Conflict, Violence and the Art of Operations...Connecting the End (Strategy) with the Means (Tactics) by Fred Leland

Manage your military position like water. Water takes every shape. It avoids the high and moves to the low. Your war can take any shape. It must avoid the strong and strike the weak. Water follows the shape of the land that directs its flow. Your forces follow the enemy, who determines how you win. ~Sun Tzu, The Art of War 6:8.1-7

We have talked about strategy and tactics in the last two issues of the LESC newsletter. Now our goal is our strategy and the methods we use in getting to that goal is tactics. We have all heard these terms talked about often; what is your strategy in getting violent people too comply voluntarily? Is it to use a robust approach speed, surprise and violence of action or is it to use a scaled down approach positioning cover, concealment and communication techniques or is it a combination of both based on the unfolding circumstances?

How do we make this link between strategy and tactics work in our favor with the best possible results? The answer lies in the less talked about operational art. In their outstanding article, Post Card Mumbai: Modern Urban Siege John Sullivan and Adam Elkus state, “Urban operations also demands a new type of policing-the full spectrum police officer. Full spectrum policing requires building specialized hybrid forces capable of operating in a range of environments and missions.” This in my mind means each cop on the street or patrolling a city, town, university or campus, a security officer on a post or military personnel defending the country abroad must possess more knowledge in understanding conflict and its resolution and the mastery of individual and small team skills to launch successful operations dealing with conflict and violence.

They go on to say, “Critical to urban policing and full spectrum police operations is the development of operational art doctrines for policing. Police forces across America do not have operational art, only a series of tactics. With out operational art there is no way of aligning ends (strategy) with means (tactics) and properly allocating resources.”

I have seen this problem over and over in my 23 years of policing and in my earlier years while in the Marine Corps. So what is and how do we develop operational art so it will help us in responding and maneuvering effectively to a position of advantage be it a defensive operation as in a barricade or hostage situation or an offensive operation as in an active shooter, or contained threat situation. Either scenario requires knowledge of potential outcomes and the tactics that will help get to the desired outcome. Interaction and maneuver between offensive and defensive operational mindsets based on the unfolding conditions is crucial to successful operations. Operational art comes from knowledge, knowledge of all aspects of the job that will have an effect on the situation and the ability to adapt and apply it to changing conditions and uncertainty that so often accompany conflict and violence.

What is operational art?

“You must know how to make war. You can then act without confusion. You can attempt anything.” ~Sun Tzu, The Art of War 10:5.11-13

From the Maneuver Warfare Handbook operational art is described as the art of using tactical events- battles or refusal to give battle-to strike directly at the enemy’s strategic center of gravity. In my view in police and security situations where conflict and violence often linger, the center of gravity is the adversary’s motives and mindset. Motives and mindset cannot be predicted with certainty; therefore we must develop knowledge of conflict and violence in its three dimensions, the moral, mental and physical and how to translate this knowledge as it is applied in a given set of circumstances. This knowledge combined with the ability to apply in the context of competition or crises based on the unfolding circumstances is ‘operational art.”

To get the best results and win we must learn what we need to know about conflict and violence how it unfolds, its causes and effects and its signs and signals. We must research and review case studies of past violent acts and attempt to understand the social dynamics that contribute to conflict and violence such as an unstable background, drug and alcohol abuse, violent entertainment with no spiritual guidance or discipline, failure to be proactive when you observe the signs of mental illness, anger and depression and then the most crucial factor ignoring the signs and signals when we see them due to apathy or just not believing what we see due to associative barriers.

We must understand the patterns of conflict and violence and their anomalies as well as the subtle signs of anxiety and stress that lead to conflict and violence if we are to be successful in implementing appropriate tactics so we achieve our goals. These signs and signals show themselves through behavioral indicators and manifest themselves in the form of leakage through actions, statements, letters, notes and written manifestos and school papers etc.

Also we must be able to orient to the negative or potentially dangerous body language that leaks out of a person in obvious and also subtle ways. These non-verbal, signs and signals show us high stress and anxiety via hyper vigilance and depression in a particular person. Being both knowledgeable and capable of reading and interrupting the signs and signals can give us crucial information regarding potential motives of a person and a clear advantage in adapting to the circumstances in context with what is going on. In short it puts time on our side because we see the early warning signs and signals.

Once we develop (evolving, continuing) knowledge of the cause and effects and the signs and signals conflict and violence we must understand basic, intermediate and advanced tactical concepts and how to utilize them operationally so we can interact and isolate a person in crisis. Col John Boyd said the goal of strategy is “a game of interaction and isolation in which we must be able to diminish an adversary’s ability to communicate or interact with his environment while sustaining or improving ours.” To achieve this goal of strategy and affect the physical, mental and moral dimensions of conflict we must use our knowledge and tactical concepts such as positioning, cover, concealment, contact and cover, reading and understanding terrain to include micro terrain, response and approach techniques based on the environment (house, car, building, outdoors etc), An example would be approaching a dwelling house that’s has many danger areas that include more than just doors. Think about windows from all floors, shrubs, bushes, tree lines and sheds etc.

We must have a basic knowledge of psychology and understand its benefits and limitations at predicting and preventing violence. We must possess knowledge and the ability to communicate effectively to enhance efforts at gaining compliance voluntarily or through utilization of force. Then we must factor in collaborative efforts of the community, its relevant people and professionals associated with whoever is showing these signs and signals of anxiety, stress, lack of control or potentially signs and signals of danger. All these intersecting ideas gathered and shared collectively with law enforcement and security in a much more robust way, all in an effort to prevent violence from occurring which is our ultimate goal.

If force must be utilized we must possess the knowledge of tools and weapons we have at our disposal with the ability to apply them skillfully in the heat of the moment to stop ongoing threats. Do we understand the laws, what we can and cannot do, the rules of engagement, the when and how of applying reasonable force? Does this knowledge or lack there of effect how we operate and our strategic and tactical goals?

This knowledge combined with ability to apply accordingly is operational art. We must possess vision an ability to mix and adapt the proper tactics to achieve our overall strategic goals by predicting possible future events (this implies some judgment and risk) so we know what future tactical actions we must take.

Every action we take is either strong or week and this goes for the adversary as well. What are the strengths and weaknesses, which side in the interaction, the give and take of conflict hold the advantageous positions? Do we look at the climate and environment from our adversary’s point of view? These factors are as well very important areas of knowledge and operational art; we must strive to understand in implementing strategy and tactics. Our goal through operational art should be to make every action strong so that we are successful. Operational art is knowledge and how to apply it.

Once again this leads us back to training, not just training but education, learning and training combined… With education, learning and training, operational art achieves excellence through interaction and isolation with your adversary, the environment and the climate of the situation.

Unless we begin to develop a clearer understanding of what operational art is and how it’s applied at the tactical level to achieve our strategic goals, we will continue despite equipment and technology and more physical skills training continue to take more risk and respond recklessly to crisis. Risking unnecessarily not only our lives but the lives of those we are sworn to protect. We have done much good over the years in developing our professions, yet if we are to continue to evolve and be effective we must constantly strive to seek and gain every advantage we can through understanding the link between Strategy and Tactics known as knowledge or operational art.

“That proves to be a common theme throughout history. The values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs over adversity.” ~Jared Diamond, Collapse