Book Reviews

  • Weapons technology will win only some kinds of wars. High-tech weapons weren't much help in places like Somalia or Vietnam, where leadership and diplomacy proved more important.
  • Weapons have always been less decisive than the skill of the troops. This has been true throughout history, and is still true today.
  • Information warfare, the latest military buzzword, is less than it appears. It's old wine in a new bottle, and is being pushed aggressively as a way to market proposals to research and study the new threat—and then study it some more, and some more.
  • To a certain extent, the fascination with upgrading the traditionally high-tech warships and combat aircraft has left insufficient money to take advantage of technologies that can help the low-tech infantry and support (supply, maintenance, etc.) services. It is easier to get money for the ships and airplanes, but these have become so expensive we literally cannot afford many of them anymore.

The last chapter too, "What Happens Next?" also is quite good. Not all readers will agree with all of the author's conclusions, but he does bring forth issues that ought to be debated within the Pentagon and the Congress, and in open forum elsewhere. Some examples:

  • The enormous amount of money needed to pay for digital soldiers leads to the temptation to cut back on the money for training. This is an ancient trap, and the paper pushers keep falling into it.
  • Sensor combat is seen as the key component in warfare of the future. It has been this way for the past half century. But your eyeball is a sensor, too.
  • Testing has become the biggest problem. . .. Simulation helps but is not the real thing. . .. Reality always has a way of throwing you curves you didn't anticipate.
  • Information war is . . . largely a marketing scam.
  • The enemy is not always clueless. Iranians still fly F14s (without American help). The Iraqis analyzed our communications . . . they also were able to launch Scuds up until the final hours of the Gulf War.
  • Laptop leadership may [not] be all it's cracked up to be.

In a dramatic change of pace, the final part of his last chapter lists what Dunnigan calls, "Tough Decisions." These so-called decisions are really recommendations, which are wide-ranging and spare no service's feelings—but they are completely without supporting rationale, thus making all of them immediately suspect. Without stating explicitly why, Dunnigan starts with a recommendation to deactivate three of the Army's divisions, three Navy aircraft carrier battle groups, and four Air Force wings. He then wants to cancel all new aircraft procurement in favor of modernizing the old. Not slighting anyone, he declares that the Army does not need the Comanche, the Navy does not need the F/A-18E/F or new submarines, the Air Force does not need either long range bombers or the F-22, and the Marines don't need the V-22. While Navy readers might take solace from his suggestion to roll the Air Force back into the Army because the Navy always has been the force out front anyway, he does not make clear how the Navy will stay out front if his suggestion to eliminate three carrier battle groups and new aircraft for the carriers gets implemented.

Aside from the introduction and the final chapter, and with only a few exceptions in between, the professional reader will become increasingly disappointed with Digital Soldiers . It is an ambitious undertaking with too few pages allotted, producing a sadly mixed bag. The overall impression is that of a mix between Popular Mechanics and Readers Digest versions of various reference works, followed by a tarot-card style reading of the future. That's too bad. The subject is important; the interest is there; and what the author has gathered has the makings of good stuff. It just lacks, detail, solid rationale and reasonable backup to remove all the unsubstantiated statements and declarations.

Vice Admiral Dunn is a former Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare.

 

At Century's Ending

George F. Kennan. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996. 333 pp. Ind. $27.50 ($24.75) hardcover, $15.00 ($13.50) paper.

Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander Mark Werner, U.S. Navy

George F. Kennan provided the intellectual underpinnings for the containment policy that provided the road map for 40 years of U.S. foreign policy. Several of his works from the late 1940s, such as, "Long Telegram" and the "Mr. X" article are required reading for any serious scholar of the Cold War. His latest work, At Century's Ending: Reflections 1982-1995 , shows that he has not lost his prophetic vision, and it certainly warrants reading by those who struggle to develop post-containment foreign policy.

