Rational Decision-Making – Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

Research Question: What is the theoretical basis for the US Army’s proposed modification to the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) and what are the issues of concern for practitioners of the art of military decision making?

The United States Army’s Military Decision-Making Process stands the test of time as a method for developing winning strategies against a Western-style professional army using Western doctrine and tactics. Refined through the last several decades, this model is an excellent example of the rational analytical approach to strategy formulation. However, the modern world and national policy are placing new demands on the Army, and its planners now face challenges and environments where the status quo is unsuitable.  The MDMP’s rational analytical control model is not well suited for finding solutions in complex, uncertain environments, where certainty and control are at least problematic.
The drivers of change include the proliferation of threats in the form of non-state actors, the new missions of nation-building, strengthening our partners in international alliances, the increasingly urban nature of warfare, the involvement of civilian populations on the field of battle, and opponents who employ tactics outside the boundaries of conventional warfare. These opponents leverage culture and media to achieve strategic objectives in ways unlike anything we have ever experienced.
These pressures are driving Army planners at every echelon to adapt their way of understanding their environment, the nature of the problems they must solve and the criteria to measure success. It is clear that the rational, analytical planning process that is second nature to our planners, must adapt to the new environment. Our military education, an artifact of a powerful organizational culture that traces its roots to the founding of the nation, must adapt as well. We are challenged as a profession to learn new ways, and to develop leaders who can be successful in the new strategic environment.
The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has recently published (Jan 2008) a white paper on the subject of modifying the classic MDMP to account for an emerging understanding of the challenges of problem framing and complexity. The white paper offers thoughts on what to do about unstructured problems and how to adapt the MDMP to the new reality.
The impact of this dramatic departure from the traditional rational decision model known as the MDMP has profound implications for scholars, doctrine writers, educators and practitioners in the field. The debate on these issues has scarcely begun, but the effects are already being felt in curricula in all Army schools. The outcome of the debate will influence a generation of subsequent doctrine derived from these general principles.