Full Spectrum Dominance

SOME PEOPLE characterize the Nobel Prize in literature as a “famous Swedish book prize.” OK, very funny. I suppose that there is a lot of lobbying, if not politicking, that goes on behind the scenes for a Nobel Prize, and on occasion one might scratch one’s head in wonderment that the Nobel Committee would award the “Swedish book prize” to one figure or another. Call me old-fashioned, but I still have enough respect for the Nobel Committee to believe that when someone is awarded a Nobel Prize, it is to recognize a career of great accomplishment. The Nobel Committee does the world a favor by identifying people like that.

In 2005, the Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to the British writer and playwright Harold Pinter, who has had a long and distinguished career in letters. In his acceptance speech delivered in December 2005, Pinter discussed his role as a writer, and remarked upon the creative process behind much of what he has written. Pinter’s speech focused on the distinction between truth and falsity, between what is real and what is not real. He began by restating something that he wrote in 1958:

“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”

Pinter went on, in his Nobel address, to say that this particular assertion from many decades ago still makes sense to him and he firmly believes that it still applies to the exploration of reality through art. But then, right after saying this, Pinter qualified his own words by declaring that “as a writer I stand by [what I wrote in 1958], but as a citizen, I cannot. As a citizen I must ask, What is true? What is false?” Pinter elaborated:

“Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it, but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavor. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realizing that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.”

“What Is True? What Is False?”

“What is true? What is false?” he asked. Pinter then discussed many of the themes of his plays, and how the story ideas evolved. As examples, he discussed the context of “The Homecoming” and “The Birthday Party,” in both of which plays Pinter created in the mind of the audience a forest of confusion before beginning the process of isolating and focusing on the key elements that define the point or theme of the respective works. Still, said Pinter, “the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned. It cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.” It is a lot like a jury trial, I suppose, but one in which the option of a mistrial cannot be declared.

Another of Pinter’s plays, “Mountain Language,” is a depiction of men torturing other men. The play is brutal, ugly and short, lasting all of about 20 minutes. But it could go on for hours, repeating the same pattern over and over again, on and on. Whether it is a long play or short play, however, Pinter is still asking the questions, “What is true? What is false?” The questions rattle around inside the mind of the playgoer. What is the answer? Is there an answer? Why do people do what they do? At what point does the jury have sufficient evidence before it is able truly to isolate the facts?

Political Language

Pinter expanded his Nobel speech to discuss politics and, not surprisingly, the search for truth or its opposite within the political context. Here is what Pinter said:

“Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth, but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us, therefore, is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

This is a rather cynical and blanket condemnation by Pinter of the entire political class, unqualified in the speech as to time, place, or person. Pinter is a playwright, not a political scientist. Still, Pinter is entitled to have a personal opinion on the subject.

Up until this point, Pinter was giving a darn good talk about the creative writing process, an expert testifying within his field of expertise. Then, however, he allowed himself to get too “political.” When Pinter said that we are all surrounded by a “vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed,” I think first and foremost that Pinter was being rather condescending. How many of you, dear readers, think that you are “feeding on lies”? I like to think that I go out of my way to search for “truth” in this world. I try very hard to distill the lies out of what gets into my head. How about you? And evidently, Pinter has never read Whiskey & Gunpowder.

The U.S. Role in the World

Pinter, in his Nobel speech, launched into an utterly scathing indictment of many of the foreign policies of the United States over the past 50-plus years. “The truth,” said Pinter, “is something entirely different. The truth is [sic] to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.”

Again, the British subject Mr. Pinter is certainly entitled to his personal opinion about the various domestic and foreign policies of the U.S. over the span of more than half a century. Anyone who could possibly sum up such a scope of human, political, economic, and military understanding in one relatively short portion of a single speech probably does deserve a Nobel Prize. But Pinter should have stuck to writing plays and not dissecting world affairs in sound bites that encapsulate half-century periods of time.

Yes, it is a valid question for Pinter to ask how the U.S. understands “its role in the world” and how the U.S. chooses “to embody it”? We ask the same questions, in one form or another, here in Whiskey & Gunpowder, as well as in The Daily Reckoning. And Pinter, too, can ask those questions about the U.S. role in the world. But beware that asking such questions is really quite an art, and for my money, Agora’s Bill Bonner does a better job of it. (Nobel Prize for Bill Bonner? Stranger things have happened.)

Pinter can, of course, attempt to make his political argument during his time of fame at the podium of the Nobel Award. It was his 15 minutes, not mine. But Pinter is not entitled to make up his own set of facts. And what struck me about Pinter’s analysis of the U.S. “role in the world” was that, on at least one key point, he was factually wrong and was arguing out of his own depth.

Full Spectrum Dominance

After listing a long bill of indictment against U.S. policies in the world of the past half-century, which I will not restate here, Pinter said the following in an effort to sum it all up in one short blast:

“I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance.’ That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air, and space and all attendant resources.”

