Friday 23 Feb 2018 | 17:33 | SYDNEY
Friday 23 Feb 2018 | 17:33 | SYDNEY

Choice and necessity in Australia's way of war



2 September 2009 11:03

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

I have found the concepts of 'war of necessity' and 'war of choice' very handy. I cannot vouch for what President Obama meant when he called Afghanistan a war of necessity. I can only assume that he used it to convey a sense of determination that backs up the statement in his 2009 strategy where he said: 'We will defeat you'.

Many of our soldiers who went to Iraq and Afghanistan can be confused by the actions of our governments in relation to those wars. They see the forces that we have deployed restricted in strength and in action, when any soldier on the ground can see the opportunities to be decisive, or even just to provide more help to the people, being missed for apparently incomprehensible reasons.  Why would you go to war yet apparently not be serious about it? Soldiers must be conditioned to 'win', and yet opportunities to win appear to be ignored.

I do not know when the terms 'necessity' and 'choice' in relation to wars came into being, but it has been about for many years. I used them in my book but in an Australian context they are best developed in the writing of Dr Mike Evans from the Australian Command and Staff College. As I use them, they do not refer to the absolute choice to surrender that Sam mentions, but to the motivation behind a government's decision to go to war and the implication of that on how the government sees the missions it gives to the ADF.

We were looking for a distinct middle power approach to military art in general and operational art in particular in a paper I commissioned from Mike Evans in January 2008 (when I was still serving). Titled 'Australia’s Generalship in the 21st Century: Developing a Middle Power Model of Operational Art', it was refined and published by Mike Evans in the Kokoda Foundation's Security Challenges journal as 'The Closing of the Military Mind: The ADF and Operational Art'.

My interpretation of Mike’s model is as follows: based on strategic guidance (mainly the public Defence Updates during 2007 but still visible in the Defence White Paper 2009), the ADF is required by government to be both a 'security provider' and a 'security leader'.

As a security provider, the ADF is to provide small tactical level forces (sometimes referred to as 'niche' capabilities) to various places across the globe as part of our alliance relationships. These are referred to as 'missions of choice' because of the large number of choices involved in their deployment. For example, we get to choose the war that we go to, the time of our involvement, the force levels we send, the area of operations within that war, the type of operations we conduct (offensive or defensive/restricted operations) and when we go home.

The purpose of conducting a mission of choice is not necessarily to win (although rhetoric may spin on this issue) but to show commitment. Because our forces are small and limited in the actions that they can take (though wars of choice might still involve high levels of combat), we have limited say in the overall campaign plan.

As a security leader, the ADF is to provide sometimes much larger forces to regional conflicts and to play a leadership role – in fact, Australia may be a major player or the coalition leader, with Australian leadership doing the campaign plan and commanding the military activity. The amount of choice is very much less and so it is referred to as a 'mission of necessity'. In this situation, the ADF has to deploy at a time and to an area of operations often decided by an opponent, and our actions and the nature of the force are decided by the necessity to actually win.

A deployment to show commitment rather than to actually win will produce operations that are fundamentally different. The balance between the two is a constant challenge for any military, not least in terms of procurement, longer term planning and training.

Both missions of choice and missions of necessity are legitimate tasks to be allocated by the government to the ADF. Missions of choice are the bread and butter of the ADF which, if resolved unsuccessfully, will have something less than the most dire implications for the nation. Missions of necessity are likely to be larger scale once-in-a-generation activities, and the consequences of losing can be highly detrimental to Governments and nations.

It is of course possible that a mission of choice may become a mission of necessity. If the ADF was made responsible for a discrete area of Afghanistan such as Oruzgan province, led a coalition in that region and conducted operations in accordance with the overall Afghanistan strategy (which is one of winning), then I would consider that an ADF 'mission of necessity'.

Photo by Flickr user Leonard John Matthews, used under a Creative Commons license.

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