Leading international researchers at doctoral conference

7 November 2017

In mid-October, a doctoral conference on military culture and strategy was held with distinguished international speakers, including Risa Brooks of Marquette University (USA) and Bettina Renz of the University of Nottingham (UK).

The Swedish Defense University (SEDU) hosted a two-day doctoral conference with the theme "Modern war - Military culture and strategy." Although similar arrangements have been made earlier at SEDU, this year's event included prominent international researchers.
Kjell Engelbrekt "This year we wanted to enhance the quality. The overall aim was to strengthen the profile of the university by participating in international academic discussion on war studies and political science," says Kjell Engelbrekt, who organized the conference together with Professor Alastair Finlan and Professor Chiara Ruffa, all of whom are affiliated with the SEDU.

Civil-military relations

Chiara Ruffa, who strategically planned the conference program for the first day, adds, "The idea was to invite dynamic speakers who could comprehensively cover the different areas. We wanted to give the PhD students a glimpse of where the research front is today and provide them with tools to develop their own doctoral projects.

Chiara RuffaChiara Ruffa was also one of the four conference speakers. Her lecture was about military cultures in peacekeeping and stabilization operations. Other speakers included Bettina Renz of the University of Nottingham who discussed Russia's military ventures and unorthodox tactics in the 21st century as well as Magnus Christiansson from SEDU who spoke of defense planning beyond rationalism, exemplified by the USA's complex defense procurement system.

Military effectiveness

Porträttfoto Risa Brooks

The guest speaker who had travelled farthest to the event was Risa Brooks from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her research focuses on civil-military relations, military effectiveness, and military and terrorist organizations. She is the author of Shaping Strategy: The Civil-Military Politics of Strategic Assessment (Princeton University Press, 2008) as well as many scientific articles on international security.

Risa Brooks began by challenging the prevalent picture of how military effectiveness is based on large and technologically sophisticated forces. Instead, she believes that military effectiveness is about how well states use military resources to achieve their goals, which can be measured by four factors: integration, responsiveness, expertise/skill/competencies, and quality. She stressed that these factors are deliberately formulated abstractly to allow adaptation to different contexts. "It may be that factors that enhance the effectiveness of one mission have few benefits or even promote inefficiency in another mission."

Assessing your potential adversary

According to Risa Brooks, effectiveness cannot be compared to military or political victory. Rather, it is about tailoring the structure and doctrine of the military force based on its own strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, the opponent's strengths and weaknesses should also be analyzed.

"Thinking about what the other side has for strategy can seem logical but, there is not always a rigorous analysis of other states' relative capabilities and strategic environment," says Risa Brooks.

In addition, she spoke about military culture as well as the division between politics and military, which she considers to be problematic from a strategic point of view.

Academic inspiration

Several of the participants felt that the first day featuring international guest speakers was very positive, interesting and inspiring.

"The whole day was really top-notch. One of the highlights was Bettina Renz, who gave a more nuanced picture of the situation in Russia," said Lars Henåker, doctoral student in military studies.

Lisa Justesen, doctoral student in political science, agrees, "It's great that such competent and knowledgeable people contributed to the conference. It really gave the conference an academic lift. I hope similar events are arranged in the future.

The second conference day was devoted to discussing the challenges and limitations for academic research in security and defense studies as well as trying to describe the research front in the field. There was a general agreement that the recent focus on "small-scale wars" and armed insurgency seems to have given rise to a renewed interest in intergovernmental conflicts and war as well as to military organizations.