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The forty-three years between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the outbreak of World War I (1871–1914) constituted an unprecedented period of peace in Europe. This resulted in part from a common interest among the European powers in seizing those areas of the world still outside Western control: although the expansion of Western influence in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific periodically caused tension, pursuit of empires overseas remained sufficiently distant to preclude a major European war over imperialistic competition.
Japan declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914 and soon occupied the 600 or so islands in the South Pacific that Germany had acquired, mostly in the Marshall, Mariana, and Caroline archipelagos. The Versailles settlement confirmed Japanese rule over the islands, but on condition that they remain unfortified; nevertheless in the 1930s the Japanese navy built airfields, ports, and fortifications, viewing them as ‘unsinkable aircraft carriers’ to defend the Japanese homeland against a possible US attack. This policy, and Japan's ruthless conquest of China, combined with American immigration and tariff policies to create growing tensions in the Pacific. By closing their markets during the Great Depression, the Western powers encouraged aggressive Japanese policies towards the Asian mainland and helped Japanese militarists to gain power. In 1931, Japanese army units seized Manchuria without Tokyo's authorization. Six years later that army initiated an undeclared war against China, and Japanese troops soon controlled China's coastal regions and most of the important Chinese cities, leaving a trail of atrocities in their wake.
The settlement of twenty-three years of war between the European powers in 1815 represented no easy task, but the victors agreed that they possessed certain interests in common – in particular a desire to control the nationalism that had swept Europe. Even more critical to European peace was the general exhaustion: none now wished to resort to war to settle territorial disputes or to fulfil hegemonic ambitions. Although the Industrial Revolution that had occurred in Britain before and during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars had provided the country's elite with unprecedented wealth and economic power, it remained content to maintain a balance of power on the continent while controlling the world's commerce.
In January 1919, delegations representing thirty-two states began discussions in Paris on how to settle the enormous issues raised by the defeat of Germany, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires, and the spectre of left-wing revolution. In retrospect, they had little chance of constructing a lasting peace, because the way the recent conflict had ended made another great struggle almost inevitable. Allied troops remained outside German territory at the signing of the Armistice (although soon afterwards they occupied the Rhineland, Alsace, and Lorraine), while Germany remained the most powerful European nation in terms of both economic and political potential; yet the victors barred German delegates from participating in the peace discussions until after they had finalized non-negotiable terms. In Russia, messianic Marxists had seized power and repudiated all outstanding debts to former Allies, who refused to recognize their regime and excluded their delegates. In eastern Europe, finally, a plethora of weak states emerged to replace the great empires.
In his remarkable study, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark noted the ‘unfortunate configuration of personalities’ in charge of Europe's destinies in 1914, and compared them with ‘a Harold Pinter play where the characters know each other very well and like each other very little’. The loquacious and indiscreet Kaiser visited his cousins, George V and Nicholas II, on several occasions, lionizing them in person and denigrating them in their absence. Franz Ferdinand circumnavigated the world in 1892–3, visiting Japan (just as Nicholas II would do a few years later), and a few months before his death he stayed with both George V and the Kaiser; but in private he was rude about them (and indeed about almost everyone else he met).
The end of World War II ushered in forty-five years of uneasy peace known as the ‘Cold War’. In the wreckage of the Axis collapse, two superpowers emerged to contest worldwide hegemony, their forms of government representing vastly different political and economic systems. In any other period, such differences and suspicions would have resulted in another great war; but over this contest hung the shadow of nuclear weapons whose destructive potential was such that in the end neither side dared resort to a direct military challenge to its opponent. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some predicted that nuclear deterrence would eliminate war and, in the sense that the United States and the Soviet Union never directly engaged each other in war, they were right. Hostilities still occurred, but for the most part they reflected the collapse of the colonial empires of the West in the aftermath of the world wars; and, while both the United States and the Soviet Union dabbled in these conflicts, they remained peripheral to the larger interests of the superpowers. In retrospect, one of the Cold War's great ironies was that it brought an unparalleled time of stability during which the contestants deterred each other from going over the brink.
