Understanding the "Will to Fight"
Photo by ChinaMil.com
Photo by ChinaMil.com
In the spring and summer of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) achieved a series of stunning military victories in northern Iraq. Particularly shocking to civilian observers was the news that comparatively small numbers of fighters prevailed against a significant Iraqi Army force. On paper, the larger Iraqi force had the clear advantage. In practice, their numerical superiority vanished as their forces fled, having no will to fight against the ISIL advance.
That was not the first time a conflict has been resolved by a strong—or weak—will to fight, nor will it be the last. Both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps argue that will to fight is the single most important factor in war. Will to fight helps determine whether a military unit stays in the fight and also how well it fights. Once a conflict has begun, government leaders determine how and when wars end, and the political and economic variables—the national will to fight—determines whether the conflict continues.
The U.S. Army asked the RAND Arroyo Center to help U.S. leaders better understand and influence will to fight at both the national level and at the tactical and operational levels. The results of this exploration contain widely applicable lessons for the U.S. and its allies.
In general terms, will to fight is the disposition and decision to fight, to keep fighting, and to win. However, there is no generally accepted definition of will to fight. There is no way to accurately quantify will to fight or delineate its precise value. Despite this, will to fight can be more clearly understood and practicably applied.
To do so, the RAND team undertook a literature review of over 200 published works, reviewed U.S. and allied military doctrine, conducted 68 subject matter expert interviews, and analyzed historical cases, war gaming, and simulation. The result is a set of definitions, explanations, and models are intended to help remedy this gap in general knowledge about will to fight.
So, how does RAND define the will to fight of a military unit, or a nation?