From an otherwise well-regarded playwright who started out asking, “What is true? What is false?” I would have expected better than this. Because Pinter is wrong. He is demonstrably, factually, categorically wrong. Pinter has not done his homework, and it shows.

Full spectrum dominance is not the “official declared policy” of the U.S., nor does the term mean “control of land, sea, air, and space and all attendant resources.” That is wrong, absolutely wrong. Pinter has missed the point. Full spectrum dominance means nothing of the sort that Pinter says, and it is a critical distinction that means something important. Thus, the 2005 Nobel laureate in literature may well know his kit about writing plays, but he does not know what he is talking about when it comes to U.S. military operational art.

Origins of a Term of Operational Art

Dear readers of Whiskey & Gunpowder, it may seem rather arcane to discuss full spectrum dominance. But it is actually quite important to know the term if you want to understand modern U.S. military operational doctrine, and by implication to understand the military success of the modern American Empire. Full spectrum dominance is a label for an operational concept. It is not military strategy. It is certainly not national political or defense policy.

That is, politicians compete for power. To a large degree, politics in the U.S. reflects a broad consensus of the will of the people. (For example, look at the political difficulty faced by anyone attempting to increase the retirement age for Social Security or proposing to place higher taxes on gasoline. Talk about “will of the people”?) Politics governs policy. Policy determines strategy. Strategy requires operational art to carry it out.

So full spectrum dominance is an operational military tool, not a national or military policy. If you confuse these terms (or allow yourself to be confused by other people who do not understand the terms), you will be missing out on key insight into why and how things happen. You will be less able to answer the questions, “What is true? What is false?” You will gain the wrong insight, you will draw the wrong conclusions. You will make fundamental mistakes based on misunderstanding, and you will lose money when you bet on the wrong horse.

Full spectrum dominance is a concept that grew out of a long-term and dynamic thought process within the U.S. military, originating with the rapid collapse of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The evolutionary process involved the political leadership of both the Bush I and Clinton administrations, many committees and staffs of Congress, key foreign allies, and numerous private and quasi-public entities.

The planners within the U.S. Department of Defense were charged with answering to all of the various stakeholders and eventually determining what kind of military power the U.S. would be buying and building over the next several decades. It was a common realization, for example, that the U.S. and NATO-allied Cold War-era approach to warfighting had also collapsed with the USSR. One of the key realizations of the DoD planners was that whatever the U.S. armed forces of the future were going to look like, these forces were generally going to be fewer in number and working under different paradigms of basic mission, let alone arenas of conflict. The central question in the 1990s was what sort of military power should the U.S. maintain in the context of its anticipated future global interests and responsibilities?

By the late 1990s, the U.S. DoD had come up with a statement called Joint Vision 2010 (JV 2010), which was looking forward by about a decade. JV 2010 addressed the military potential of the information revolution, which was just gaining worldwide traction in the 1990s. JV 2010 began a process of adapting the oncoming promise of rapid movement of vast amounts of data on and behind the battlespace to the classical military concepts of maneuver, strike, logistics, and force protection.

JV 2010 was always considered a work-in-progress, and it was already in revision by the time it was published in 1998. But still, JV 2010 gave people a glimpse in the direction of military transformation in the post-Cold War era, and the DoD planners were back at the drawing boards before the ink was dry on the first print run.

Joint Vision 2020 (JV 2020) was the follow-on document, released on May 30, 2000, by the DoD. JV 2020 addressed the military need for what it labeled as “full spectrum dominance” on the battlefield.

Full spectrum dominance, as envisioned in JV2020, is the proposed ability of U.S. armed forces, operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across a broad range (that is, the “full spectrum”) of military operations. That is, it was an embryonic doctrine that called for U.S. and allied forces to dominate across the full spectrum of conflict, from cyber-war hacking to nuclear exchange. Really, what else would you expect from any military establishment? Would you expect to see a military doctrine that calls for losing wars and not prevailing in them?

According to JV 2020, to achieve this full spectrum dominance, the U.S. would have to invest in and develop new military capabilities. These new capabilities were broadly categorized and called (1) dominant maneuver, (2) precision engagement, (3) focused logistics, and (4) full-dimensional protection.

Note the adjectives. These are important operational constructs. Both before and during any conflict, all parties “maneuver.” The U.S. goal is to achieve the “dominant maneuver” and get inside the other side’s effort. In any conflict, there is “engagement.” The U.S. goal is to engage with “precision,” and, by implication, to strike the other side’s center of gravity. All expeditions require logistics, but logistics is expensive, so the U.S. goal is to achieve “focused logistics” that provide the right sorts of people, equipment, and supplies at the right time to the right place. Finally, “full-dimensional protection” is the ability of U.S. and allied forces to protect their people and equipment, while executing their mission.

