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The Strategy Deficit Nathan P. Freier

The Strategy Deficit

Nathan P. Freier

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An honest survey of post-Cold War national security policy exhibits a dangerous strategy deficit. The word “strategy” is overused. The concept, too, is poorly applied. It is many things to contemporary policymakers except, well—strategy. In theMoreAn honest survey of post-Cold War national security policy exhibits a dangerous strategy deficit. The word “strategy” is overused. The concept, too, is poorly applied. It is many things to contemporary policymakers except, well—strategy. In the current environment, strategic communications and strategy have become synonymous. Strategic communications is the carefully crafted but overly general and widely consumable articulation of key political messages—“assure, deter, dissuade, defeat”- “as they stand up, we’ll stand down”- “clear, hold, build”- “phased strategic redeployment”- etc, etc, etc. It is strategy by façade versus strategy through effective, deliberate investment of intellectual, temporal, material, and human capital in pursuit of well-defined outcomes. Real strategy is the reasoned determination of specific, minimum essential objectives, rationalized with suitable ways to achieve them and the necessary means for success. No careful observer of executive decisionmaking since the end of the Cold War believes the latter high bar to be the norm.A fundamental component of strategy development is rational risk assessment. Risk—viewed as the likelihood of hazard in pursuit of objectives or the likelihood and consequences of failure—injects realism into strategy. Risk calculation offers decision-makers the opportunity to see that both action and inaction engender costs—lives, money, time, freedom of action, political flexibility, loss of opportunities, etc. Costs accumulate. When unaccounted for in decisionmaking, costs quickly and unexpectedly become excessive. Rational risk assessment also allows for the judicious consideration of the prospects and price of failure. Clearly, accounting for both the possibility of failure and the certainty of real cost forces decisionmakers to deliberately consider alternative courses of action. The contemporary temptation to mistake strategic communications for strategy short-circuits the aforementioned process. Rhetoric vice realism defines strategic outcomes. Once embedded in the public narrative of presi-dents, cabinet secretaries, and sympathetic pundits, these outcomes are not only absolute and nonnegotiable, but also, at the same time, excessively imprecise and unachievable.