About Me

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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. Until recently, I was a contributing editor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Friday, October 4, 2013


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
  1. The international view ie how we perceive the world and how we want the world to perceive us
  2. The regional view ie how we want the region to perceive us and how we perceive the region
  3. The national view ie how we want our citizenry to perceive the state
  4. Our interests ie what is important to the state both nationally and internationally
  5. The threats that may impact on our interests and national security.
In its most basic form, our NSS is expressed in terms of realistic ENDS, WAYS and MEANS. These three concepts relate to:

  1. Our desired realistic END goal or end state
  2. The approaches and concept routes (options) ie the application of instruments that will allow us to determine the WAY to meet the ENDS
  3. 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:

  1. Operations by other government agencies/departments
  2. Political warfare operations
  3. Economic warfare operations
  4. Strategic warfare operations and so forth.
Strategy is seldom, if ever, tied to a specific timeframe. Rather, it is expressed in terms of short-, medium- and long-term objectives and goals.

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.



Herbert said...


Your exposition on strategy reiterated to me how applicable your thoughts are to the business world. As you know they typically begin to worry about strategy after they have begun operating,and even then they often are really talking about operations and tactics.

In that regard, some weeks ago I said that would explore with some companies the potential for your business strategy workshops/programs. No one has gotten back to me, so I must take that as a negative at least for now.

Companies here in the United States have cash, but they are sitting on it. Uncertainty (that is, regarding government policy and how it will affect them on taxes, healthcare costs, etc)reigns.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

My sincerest thanks to you for your efforts, Herbert. That was very kind of you.

However, I have been inundated with calls and requests regarding business strategy from primarily local companies over here and I must confess that I was somewhat pleasantly surprised.

Many companies never clearly defined their strategies and it seems they have now put their heads down and decided to launch their assault on the international markets in a different manner. I believe that holds good for them, for South Africa and for Africa.

I also assume that US companies have a lot of government weight behind them which makes things much easier for them. We sadly do not have that luxury and our companies often have to compete on a very uneven playing field. Given what we hear about the US government shut-down, I can understand the approach your companies follow as one never knows what the future holds. We are very fortunate not have suffered the same type of economic setback.

Again, my thanks to you.



Unknown said...

Unfortunately it seems that the bad guys and terrorists are the only ones that seem to have a cohesive "strategy".

The west and African governments in general seem to have adopted the wait till the "fit hits the shan" approach and then suddenly jump up and down looking like buffoons while the "terrs" maintain an air of organisation albeit chaotic organisation. They still have a more tangible "strategy" than many inept and inherently corrupt governments out there including some of the truly big players.

Herbert tried valiantly to get your model through to the corporate big wigs in America but alas they too seem complacently comfortably numb when it comes to newer models until the wheels come off in spectacular fashion. They sit as Herbert says on their money because they are worried about what the government are planning or in many cases are not planning or even thinking about doing to show that they are firmly in the drivers seat with the best interests of the citizens and corporations at heart.

Bickering and infighting cause fear among the corporate bunch that tightens the purse strings.

This sitting on cash is akin to hording their cash under the mattress.

A poor strategy by the corporate bunch and by governments and when a calamity rolls around which they always do then suddenly strategy meetings and contingency plans then become all the rage but alas usually it is too late and this is when dilettantes rock around and give piss poor strategy and guidance at exorbitant cost that leads to more loss both financially and in body count.

Look at Kenya and the unfortunate murders in Nigeria for example. Those were not only INTEL failures but poor strategy calls by the governments. The terrs had a plan (a strategy) and used it to devastating effect. Nigeria has long been divided down the religious line and an attack as was launched on students was inevitable. Somewhere along the line someone knew it was coming and Intel was shared but the strategy employed by governments seems to be of the "don't be ridiculous" type till it blows up in their faces and aired on International television.

It is high time that governments around the world take of the frilly politically correct mittens and get seriously hands on in dealing with terror and internal party corruption and inept governance at all levels, especially here in South Africa and Africa in general.

My half cent opinion.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Sadly they seem to be Mike.

We like to wait until the wheels fall off and then shout about “strategy” and “intelligence” – two concepts that go hand-in-hand yet are constantly ignored. This is why African governments are reactive and seldom if ever proactive. Given that we are, in my opinion, engaged in a low-intensity insurgency coupled to ever-spiralling crime, we still apparently have no strategy either – or so it appears.

