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Got Vision? Unity of Vision in Policy and Strategy: What It Is and Why We Need It

Authored by Dr. Anna Simons. | July 2010

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What do we need when confronted by adversaries who do not adhere to our rule set or social code? Drawing on India’s extensive counterinsurgency experiences, as well as British and American examples of cross-culturally astute strategists, this monograph makes the case for frontloading selection. Its premise is that with the right individual(s) devising strategy, everything else should fall into place. The author contends that certain intuitive abilities are key-abilities that no amount of doctrine can instill or teach.

The argument made here moves beyond “unity of effort” and “unity of command” to identify an overarching need for “unity of vision.” Without someone at the helm who has a certain kind—not turn, not frame, but kind—ofmind, asymmetric confrontations will be hard (if not impossible) to win. As with strategic insight, individuals either know what to use to strategic effect when dealing with another society, or they do not. Having prior cross-cultural experience of the players involved in the conflict is essential, but just understanding other players is insufficient. Equally important is being able to come up with a strategy that fits “us” as well.

The monograph identifies a number of individuals who used unity of vision to considerable strategic effect. It then moves on to consider three exceptional Indians (K. P. S. Gill, S. K. Sinha, and Mahatma Gandhi) to further illustrate the point that with the right who in charge, the right what will follow. Among the conclusions reached is that the Department of Defense and the Services should be investing far more effort in assessment, selection, reassessment, and deselection than they currently do, and that when it comes to identifying those with the right attributes, counterinsurgency (and related) field manuals should be used as screening tools—not teaching aides.

In addition to unity of vision, the author introduces two other concepts. The Lawrence paradox refers to our propensity to turn unduplicable lessons into generic principles as if anyone should be able to apply them. In contrast, the Gladwell heuristic seems far more useful. Borrowing from Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of connectors, mavens, and salesmen, what this yields is that those responsible for policing or helping to police communities at the local level should be able to identify local connectors, mavens, and salesmen. At the operational level, counterinsurgency leaders should be able to think (and potentially act) like connectors, mavens, and salesmen themselves, while strategy itself calls for an individual who possesses the insights and abilities of a connector, maven, and salesman all rolled into one—akin to an K. P. S. Gill, an S. K. Sinha, a George Kennan, or an Edward Lansdale.