The Decision Point: Command in the 21st century

Event details

SDSC War Studies Seminar Series

Date & time

Monday 06 November 2017


Lecture Theatre 2.02, Sir Roland Wilson Building (120), McCoy Circuit, ANU
ANU Canberra


Professor Anthony King


Bell School

Command has long been a major concern for military historians and security studies scholars. Focusing on the divisional headquarters and specifically one staff procedure, this presentation analyses the transformation of command in the 21st century. It argues 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 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. This transformation of the military commander has much wider implications for organisations and, indeed, political power more widely.

Anthony King is Professor in War Studies at the University of Warwick. Professor King specialises in the study of the war and the armed forces and has a particular interest in the subject of small unit cohesion. His most recent publications include The Combat Soldier: infantry tactics and cohesion in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (Oxford University Press, 2013) and (ed.) Frontline: combat and cohesion in the twenty-first century (Oxford University Press, 2015). He is currently working on a new book on divisional command, supported by a research grant from the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council.

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