Training for Crisis Management: Start by Reading the Able Archers

By Robbin Laird

I have been focused for several years on how to craft a full spectrum crisis management force to provide for escalation control, escalation management and escalation dominance.

I have also argued that we have a significant deficit with regard to civilian strategists and policy makers who are focused in learning how to do so.

And as my colleague Paul Bracken put it: “If our actions in Afghanistan are indicative of U.S. competence in future crises, the world is in serious trouble.”

As I have noted in terms of the need to learn how effectively to do crisis management:

“Rather than looking at the transition from the land wars as one straight to path of high-end conflict, that it is better to consider the challenge as one of operating within and prevailing in full spectrum crisis management.

“Clearly, the build out of an integrated distributed force or a distributed integratable force is about tailoring a force to a crisis with an ability to reach back to have escalation control.

“But the key question is how will civilian leaders use these tools and approach crisis management and crisis escalation control, and dominance?

“And this will be especially challenging for coalitions and alliances.”

Part of any curriculum for crisis management training would be wise to include Brian Morra’s insightful novel which looks at the crisis which brought us close to war in 1983.

The story places the reader in the midst of the crisis generated by the Soviet shoot-down of KAL 007.

Morra places us inside a fictionalized account of how the various policy elephants interpreted the event and how the conflicts inside the intelligence community made it challenging to shape a narrative whereby those policy elephants could put themselves in the Soviet policy makers and bureaucrats understanding of events.

To get conflict resolution, it is important to put yourself inside the shoes of the other guy to understand what his real objectives might be and how to protect or promote your own objectives in a way whereby a crisis can be managed without triggering a major war.

The book puts you inside both the “red” and “blue” sides of the crisis and allows you to understand the complexity of managing your side while you try to sort through how to deal with the other side.

And unknown to the folks in the intelligence community or in terms of a number of senior policy makers, unique relationships with Prime Minister Thatcher and President Mitterrand were providing President Reagan with direct information with regard to how his Soviet counterparts were viewing his own actions.

In effect, information was flowing in from the top via channels which virtually no one knew in the intelligence community of for a very good reason: The Farewell Affair was providing the French and then the United States with information with regard to the placement in the U.S. system of high-ranking Soviet agents.

I wrote about the two intelligence affairs in my co-authored book on the return of direct defense in Europe.

When you combine the insights from the two key intelligence affairs which flowed information into President Reagan from Paris and London with the kind of crisis management dynamics described by Morra in his account of the 1983 events, one realizes how close we came to nuclear war in 1983.

And you understand as well how difficult crisis management is to craft and deliver the kind of escalation control necessary to avoid general war, but, at the same time, to have a drawdown without damaging the liberal democratic side of the equation.

What Morra describes was no Munich; it also was not Armageddon.

I intend to write more about this book and the events described precisely from the standpoint of how vulnerable we are today in terms of crisis management capacity and capability.

And how crucial it is to understand we are a serious global conflict with 21st century authoritarian powers who are focused on changing the rules of the game.

How do fight them effectively without prioritizing short cuts to World War III?

Overview as listed on Barnes and Noble Website:

In 1983, the world stands at the brink of nuclear annihilation, and only a few people are aware of it. A riveting story of how two men’s lives intersect in the midst of an existential crisis, The Able Archers is told through the eyes of two key participants: a young American intelligence officer, Captain Kevin Cattani; and his more experienced Soviet counterpart, Colonel Ivan Levchenko.

The story plays out from the skies over Siberia to the gritty, dangerous streets of East Berlin. The radically different worldviews of Cattani and Levchenko punctuate the deep divisions of the Cold War. The evolving relationship between the two men also highlights the humanity common to both sides. Only by working together will Cattani and Levchenko find a way to prevent a global nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

And the book can be pre-order from Amazon as well.