This book is a collection of Kennan's articles and speeches. He covers a variety of topics, but three stand out:

  • The Soviet Union/Russia
  • Nuclear weapons and other environmental dangers
  • Foreign policy

Trained as a Russian scholar, Kennan authored many works on Russian/Soviet history. His articles offer clear insight. Artfully, he paints poignant vignettes, as Stalin's monster state crumbles and myopic America watches. As a lifelong naturalist and early skeptic of the American infatuation with nuclear weapons, Kennan saw no utility in nuclear weapons, because of their unfathomable destructive capability. He anticipated the current debate on banning nuclear weapons sparked by General Lee Butler's recent declarations. He comments about other environment threats, especially unchecked population growth and the resultant increased use of the earth's natural resources.

Although Kennan's observations are interesting, what makes him special is his world view—and the U.S. role in it. Many of his ideas are not new, but one has to marvel at his perceptive, impeccably reasoned comments and suggestions, as he watched the death of "containment." Kennan unabashedly continues to advocate the national-interest foreign policy model, and this book makes a convincing case for its continued use.

There are an infinite number of policy problems for U.S. decision makers today. The end of the Cold War removed the containment consensus that focused U.S. efforts for so long. Given the chance to direct our attention again, Kennan would start with a thorough examination of the limitations and advantages inherent in America's unique character. He identifies several recurring themes that interfere with consistent pursuit of the national interest in foreign policy. These are:

  • The tendency to search for a single center of evil to which all our troubles can be attributed
  • The belief "that our policy was always the decisive mover of events everywhere in the world"
  • That U.S. leaders place an undue amount of concern on domestic-political effects when making foreign policy
  • That the threat "presented to us by any foreign power must be measured solely by our estimate of that power's capabilities, ignoring its interests and intentions"
  • The overuse of personal moral values instead of national interest in making foreign policy decisions

Reviewing the impact of the earlier use of these themes makes it easier to combat them when they are used as spurious justification for proposals in the now fashionable debates about "the new world order" and "the clash of civilizations"

In this book Kennan lays out his framework for a successful foreign-policy model, based on national interest and the American character—one that certainly bears study. He is no multi-lateralist, clearly asserting that "The first duty of every country is to itself." He further states "the interests of national society for which government must concern itself are basically those of its military security, the integrity of its political life, and the well-being of its people. These needs have no moral quality." He has little faith in an outside power's ability to direct the development of another and suggests that leading by example is usually the best choice in deciding whether to intervene. He also places faith in the power of informed congressional and public debate to temper the Executive branch's more impulsive decisions. Sometimes knowing when to say no is the toughest kind of decision a leader has to make. His model provides the rubric for justifying a response on the basis of national interest—not what is easiest to sell in a sound bite. Kennan's thinking is as clear today as it was 50 years ago, and plainly warrants reading by those interested in shaping the new American foreign policy paradigm.

Lieutenant Commander Werner is assigned to the Navy Plans and Policy (N-5) staff. He was commissioned in 1984 through the NROTC at the University of Nebraska and holds an MBA from National University, and an M.S. in Strategic Planning from NPS Montgomery. He is a surface warfare officer who served as the main propulsion assistant on the Worden (CG-18), chief engineer the La Moure Country (LST-1194), and material logistics officer for Amphibious Squadron Three.

 

Hope Is Not a Method: What Business Leaders Can Learn From America’s Army

Gen. Gordon Sullivan, USA (Ret.) and Col. Michael V. Harper, USA (Ret.), New York, NY: Times Books, Random House, 1996. 246 pp. App. Notes. Refs. $25.00 ($22.50)

Reviewed by Sean O’Keefe

Odds are that Drucker never imaged he was creating a priesthood, and Deming never guessed he was the founder of a cult in the field of management—at least at the beginning. Their works have spawned so many knockoffs that there is even a new release that categorizes and translates the nouveau theories of the self-anointed management witch doctors.

