Louis Melancon, PhD has served in the U.S. Army around the globe for 25 years. He presently represents the U.S. Army to the Joint Hard Targets Strategies program. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessing U.S. Army Diversity Efforts in the Context of Great Power Competition
Date Originally Written: May 21, 2021.
Date Originally Published: June 7, 2021.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is an active duty military member who believes diversity of work force is a potential asymmetric advantage in great power competition.
Summary: The heuristics (mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision) that people rely on matter. Relying on outdated heuristics can be problematic. While U.S. Army talent management efforts have been important in realizing increased diversity, the effort to create matching heuristics is lacking. The result will likely undermine the U.S. Army’s efforts at achieving diversity.
Text: On May 20, 2021, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz made comments about U.S. Army recruiting advertisements. Twitter users responded to the senator’s tweet quickly and in a highly negative manner. Beyond these twitter responses, the situation Senator Cruz’s comments created highlights a larger implication of similar behaviors in the U.S. Army. The issue at hand is a reliance on flawed heuristics; approximations of knowledge that are useful in making immediate, though not necessarily the most efficient, decisions.
Despite Senator Cruz’s attempts to back away from his position about the efficacy of the U.S. Army compared to the Russian military, the heuristic that he used is clear: efficacy of a military is defined by its ability shape its members into a similar, unthinking mold; a vessel to contain violence, unleashed automatically in response to a command given by their masters. The senator’s tweet illustrates a belief that soldiers are identical cogs in the machine of an army; when a cog breaks, it is replaced, and the machine grinds on. This heuristic echoes the industrial revolution and does an adequate job of describing Queen Victoria’s army, but is not useful today.
The nature of war remains constant, but the character of war changes. The characteristics of an industrial revolution army are not useful in modern, great power competition. Senator Cruz’s heuristic is outdated. However, his foible highlights a similar problem of similar heuristics that are often used within the U.S. Army regarding talent management.
The U.S. Army, over the past several years, has taken great steps to leverage the diversity of its force and should be applauded for this effort. A large talent management effort has created a web-based market place to match soldiers to units based on preferences. Official photos have been removed from personnel files in an attempt to reduce bias by units and in central selection boards. Gender neutral pronouns are now used in evaluations. New methods of selecting battalion and brigade leadership are in place. These steps improve diversity but by themselves will take too long, perhaps a full work generation of 15-20 years, to effectively address and correct biases that emerge from old, outdated heuristics.
Breaking and replacing heuristics is hard; it takes energy, thoughtfulness, and leadership focus. Diversity of a population, and by the transitive property, the military force it raises, can be an asymmetric advantage in competition and conflict justifying that energy and leadership focus. Context matters in competition and conflict; strength only has value when placed in the context of an opponent and that opponent’s weakness. The goal is always to create an advantage and a successful military engages an opponent at their weakness. A military is deceiving itself if it relies on its self-assessed strength in isolation of an opponent. Success in both competition and conflict comes from turning interactions with an opponent into an asymmetric engagement where the balance is not in the opponent’s favor. For the U.S. Army, in this era of great power competition, this strength rests in the children of the American people, all the American people with all their diverse backgrounds. New technologies can be duplicated, new weapons can and will be countered, but a diverse people, bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to problems, cannot be easily replicated. The longer the U.S. Army waits to break its talent management- related heuristics and fully utilize its soldiers, the more behind it falls in competition, especially with China.
As a society, and as a military force, the U.S. and U.S. Army have significantly greater ethnic and gender diversity than either China or Russia. China’s People’s Liberation Army is a monument to glass ceilings for those that are not ethnic Han or male. The picture is not better in the Russian military for those who are not ethnic Russian or male. This is not to say either military force is monolithic in their outlook, but near homogeneity tends to create predictability, inflexibility, and an inability to identify self-weakness. There is an opportunity here for the U.S. Army to truly find and leverage talent management as an asymmetric advantage against the Chinese and Russian military personnel systems, and so by extension their militaries as a whole.
The U.S. Army has not been as effective in breaking and replacing old heuristics in conjunction with the active steps to increase diversity. Anecdotal evidence is emerging that new heuristics are naturally emerging within the force that will slow down the efforts to improve diversity; this is a result of not deliberately seeking to replace heuristics at pace with new diversity initiatives. As an example, rather than focus on matching skills needed for a position with a candidate, some units are seeking out personnel whose career trajectory closely matches previous concepts of a successful soldier. Preferring a concept of what makes a good soldier over recognized skills needed for mission success goes against what the U.S. Army desires with talent management. There is no maliciousness here, humans rely on heuristics and so older, flawed concepts are tweaked on the margins if nothing is provided to replace them. The units are seeking to do the right thing, but are limited by what the individuals within them know. Without a deliberate effort to shape heuristics that support new policies, the ones which emerge in the force will inevitably and inadvertently buttress the old biases.
Senator Cruz provided a teachable moment. His constituents will decide with the ballot if he will have to pay a price for having outdated and flawed heuristics. Were the U.S. Army to share Senator Cruz’s outlook, the price paid in both competition and conflict with peer competitors will be much higher for soldiers if the issue of heuristics is not addressed now.
 Cruz, Rafael E. [@tedcruz]. (20 May, 2021). “Holy crap. Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea…” Twitter. https://twitter.com/tedcruz/status/1395394254969753601
 Cruz, Rafael E. [@tedcruz]. (20 May, 2021). “I’m enjoying lefty blue check marks losing their minds over this tweet, dishonestly claiming I’m “attacking the military.” Uh, no. We have the greatest military on earth, but Dem politicians & woke media are trying to turn them into pansies. The new Dem videos are terrible.” Twitter. https://twitter.com/tedcruz/status/1395586598943825924
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