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A Concept at the Crossroads: Rethinking the Center of Gravity

Authored by Lieutenant Colonel Rudolph M. Janiczek.

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Brief Synopsis

Since the 1980s, the U.S. military has placed great emphasis on the theories and concepts of Clausewitz. Concomitantly, a tremendous emphasis has been placed in doctrine on the center of gravity (COG) as a central element of campaign planning. The doctrinal definitions of the COG are still imperfect, but the concept arguably serves as an effective tool for focusing military effort to win decisively in major operations or campaigns. Although the American military performs brilliantly in decisive operations, the difficulties it has faced in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that a doctrinal renaissance is in order. This paper examines the potential for employing the COG concept in areas beyond the realm of decisive operations. After examining the concept’s evolution, present doctrinal manifestations, and some previous proposals for future employment, the author opines that the COG’s role in American military thinking is flawed and must be reconsidered entirely. To that end, three options are offered for evolving the COG, with a specific recommendation that it would be most effective if removed from doctrine and considered as an abstract concept, rather than a practical one.

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Military Change and Transformation
Military Leadership
Future Forces
Managing Change
Operational Concepts

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