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U.S. Armed Forces White Paper: Strategic Landpower

Winning the Clash of Wills

Authors: Raymond Odierno, James F. Amos, and William H. McRaven
Published May 1, 2013


White Paper

Strategic Landpower: Winning the Clash of Wills

U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Special Operations formed a task force on January 28, 2013 to study the application of landpower to achieve national objectives and focus on engagement and preventing war. In May 2013, the task force released a white paper that emphasized the need to understand the physical, cultural, and social environments involved in conflict.

From Army Capabilities Integration Center's description of the task force:

Specifically, the Strategic Landpower Task Force:

  • Examines the role of strategic landpower in accomplishing the key missions sets contained in Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership, the current strategic guidance.
  • Studies the confluence of land, human, and cyberspace domains through research and analysis in order to better inform the national security establishment's thinking on integrating the "human domain" into the planning and execution of military operations to set the conditions for decisive outcomes.
  • Informs how best to account for human considerations in formal Joint and service doctrine, to include whether to adopt the term "human domain" as a doctrinal term and the DOTMLPF implications.

The SLTF conducted a Limited Objective Experiment (LOE) in August 2013 to inform the development of the Strategic Landpower Concept. This concept will describe the relationship between the land, cyber, and emerging "human" domains; inform defense planning; and enable the Joint force to plan, prepare, and execute military operations that fully account for the inherent human factors that drive and end conflict. The insights gained from the LOE, as well as those gained from the SLTF's ongoing studies and analysis, will be discussed at an Institute of Land Warfare panel at this October's annual Association of the United States Army meeting. Senior representatives from the Army, Marine Corps, and U.S. Special Operations Command will participate in the panel.

SLTF's May 2013 White Paper, "Strategic Landpower: Winning the Clash of Wills," identifies a growing problem in linking military action to achieving national objectives. It also describes the requirement for rigorous analysis to determine solutions that will ensure we provide the right capabilities for the nation in an era of fiscal austerity. The subsequent concept, studies and papers that follow will propose solutions that will ideally foster vigorous debate about the adaptations that must be made across the joint force.

This exploration of the confluence of land, cyber and human actions, seeks to:

  • Address the role of forces "that operate on land," and how they can contribute to preventing and containing conflict;
  • Address why past tactical and operational successes have not always achieved strategic outcomes;
  • Reinforce the necessity of integrating our understanding of achieving physical objectives with a fuller understanding of, and consideration for identifying and achieving human objectives in the formulation and execution of strategy, operational plans, and tactical actions;
  • Expand the dialogue around the "social sciences" of warfare alongside the "physical sciences" of warfare.

The National Security Strategy of the United States outlines how the U.S. pursues comprehensive engagement with nations, institutions, and peoples around the world to protect and advance its national interests. It does this with a whole of government approach that includes defense, diplomacy, development, and other tools of American power. This nation takes action in the international arena aimed at influencing human activity and the environments in which that activity occurs. It could not be otherwise, as all institutions - states, corporations, NGOs, etc. - are populated, controlled, and directed by people.

Influencing these people - be they heads of state, tribal elders, militaries and their leaders or even an entire population - remains essential to securing U.S. interests. All elements of national power have an important role in these interactions with other nations and peoples.

Given the fundamental premise that people are the center of all national engagements, it is equally self-evident that war, or more broadly, conflict, is also an inherently human endeavor. War is a violent clash of competing interests between or among organized groups, each attempting to impose their will on the opposition. Sea power, airpower and landpower are normally employed in various combinations, and to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the nature or phase of the conflict, to impact strategic human objectives. Inasmuch as humans reside on land and political authority is exercised from within that domain, the actions of other U.S. government agencies to apply political, informational, and economic power against the human objective also occur primarily on land. Therefore, because joint force combat power overmatch is insufficient for achieving strategic success, strategies to accomplish the ten missions in the defense strategic guidance must have human objectives, defined as actions taken to influence people, be they government and military leaders or groups within a population, as their core strategic focus.

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