November 06, 2013

CNAS Experts Say Adaptive Officer Corps is Essential to Meet Complex 21st Century Security Challenges

As accountability issues within the senior officer corps dominate the headlines, experts at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) have released Building Better Generals, a report that urges policymakers and military leaders to redouble their efforts to create an “adaptive and creative officer corps” that is prepared to address a wide range of 21st Century challenges. 

CNAS Responsible Defense Program Director, LTG David Barno, USA (Ret)., Deputy Director of Studies Dr. Nora Bensahel and Research Associates Kelley Sayler and Katherine Kidder stress that not only will the future security environment be volatile but that “the massive defense enterprise will collide with the realities of declining defense budgets and constrained U.S. global military capabilities.”  They add that more than a decade of irregular warfare has “distorted the skills of the officer corps and much reduced the time that has been available for professional military education and broadening assignments,” threatening to leave officers poorly prepared for future challenges. Thus, the authors say it is wise to invest in flag officer assignment, education and evaluation to ensure a senior leadership “capable of preventing, and if necessary, winning the next war.”

Download Building Better Generals.

General Barno, Dr. Bensahel, Ms. Sayler and Ms. Kidder argue that to ensure the “best system to select, develop and educate today’s officer corps” any initiative should have three primary objectives:

  • Divide flag officer development and assignments at the two-star rank and above to enable specialization and to recognize the different demands on operational vs. enterprise roles
  • Invest in expanded education and lengthened assignment tours for flag officers
  • Reestablish clear performance accountability at the three- and four-star levels

Such an approach, they conclude, is necessary to enable tomorrow’s military leaders to “effectively lead the defense enterprise and be able to fight and win the nation’s future wars.”

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The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.


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