The problem with strategy is that you can have the very best strategy but if you cannot implement it, it is worthless. ENDS, WAYS and MEANs – the way we express strategy - require numerous components to make it work effectively, efficiently and that also give it flexibility and adaptability.

We have become so caught up in trying to psychoanalyse the bad guys that we forget we are actually supposed to stop them.

I shudder to think how we would react to a similar situation as we witnessed in Kenya. Remember CAR? Our new model army – foreign-trained for free – made us the laughing stock of Africa. Just as questions ought to be basked in Kenya, our opposition politicians ought to have asked – WHERE was the intelligence (ask DIRCO what really happened) and WHO trained our troops so well in high-speed rearward manoeuvres?

Herbert’s kind efforts may have fallen on deaf ears in the US but here in SA, a lot of large companies have value a sound strategy can have. They certainly keep me busy.

A lot of our problems in Africa are the result of poor strategic vision, a lack of strategy, an inability to implement the strategy when we have one and a lack of accountability. Until these problems are seriously addressed and supported by both political and national will, we will drift like a cork on the ocean.



Herbert said...


Delighted to hear that you are in demand by South African companies. They will benefit.

I blinked when I noticed the typographical errors in my own original post. I have only one word to say about that: alcohol.

Sir, I'll do better next time....maybe.


Contemporary Views said...


I appreciate your explanation. I have actually been thinking of the distinction between 'strategy' and 'tactic' for a while. I suspected that our politicians (Australia) might be mixing the use of the two words, a worrying fact given that the context of their use was defense. Now that you have drawn a line between the two, I feel quite justified in panicking.
Regards James (Australia)

Unknown said...

Hi Eeben.
Looks like the Mozambicans are getting all rowdy again.

Bodes bad for the country and us too. If it goes to pot we can expect a large refugee influx. I hope South Africa has a strategy in place to deal with our countries "other province".

The DRC are accusing the Angolan army of crossing into the DRC and pinching a bunch of rebels.

The Kenyan army went "shopping" during the Westgate mall slaughter and then their defense spokesperson said that the troops were " protecting the goods being hauled out of the mall",, ja riiiigghhtt!

The Central African Republic is teetering on chaos.

Somalia is starving to death.

Nigeria is in constant contact with Bokul Haram.

We have Juju mouthing off all kinds of silly rhetoric and a government who have a weird love affair with Nando`s chicken. The Mahikeng local government forked out R130K on Nando`s in a month while the premier of Upington shelled out R56K on fast food and Energade in 6 weeks!I mean, just how much Energade did this woman need?

We desperately need a STRATEGY right here at home. Eventually the gravy train will derail, get hi jacked or be sold by corrupt inept buffoons masquerading as politicians.

It seems that Namibia is the only country on the continent that is happily chugging along.


Bret said...

Hi Eeben,

Although this comment isn't directly related to this post, I have a few questions.

1)Do you have any plans to push Against All Odds to Kindle or republish it? I am dying to get my hands a copy but each one retails for ~$100 here in the States.

2) What is the status of your upcoming book on conflict? Do you have an ETA on it yet?

3) The New Yorker recently published a piece that includes you. Is this accurate? http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/10/how-a-texas-philanthropist-funded-the-hunt-for-joseph-kony.html

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am indeed fortunate to be trusted by them, Herbert and enjoy this business interaction immensely.
Had a good laugh at your last. I would be lost without a spell check.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It scares me even more when senior military officers get it wrong James.
For some reason, these folks, along with politicians, must make critical decisions without actually having an end state - or knowing what it is. Worrying indeed!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The only reason they appear to have a strategy Mike is because everyone is reactive instead of proactive. Unfortunately, many armies wait until it is too late but then again, given how many African armies have been lied to during their training, it does not really surprise me.

I understand where you are coming from Mike but I must confess that I have experienced the corporate world differently – and fortunately so. Herbert’s attempts were not in vain and had they resulted in anything, it would have been difficult for me as I am already snowed under working with corporates.

There are many people who charge an arm and a leg to give bad advice – and that extends to so-called PMCs as well – but eventually people start realising they have been conned.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Our country certainly needs a realistic strategy to guide us to an acceptable end-state Mike but sadly, we appear to have a “strategy” that encourages divisiveness. Initially, we saw ourselves as the “big brother” of Africa but Africa soon regarded us as the playground bully trying to impose its will. This did us little to no good.

