planning from the start
Begin with the “end in mind.” As Stephen Covey, the leadership and management expert says, all things are created twice – first mentally, and second physically. He goes on to say that if the mental creation is not done – the end-in-min proactively determined – it will be done anyway… by someone else. (Covey, p 96ff) This is certainly true with regard to conflict termination planning. All conflict ends, sooner or later. And when it ends, it will be what it is. Better to have a hand in determining what that end actually looks like than to stand by and accept whatever is delivered up.
Beginning with the end-in-mind is a simple concept, but more complicated in application. Planners must envision the future they want to create, and this vision must be fleshed out beyond a rudimentary or bumper-sticker saying. The catch phrase for the recent Iraqi conflict was “regime change.” In the press and unclassified traffic, the end-state was not described much beyond this. We now have regime change; do we really have the situation we wanted? The missing link was a fully defined and thought-out definition – or vision – of the desired end state.
Colonel James Reed, in his decade-old article from Parameters, suggests the end-in-mind must be created from a collaboration between civilian leaders and military planners. This collaboration between civilian and military leaders is important because civilians and military leaders view the world differently. Their focus, their paradigms, are different. Military leaders are concerned with military issues; civilians view the world through a political lens. These two view must be aligned from the state. The military leaders must know, exactly, what the civilian leadership wants as an end state. The civilian leaders must know what the military can deliver, what the means to deliver such outcomes are, and what the possible costs will be.
Ultimately, both civilian leaders and military leaders (and planners) must have a clear picture of the desired end state.
Link the desired end-state with the grand strategy. Once the end state is known and understood, the military planners must develop a grand strategy for the conflict along with a strategy for post-conflict operations. While conflict planning is primarily a military function, planning for post-conflict operations is both a military and civilian function as it involves both military means and political issues.
The desired end state drives the grand strategy. There must be backward planning. In our current Iraqi situation, the defined, public desired end state was regime change. Our military intervention accomplished regime change, but our military intervention also allowed thousands of Iraqi troops to fade into the countryside – many with their weapons and other arms. The military intervention also did not ensure a decisive military battle, pitting force-on-force. Rather, the strategy involved quick maneuver for real estate. America achieved the publicly stated desired end, but what of the unintended consequences? In this post-conflict stage, we’re really in a low intensity, guerilla-type conflict.
Clearly the military planners and civilian leadership did not adequately prepare for this situation.
Have alternate plans in place. Things never were the way they were meant to be, or so Yogi Beara might suggest. Nothing goes really the way we plan. Not life. Not war. Operation Iraqi Freedom is living proof of this. From all appearances, the plan was American forces would handily defeat the Iraqi army, Saddam would die in a hail of gunfire or be brought to justice for war crimes, and the people of Iraq – long oppressed – would welcome American GI’s like it was Paris in 1944. Needless to say, it did not quite happen like that. We defeated the Iraqi army, but for the most part, they just slipped away to their homes. Saddam, unlike his sons, escaped death and capture and – according to a recent supermarket tabloid – is working as a janitor in Baghdad or Tikrit. And the Iraqi people have been ambivalent to American forces; at it’s best, they now tire of our occupation of their country. At it’s worst, they actively engage in guerilla-type operations, picking American service members off in ones and twos and threes.
Where were the alternate plans? Had any planners thought beyond the best case (or worst case) scenarios? Had they envisioned an evaporated army and a flood of terrorists streaming over the porous boarders? Had the politicians thought beyond the unilateral decision to engage with force with almost not allied support? The President declared major operations over – but we continue to lose American lives and now beg for military assistance from other countries. Apparently, our alternate plans were either not well thought out or deployed.
Link post-conflict planning with conflict planning from the start. When taken into account with the three earlier points, this key becomes almost obvious. The time for post-conflict operations planning is concurrent with planning for conflict. The reason for this is three-fold. First, in order to ensure alignment with actions to create the desired end state, a coherent and coordinated plan is imperative. Civilian leaders and military planners define the desired state; all plans then support this desired state. Second, if planning for post-conflict operations is left until after the conflict is concluded, there will not be enough time to plan appropriately. Sometimes the conflict will end more quickly than anticipated; when this happens and post-conflict operations planning has not been tackled, both the military planners and civilian leaders are caught unprepared, their pants around their ankles. Third, concurrent planning will ensure a coherency of effort through all phases of the conflict.
Planning for conflict and planning for post-conflict operations are certainly related. Indeed, planners should not do one without the other. Planning for conflict and post-conflict operations are linked. Ultimate success can be guaranteed only with solid and diligent planning for both phases. The use of the four keys will assist military planners and civilian leaders as they plan for the creation of the defined desired state.
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster/Fireside Books, 1989.
Reed, James W. “Should Deterrence Fail: War Termination in Campaign Planning” in Parameters (Summer 1993), Vol XXIII, No. 2: pp 41-52. Reprinted by the Naval War College, NWC 2171.