The phrase “If we don’t know where we are going, we can be sure we will never know how to get there” essentially refers to an absence of a strategy. However, the term “strategy” appears to have become confusing, misleading and frequently misused.
As I often find myself engaged in assisting with the development of strategies, I realise how difficult it must be for our clients to grapple with a subject that is both vague and unknown and that has, along the way, lost its true meaning.
I also find it incredibly sad that so many of the senior officials I engage with have been incorrectly educated as to what strategy really is and what its aim is. However, I cannot blame them as even when they want to discover more on this apparently vague concept, they revert to the internet which is fraught with numerous misleading articles on strategy and pages and pages of gobbledygook.
Strategy is neither an operational design nor a tactical plan – although these two concepts form an integral part in the implementation of strategy. It is therefore somewhat surprising to find that many label a very basic plan as a “strategy” or believe that strategy is the same as “tactics” – which it is not.
In its most simple form, strategy is a disciplined, intellectual, intelligence-driven exercise that ought to give us a guideline roadmap that will enable us to reach our ultimate desired destination or end state. This guideline roadmap may have several options or alternatives that can be used to get to our desired end-goal but it will need constant assessment of the risks enroute and readjustments as new intelligence becomes available on the opportunities, obstacles and other possibilities that present themselves. However, it must remain realistic.
This requires having to make choices – sometimes challenging ones – determine and prioritise objectives, identify and appreciate risks and how best to reduce them and make alliances and compromises to our advantage.
The guideline roadmap must remain flexible (to be flexible we need options) and allow us to predict, exploit, defend and bypass all opportunities and threats, thus allowing us to reach our desired end destination or achieve our desired end state.
National strategy is, therefore, about determining and deciding on realistic options to achieve a desired future condition or future state and knowing how best to achieve it. By implication, it provides governmental direction to achieve the national political objectives in a complex, ever-evolving and dynamic strategic environment. This allows us to work at achieving our desired end goal with the resources we have – or are planning to acquire.
If, for example, we are developing a National Security Strategy (NSS), our strategy will be focussed on supporting the National Strategy and securing, strengthening and protecting the integrity of the state along with its interests and will therefore be influenced by factors such as:
1. The National Strategy and its subsequent policies
- The international view ie how we perceive the world and how we want the world to perceive us
- The regional view ie how we want the region to perceive us and how we perceive the region
- The national view ie how we want our citizenry to perceive the state
- Our interests ie what is important to the state both nationally and internationally
- The threats that may impact on our interests and national security.
- Our desired realistic END goal or end state
- The approaches and concept routes (options) ie the application of instruments that will allow us to determine the WAY to meet the ENDS
- The MEANS we have available ie the instruments of power including the capabilities, assets and resources we have to achieve our security objectives and goals
This approach will tell us how we need to organise and structure ourselves to accomplish our goals. Furthermore, it will allow us to identify any strategic deficiencies we may have and how these deficiencies can be exploited by hostile forces or how we need to overcome them.
For our NSS to succeed, it must be aligned with the strategies of other government agencies and departments to ensure unity of effort to achieve a common end-state.
The validity of our strategy must be tested against the relevant principles.
The invisible thread that ties the ENDS, WAYS and MEANS together is known as “doctrine” – a set of time-proven procedures, rules and policies that tell us “how” to do things and not “what” to do. Doctrine is however a guide to action and must not prevent or restrict our ability to think, analyse and adapt.
To strengthen, support and enable the implementation of the NSS, assessment and consideration must be given to:
- Operations by other government agencies/departments
- Political warfare operations
- Economic warfare operations
- Strategic warfare operations and so forth.
Another misconception is that strategy is something we need to hurriedly develop simply to have a strategy and that it remains forever relevant. Nothing could be further from the truth as it remains under constant review and is continually adapted and expanded on as new intelligence flows in and new options present themselves.
If no strategy exists, it may take several months – or longer - to develop a very basic strategic outline. However, it is and will remain an on-going process and a critical component of a state’s aspirations.
Ultimately, a national strategy is about how the country’s leadership will use its instruments of influence and power, along with its assets and resources to meet its desired political objectives and achieve its desired end state.