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Title: The relationship between strategic culture and force protection : a study of the UK and US during the period 1999-2010
Author: Clegg, Mark
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2012
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Protecting deployed servicemen makes sound military sense. For as long as war has been around, commanders and comrades have had a vested interest in preserving their own side's fighting power in order to defeat their enemies. As such, they have drawn upon technological developments and tactical agility to reduce the vulnerabilities of their own troops whilst aiming to exploit the weaknesses of adversaries. This activity, labelled force protection in common military parlance, has often been overlooked by commentators in favour of other fields of war and warfare. However, attitudes which influence each state's individual approach towards force protection stem from extremely diverse groups. Force protection transcends the traditional notions of levels of war possibly as much as any other military activity. As a function during warfare it has the potential to trouble individuals at the lowest and the highest levels of a state. Depending on one's point of view, force protection can be perceived as a purely military function or as a political imperative of paramount importance. Either view garners the attention of the domestic population which also has potential to impact on the approach to protecting deployed servicemen. Combined, the sub-cultures of the government, the military and the people form a state's strategic culture. However, these sub-cultures are often at odds and view similar problems through different lenses resulting in tensions which create a difficult backdrop for military commanders to assess. Since strategic culture is the key origin of influence for approaches to force protection, it is the natural extension that each state approaches this activity in different ways. Moreover, just as strategic culture evolves in reaction to perceptions and events, so does a state's attitude towards force protection. This study traces the period 1999 to 2010 from UK and US perspectives. It finds that both states evolved in their attitudes and approaches to force protection and indeed approached this element of war in strikingly different ways. The British approached Operation Allied Force in 1999 with a confident attitude towards force protection. UK politicians and senior commanders, backed up by a public that appeared at ease with sending British servicemen into danger, favoured tactical prowess as the means to achieve the conditions for force protection. However, this hubris was out of context as the sensitive political conditions of the US-led NATO operation demanded a 2 more technological approach; an approach which the British military struggled to match. Despite this very public experience, British strategic culture maintained its viewpoint in the early stages of the Iraq war. As UK troops set out to war in 2003, once again tactical superiority was the prescription for force protection. However, insurgent tactics, mismatched force ratios and inferior equipment all tested the UK approach. Domestic sensitivity increased during the course of this commitment and by 2006 UK politicians became more involved in the force protection dimension. As the second half of the decade progressed, with a combative domestic political landscape and UK servicemen involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, political micromanagement came to characterise the British approach to force protection. This was consistent with the reports of senior UK military leaders who acknowledged the political nature of this most sensitive element of war. Nevertheless, despite such a tense domestic backdrop, British strategic culture remained unchanged as the evolving attitudes failed to manifest in shifts in behaviour. UK force protection remained the domain of military professional and tactical prowess was the favoured method of achieving it. The US journey highlights the political imperative which was placed upon force protection during the build-up and execution of Operation Allied Force. Despite widespread criticism this approach, which in practise involved politicians dictating the conduct of tactical activity, resulted in no US losses and thereby achieved one of the stated measures of success. Nevertheless, such an approach was found to be wholly unsuitable for the early stages of the Iraq war. The US initial approach to force protection was the traditional one of relying on armour, firepower and distance to remain out of the reach of one's adversaries. Insurgents were challenged to develop new munitions and tactics in order to outwit the superpower as onlookers anticipated that the US strategic community would balk in the face of rising casualties. Meanwhile, Iraqi civilians were caught in the middle of a seemingly unending fire fight as the US, tasked with providing security for Iraqis, appeared to be more concerned with their own welfare. In many ways this period confirmed the traditional narrative of US strategic culture as well as US force protection. However, as the second half of the decade unfolded, the work of figures including General David Petraeus served to turn around this losing battle. The widely-acknowledged Surge of US troops, resolute political backing by President Bush and steady support of the US public provided the conditions for US forces, armed with a fundamentally new doctrinal approach to conduct a significant shift in their approach to force protection. Although some in the US strategic community remained culturally attuned to their old ways, most acknowledged that recent successes in Iraq and Afghanistan were inextricably linked to the US approach to force protection. The year 2009 brought a change of Administration in the White House and a change of senior military commander at the helm of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. However, despite a certain amount of domestic political turbulence and a seemingly unstoppable escalation in US casualties there appeared no signs of an alteration to the recent evolutions in the US strategic cultural approach to force protection. Force protectionism had been substituted for risk acceptance and courageous restraint.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Strategic culture ; United States ; Great Britain