Jacintho Maia Neto
The 21st century has meant that organizations must adapt to a world characterized by the speed and intensity of change. Regarding military organizations, new demands have arisen either in the strictly military field or in support of society’s needs. Therefore, the focus of this article is to understand how these organizations can make use of the strategic management concepts so recurrent in the business environment. The large amount of existing information, as well as the speed with which strategies need to be modified to meet new demands that affect the achievement of the organization’s objectives, are part of the scope of defense. Knowing why, when, and how to change strategies is also part of defense management. To this end, the defense documents of ten Latin American countries were analyzed.
Keywords: Strategy, Strategic Management, Armed Forces.
“Strategy” has become the central focus of many management studies, especially in the field of public administration. Initially, the term strategy was used in the military field and was intended to achieve military objectives. Subsequently, it was taken to the business world, considering “the market” as the new battlefield, while strategies were configured into vectors that led organizations to achieve their objectives in an increasingly complex and constantly changing environment.
In this context, Alfred Chandler proposed that strategy consisted of adopting the actions that the company should take to achieve its basic and long-term objectives, such as the allocation of resources that would make it possible to achieve organizational goals. Likewise, for Harry Igor Ansoff, strategy was related to the process that leads to decisions (decision-making process), considering the relationships that the organization has with its internal public (internal environment) and the environment in which it is inserted (external environment). Precisely in this external environment, which is characterized by its complexity and competitiveness, strategies are the offensive or defensive actions that protect the organization and allow it to successfully face the competitive forces of the market, so that the focus of the strategy of any industry is to obtain a greater return from the market relative to its investment, characterizing what Michael Porter called competitive strategy.
On the other hand, Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel point out that strategy should be considered as a mediating force between the organization and its environment. Strategy thus allows the elaboration of a pattern in the organization’s decision-making process, as a way of facing and adapting to the environment. By proposing a structuring of strategy, especially its formulation, these authors present the compilation of this knowledge in ten schools of strategic thinking. Even if such a proposal may be considered somewhat reductionist, it is an attempt to organize the infinity of existing information and divergences on the subject.
In this brief overview of the concept of strategy, this article seeks to introduce the topic of strategic management and to show how this tool can contribute to improve the effectiveness of defense structures in Latin America. To this end, it is proposed to analyze the threats to the State contained in defense documents and the national defense objectives of some Latin American countries, especially: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
Defense and Security Demands
Today, when studying the military field and its relations with society, one cannot fail to mention the existing perspectives on civil-military relations. This relationship has focused on the debate about the fundamental need for civilian control over the military. However, the existence of new security and defense demands (such as new threats), new demands for peace operations (such as Peace Building operations), the increase of operations in the field of public security (Constabulary Function), humanitarian assistance or support to government agencies, could prompt a new debate on military effectiveness. This new debate is already premised on civilian control over the military and seeks to optimize resources, beyond the debate on civilian control.
The characteristics of the new conflicts include an environment of continuous changes and uncertainties that is increasingly diffuse and asymmetric, thus which requires a defense management that allows understanding of this new environment. With this approach, it is important to address the meaning of the word “threat” in the context and broad sense of the new requirements of National Security and Defense. In this regard, Héctor Saint-Pierre states that the concept of threat can be characterized through division into two types: “External threats: [those related to] territorial integrity and national sovereignty [and] Internal threats: [those related to] constitutional order and internal peace [of the country].”
Concern over what these threats or new threats have been on the agenda of meetings of the Organization of American States (OAS). Since the Special Conference on Security in Mexico City in 2003, member states have issued statements alerting everyone that “many of the new threats, concerns, and other challenges to hemispheric security are transnational in nature and may require appropriate hemispheric cooperation”. Among the new threats that came up almost continuously at the Conferences of Defense Ministers of the Americas are terrorism, transnational organized crime, drugs, corruption, illicit arms trafficking, extreme poverty, natural disasters, human trafficking, and attacks on cybersecurity. Many of these threats need to be contextualized within each of the Latin American countries, and there is no one model that can be applied in a generalized way.
Strategic management has its origins in the 1950s, when the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation sponsored an investigation into the curriculum of American business schools. A summary of the research was presented in the Gordon-Howell report, which recommended that business education cover a broader range of topics, integrating knowledge from other disciplines into real-world situations involving the integration of different areas of business and integrative solutions for them.
Over the years, new topics were introduced to the discipline, such as: (1) considerations on global organizations and their environment, (2) social responsibility, (3) ethics, (4) mission analysis, (5) general objectives, (6) strategy formulation, implementation, and control, and (7) potential impacts of the political, legislative, and economic environment. Hence, the discipline came to be known as Strategic Management. The term Strategic Management was used by Harry Igor Ansoff, who presented -for the first time- the concept of strategic management incorporating a restricted perspective related to organizational form or architecture. This study was also based on the work of Alfred Chandler, who demonstrated the dependence of organizational structure on goals and strategies.
