Air Force AMU Army Branch Editor's Pick Military Original

Defining and Evaluating The Effectiveness Of A Military Establishment

By Dr. Richard B. Goetze, Jr., Major General, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)
Faculty, American Military University

How can the effectiveness of a military establishment be defined or evaluated? One would think that the answer to that question is readily available in U.S. official documents. Interestingly, neither the DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, nor the United States Government Compendium of Interagency and Associated Terms, nor JCS Pub 1 list or define the words effective or effectiveness.

My goal with this article is to propose a simple general framework to assist in assessing the effectiveness of a military establishment, while starting a discussion among my peers so that we may exchange ideas, and thereby enrichen the concept of effectiveness by that exchange.

Defining Effectiveness

Effectiveness implies accomplishing something, so to evaluate military effectiveness there must be a strategy or an articulated list of accomplishable objectives and/or missions. Additionally, resources are required to provide the military establishment with the tools they need to perform assigned missions and tasks. Finally, there needs to be some way to measure the success rate of the missions and/or tasks.

This format is modifiable to determine the effectiveness of complex military establishments in nations like the United States and usable for nations with smaller and less-developed military – like those in many Latin American nations. In its most simplified form, the framework to evaluate effectiveness consists of:

  1. A strategy with articulated missions/tasks;
  2. Resources provided to accomplish those tasks; and,
  3. Measures to gauge accomplishments.

This strategy, resources, measurements format can be expanded or simplified to meet the realities of the nation whose military effectiveness is under evaluation. At the most fundamental level, the questions to answer are:

  1. Is there a national strategy with articulated missions and tasks for the military establishment?
  2. What resources are provided to the military establishment to accomplish those missions and tasks?
  3. Is there an accepted measurements regime to evaluate military performance?

Probably the most important aspect of civil-military relations is determining who provides the strategy, missions, and tasks; who provides the resources; and who determines what measurements will be made, by whom, and when.

Developing and Measuring Military Capabilities

Chapter 7 of a recent Rand report provides very comprehensive frameworks on how military capabilities can be developed and measured. However, what is missing is a discussion on whether those capabilities are relevant to the approved strategy, any mention of who developed that strategy, and whether that strategy is relevant to the essence of the conflict or competition, and to the requirements of the nation.

The Vietnam Conflict

A military establishment can be very well resourced, and have great capabilities, but it will not be effective if those capabilities do not match the mission and tasks that are contained in a national strategy – or if the strategy is not relevant to the essence of the competition or conflict. We had that kind of capabilities and strategy mismatch in Vietnam where the U.S. had great capabilities to perform in a major confrontation against a very sophisticated and capable conventional adversary. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and General William Westmorland tried in vain to fight that kind of conflict, but that strategy was not appropriate for the nature of the conflict. There are similar parallels in our involvement in post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan.

My challenge to colleagues is to analyze my very fundamental format and provide additional ideas about how to determine the effectiveness of a military establishment. I look forward to your comments.

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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