A Sight on European Defence

Sun Tzu said:

Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:

1. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

2. Which of the two generals has most ability?

3. With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?

4. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

5. Which army is stronger?

6. On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

7. In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

Two weeks ago, I already made use of this quote, focusing on the institutional level. Today, I will try to draw out of past experiences a form of intercultural approach, to illustrate that the development of European Defence cannot only be institutional, but must be interpersonal as well. I mean that institutions will never work smoothly if the people sitting at the same table do not have at least a common understanding of some key concepts or working relationship.

This quote of Sun Tzu’s Art of War will be used to drill into the cultures of armed forces that I know a little bit better than the others.

Point one: Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

This is in fact the first issue. I found an interpretation as ‘having the largest moral influence’ on his troops, so that they will follow the boss wherever he wants to go. Well, in a national unit, this concept is valid, as the commanding officer is officially invested of command and control authority over his troops. In a multinational environment this authority is much more limited, as the subordinates always refer first to their national representative, who embodies the national authorities, which pay, assign and promote them, and only secondly to their multinational boss.

Furthermore, the moral influence of the multinational leader will always be limited by the various interfaces, might they be linguistic or cultural ones. I mean: in a coalition, the common working language is English, but the proficiency level is extremely different from one soldier to the other and some parts of the messages can simply be either misunderstood or not understood at all, mainly if the terms used in the address link with cultural references which are not shared.

As well, this working English is a working language, not a conceptual one and the most common skill level is limited to the execution of concrete orders and not conceptual orientations that would impregnate your way of operating with the commander’s intent.

Going further in the moral influence, one can see that from one country to the other, the way of exerting the moral influence is extremely different. Without making use of grotesque shortcuts, I would say that the staff cultures and the way the commander behaves are shared in Europe in different areas. How to illustrate it? I would simply take the decision making process, which conveys a very different place to the commander in the decision making process: where a British commander would very early give some orientations originating from his own intuition, a German leader would rely much more on the staff work, just asking some questions that the wants to be addressed during the process. While in the German way, one course of action will be prepared by the staff and proposed for approval, in the French of doing, the staff will submit two possible courses of action, out of which the commander would select one.

Of course, NATO standardization process operates as a facilitator in such issues. However, the commander always like being understood, even through understatement, while a subordinate likes being able to guess the intent of his chief, in order to anticipate the work.

This not what happens in multinational environment yet, at least as long as the military education will not be common to the major European countries.

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  1. “The development of European Defence cannot only be institutional, but must be interpersonal as well.”

    I agree with you 100% here. No matter how brilliant the plan and strategy, without someone buying in to the idea on a personal level, thus truly committed to the cause — and achieving what Sun Tzu calls the Tao (first chapter), then you will not be successful.

    Enjoying your blog entries as always!

    Thomas Huynh

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