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The Strategic Corporal Revisited: Challenges Facing Combatants in 21st-Century Warfare

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The Strategic Corporal Revisited: Challenges Facing Combatants in 21st-Century Warfare

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For the ordinary soldier, the non-commissioned officer and the junior officer-the large proportion of the lower strata in military organisations-the expectations of levels of responsibility and decision-making are rapidly increasing. In 1999, US Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak addressed this in his essay `The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three-Block War’, which described the range of challenges likely to be faced by marines on the modern battlefield and where a range of operations (fighting, peace works and humanitarian assistance) might occur simultaneously within a very limited precinct (three blocks).

The chapters in this book use the metaphor of the `strategic corporal’ to focus on the demands facing junior leaders in contemporary military operations, and what might be done to enhance their ability to respond to them. The circumstances in which these decisions are made need to be better understood, by soldiers and their critical onlookers, be they villagers on the scene, senior military or political leaders remote from the operation, or anti-war activists thousands of miles away.

Being `strategic’ is not just about a soldier’s professional mastery. Increasingly it also means a genuine familiarity with legal and ethical issues, and an ability in low-intensity conflict to understand local culture and communicate with those in villages and neighbourhoods whose goodwill, or at least neutrality, are vital to ultimate success. In the non-war circumstances in which many Western militaries operate, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as peacekeeping operations, it means dealing with civil authorities in the distribution of aid or even the administration of justice if local institutions have broken down. Sometimes it involves negotiation and mediation. It may even mean having an understanding of the ways pervasive modern media works, and its potential to surveil-and sometimes derail-a mission. Sometimes it also means having a better understanding of the challenges that face the soldier’s own defence force: including the malign effects of bureaucratic inertia and the `outsourcing’ of key capabilities to private contractors.

The book combines theoretical discussions with practical examples, but it is not-as so many books about future conflict are-a discussion of the technology of future war. Rather, it provides opportunities for specialists in a range of security-related fields to consider the issues and challenges of military leadership, the role of civilians and contractors, the importance of International Humanitarian Law, and even whether strategic gains can be made without the deployment of troops (`strategic corporals’ or otherwise).

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