Our continent suffers from three primary tension drivers: resources, ethnicity and religion. We seem unable to harness our resources for the good of our continent, ethnicity remains divisive and is exploited by leaders and religion has been used to add to the divisiveness. This has allowed national armies to become proxy forces of foreign powers.

We can only blame ourselves at the mess that we are in and unless we develop realistic strategies and ensure we can implement them, things won’t improve for us.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Unfortunately I have no say on how the EO book is marketed Brett. I am aware of the fact that it is incredibly expensive beyond our borders but afraid that I can do nothing about it. Many folks have written to me complaining about the same thing but how it is marketed and for what price is beyond my control.

My current book on fighting wars in Africa is complete. Thank you for your interest. I am waiting feedback from my editors (I have some academics and senior military officers) going through it but due to my work schedule, I found myself with little or no time to write.

Unfortunately, my company and I do not comment on where we work. However, I can say that the Texas lady was driven by a genuine desire to bring about an end to what is happening there and she ought to be praised and commended. Certain powers wanted to prevent us from achieving what she set out to do. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why.



Optimus Prime said...

Hi Eben...i am in Nigeria. Kudos for all the work you are doing for Africa. You would soon get your due reward. Mother Africa always pays up. How can i get access to your book here in Nigeria

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Optimus Prime. Mother Africa is bleeding and only we (Africans) can stop this haemorrhaging – but we need to start taking responsibility for our actions and take control of our own destiny. Handing our destiny to foreign governments has led to much of our chaos – and will continue to do so as they wreck us with their proxy forces.

Please send me your address (as a PRIVATE comment). I shall not publish it but I have friends who often travel to Nigeria and I can send a copy of it to you.



Optimus Prime said...

Hi Eben, been trying to send you a private message as directed, but it seems Blogger doesn't support that feature. Please Advice.

Optimus Prime said...

Hi Eben, thanks for your response. I have not been able to send you a private message, it seems blogger.com doesn't have such facilities. Please kindly advice.

Optimus Prime said...

Hi Eben, My country as you know is embroiled in a fight to the death with Islamic Militants. I belong to another Nigerian blog (defence related) where there has been a raging argument on whether our armed forces need PMC's or not. What is your take on that and why?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Please send me your email address Optimus Prime. I shall not post it on the blog but keep it private.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

This is a discussion that can run into many, many pages Optimus Prime as there will be those that support PMCs and those that want nothing to do with PMCs.

I think that one must first-off distinguish between those PMCs that are indeed private and those that are merely an extension of a foreign government’s foreign policy and who are there to secure their paymaster’s interests with no desire to see an end to a conflict. Sadly, there are many of these types of PMCs in Africa.

In terms of those PMCs that are indeed private, there are those that see a conflict as a cash-cow that they need to milk for a long as possible and those that actually want to bring about an end to a conflict. They realise that there will be bloodshed but aim to resolve the situation as rapidly and economically as possible. The latter will usually be subject to massive propaganda attacks and sanctions as they threaten those governments/organisations/individuals with vested interests in keeping the conflicts alive (See my posting on HYPOCRACY AND PERCEPTIONS). Also, look at how the “international community” cheers “the good work” of foreign PMCs in Africa yet condemns African PMCs that succeed in Africa. That gives one a true glimpse of intentions.

So as far as using a PMC is concerned, I believe a government should firstly investigate into what category the PMC falls and secondly, what experience and track record do they have. Then of course, what value can they add to the armed forces in terms of advice and at what level – without placing the government in a position where it can be politically or even economically blackmailed.

It is a fact that most African armies are merely clones of their once-colonial masters or Cold War allies. This has resulted in armies being incorrectly structured, poorly trained, inadequately equipped and deployed with a non-specific doctrine and terrain-irrelevant TTPs. In my opinion, we got a glimpse of this tragedy during the recent mall attack in Kenya.

Simply because training may be given by a foreign entity does not mean it is good or better. Having worked across Africa, we have come across training given by foreign entities that is of an incredibly low standard and that borders on shocking. Often this type of training is also accompanied by “you need this type of equipment…” approach to open the door to selling (dumping) obsolete equipment into Africa that is irrelevant to the threat.

As Africans, we believe that (1) we need to solve our own security problems and (2) governments need to exploit every opportunity to ensure their armed forces are structured and trained to deal with the real or potential threats they are to face. If this added value can be given by a PMC, then I am for it. If there is no added value, then there is no reason to involve a PMC.



PS: Please send me your email address. I shall not post it on the blog.