How Does U.S. Military ‘Think About Complexity’?

Posted March 20, 2015 at 4:59am

The Council on Foreign Relations runs an analysis by Micah Zenko, who covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.  

Zenko writes: “If you routinely read Pentagon reports, speeches, hearings transcripts, and news articles, you occasionally come across an assumption or claim that stands out. Yesterday, the Pentagon released a news article that summarized a speech given by Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. David Goldfein at the Brookings Institution. The article included the line: ‘Last year was the most complex year since 1968, the general said.’”  

Zenko concludes: “I would predict that this same time next year, the Joint Staff historian would find that 2015 will outrank 2014, given that that virtually all U.S. intelligence and military officials describe the world as perpetually becoming more complex and challenging. To what degree this is an accurate depiction of things, or how these officials project America’s role in the world, is worth a much fuller debate about U.S. grand strategy. Webster’s defines complex as both, ‘an emotional problem that causes someone to think or worry too much about something’ and ‘a group of things that are connected in complicated ways.’ The extent to which the military’s ideas about international complexity reflect the former or the latter is also worth considering.”