The 1970s, however, would be marked by the rise of Strategic Planning, understood as formal and rational planning, with the objective of producing an articulated and systemic result. Strategic planning and its system of strategy formulation and evaluation would not only be able to meet the growing demand for change in this era of knowledge, but also of “hostility and rapid change”. As a result, the concept of organizational change became a constant in planning and, especially, in the strategy implementation phase, making planning more systemic and dynamic, and making the previously defined model unfeasible. , 
In this context, strategic management (re)emerged as a new management paradigm, based on a new vision of politics and business planning, through the studies of Dan Schendel and Charles Hofer, who define it as “a process of dealing with the business dimensions of the organization, its renewal and growth, and, more particularly, with the development and use of strategies to guide the operations of organizations.” Therefore, strategic management is understood as an “advanced and coherent form of strategic thinking, which seeks to extend the strategic vision to all units of the organization, encompassing its entire administrative system. As Motta already said, this is the significant difference that the term strategic management brought compared to the previously used strategic planning models.
Motta’s critique is mainly directed at the attempt to separate strategy formulation by organizational levels in a watertight and non-integrated manner, without considering that the strategy permeates all levels and sectors of the organization. In that sense, there is no strategic vision that is broken down into strategic, operational, and tactical levels; what exists is an interaction between these three levels during the formulation and implementation of strategies to achieve the proposed objectives. Under this understanding, the implementation of the strategic vision focuses on the constant search for results, within a continuous process of anticipating future changes, taking advantage of opportunities and course correction.
The concept of strategic management has been strongly associated with organizational change and is often decisive in differentiating it from the term “strategic planning.” It is believed that by requiring strategists, managers, or leaders to act in changing the behavior of everyone in the organization and not just certain sectors, they become an agent of change. Thus, strategies are intensely rethought and modified, not only by members of top management or by the planners of these strategies, but also by all members, especially those who will be directly affected by their implementation.
Strategic management, when transferring its applicability to the public sector, modifies its main focus related to the search for benefits and competitive advantages over competitors, but maintains the broad concept of performance and the search for better services for society. However, its applicability in the public sector requires some different approaches from the manager, mainly related to the difficulty of establishing and implementing long-term strategies, since the life cycle of this manager or his top management in the organization is usually located in a period of two or four years. As a result, a difficulty for public organizations is the maintenance of their management staff throughout the strategy process, requiring constant training of new personnel, which may hinder the continuity of strategies.
The Dynamics of Defense Documents
Defense documents are the basis for the strategic planning of defense structures, allowing direct alignment with defense preparedness and deployment plans. In this sense, it is understood that they guide the “what to do” (Policies) and the “how to do it” (Strategies). Regardless of the nomenclature used by different countries, these documents make it possible to delimit and guide actions in the area of defense towards the achievement of the National Defense Objectives (NDOs). In this context, the main documents that guide the strategic management of defense in the region’s countries were analyzed, especially their NDOs:
Table 1 – Defense Documents
|National Defense Policy Directive
|Defense White Paper
|National Defense Policy
National Defense Strategy
|National Defense Policy
|Defense and Security Policy
|Defense Policy Agenda 2014-2017
|National Defense Sector Program 2020-2024
|National Defense Policy 2019-2030
|White Paper on National Defense
|National Defense Policy
Source: prepared by the author
In each document analyzed, the main threats and NDOs were verified. It was noted that not all documents directly explained what an NDO was. One group of countries separated their objectives into two areas, external security, and internal security. However, these documents were chosen because they list the main threats to the state and explain the objectives guiding strategic defense management in their respective countries.
For the purposes of the analysis, the countries were divided into two groups: (1) Alpha Group (those that explicitly define N SDGs: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay) and (2) Bravo Group (countries defining an external security context, internal security, or permanent national objectives: Bolivia and Chile). Regarding the Alpha Group, NDOs are the following:
Table 2 – Group Alpha: National Defense Objectives
Source: prepared by the author
Within this first group, some objectives are common to all countries, such as: sovereignty, territorial integrity, freedom (or integrity) of the population and independence (i.e., self-determination, cohesion, conscience, identity, or national unity). All of these are essential clauses for countries, being the axes of defense and, therefore, the basis for the strategies to be implemented.
A growing theme is the defense of national patrimony, biodiversity, water or natural resources, characteristic of some countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay, as well as the welfare of the population. Likewise, there is a relationship with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), despite the fact that the 2030 Agenda was presented by the United Nations only in 2015, when many country defense documents already existed. In that sense, concern for regional and global peace is an agenda included in some defense documents, comprising those of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay, which refers to the SDGs and the preservation of a regional environment of cooperation between countries. Likewise, the eradication of corruption and a comprehensive austerity policy are Mexico’s major national motivations and are also central to the defense field. Therefore, uniformed personnel will tend to strengthen actions to combat corruption within their organizations, including internal security operations.
