Friday 03 Apr 2020 | 00:30 | SYDNEY
Friday 03 Apr 2020 | 00:30 | SYDNEY

It not a strategy, it just a very useful book


Mark O'Neill

4 December 2008 12:59

The Commander of the US Army’s Combined Arms CenterLTG William Caldwell (who may be more familiar to cable news junkies from his frequent TV appearance in his former role as spokesperson for the Multinational Force in Iraq), released Field Manual (FM) 3.07 Stability Operations in early October. Angst about the manual's ‘hidden meaning’ for American strategy has been kicking around in the US since then.  

Much of that angst revolves around the idea that ‘if they know how to do it, then they will’, echoing Andrew J. Bacevich’s recent concerns expressed in The Atlantic, and previously discussed on The Interpreter.

The pertinent fact to take away from all of the noise is that FM3.07 is not grand strategy. It is not even a strategy. It is essentially a ‘cook book’ that provides US Army personnel in simple, easy to understand format, concise information about what they should do when in a stability operation. And this is useful, since they actually have a few of these on their plates at the moment, and it is probably better (for all of us) if they can pull them off successfully. 

The idea that the US is likely to embark upon countless crusades because the US Army now has some instructions in how to undertake stability operations is ridiculous. Consider this — the US Army has had doctrine for the tactical use of nuclear weapons for over half a century. I don’t recall seeing any blogging about the fact that because they have nuclear weapons doctrine that they will invariably use such weapons. It is simply an illogical argument.

The argument is actually on the other foot. It is those who are complaining about the existence of FM3.07, rather than the doctrine writers of the US Army, who are seeking to shape or constrain US strategic thought. Their logic runs along the lines that ‘if we have no capacity to undertake stabilisation operations, the Government will be compelled to enact strategy closer to the kind we like’. 

A similar logic features in the Australian strategic policy debate from time to time with respect to the shape, size and composition of the Australian Army. Advocates of the discredited ‘Defence of Australia’ paradigm still seek to constrain the capabilities that land forces might have in order to restrict future government policy options. In both cases, those seeking to shape Government’s strategic options through constraint of strategic ways and means needlessly threaten as yet unknown, but possibly, necessary policy ends.

For those interested in further information about the FM 3.07 Stability Operations debate, The Small Wars Journal blog today features additional commentary.