2016 FPI Forum: Strategy, Policy and History

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Strategy, Policy and History
Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (U.S. Army)
Director, Army Capabilities Integration Center
Moderator: Dr. Mark Moyar (FPI)

Video  |  Key Quotations  |  Transcript  |  Pictures

Key Quotations

Learning From History

“Remember the orthodoxy of the revolution of military affairs in the 1990s. I know a lot of you are probably too young for that, but in the 1990s it became conventional wisdom that future war was going to be great. It was going to be fast, cheap, efficient, waged from standoff distances. You would be able to wage war like the George Costanza approach to war where we would just leave on a high note after doing some really cool military stuff. It didn’t realize war’s enduring political nature. The fact that people fight for the same reasons Thucydides identified 2,500 years ago: fear, honor, and interest. It didn’t acknowledge war’s interactive nature, and therefore the inherent uncertainty of war.”

“What is sorely lacking today, I believe, is depth of understanding. I mean we achieve new heights of superficiality sometimes in our discussion of what’s going on in the world and what we might do about it. And in recent years, many of the difficulties encountered in strategic decision making, in operational planning and in forced development have stemmed from shallow or flawed thinking, enabled in large measure by the neglect, the abject neglect of history.”

“Applying history to understand the problems of today and tomorrow is just as important for citizens, though, as it is for diplomats and defense officials. So, I’m glad that this is more of a public forum here and I think that the center reaching out to our citizens is going to be particularly important because citizens have to possess a fundamental understanding of war and of warriors if they are to remain connected to those who fight in their name.”

“There is a great book called Men, Machines, and Modern Times written by Elting Morison in the 1960s. And in the book he said that man has succeeded in creating these machines to help tame his natural environment, but in doing so has created an artificial environment that is far more complex than the natural environment ever was right? So, I think can we get to the point, we stress getting to the point, where we are integrating technologies that actually simplifies things for soldiers. I mean, everyone uses the iPhone as an example of that. It’s intuitive. It’s easy to use. So we are trying to evolve a lot of our systems in that direction as well.”

“I think that we have to be prepared to fight across a range of contingency operations. We’ve never been able to predict, you know, with any degree of certainty what the next conflict is going to be. And then we just have to do what Sir Michael Howard said: Not be so far off the mark that we can’t adjust once the real demands of a conflict reveal themselves to you. So, we are emphasizing adaptability, you know. The ability to adapt quickly to circumstances.”

Attracting the Best Soldiers

“I think that there is an untapped desire to serve in our country. And what I would like to see is more young men and women volunteering to serve, increasing the pool of candidates so that we can become even more selective. And we are pretty selective already in terms of who comes into our Army and our armed forces. And then I think we have to do a better job at attracting them by communicating the rewards of service. Which are less tangible and less visible than the sacrifices and the difficulties of service. You know, long separations, hardships. Obviously, the physical risk, the loss of comrades and so forth. But those rewards are being a part of being something bigger than yourself. Being a part of a team in which the man or woman next to you is willing to give everything including their own life for you. Where else do you have that kind of a rewarding experience in an organization that really takes on the quality of a family?”

“The Guard and the Reserve is a critical bridge between, I think, our military and our citizens. I think the more that we can create opportunities, identify opportunities to a broader population to serve the better, you know. And I think there are a number of initiatives we could undertake to do that. I think one is, you know, an idea, is that we could have more multi-component contracts for recruiters for example. I think we should do more of those. So if you’re coming out of high school and you don’t want to defer college or a job, maybe another civilian job that you want for more than two years, maybe come in for a two-year active duty enlistment and then have a three-year, four-year National Guard commitment on the backend. Then you serve back in your home state. There are some great incentives, you know, associated with the National Guard service in terms of tuition relief and that sort of thing. So I think there is a lot more that we can do.”

“Our differential advantage comes from combinations of resilient, well-trained soldiers, cohesive teams, and adaptive leaders with technology. That’s our differential advantage. So we are at pains every day to say, we don’t man equipment. We equip the man or woman, you know? And so, the key thing for us, I think is from the very beginning to ensure that we are cognizant of how that technology actually applies to the problem of war and warfare.”


2016 FPI Forum: Strategy, Policy, and History

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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