No such translation is required for Hope Is Not a Method by General Gordon Sullivan and Colonel Michael Harper. Indeed, the former Army Chief of Staff, in collaboration with one of his trusted policy planners, has produced a work that applies fundamental public management principles to a variety of business conditions. This straightforward treatment is a breath of fresh air, as the authors attempt to demonstrate that business leaders can learn from America’s Army, as the subtitle implies.

The book is organized around 11 principles that articulate an organized approach to managing large organizations. More important, it is a guide to motivating and leading organizations of any size. It argues cogently and logically for the formation of thoughtful policy and strategy in advance of business plans for implementation.

Through frequent references to public and private management examples, Sullivan and Harper illustrate the applicability of these guidelines. In short order, the reader can appreciate the authors’ view that chance, or “hope” is not a method of management—but concerted focus and leadership have universal applications in any sector, market, or venue.  Significantly, the authors argue that the private sector is a harder venue in which to accomplish such tasks because the challenge of defining the objective there may be less evident than the challenge of organizing, training, and focusing an Army to do the nation’s bidding. The constant public focus and attention to the world’s largest public organization continually serve to illustrate their point.

The principles range from defining the “vision thing” to the need to motivate by constantly articulating the organizational objective. My personal favorite is variant of the old Yogi Berra axiom (the Sullivan-Harper Rule #6): “Be prepared to be surprised, since predicting the future is uncertain business.” Each principle is couched in the notion that the here-and-now is the greatest limitation to bringing the organization to where it could or should be. Individually, the Sullivan-Harper principles seem to be intuitively obvious, but in the aggregate, these principles become wisdom.

This is more a leadership manual than a management how-to guide. But it artfully and imperceptibly introduces leadership principles into every element of the management guidelines. In this regard, leadership and management terminology are dealt with interchangeably. The objectives may be similar, but Sullivan and Harper are careful to distinguish between the management principles that must be articulated universally and those that must be part of leadership’s constant drumbeat. Their best illustration is that of the dual challenge of artfully drawing down the military force, while simultaneously redefining the military establishments objective.

The only distraction in this otherwise concise book is the implied assumption of limitations in the linkages between public and private management challenges. General Sullivan’s military experiences demonstrate the imperative of getting it right the first time, because often there is only one chance. In contrast, their private-industry examples of General Electric, General Motors, and British Airways seem to suggest that the stakes are considerably lower in accomplishing their leadership and management tasks. Without doubt, military failure is measured by immediate and unforgiving public scrutiny; corporate down-turns, on the other hand, are noticed by attentive investors and stockholders, who are no less attentive to failure indicators.

The authors employ a useful technique of digressing from the principles by introducing a trenchant “war story” unique to General Sullivan’s experiences in the Army. These anecdotes often are applicable to the principle the authors seek to demonstrate, but at times the point is a bit strained. In particular, the authors see a private-sector parallel to the Army’s sense of integrity, by illustrating an unnamed corporate chief executive officer’s view that prices for commodities should not be raised—even if the demand would support such a move—in order to preserve corporate integrity and sense of propriety. The reader is left to accept this assertion on faith, despite all instinctive reactions to the contrary.

Sullivan and Harper subtly treat the notion that the U.S. military and corporate ethos are manifestations of our fundamental American values, and we are judged by how we act. It seems to be our unique culture that we look to our institutions to manifest the very best in what we perceive to be our values. Our society is quick to respond to incidents by military personnel that prove contrary to our fondest self-images. Unrelenting condemnation of sexual misconduct at the Tailhook convention and at the Aberdeen training facility is a clear manifestation of the post-Vietnam War condition.  Ronald Reagan not only built military muscle, but restored military pride—and public pride in the military.  With that standing, comes a higher, more stringent set of public expectations. In that regard, current Army, corporate, and public leaders would be well served to live up to these expectations—despite their pressures—in a responsible and responsive manner. While that may be a difficult task, Hope Is Not a Method provides a beacon to find the right way.

Sean O’Keefe , former Secretary of the Navy, is the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs.

 

 
 

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