Researching War

When Carl von Clausewitz in the beginning of the 19th century coined the expression “the fog of war” he probably did not realise to what extent it would be used.

"War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty." Clausewitz, On War
Although the cannons used at this point of time would most certainly produce a lot of smoke, Clausewitz had a more metaphorical meaning in mind, referring to the chaos and confusion people immersed in battle can experience. This expression is still in much use and it is debated to what extent new information technology contributes to diminish or increase the fogginess. Clausewitz also contributed another much used military metaphor: the theatre of war.

"This term denotes properly such a portion of the space over which war prevails as has its boundaries protected, and thus possesses a kind of independence. This protection may consist in fortresses, or important natural obstacles presented by the country, or even in its being separated by a considerable distance from the rest of the space embraced in the war.” Clausewitz, On War
When viewed as a theatre, the notion of roles in war becomes even more evident. In one of the projects I’m engaged in right now I work with the Swedish National Defence College investigating how the use of academic researchers could be increased in international peacekeeping operations. One fundamental question is what role or roles a researcher could and should take on in such an environment, and be accepted both by his/her combat and faculty co-workers. How can researchers help to clear the fog?

Much organisational and management theory has its origin in the military context. Words like strategy, tactics, deployment and so on are now also used in business settings. However, the underlying military metaphor may have unwanted implications. In the article “The Heart of Appreciative Inquiry” authors John Sutherland and Jacqueline Stavros argue that it is time to replace the war metaphor when doing strategic development. They propose a shift from using tools like SWOT to SOAR instead. As it happens, the next issue (August 2007) of the AI Practitioner will focus on an appreciative approach to strategy where several applications of SOAR can be found. For those interested in other metaphors used in business settings, I recommend “Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Strategic Management” by Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel, as well as James Lawley’s “Metaphors of Organisations”.

In the future, it would be really interesting to do field research focusing on developing the collaboration between military peacekeeping forces, NGOs and local government organisations. Especially by applying Appreciative Inquiry as both a research and organisational development approach, and by investigating what role modern information technology could play.