A Few Reflections on the Second Meeting ISODOMA

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The French version of this paper can also be found on this website. 

Shrivenham, 10 Decembre  2009


My input will consist of a few reflections on two events. In the month of June 2009 two international meetings took place at Saint-Cyr Military Academy, France. The International Seminar On the Development Of Military Academies (a cluster of 22 countries gathered by France and South Korea), the ISODOMA, took place just after an international conference dedicated to irregular warfare. I had to moderate the works of half the seminar and to write the conclusions thereof. The present communication stems from the evolution of the text presenting the conclusions. Although it does not seem to differ much from it, I prefer considering that I take on the entire responsibility for it.

The seminar was based on the conclusions of the conference, the Acts of which shall be published, in order to draw out the pedagogical applications in the matters of officers’ training.

Firstly, I will talk briefly about the points on which we seem to have reached a consensus, regarding this “irregular warfare” (First Part, Situation); then we shall deal with the pedagogical recommendations (Second Part, Pedagogy).




Our forces are committed everywhere in “new conflicts” often qualified of “irregular warfare”. Therefore, we must search in priority the character of these “new conflicts”.


1° From a Tactical Point Of View. Employed there is a group of operating processes based on the use of small numbers, surprise, etc. However, this is not enough to characterize the present conflicts, since such processes have always existed – this is what Clausewitz calls the “little war”, and which has always been, or tried to be, part of the essence of the war, including the most conventional or the most regular of said warfare.


2° From a Political Point Of View. It is not a war putting States, nor even Nations, Cities into play and face-to-face. Neither is it solely formidable terrorist unrest driven by international networks. On the outside terrains or where the forces are deployed, these are also, and above all, pre-political wars, not putting into play the system of categories that are truly political, as the relevant notions are more a matter of ethnicities, of a clan, of an under-clan, of family, of soil. Therefore, it is a matter of “telluric partisans” war: a pre-political war more than a pre-modern war. However, the fact of privatizing the force action, in the democracies, leads one to wonder if, even from our side, the war may not also lose its political character, but taking, this time, a post-political and post-modern character (mercenaries, PMC, etc.)

3° From an Ethical Point Of View. This is an anomic war which ignores, at least on the “irregular” side, a set of legal and moral standards, to which the armies of democracies submit themselves, as a principle.

It is a cultural war which also puts in presence “civilizations” perhaps in a lesser degree than “ages of culture”, modern or post-modern universes.

Moreover, the term “irregular” war has a more relative and subjective meaning, expressing a certain surprise of Western or Westernized thinking coping with various forms of struggle impregnated with non-Western culture, reflecting ways of life and thinking different from those to which the Westerners are used to.



Considering that the above is accurate, here are the pedagogical recommendations, or questions, that seem to result thereof: they refer to six great issues: 1. Specialization, or not? 2. For which kind of war should we prepare the military personnel? 3. What are the true core skills? 4. What about communicating? 5. What kind of loyalty should we claim from our military personnel? 6. What kind of connections between civilian and military educations?


Specialization, or not? It seems useful not to specialize the student-officers too far in advance, preparing them only for this or that kind of conflict, well-understood and identified, even though they must have a good knowledge about the “probable war”. Therefore, it is suitable to endow them with an essential base, universally valid in all occasions, and to prepare them mentally to be able to take into account the unforeseeable.


Preparing Them for Which War? Since our forces are committed everywhere to new conflicts qualified as “irregular warfare”, the relative importance given to the preparation of the war which can be called conventional and to the non-conventional or irregular one, must probably be reviewed. However, it is necessary to consider the possibility that the worst risk could be an unprecedented combination of conventional and non-conventional: some examples may have already been given by certain actions conducted against South Korea. And the worst would be that these actions combined at several levels could dispose of mass-destruction weapons, or rely on the action of powers holding them. It is advisable to keep minds open to any “off-limit” war.


In these conditions, is it necessary to give students an in-depth training to the full range of all possible actions? Or are we not running, in doing so, the risk of dissipation, superficiality, inefficiency? Besides, since strategic situations vary a lot from one country to another, can one recommend generally valid formulas? It seems wiser to devote part of the training to an in-depth meditation of a military history as open as possible, and to a careful consideration over various and complementary contemporary experiences. We recommend a great open-mindedness, an aptitude to reversibility.


What are the core skills? What does the essential basis of the training consist of? Another way to put it would be: “What is of secondary importance in the training? And: from when does the secondary become superfluous?” Otherwise, this list would be an all-encompassing one. We do not need a list, but a structure, strong and flexible. There are three elements in this structure: the Political one (3.1), the Ethical one (3.2) and the Tactical one (3.3). In other words, there is the “core business” (3.3) and the meaning of this business, for the country (3.1), and for the individual (3.2).


3.1. The Political Element: The understanding of the officer should present two complementary aspects, very concrete and, at the same time, widely-embracing: to be able to grasp correctly and swiftly situations, interests into play, passions, characters, tactics and balance of power; and to understand the character of the era they live in, the character of the warfare they are committed to. This understanding requires a more profound political ability, which must grasp the dimension of the culture, of the civilization, of the language, and of the history.


The officer needs to understand the fundamentally political nature of the military action. Warfare is first and foremost a continuation of political action; it attempts to facilitate, using force, the way towards a satisfactory and lasting political solution. The force should always be used with political cleverness, and not like a simple technical tool.


