Planning to Define the Outcome

How can planning proceed in the absence of clearly stated strategic objectives and of a clearly defined Desired End State (DES)? How does the military determine its “measures of success”?

Strategic Objectives

“The man who is ready to beard a tiger or rush a river without caring whether he lived or died – that sort of man I should not take. I should certainly take someone who approached difficulties with due caution and who preferred to succeed by strategy.”
Sun Tzu – The Art of War

The same strategic objective can bring out different reactions from different people. It’s the well-defined goals and desired results that should drive strategic planning. The ‘strategic objective’ is the political aim (e.g. freedom from oppression, conquering neighboring states, defense from insurgents). Every military operation should be directed towards clearly defined, decisive, and attainable goals. These goals, or objectives, must drive military actions throughout the entire spectrum of military operations. The National Military Strategy “guides the Armed Forces in employing their resources in the most effective manner to achieve national security and defense objectives.” (Joint Pub 1)

How can planning proceed in the absence of clearly stated strategic objectives? In the absence of well-defined goals or clear strategic objectives, planners must couple the latter with the Desired End State (DES) and identify assumptions so that they can begin the process. Naval Warfare Publication 5-01 defines assumptions as a “supposition about the current situations either as 1) assumed to be true in the absence of positive proof or 2) necessary to enable a commander during planning to complete an estimate of the situation and make a decision on the course of action, or both.” Though an assumption regarding strategic objectives is not a preferred method of information sourcing, it will enable planners to begin the planning process. However, in order to begin moving toward a desired end state, military leaders must constantly ask for clearly defined and attainable objectives.

The Desired-End-State

“In its strategic context, military victory is measured in the achievement of the overall political goal and associated termination objectives.”
Joint Publication 3-0

Vego (2000) defines Desired End State (DES) as a “broadly expresses political, diplomatic, military, economic, social, ethnic, humanitarian, and other conditions that the highest political leadership of national or alliance coalition forces wants in a given theater after the end of hostilities.” Some military operations may be conducted to achieve a specific purpose – objective – but may only represent a portion of the DES. “Successful military operations may not, by themselves, achieve the desired strategic end state. Military activities across the full range of military operations need to be integrated and synchronized with other instruments of national power, such as political negotiations, and focused on common goals.” (Joint Publication 3-0) Such was the case with the Falklands/Malvinas Conflict. Argentina envisioned a clearly defined military objective, which was to retake the Falkland/Malvinas Island by overwhelming the British. Nevertheless, their inability to identify a DES resulted in inadequate intelligence and relatively no follow-on planning. Gatchel (2001) affirms that “Argentine decisions or lack of [the] same resulted in no comprehensive defensive strategy or operational plans.” The Argentines successfully accomplished their military objective but made no provisions for a DES such as sustained defense against Britain. Gatchel continues and points out why Britain was not compelled to negotiate a settlement due to the Argentines “lack of any strategic planning, and ultimately the lack of any strategy, hamstrung [their] forces, handing the initiative to the enemy.”

Success vs. Effectiveness

“The political object – original motive for the war – will determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires. The political object cannot, however, in itself provide the standard of measurement.”
Carl Von Clausewitz – On War (p. 81)

Military measures of success must be established at the beginning of a mission in order to constantly evaluate progress, to manage expectations, and facilitate transitions from one phase of an operation to the next. But how does the military determine its measure of success in the absence of clearly define strategic objectives? Success is the achievement or accomplishment of a particular mission. Even in regards to phases of military operations, success assumes that we are at or near the completion of that particular phase or mission. However, effectiveness not only considers the completion of a mission but the efficiency of the execution as well. Joint Publication 3-57 describes measures of effectiveness (MOE) in military operations as “tools used to measure results achieved in the overall mission and execution of assigned tasks, compared to stated strategic and operational objectives.” MOE assist commanders in determining the progress of the mission. The bottom line is whether military efforts are achieving the desired result. MOE provide commanders and higher authorities with a baseline of indicators on how well the military achieves those goals. These measures are situational and usually require adjustment as the situation changes. An effective MOE contributes to mission effectiveness by identifying effective points at which to shift resources, transition to different phases, or alter or terminate the mission. MOE also assist the commander in determining when of the mission has been accomplished.

Developing Measures-of-Effectiveness

“It is enough to say that the enemy’s withdrawal from the battlefield is the sign of victory… [For] a victory aimed at weakening the enemy’s fighting forces is different from one that is only meant to seize a certain position.”
Carl Von Clausewitz – On War (p. 142)

There is no comprehensive checklist for developing MOE. It will vary according to the mission. However, commanders should keep certain factors in mind when developing and using MOE. Joint Publication 3-57 provides planners with points to consider when developing MOE:

-They should be appropriate to the objectives. Are we getting the desired result?

-They must be Mission-related. If the mission is hurricane relief, then the MOE should help evaluate improvements in living standards, mortality rates, and other related areas.

-They must be measurable and reflect clear established criteria and disseminated to prevent misinterpretation.

-They should be moderate and reasonable. Avoid excessive, unreasonable, and unmanageable measures.

-They should be responsive to force performance and accurately reflect changes related to joint force actions.

-They should be useful in detecting situational changes quickly enough to enable the commander to immediately and effectively respond.

“The original means of strategy is victory – that is, tactical success; its ends, in the final analysis, are those objects which will lead directly to peace. The application of these means for these ends will also be attended by factors that will influence it to a greater or lesser degree.”

Carl Von Clausewitz – On War (p. 143)

Strategic objective, DES, and MOE are closely related. All deal with outcomes. Strategic objective is the clearly defined and attainable goal, the DES is the preferred post-hostilities conditions, and MOE is how leaders quantify military efforts. Political and military leaders must work closely together to define strategic objectives, desired end states, and measures of effectives. “The use of the military instrument of national power as a component of the National Security Strategy requires the development of military objectives. These objectives need to be coordinated with associated diplomatic, economic, and informational objectives. The military instrument often plays a supporting role.” (Joint Pub 0-2)


Gatchel, T. L. (2001) Operational Art and Theater-Level Decisions During the Falklands/Malvinas Conflict. The U. S. Naval War College. Newport, RI. p. 15

Howard, M. and Paret, P. (1976) Carl Von Clausewitz. On War. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ.

Joint Publication 0-2. (2001) Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF). Joint Chiefs of Staff. Washington, D. C. p. I-11

Joint Publication 1. (2000) Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Washington, D. C. p. IV-3

Joint Publication 3-0. (2001) Doctrine for Joint Operations. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Washington, D. C. p. I-11.

Joint Publication 3-57. (2001) Joint Doctrine for Civil-Military Operations. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Washington, D. C. p. III-9 – III-11

Naval Warfare Publication 5-01. Naval Operational Planning (Revision A.) Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Washington, D. C. p. 4-5

Vego, M. (2000) Operational Warfare. Naval War College. Newport, RI. p. 637

Valda Udley

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