No West Point cadet will attend academic classes today due to the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic’s “Mission Command Conference.” “Mission command” is a fairly massive initiative in the Army, defined as “the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.” In short, this is how the Army educates and inspires junior officers to take the initiative when on mission (avoiding constant need for supervision and guidance). This is both useful and critical on today’s battlefield.
Yet mission command is inherently constrained by the word, “mission.” The US Army doesn’t fight missions, it fights wars. Missions are designed to support war efforts, therefore, thinking about how one’s mission fits into the war’s context is not just helpful, but necessary. War is about much more than the tactical fight.
I don’t know. Do we really need to teach a 2nd Lieutenant how tactics ties to strategy, which in turn is tied to national policy? Heck, one of the constraints on coherent strategic thinking in the services is that there has been, for the last 20 years, a lack of coherent national policy.
We should, of course, give young leaders a solid grounding in the history of warfare, and strategic thought. But a new graduate of West Point is a platoon leader, focused on the tactical fight. And he or she has an awful lot to master at just that level.