The content starts off with the current discussions on Just War Theory that has a clear delineation between the strategic level of going to war, jus ad bellum, and the operational and tactical levels of its conduct, jus in bello. Where the lead up to the decision to go to war, and how to wage it, are made amongst senior political and military leaders, but once the action is taken it becomes the primary domain of the military, and at best the politicians have symbolic control. This way is understandable as the military is made up of professionals that dedicate their lives to perfecting their warfighting craft, but the author speaks up that it would be folly to believe that the politicians should simply stand back and await the results.
This perspective comes from the relationship between the nation’s political community and the military that carries out its will. One perspective comes from Samuel Huntington’s objective control theory, and the other comes from Peter Feaver’s principal-agent theory of which Dubik lays out to the reader.
In objective control theory, the relationship should be that of a political government that has an entirely autonomous and professional military sphere which adopts an apolitical approach. They focus on developing their ways and means of conducting warfare while maintaining distances from the machinations of the political world. In order to develop such a high level of professionalism, the politicians seek to avoid too much interference in how the senior military officers shape their Services. In this way, the nation gets an Armed Force that is ready and equipped for a war that serves the primary principles of the nation, as opposed to the whims of any particular political party.
In principal-agent theory, the military is treated more like contracted employees or firms, whose duty is only to execute operations at the specific direction of politicians. The idea is that ultimately the civilian government has control over how the military conducts itself, and therefore, senior military officers and the commanders of warfighting organizations simply do as they are told and only speak up when asked. Much like a contracted project’s statement of work (SoW) the military will execute to the letter, even if its leaders believe it to be the ultimate folly. They will win the battles, even if they know it won’t win wars. The politicians do; technically speaking, have a “right to be wrong,” as the author brings up time and again.
So, Dubik, having seen both of these perspectives wanting, has tried to discover a bridge that carries on through the actual waging of a war simultaneous to it conduct. As Vietnam and Iraq have shown, the senior echelons of our government need to keep focused on the conduct of the war so that as changes occur within the operational environment; and they always change, they are able to reassess whether the strategic aims, policies, and campaigns need to be adjusted accordingly. The preponderance of the book goes into how leaders can achieve this while harkening back to historical examples of why it is so.
Dubik states, “War is a political instrument that uses violence and force to achieve political purposes; by its very nature, therefore, it demands a collaborative, political-military effort.” This would be akin to saying that constructing software or vehicles is an instrument of business since ultimately the firm needs to make a profit, and therefore there must be a collaborative effort between the engineers that have to design them, and everyone else that has to get them into the hands of customers. Engineers are indeed professionals, as is the military, and there is inherently an issue when those from outside that profession try to dictate how things should be done within it, but just like military operations, an engineering project must meet the aims of the firm. Therefore, a dialogue must occur between both, not necessarily on an equal footing.
Dubik posits five war-waging principles and three friction areas; what he calls “tripartite tension,” that need to be addressed to ensure that we are carrying forward in war morally and effectively.