Regarding "Leadership for the Fourth Generation: Preparing Leaders to Out-Think Our New Enemy",
by Capt Robert Kozloski, USMC

By A. Scott Crawford

Special to Defense and the National Interest
June 11, 2006

[Editor's note: Commentator A. Scott Crawford explores some of the issues raised in the article "Leadership for the Fourth Generation: Preparing Leaders to Out-Think Our New Enemy," (34 KB PDF) by Capt Robert Kozlowski, USMC, June 2005.]

Capt. Kozloski's use of the line "So now they know how to think out of the box, how do we keep them out of the Brig?" was worthy of Aristophanes. The quick answer being: “cross our fingers.”

There is a training goal conflict at work here that does not necessarily need to exist. On one hand is a primary element (structure) that is defined by very specific existential parameters, namely, the Armed Forces in general and USMC in particular. This element finds itself a victim of its own successes in that would-be opponents do not believe that they will be able to achieve their institutional and/or organizational/political goals via engaging in a direct conflict. This has led would-be opponents to the necessary (from their perspective) step of looking for alternative means to achieve their goals outside of any civilized or existent parameters. Our military finds itself subsequently tasked with a seemingly impossible and contradictory problem: How to reorient itself in such a way to fulfill its primary institutional objectives within the “public” pre-existing parameters that guide the majority of it’s operations, while additionally reforming and/or integrating a new, secondary element (sub-structure) into itself as a whole to confront opponents utilizing 4GW methods.

The US should first consider that it is our “official”, conventional, superiority that has forced our opponents (and would-be opponents) to change, and that whatever reforms we undertake in order to address the second-order problems this situation is causing, we should never forget that our first-order structure's fundamental solidity forms a strategic “high ground” globally that should not be surrendered. If we were to allow our opponents short-term successes to cause us to sacrifice the high ground of the first-order to the alter of expediency and political timidity regarding our second-order strategic weaknesses, we would be cutting off our strategic noses to spite our face.

Happily, our strategic problem is one to be envied, as we are able to maintain our first-order strength while addressing and integrating reforms on the second-order. For the US military, the goal is how to best “take the gloves off”, without openly seeming to do so. More specifically, our goal is how best to integrate a new approach to conflict and response that we ourselves have forced on our opponents within an existing super-structure that is wholly dependent on sub-systems and structures that the US effectively controls on all fronts.

In the civil war, Gen. George Thomas was the first commander to fully integrate civilian telegraph operators into his communications and command structure. He soon noticed that tensions developed between his specialists and his regular officers and troops due to the general lack of appreciation for the then esoteric skill sets of the wiremen. His solution was to have his civilian staff supplied with a standard uniform that set them apart from both camp civilians and soldiers alike. The point being that he found a median way without losing either his specialists or degrading the morale of his fighting men by jumping up civilian geeks (who don't deserve a salute). This was a successful example of integrating unconventional technology and (then civilian) personal despite social and institutional bias and prejudice in order to exploit said technology and staff to better achieve operational objectives.

The USMC is already an elite and effective fighting corps. By assuming that outside the box thinking must come from within the box (the corps) itself, the first principles are lost. The identified goal is the need for USMC officers to access non-conventional thinking. This doesn't require that they themselves think outside the box, merely that they are able to interact with those who can in a constructive way. The attainment of the institutional goal requires that the first-order organization (the USMC) be able to access and utilize the second-order skill sets of 4GW specialists.

This brings up other points. Unconventional thinkers within the chain of command (CoC) are rivals and rub superiors the wrong way. (for example: Seal Team 6). Desire for promotion and status within the corps would limit the range of alternatives offered, as looking foolish or sounding crazy often makes one the butt of jokes. This is where the origin of court jesters and fools developed, as the fools could advise without fear of giving mortal insult. When they were wrong, they were fools. When they were correct they were not rewarded as a knight or thane, thus not competition for loot or glory.

Other examples of civilians playing a similar role are surgeons on British frigates, sophists or oracles with Greek kings, Achaean noble hostages with Roman legions, Skalds with viking crews, sages or scribes with Chinese generals (Sun Tzu certainly dictated his aphorisms), friars or monks in feudal Europe (Ockham, Erigenus).

Only in the modern era have mystics and soothsayers been replaced. And while journalists, NGO types, and "international" observers have their legitimate roles to play, without a pet (private) civilian outside the CoC to keep the mob of other civilians in line, every officer has to worry about domestic politics and other “first-order” problems while his 4GW opponents are free to exploit any or all of the liabilities or command restrictions these classes of civilian non-combatants entail via their presence. Should a military commander object to a gaggle of uncontrolled civilian NGO supply trucks creating utter chaos along supply routes his combat forces themselves require, any command decision on the officers part would necessarily be colored by the knowledge that the correct order militarily would have to be weighed against the political repercussions at a later date. An officer, or command, that found itself in such a sticky position does not need to know how the problem was resolved, but in a 4GW situation, said command must have absolute confidence that the military commanders in the field would be insulated from political fallout (i.e. hurt civilian feelings and the like).

"Proficiency in 4GW requires leaders to be able to operate comfortably in a decentralized organizational structure, lead in the absence of SOPs or regulations, understand and thrive in a chaotic environment. They also need to not only process a vast quantity of information rapidly but discriminate between what information is relevant and what is not; then form logical decisions."

This is a description of the skill set of a prison block boss, a mobster, or a professional crook (or a black hat hacker). But I think the operational term should be "Privateer" (sans the letter or marques, of course.) This distinction is important because it is dramatically easier to reform and control a villain than it is to corrupt and try to control an exiled Marine.

A. Scott Crawford is chief security officer for a private equity partnership and co-founder of a charitable foundation.  He is a former filmmaker and TV producer.