RSIS Seminar on “The Decision Point: Command Collectivism in the 21st Century”
Command has long been a major concern for military historians and security studies scholars. Focusing on the divisional headquarters and specifically one staff procedure, the ‘decision point’, this paper analyses the transformation of command in the 21st century. It claims that in contrast to the 20th century, when forces institutionalised a relatively individualised system of command, command in the 21st century has become increasingly collectivised; as the span of command has increased, generals have distributed decision-making authority to subordinates who act as their agents, proxies and deputies.
At the same time, command has also been collectivised by new bureaucratic methods. In order to increase the tempo and accuracy of decision making in a complex environment, the staff of divisional headquarters have instituted means by which they pre-digest and anticipate their commanders’ subsequent decisions. One of the most important and interesting methods which has been used here is the ‘Decision Point’, a projected moment in the future when commanders will have to make a decision about the operation. In the planning process, the staff identify a series of ‘Decision Points’ when the commander’s input might be necessary. Decision Points are typically structured so that generals simply have to make a choice between two pre-planned contingencies; their personal authority is reduced to granting permission for pre-ordained courses of action. With the decision point, the staff prepare their commanders’ decisions through analysis, channelling them into specific courses of action. Through the Decision Point, decision-making is actually shared by the staff.
About the Speaker:
Professor Anthony King is the chair of War Studies in the Politics and International Studies Department at Warwick University. His most recent publications include The Combat Soldier (Oxford, 2013) and (ed.) Frontline (Oxford, 2015). He is currently completing a book on divisional command entitled Command: the twenty-first century general (Cambridge, 2018). He has acted as a mentor and adviser to the British Army and the Royal Marines for a number of years.