Explanations for the successes or failures of militaries in both war and peace have traditionally focused on key factors such as technology, leadership, personnel, training, or a combination of all of these. A more recent addition to the list of possible variables contributing to military effectiveness is the concept of organizational culture – the pattern of shared assumptions that an organization learns as it solves problems, that has worked well enough to be considered valid, and that is therefore taught to new members as the correct way to approach those problems. This chapter combines the organizational culture concepts of Edgar Schein with the nine cultural dimensions of the GLOBE research program. The resulting model provides a useful framework to analyze a military’s organizational culture. Perhaps more importantly, the model also provides prescriptive actions leaders can take to align a military’s organizational culture with its mission and environment.
Culture has enormous influence on military organizations. One can broadly define organizational culture as the assumptions, ideas, norms, and beliefs, expressed or reflected in symbols, rituals, myths, and practices, that shape how an organization functions and adapts to external stimuli and that give meaning to its members. Except in unique circumstances, culture grows slowly, embedding itself so deeply that members often act unconsciously according to its dictates. Because culture lies hidden under more visible organizational doctrine and symbols, one can easily overlook its power. Culture creates organizational identity and establishes expectations of how group members will act. Three important external factors impact military culture: geography, history, and the environment in which navies, armies, and air forces exist. Of all the factors involved in military effectiveness, culture is perhaps the most important. Yet it also remains the most difficult to understand, because it involves so many external factors that distort its formation and continuities, even in different military organizations within the same nation. Organizational culture will shape how military organizations respond to challenges. The hardship is that changing military culture represents an extraordinarily difficult task that may require years, if not decades, to accomplish.
Culture is a key determinant in organizational effectiveness and plays an enormous role in the lives of military organizations. Cultural biases often result in unstated assumptions that have a deep impact on strategy, operational planning, doctrinal creation, and organization and training of armed forces. The impact of culture on military affairs often remains opaque for years, if not decades, after the events it has affected. Leadership is essential to creating and maintaining organizational culture. Leaders who can shape an organization’s culture from its inception have an outsized influence on its future orientation. Leaders, therefore, must be discriminating when establishing the initial culture of an organization, for once embedded, that culture will prove extraordinarily difficult to change. But even superb leaders are limited. Selection of the right subordinate leaders is critical if an organization’s culture is to survive a leadership transition. Some military organizations do change, assisted by cultures that embrace innovation and a reasonable degree of risk-taking. Organizational culture takes on the characteristics of wider societal culture, but when the military becomes a caste apart, the result can be the degradation of its ethical foundations. Military organizations often have subcultures with significant influence on the larger organization. Technology-centric forces must not allow a culture focused on technological excellence to turn into one centered on technological determinism. Professional military education is critical in sustaining organizational culture.
Dissatisfaction with the Royal Navy’s World War I performance led a generation of officers to analyze the fleet’s wartime record. This analysis revealed three problems: over-centralization of authority, a reluctance to fight night actions, and an overly defensive use of destroyers. In an effort to correct these issues, the Royal Navy made changes to its doctrine, training, and professional military education that improved the Navy’s World War II performance, especially in surface warfare. Reforms flowed from a variety of sources, including First Sea Lord Adm. David Beatty, contributors to the Naval Review, and Mediterranean Fleet exercise. The interwar reforms reflected an organizational culture that pursued improvement and learning in response to the perception that in World War I, the Navy failed to live up to historical standards of success.
This chapter describes how the world’s first independent air force, led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, reacted to the threats to its existence by maximizing the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) operational utility and financial efficiency, while simultaneously contriving a credible narrative about its future strategic potential. In pursuing these twin narratives, the RAF developed a unique culture of beliefs and taken-for-granted attitudes that thrived because of the conceptually incurious nature of the men it selected to become officers. Few of these technically able "practical men" were willing to challenge their superiors’ intuitive and speculative belief that the morale of civilian populations was especially vulnerable to bombing. Instead, like their leaders, they became consciously complicit in acceding to the societal prophecies, articulated in books, films, and newspapers, that bombing would have apocalyptic effects, and that civil societies subjected to its effects would wish to sue for peace. The chapter concludes by analyzing how this culture impeded the realization that the anticipated outcomes were not being achieved and explains how this stymied options to pursue alternative strategies.