refers to incompetencies and failures of military organisations, whether through incompetent individuals or through a flawed institutional culture.
The effects of isolated cases of personal
incompetence can be disproportionately significant in military organisations. Strict hierarchies of command provide the opportunity for a single decision to direct the work of thousands, whilst an institutional culture devoted to following orders without debate can help ensure that a bad or miscommunicated decision is implemented without being challenged or corrected.
However, the most common cases of "military incompetence" can be attributable to a flawed organisational culture. Perhaps the most marked of these is a conservative
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...
and traditionalist attitude, where innovative ideas or new technology are discarded or left untested. A tendency to believe that a problem can be solved by applying an earlier - failed - solution "better", be that with more men, more firepower, or simply more élan
, is common. A strict hierarchical system often discourages the devolution
Devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to government at a subnational level, such as a regional, local, or state level. Devolution can be mainly financial, e.g. giving areas a budget which was formerly administered by central government...
of power to junior commanders, and can encourage micromanagement
In business management, micromanagement is a management style where a manager closely observes or controls the work of her or his subordinates or employees...
by senior officers.
The nature of warfare provides several factors which exacerbate these effects; the fog of war
The fog of war is a term used to describe the uncertainty in situation awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent during an engagement, operation, or campaign...
means that information about the enemy forces is often limited or inaccurate, making it easy for the intelligence process
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions....
to interpret the information to agree with existing assumptions, or to fit it to their own preconceptions and expectations. Communications tend to deteriorate in battlefield situations, with the flow of information between commanders and combat units being disrupted, making it difficult to react to changes in the situation as they develop.
After operations have ceased, military organisations often fail to learn effectively from experience. In victory, whatever methods have been used - no matter how inefficient - appear to have been vindicated, whilst in defeat there is a tendency to select scapegoat
Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment or blame. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals , individuals against groups , groups against individuals , and groups against groups Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any...
s and to avoid looking in detail at the broader reasons for failure.
- Cohen, Eliot A.
Eliot A. Cohen is the Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. Cohen is the Director of the Strategic Studies Program at SAIS and has specialized in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Iraq, arms...
, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War, Free Press 2005 ISBN 978-0743280822
- Dixon, Norman F. On the Psychology of Military Incompetence Jonathan Cape Ltd 1976 / Pimlico 1994
- David, Saul, Military Blunders: The How and Why of Military Failure, Robinson, 1997 ISBN 1854879189