These are ancient military precepts that go back to the first days of organized combat formations under Cyrus the Great of Persia. Hannibal the Carthaginian, or Julius Caesar of Rome would appreciate the thinking process. Thus, there is actually a lot of old wine in this new bottle.

Policy Is Not Strategy, Strategy Is Not Operations

These JV 2020 concepts have become the basis of U.S. military doctrine. But contrary to Pinter’s erroneous assertion, these concepts are neither strategy, nor are they policy. They are, if anything, tools and instruments of national power. There is a difference.

JV 2020 was written and published under the administration of one William Jefferson Clinton. JV 2020 is not some sort of evil, world-dominating machination that was written by Dick Cheney and his Halliburton cronies at some “secret location.” When JV 2020 was released on May 30, 2000 (seven months before George W. Bush took his oath of office), the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Henry Shelton, stated:

“The overall goal of the transformation described in this document is the creation of a force that is dominant across the full spectrum of military operations — persuasive in peace, decisive in war, pre-eminent in any form of conflict…Full spectrum dominance [is] the ability of U.S. forces, operating unilaterally or in combination with multinational and interagency partners, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the full range of military operations.”

Three Basic Assumptions

JV 2020 is an operational document, and hence is subordinate to strategy, and certainly to policy. JV 2020 did, of course, have a strategic context, and that context rested on three basic assumptions. The first assumption was that the U.S. will continue to have global interests and remain engaged with regional actors in every part of the world. This is hardly controversial, and is just a statement of where things are headed over time. In this context, transportation, communications, and information technology will continue to evolve. To the extent that some issues rise to the level at which U.S. military power may be called upon in any capacity, it is critical that U.S. military power be prepared to operate in distant locales, coordinate efforts with other governments and international organizations, and work with allies and multinational forces.

The second assumption was that potential adversaries will in all likelihood have access to the global industrial base, and to much of the same technology as the U.S. military. Again, this is not exactly a news flash. So under these circumstances, the U.S. military will have to work hard to achieve, maintain, and leverage any technological advantages it may possess. “We should not expect opponents in 2020 to fight with strictly ‘industrial age’ tools,” stated JV 2020. The U.S. military advantage “must…come from leaders, people, doctrine, organizations, and training that enable us to take advantage of technology to achieve superior warfighting effectiveness.”

The third assumption was that the U.S should expect potential adversaries to adapt as new capabilities evolve. The U.S. clearly has superior warfighting capabilities in any “traditional” sense, but this favorable military balance is not static. Thus, potential adversaries will probably not challenge U.S. strengths, but instead seek to attack the United States and its interests through “asymmetric means.” That is, adversaries would probably tend to identify vulnerable areas and devise means to attack them. “The potential of such asymmetric approaches is perhaps the most serious danger the U.S. faces in the immediate future — and this danger includes…direct threats to U.S. citizens and territory.” Note that this statement was dated 15 months before the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Thus, JV 2020 is at root a guideline for change and for rethinking the previous ways of doing the business of U.S. national defense and military operations. JV 2020 fosters a culture of “joint operations” within the various U.S. military services, and leaves the door wide open for political and military cooperation with other nations and international organizations. JV 2020 further mandates a new kind of training and educational process within the U.S. military, moving beyond much of the thinking that characterized the Cold War. And JV 2020 allows wide latitude for new acquisition of materiel, and thus fosters the transformation of the U.S. military and other DoD components into a 21st-century operating environment.

JV 2020 is quite clear as to what it envisions: “The services and combatant commands must allow our highly trained and skilled professionals the opportunity to create new concepts and ideas that may lead to future breakthroughs…Inherent in this statement is the commitment not to penalize services or individual service members if their efforts do not work.”

About That Nobel Prize, Harold…

I began this article with extensive reference to Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize lecture. Pinter is a great writer, and his Nobel Prize in literature is safe from me. But he needs to be more careful with his facts, particularly when he speaks about areas that might not be his strong suit. It would be like a newspaper sending someone who does not understand the game of baseball to write coverage of a baseball game. It might be amusing, but it would not be informative.

It may seem, to some, that it is over-the-top for me to critique the Nobel Prize winner about his mischaracterization of the concept of full spectrum dominance. But to my way of viewing it, Pinter used his own error in an attempt to score cheap political points before an adoring Nobel lecture audience. Pinter vented his political spleen, which is his right, but he got his facts wrong in front of a bunch of people who did not know the difference. And many of the folks in the audience heard exactly what they wanted to hear, so the error did not register. Still, it hardly comports with the search along the lines of “What is true? What is false?”

If you do not want to take my word for what happens to a writer who gets the basic facts wrong, try reading the words of a certain Harold Pinter on the subject, in that same Nobel speech:

“A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy, indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection — unless you lie — in which case, of course, you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.”

Until we meet again…
Byron W. King
June 16, 2006

P.S. All quotations from Harold Pinter’s speech are copyrighted, and reproduced in this article courtesy of the Nobel Foundation 2005.