Starting with the end in mind does not work. It binds you to one definitive end. What happens when the goal or even the enemy is no longer located at or near that end? Worse yet, what happens when the enemy has shifted or changed, and your ways and means are incapable of change? This is what we have witnessed in so many of the U.S. Army’s recent conflicts, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.
The ends will never justify the means. This leads to a finite mindset in strategy and in war. Starting from an intention, and understanding that war is infinite, is a better approach. In the Army, we must start basing decisions on intentions, not ends. Although we use the term “ends,” we fail to use it in its plural form. Instead, we use “end.” Our strategy is based on a finite end. The Army must move away from this flawed strategy and move to a probabilistic and contextual approach that allows for continuous change; probabilistic meaning that any probable course may be followed even though an opposed course is or appears more probable.
Intentions develop into decisions. Decisions lead to some form of action, which engenders the need for new intentions. There is no end for the U.S. or the U.S. Army. Not in Afghanistan, nor Iraq. Yet, we can make smarter decisions by removing the idea of “ends.” I propose that the Army use a contextual and probabilistic approach allowing it to move through a wave of continuous change, where all decisions are preceded by an intention.
Intentions would lead to the “ways,” or a “function filter,” using the four instruments of national power, known as DIME, which stands for diplomatic, information, military and economics. This is followed by the most important element, a “values filter,” which is the Constitution. From there, it would move through another wave of continuous change to the “means.”
Flexibility Amid Complexity
The Army should move away from ends-ways-means to intentions-ways-means. Similar to wave-particle duality, where the behavior of a particle is often explained as being both a particle and a wave, we can look at intentions-ways-means as being both ends and intentions. Although the ends never justify the means, using intentions instead of ends allows for more flexibility in a complex world filled with uncertainty, chance and immense consequences.
The end means the end of something. The end is the last part of something. Intentions are more important than ends, because intentions will always be there, and ends will not. Intentions can change while ends cannot change, because intentions are always changing and ends are never changing. Intentions allow change.
Intentions are what you want to do or accomplish. They are at the forefront of every decision. The Army sought to achieve its goal—ending terrorism—by going into Afghanistan and using different strategies to achieve an impossible goal. Intentions would have considered the circumstances and the environment leading up to the war, such as what kind of methods should be employed (peace treaties? negotiations?), whether the U.S. military could do it alone or if it needed allies (this would have required consideration of logistics, poor leadership within the Afghan government, military-civil considerations and other typically ignored areas), and other factors that ends-ways-means seemed to ignore over the course of the war.
Intentions take into consideration a larger picture than just military success, unlike ends-ways-means, which is dependent on some form of success for justification. Intentions consider all possible outcomes without being too broad or specific, whereas ends-ways-means focuses almost exclusively on victory—which is impossible in itself.
The Army’s involvement in Afghanistan was meant to bring peace and stability to the country, which was the overarching “end.” Some of the “ways” were the implementation of a NATO-trained Afghan National Army and police force. The U.S. Army had to make sure it was fighting terrorism while also helping train Afghanistan’s new army. Some of the “means” were the U.S. Army and counterterrorism advisers and trainers.
If the Army used intentions instead of ends, the intentions would have been to provide enough security against terrorism and that Afghanistan’s new army and police force would be trained. Intentions should have been to allow the Afghans to govern themselves through a functioning democracy. Intentions would have been for a more inclusive society with better social services, including education and health care. Intentions would have been for an Afghan-led peace process from which Afghan citizens could negotiate an end to their civil war.
Less Emphasis on Ends
The U.S. Army should use a contextual and probabilistic filter to help inform strategy, as it would allow for a more dynamic interpretation of the situation. Contextual and probabilistic analysis puts less emphasis on the ends, which are nowhere near as significant as intentions.
Contextual and probabilistic approaches to problem-solving allow for a more complete understanding of a situation. This then could lead to a better strategy, where the means are not the inputs, instead, they are the outputs. Intentions are inputs into the function, where the function is a combination of DIME and a values filter.
In this way, intentions are infinite because intentions are always changing and can’t be fixed. Intentions are contextual and probabilistic. Intentions are contextual because they are always changing and never the same. Intentions are probabilistic in that they can be influenced. Intentions cannot be fixed or finite. Intentions cannot be calculated with complete certainty, nor can they be ignored due to their importance. Intentions exist within infinite possibilities and require infinite variables and an infinite amount of analysis.
In short, intentions deal with ideas that are more complex than ends-ways-means. Intentions take into account every variable possible instead of focusing on an “end” like victory or success. If you start from the end, what happens when the end is no longer the end? Do you still move forward with the plan you created based on that end?
Maj. Jamie Schwandt, U.S. Army Reserve, is a logistics officer and Red Team member. He is certified as a Department of the Army Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and has a doctorate in adult education from Kansas State University.