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Influencing The Enemy Commander’s Behaviour

Anna Maria Brudenell

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Dr Anna Maria Brudenell is a lecturer in Security Studies at Cranfield University and director of the MSc course in International Security at the College of Management and Technology at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.
Brudenell, Anna Maria, “Influencing The Enemy Commander’s Behaviour”, Military Operations, Volume 1, Issue No. 4, Spring 2013, pages 19-21.

The purpose of war is to have the enemy do what you want him to. Much of fighting concerns the application of violence, but some of it concerns the psychological impact of the threat of violence. This begs an important question: could we be smarter about getting the enemy commander to do what we want, by manipulating the use of violence, the threat of violence, and a range of other activities? This article proposes a method for doing just that. The suggested methodology has two major potential benefits. First, it should enable effect to be assessed; secondly, it should result in conflicts being concluded more quickly and with fewer casualties than more conventional forms of engagement. In turn, that should not only result in wars being cheaper in the long run, but also in sustaining political support. It is probably more applicable to low-intensity or irregular, rather than regular, warfare

Existing methods are demonstrably deficient. The British Army operated in South Armagh, in Northern Ireland, for about 30 years yet failed to convince a few dozen farmers to stop attacking it and the police. If that is true in relation to the Provisional IRA, then it is probably also true of the Taliban or Iraqi militias. Conflicts such as those in Northern Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan continued for years and cost hundreds of millions of pounds. It seems desirable to conduct and resolve such conflicts more quickly, cheaper and with less loss of life.

The aim of the proposed method is to focus attention on the key enemy leadership and to engage, or threaten, what he (or they) most value. Indeed, it is sometimes the mind and needs of the enemy leader, rather than his war-fighting materiel, that are the ‘real source of a conflict, its prolongation and the essential ingredient to its conclusion.’[i] The process is called Axiological Engagement. Axiology is the combination of the Greek word axios meaning ‘worthy’ and logos meaning ‘reason’ or ‘theory’; therefore, ‘axiology’ is the theory of values and validity.[ii]

Axiological Engagement proceeds through a series of simple steps. Having identified the key enemy decision maker (or makers), the next step is therefore to ascertain his values; that is, to determine what motivates the leadership. The next step is to decide how to engage or attack that which motivates them; and lastly, to assess how to measure progress against those attacks.

It is sometimes assumed that the key enemy decision maker is the enemy commander. It may be, and in the case of a regular armed force it probably is. However, the idea of ‘the power behind the throne’ suggests that this is not always the case. In irregular conflicts it might be a politician, a key religious leader, a wife or family member. For example, in South Armagh, the key IRA leaders were respected members of the community, who regularly attended the Mass in their village churches. They were brought up by mothers and grandmothers who were married to, or descended from, Republican activists from previous conflicts. So the key initial issue is to identify whom the key decision maker is and what he (or she) holds dear.

Axiological Engagement: Outline Algorithm Maslow’s Heirarchy Of Needs Adapted For Axiological Engagement
Axiological Engagement: Outline Algorithm Maslow’s Heirarchy Of Needs Adapted For Axiological Engagement

logical Engagement requires a broad model of human behaviour, which should include most of the factors that influence motivation. One such model is Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. Although the Hierarchy of Needs has some limitations, it is sufficiently broad to be able to include all likely causes of human motivation. Maslow outlined five generic categories of need, which are satisfied by action: physiological needs, safety and security needs, love and belonging needs, esteem and status needs, and self-actualisation (self-fulfilment) needs. Maslow believed that it was not possible to move up the scale of human satisfaction until the need below had been satisfied. Hence, a strict application of his model would insist that conditions for the lowest unfulfilled factor would predominate at any one instance. So, for instance, threats to life would be answered before threats to sustenance. However, for the purposes of Axiological Engagement, the categories are treated as being equally important. Within a particular category, analysis is needed to understand what kind of threat is likely to be perceived as hurtful, and which is likely to be the most effective. What real entities would, if threatened, motivate the enemy leadership to action?

So, in simple terms, action is carried out to threaten those things that the enemy leader holds dear. At the same time he is led to understand that if he acts in accordance with our wishes the pain will stop.

Three questions need to be considered: what to target, that is, which real entities; how to attack those targets; and how to measure success against those targets? Psychologists, psychiatrists and anthropologists, as well as members of the intelligence community, would provide an analysis of the character and traits of the enemy leadership. This points to a limitation of Axiological Engagement: it is unlikely that sufficient psychological expertise will be available at platoon level. But a battalion commander, say, may be able to deploy a psychologist to help engage with the key leaders in the villages in his companies’ areas.

Axiological Engagement uses a three-step process to move from categories to concrete objectives; that is, to real entities that can be attacked or threatened. The steps are: personality analysis, geopolitical analysis and sociological analysis. Personality analysis looks at the personality of the relevant decision maker. What kind of personality is he? What can be said of that kind of personality? Geopolitics is just the geographical context of politics; so (in this context) geopolitical analysis looks at the local area, its governance and the local population, then considers which aspects relate to the key leader’s behaviour. Sociological analysis examines relationships rather than objects and, specifically, the way the relevant individuals interact with each other.

