Volume 3 / Issue 2 / Winter 2016 Military Operations TJOMO.com
The Journal has seen a steady drumbeat of debate regarding ‘The
Operational’ (be it the level, the art or both), addressing what it
might be and its utility. Those who sound the clarion call of the
dangers of an expansionist concept have some valid warnings, but
they also may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Those who oppose The Operational, from differing perspectives,
provide criticisms that are focused on three main areas. First, that it
is a poorly expressed and confusing idea and that by imposing itself
as an intermediate (and ever-growing) level of warfare, it hinders
rather than supports the linking of strategy and tactics. Second,
that The Operational’s utility depends upon the context in which is
conceived and that context is no longer relevant. Finally, that it offers
superficial clarity and simplicity but is actually a confused logic that
has been misapplied and has spawned a host of processes and
An over-weaning but not invalid concept?
These criticisms are either true or they suggest an area of risk we
need to consider. So from the perspec-tive of someone who has no
fundamental issue with The Operational, where does the concept
risk being unhelpful to the prosecution of effective military activity?
I suggest that they centre on two areas: the military mind and the
worship of the past.
Military mindsets seem to favour taking an idea or abstraction,
turning it into very detailed doctrine and then requiring a dogmatic
approach to utilizing it. We have taken The Operational and made it
a rigid set of mental (and for staffs, physical) hoops to jump though.
We also demand that abstractions are ap-plied; in this case it is a
desire to force a separate operational level of command into our
structures be-cause the doctrine says so in a diagram or definition
rather than a need. This is unwarranted and possi-bly dangerous.
There is also potentially no end to how far a military mind is willing
to take this dogmat-ic approach, going as far as the replacement
of basic building blocks of activity with shining new edi-fices.
Operational Art and Operational Design are just normal military
command and staff activity but you would not know that from the
reams written on these alleged bespoke activities. While it may be
true that every commander and HQ will have a particular set of
nuances, context and procedures, mak-ing up new terms for age-old
activity strikes of empire-building.
The study of history is an important tool in learning but we should
be inspired by the past, not become its prisoners. When we do,
it shows in two ways: we re-prove that ‘preparing to fight the last
war’ is more than a hackneyed phrase or instead, we clad our
supposedly new idea in the armour of historical legitimacy by linking
it to past success. For example, operational thinking on the Eastern
Front of WW2 does not in itself justify its use now. An idea born of
any era is likely to age and lose some rele-vance. The Operational,
as the West knows it, is a child of the 1980s and in some ways
this shows. It struggles in the light of 24-hour media influence, civil-
military integration, the scale and reach of global communications
and societal demands to be involved in military decision-making.
These would have been a struggle to comprehend or forecast thirty
years ago but all of these point to a close linkage of the strategic
and tactical levels.
To cite this Article:
Cornell, Steve, “The Operational: As Valid And As Dangerous As Any Other Abstraction”,
, Volume 3, Issue No. 2, Winter 2016, pages 11-13.
The Operational: As Valid And As Dangerous As
Any Other Abstraction