Another concept that many countries include is integrated or comprehensive security. In this type of security, Armed forces contribute strongly to internal security, public security, and the multidimensional vision of security. Additionally, the objectives related to innovation, technological development, as well as technological and productive autonomy are characterized by the concern for a strong and operational national defense industry at regional and global levels. In that sense, the contribution to national development, despite being explained as an NDO in only two countries (Ecuador and Mexico), is included in most defense documents.
As for the Bravo Group, it includes the countries that have defined permanent objectives (Bolivia) and those which differentiate External Security and Internal Security (Chile) as drivers of the defense area:
Table 3 – Bravo Group: Permanent and Security Objectives
|Permanent National Objectives
|External and Internal Security Objectives
|External Security Objectives
External security and Development Objectives
Source: prepared by the author.
The objectives of Bolivia and Chile are guidelines for their defense documents. On the one hand, the Bolivian objectives were established by the Superior Council of National Defense in 1997, and are the basis for the 2004 Defense White Paper. Among the permanent national objectives, Bolivia includes the promotion of maritime reintegration with national sovereignty that they lost in the 19th century. In Chile, on the other hand, the central idea is that the national defense structure should have objectives in external security as the vast majority of the Alpha Group countries (sovereignty, integrity, independence and against external threats) and in internal security with the Civil Protection System (disasters or adverse events of significant impact on society).
Support for national development is also reflected in the defense documents of the countries of the region, contributing to a defense overview in Latin America that is inseparable from development. Likewise, the objectives present in the countries that are part of the Alfa and Bravo groups are the starting point of the defense documents and guide the strategies that the countries need to achieve these objectives. Therefore, the use of strategic management seeks to present a different vision of this linearity, so that defense planning can be more sustainable in the face of threats or opportunities that arise.
Whether due to the external or internal environment, the role of defense is constantly changing. Consequently, the capacity of the defense structures of the countries of the region need a different dynamic from the current one. This is something in which strategic management can be immensely helpful. In this sense, the idea of performance when applied to the achievement of objectives, allows for a long-term vision that goes beyond government plans (which have a four or five-year period), as well as military commanders (who remain two or three years in a position, whether command or execution).
Another example is the implementation of a strategic vision that focuses on the constant search for results, in a continuous process of anticipating future changes, taking advantage of opportunities and possible course corrections, if necessary. Even the objectives can be changed since there should be no perpetuity if the external and internal environments change.
Therefore, the application of the fundamentals that govern strategic management, the constant and integrated analysis of societal demands and conflict dynamics, the interaction of strategic levels that facilitate the formulation of new strategies and the adoption of new systems that allow a more agile decision-making process in the face of constant changes can be incorporated into defense management of Latin American countries, especially those that were part of this study.
In this area, there are some concepts that suggest different approaches for defense management, such as strategic direction, with the consequence of the conceptual revision of strategic plans: (1)knowledge can be generated at any level of the organization, shared among its members and sought in other public or private spheres; (2) defense must be treated as a public good (based on this premise, transparency, anti-corruption actions and accountability will allow reaching another level in civil-military relations); (3) the strategic vision must be shared at all levels of the organization, allowing changes to be implemented more quickly; (4) the formulation and implementation of the sectoral objectives resulting from the NDO (permanent, external or internal security) should seek the participation of the different organizational levels; (5) the delegation of responsibilities should allow for initiative and feedback on the implementation of strategies and results; and (6)defense agencies must adapt to new demands, having the ability to create or extinguish structures as needed, whether, ad hoc, temporary or not.
This paper sought to show the new demands of defense in a constantly changing environment and how they can affect organizational strategies. In this context, the strategic direction of defense is presented as a proposal for the implementation of strategies and visions at all organizational levels, which allows a new direction of these strategies in the face of changes in the external and internal context of defense organizations, through the participation of all management levels in the formulation and implementation of new strategies for the achievement of objectives.
The analysis of documents from ten Latin American countries provided an overview of the national objectives that guide the respective Defense sectors, whether they are permanent objectives, defense objectives, external security and internal security objectives, or development objectives. In this way, the countries were categorized into two groups, those who explicitly cited their NDOs and those who based their planning on the other types of goals. However, the proximity of the various proposed goals, regardless of their categorization, made it possible to create a profile of these goals and to group countries with similar goals together, highlighting the particularities.
The defense environment and its new demands require new managerial skills from military managers. The classical conception of military strategy as generally restricted to the battlefield and the alignment of military objectives with the objectives of war, defined by political power, does not correspond to this new environment. Therefore, the adequacy of management tools -such as strategic planning- no longer supports the understanding of this environment full of uncertainties and vertiginous changes. Dysfunctions of the bureaucracy, such as excessive formalism, excessive appreciation of rules and the hierarchization of the decision-making process, in addition to affecting public management, also affect defense management.
- The author is grateful for the support and contributions of Camila Basilio da Costa from the Defense and International Strategic Management course at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who contributed greatly to this work (firstname.lastname@example.org). ↑
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