Soft Power, Hard Facts

By Sebastian Sprenger / March 26, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense leaders have largely embraced the idea that future conflicts will be defined by the tenets of irregular warfare, counterinsurgency and stability operations.

Less established is thinking about what it would mean for U.S. forces to win in such conflicts.

Gen. Mattis, the head of U.S. Joint Forces Command, released a "vision" for irregular warfare yesterday that seeks answers to this question. Mattis, for example, wants to know by what "measures of effectiveness" commanders should go when planning and conducting IW-type operations.

In addition, Mattis raises the question as to what IW-related standards U.S. forces should be trained.

According to Military Operations Research Society President Army Lt. Col. Michael Kwinn, hard numbers and analysis techniques could produce answers in this inherently hard-to-quantify business.

Kwinn is also a professor of systems engineering at Westpoint. He told us today the discipline of operations research has a "huge role" in irregular warfare. For one, he said, OR can help the military figure out "if we are winning" by providing feedback on key metrics.

Determining suitable metrics is an "art form," Kwinn said. In Bosnia, for example, U.S. officials used the price of bread as a criterion for measuring the effectiveness of operations there, he said.

As the idea of irregular warfare continues to evolve, there is a place for "facts, as opposed to thoughts and gut feeling" in that concept, Kwinn said.