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Defining victory

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Sugar’s tips on defining victory

There’s perhaps no better example of my bumper sticker paradox (We need bumper stickers, but they’re dangerous) than the discussion of victory. You need something that transcends the ugliness , the carnage, the sacrifice, and the high costs of war in order to convince a society to support it and risk their sons and daughters, and then to justify the sacrifices once they have been made. The higher the cost of the sacrifice already made, the harder it is to settle for anything less than “complete victory” (as my CGSC history teacher put it describing early WWI, you can’t just go back to the status quo ante bellem after you’ve planted 300,000 of your best and brightest in the ground. )

The discussion of victory looks obliquely at another thing I think we don’t define well or with enough fidelity, and that’s risk. Usually when we talk victory, we’re talking about desired ends or aspirational goals at various levels of strategy and between various timelines, not all of which may be possible to achieve simultaneously. But you’ve also gotta look at what you don’t want to happen, and try to mitigate the chances that your direct actions, or their second/third order effects, don’t lead to negative outcomes. Strategy is always a balancing act between potential gains and risks, and trying to guess the probabilities for both given a chosen course of action. Thus, any definition of victory should imply conscious consideration of both positive and negative goals. I’m guessing most usually don’t, emphasizing the former. Sugar's 2 cents: There's no such thing as a definition of victory or a strategy to achieve it without an associated acceptance of risk, even if it's not explicitly stated. Both will be better if it is.

Ties to complexity and campaign planning – Jervis says that in a complex system “you can never do just one thing”: if you invade another country, the power and interest balances between you, its neighbors, and everyone else will shift, and once you choose to act you will pay opportunity costs elsewhere. Victory will be hollow unless you look at the holistic results will be acceptable, or at least are justified by the risks. The discussion of various levels of victory is a good compliment to Luttwaks’ idea of vertical and horizontal dimensions of strategy. We’re pretty good at the former in the short term, but we usually neglect the latter because it’s really hard to grasp the cascading effects throughout the international system , especially when you have no real interagency process akin to JOPP, and even in the “M”, don’t have a lot of crosstalk between COCOMs during contingency planning until it the independently developed campaign plans require sourcing.

Sugar’s tips on ending wars

When to wars end? When both sides think war is worse than the status quo. Usually the loser has to decide this first.

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