Axiological Engagement requires the focused effort of a wide range of specialists, such as psychologists, anthropologists, intelligence specialists, police and civil servants (where they exist) and business experts. These people would be used to analyse the personality and behaviour of the enemy leader. That behaviour should be continually monitored to detect changes. Axiological Engagement is, therefore, a ‘whole of government approach’, which should help overcome concerns of purely ‘kinetic’ (that is, violence-based) planning. Axiological Engagement should encompass the widest possible range of security force activities. Indeed, it requires ‘comprehensive’ security force planning from the outset, which should be seen as a major advantage. That might include local political, humanitarian, media and financial activities. Axiological Engagement might not actually involve the use of violence, in some circumstances.

The premise of Axiological Engagement is to carry out actions that will affect the things that the adversary leadership holds dear. The process identifies those things in the real world and indicates how they should be engaged. Progress against those targets indicates progress in affecting what the adversary holds dear, and is to that extent a measure of effectiveness.

Axiological Engagement starts with a five or six column algorithm that could be drafted on one side of A4 paper. It would be expanded as required into the basis of the overall plan; however, it would also be summarised and kept to one side of one piece of paper in order to ensure the coherence of the overall approach. Indeed, a commander or politician should be able to look at the one-page guide and say ‘fine; but tell me how does, for example, destroying ‘Bridge B’ put pressure on the enemy leader?’ The algorithm would describe how we could detect progress in bringing pressure to bear on the enemy leader. To that extent, it is a measure of effectiveness. The overall plan would typically be many pages long and form the basis of tactical orders to subordinates.

Axiological Engagement should result in conflicts being concluded more quickly. The conduct of the campaign should be cheaper in economic or financial terms. Violent or non-violent activities should be focused much more efficiently, and hence economically, on the objective sought.

Axiological Engagement should also not only result in wars being cheaper in the long run, but also in retaining political support. It should be more obvious why violence is being applied or threatened. Axiological Engagement should be attractive to politicians, as it demonstrates why given operations are being undertaken. Examples include Special Forces raids or ambushes: why are they necessary and how do they affect the key decision maker’s behaviour? Is killing a particular leader likely to affect the behaviour of others, or his successors? Therefore, using Axiological Engagement, it should be easier to generate and maintain political support, both domestically and internationally.

Most importantly, Axiological Engagement should be cheaper in blood, for instance in the lives of servicemen and women. There should be fewer ‘friendly’ casualties and probably fewer collateral civilian casualties as well.

Axiological Engagement seems to be relatively easy to teach. A trial was conducted with a group of MSc students, many of who were Army majors, but some were captains; some were civilians; and some RAF officers. It only took an hour or so of explanation to get them to carry out the basic steps of Axiological Engagement on an imaginary adversary leader.

In order to introduce Axiological Engagement, it would be necessary to re-focus psychological profiling. Although psychological profiling is currently carried out, it would need to be redirected to produce the outputs needed for Axiological Engagement. For instance, what does the enemy leader value, what would cause him pain, how is he likely to respond when those things are affected? How is he likely to respond to messages presented in different ways, for example overtly, covertly, threatening, cajoling or encouraging?

Secondly, existing doctrine would need to be rationalised in order to avoid duplication. It would need to be reorganised to support Axiological Engagement where necessary. One step would be to identify when, or if, Axiological Engagement is appropriate. A lot of existing doctrine would remain relevant because, in many ways, Axiological Engagement is a way of reorganising and redirecting existing thought. As one senior officer described it, Axiological Engagement contains nothing new, but is the best articulation of the overall process that he had ever seen.

Thirdly, Axiological Engagement should be introduced and taught at army schools and staff colleges. The emphasis should be that war is a human process and that we are aiming at the person in charge. This is more than merely rewriting lesson plans; to some extent it is a change of approach. As an aside, why would one not focus on the man in charge?

Finally, the process would need to be constantly refined with experience, whilst avoiding making the basic process too complicated. The essence of Axiological Engagement is something that can be described on one side of one piece of paper. If it cannot be, then we have lost sight of the overall process. Doctrinal process has a habit of getting longer and longer, and increasingly complex. That should be avoided wherever possible.

This article has outlined how Axiological Engagement could be used to coerce an adversary leader, and proposed a methodology for doing so. That methodology incorporates a mechanism for measuring effectiveness. It is based on the simple notion of attacking what the enemy leadership believes to be valuable. It includes a three-fold psychological, sociological and geopolitical analysis, which should be conducted iteratively.

Such a methodology offers the prospect of better-focused attacks and engagements. If conducted rigorously, it should focus intellectual effort and shape the application of both the violent and non-violent aspects of military engagement, in conjunction with other processes and tools.

Current doctrine lacks a simple and clear process for focussing violence and the threat of violence on the key enemy decision maker. Axiological Engagement offers such a process. It is straightforward, clear and above all easy to teach. We should consider adopting it now.


[i] Lt Col Peter W.W. Wijninga and Richard Szafranski, ‘Beyond Utility Targeting: Toward Axiological Air Operations,’ Aerospace Power Journal (Winter 2000).
[ii] Dr Paul Rexton Kan, ‘What Should We Bomb? : Axiological Targeting and the Abiding Limits of Airpower Theory,’ Air & Space Power Journal (Spring 2004).