by an anonymous Special Forces officer
“Strategy is the art of controlling and utilizing the resources of a nation” -Edward Meade Earle
Ends, ways, and means define strategic planning. Ends are the strategic outcomes or end states desired. Ways are the methods, tactics, and procedures, practices, and strategies to achieve the ends. Means are defined as the resources required to achieve the ends, such as weapons systems, money, political will, and even time. Ends, ways, and means are an equation that balances objectives, with processes, and capabilities. Consideration of the ends, ways and means within the strategic context drive changes and provides a rational approach to transforming an organization. For the U.S. military, ends, ways and means define the “shape” of U.S. forces.
Analysis of ends, ways, and means without an appreciation of the geostrategic context is akin to embarking on a journey without checking the weather forecast. The geostrategic context provides the clarity of purpose for the strategy and therefore an understanding of how best to use ends, ways, and means. Understanding changes to geostrategic setting, emerging technology, demographics, or other strategic factors shape and enable innovative change.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 produced a change to the geostrategic setting that required the United States to revise its strategy from containment to global engagement. During World War Two, German employment of emerging technology, coupled with new doctrinal advances, provided a revolution in military operations which led to the defeat of armies’ superior in numbers and weapons. Thus, understanding the geostrategic context is important in the evaluation of strategy and determining the ends, ways and means required to accomplish that strategy.
Once the context is determined, ends, ways and means can be applied in shaping the U.S. military. Dr. Jack Kem in Military Transformation, Ends Ways and Means, discusses three approaches. The first approach is a comprehensive approach that determines the ends (purpose or product), ways (methods), and means (technology and resources) to transforming the organization’s purpose (focusing on ends). The second approach is to reengineer the organization focusing only on the ways. Finally, the third approach is downsizing or “rightsizing” the organization, relying on technology and resources (focusing on means). All three of these approaches apply to the current debate on the transformation of the U.S. military.
Within the current context, transformation is the best approach to create the most versatile and capable force for the future. A clearly articulated National Security Strategy that defines the ends and purpose within the geostrategic context is the cornerstone. As Yogi Berra said, “it is tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” However, understanding the task and purpose as it related to an overarching national strategy is important in designing the ways (methods) and means (technology and resources) required to transforming the U.S. military.
A second approach to changing the U.S. military involves reengineering the U.S. military to optimize it to meet a specific threat. The danger is that this process considers ways and means but may not adequately address the purpose or end state. This approach is not a transformation, but a retooling of the military based on perceived ends. The current reset of the U.S. military towards addressing the anti-access/ area-denial (A2/AD) and pivot towards the Pacific is a manifestation of this approach.
Downsizing or rightsizing, the third approach attempts to do more with less focusing only on means. This approach seeks to leverage technology as a force multiplier, to offset deficiencies in ends and ways.
Gen Peter Pace, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observes that “we cannot accurately characterize the security environment of 2025; therefore, we must hedge against this uncertainty by identifying and developing a broad range of capabilities. Further, we must organize and arrange our forces to create the agility and flexibility to deal with unknowns and surprises in the coming decades.”
Transformation of the U.S. military requires a full assessment of the geostrategic context for change, followed by linking the ends, ways, and means to a comprehensive national security strategy. Failure to apply these four elements simply will not produce true transformation and will prove inadequate in today’s context. Change is inevitable; mastering change in today’s environment requires a full understanding of a restated purpose for our military, the methods of using our military, and leveraging the necessary resources and emerging technologies to optimize it for the challenges of the 21st Century.