Threshold Concepts for and by Smaller Forces


  • Jaan Murumets




This article addresses the problem of how a smaller country could increase its threshold defence to the maximum degree within the limits of aff ordability. The article provides an overview of a conceptual analysis of six possible dimensions (or functions) of a threshold defence, highlighting the role of deterrence and of resilience, and the importance of creating favourable conditions for allies or partners to come to assistance. The discussion focuses on what to deter and how to achieve such deterrence, as well as how to assess what would constitute eff ective deterrence on the part of a small power visà- vis a larger adversary. In this context, the importance of knowing and correctly assessing the adversary is highlighted as a sine qua non. In addition, the article also outlines and discusses two alternative ways of increasing the chances of timely assistance from allies / partners: (a) by deliberately escalating and raising the intensity of the confl ict in order to improve the prospects for a timely reaction by allies or partners (“Punch Back Hard”), and (b) by drawing out the confl ict so as to gain time for allied decision-making and deployments (“Protect the Skeleton”). Generic planning tools were utilised to link the concept of conventional threshold to policy-making and defence planning processes. First, assumptions about the policy and planning context of the application of the conventional threshold concept were established. Then, a simplifi ed generic format of policy guidance was used to outline the government objectives, desired political and military end states, desired eff ects to infl uence enemy calculus, derived military missions, and applicable constraints and restraints for both strategies. After that, broad tasks were identifi ed across a generic construct of services and key branches, i.e., special forces, land, air, maritime, electronic warfare / cyber-warfare, and strategic communications. The last step entailed the identifi cation of military capabilities required to carry out the tasks and missions within the policy framework established above. Two NATO documents – Capability Hierarchy of 2015, and Capability Codes and Capability Statements of 2016 – were used as reference. Finally, both strategies were assessed against the six functions of a threshold, with a brief discussion of strengths and weaknesses, and the development of preliminary fi ndings. The analysis indicates that the force needed to implement the threshold strategy codenamed “Protect the Skeleton” would need to deploy relatively more infantry units, and less and lower technology weapon systems and platforms; whereas the force needed to implement the “Punch Back Hard” strategy would need to deploy less infantry, but more and higher technology systems and platforms. In terms of the required military capabilities there is considerable overlap; however, the main diff erence lies in the fact that capabilities for the “Punch Back Hard” strategy would lean more on longer range indirect fi re, and deploy a more developed air dimension, and higher mobility. The comparison against the six functions of the Threshold Concept demonstrates that both strategies are virtually equal in regard to the Trip Wire and Barrier functions. While the “Punch Back Hard” strategy fares somewhat better in the Alarm Bell function, as a Marker, it is clearly superior to the “Protect the Skeleton” strategy. Against the Defence function, both strategies are satisfactory; although the “Protect the Skeleton” strategy fared somewhat better, provided there is enough time to conduct the call-up and integration of reserve elements. In providing the Deterrent function, though, the “Punch Back Hard” strategy performs clearly better than “Protect the Skeleton”. In conclusion, this fi rst cut study shows that the emerging concept of conventional threshold is applicable within, and using the tools of, Western defence planning methods. Specifi cally, as assessed against the functions of threshold, the “Punch Back” strategy appears to fare generally better than the ‘Protect the Skeleton’ strategy, while also being clearly superior in providing deterrence.


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