3.2. Ethical Humanism. What has been just said supplies the political reason why the use of force must be controlled, according to the prospect and the aim of the lasting restoration of peace. It is necessary to exclude the operating methods which would result in the rooting of inexpiable hatred and in making the restoration of pacific coexistence much more difficult. It is also necessary to exclude the methods which could not benefit of the necessary support of the democratic opinions. These assertions supply the leading principles for the pedagogy of ethics. The latter should not simply consist in imposing rules passively suffered, but in the training of the character and its virtues, thus allowing to understand and, if possible, to abide by the rules in conscience. This teaching of ethics is only worthy and efficient insofar as the ethics is not used as an instrumentum regni, but taken and respected as something noble in itself.


3.3. The Tactical Element. This is the core of the job, with the essential operational capabilities. The general tactical preparation includes fundamentals that everyone knows (sport, firing, training for battle, etc.). They must be perfectly acquired, without any excessive specialization, nor any scrupulous exhaustiveness. Nevertheless, how is it possible to drill without what plausibly might be called “excessive specialization”?

The political character of the war must lead to teaching student officers a broadened notion of efficiency: human physical acts are always doubled with acts of language and communication. The latter give sense to the first ones, in the context of human relations and communities in a permanent relationship of mutual interpretation. The concern for long–term efficiency (including ethics, political knowledge and understanding, inter-cultural empathy, etc.) must prevail over the temptation of an immediate feverishness without any hindsight. But, emphasis on these latter factors should not lead to the fading of the military specificity nor should it prejudice the capacity of a troop to vigorously take the ascendency over the enemy.


What is likely to federate all these training activities and all these orientations is the idea of training leaders. A leader is also a decision-maker, but more than just a decision-maker. Teaching young people how to manage other young people is a particularly productive and motivating issue. In this matter, one should not forget that the ascendancy is also that of a powerful mind. The General de Gaulle wrote, “The culture générale is the school of command.”


What about communication? In what extent should student officers be trained to communication in general and to communication with the media?

The aptitude to communication is indispensable. It cannot be separated from a general satisfactory knowledge and above all from a practice having integrated the idea that the acts of language are as important –not more, not less – than technical acts. This is why, rather than a “scientific” training or a “literary” training (literature, history, etc.), the forces need officers of whom a small number will have received a were wide training, and of whom the rest should come from very different intellectual backgrounds.

As for the specific issue of the relationship with the media, the strategic place rather seems to be the Internet. It is important that the staff of forces dispose of specialists of the communication on the Internet and be able to be the first telling the story, within the hour following the event. For doing so, it is necessary that these specialists dispose of lively and frequented blogs. They have to be more responsive than the media, to be informally in competition with them and to have more transparency than the media. Such would be the best way of protecting the forces from media functioning likely to be considered sometimes as not very responsible.

This issue of the communication would become particularly crucial in the hypothesis of attacks hitting the territory or population in Democracies. The student officers should be aware that the center of gravity of friend and enemy forces is in the public opinion of respective populations, the general will of the respective people.


Which kind of loyalty? A delicate question is that of the fair combination, in the student officer, between his moral conscience, his military honor and his political loyalty, just like between the demand of enrolment and the legitimacy of the critical mind. We must find here the right balance, in order to avoid either the dissolution of democratic forces, or the dissolution of the democracy in the forces, by excess, or by lack of criticism.

The first way leading to such a balance would consist in making the students deeply familiar with the quarrel and the discussion between human beings on the matter of Nature, of man and of the Absolute, or of God. And also on the principles of ethics, right and wrong, etc. What’s the point in all this? What right has one to kill these people? The critical questioning, in a job as specific as the military, always ends up in primary and radical questions. The acts of language which take in the technical acts are acts of language about things one does not know how to express them well, but which, however, one cannot keep quiet.

The second way would consist in not keeping quiet the major political issues of the human kind. Trying to articulate in a simple manner a) the loyalty to the States and to the Nations, or to the Unions of Nations or States, within the international Community, and b) the awareness of the flaws of the policies present, and of the counter-productive character of too naïve a clear conscience or self-righteousness. In an era very inclined to criticism, loyalty has less to suffer than to benefit of the frankness regarding the faults to be equally blamed, or regarding the need for expected political openings, which would allow one to bring up the issues in a way that would render them less insoluble and other than resorting to force.


Connecting Military and Civilian Education? Taking into account the fact that these qualities of the officers are that of the leader citizen fully aware of his ethical, civic and human responsibilities, school training officers can partly be moulds for the training of the elites, in countries anxious to ally in order to preserve a fair and relatively pacified world balance. This would also facilitate the collaboration between civil and military executives. How far such a commitment go, which seems useful to prepare the civil and military actions especially in reconstruction periods?


Conclusion. A last perplexity: our training and education assignment requires ambition. But are we demanding what is impossible? Who gets out of the Academies should be a warrior, an athlete, a citizen, a wise person, a politician, a speaker, etc. Should we really aim at making a global leader out of a cadet as soon as he becomes a Second Lieutenant? How not to make this assignment too hard to meet the target? How not to put too much pressure on very young people and inhibit them instead of exalting them?




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