CDA Institute guest contributor Eric Dion, a doctoral student and former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, provides an overview of the Comprehensive Approach. 

Russia’s latest incursion in the Middle East, into the Syrian civil war and its insurgency, is only the latest move by President Vladimir Putin to secure Russia’s Western “Arc of Influence.” In recent years, Russia has been employing more and more of its “renewed” military power in offensive manoeuvres and pre-emptive wars of all kinds, including a cyberwar against Estonia (2007), naval manoeuvres in the Baltic and Black Seas (2008, 2014), shooting down MH-17 (2014), incursions into Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014). Moreover, Russia is also playing the West against itself in a new kind of media warfare.


To confront this challenge, the West needs to pursue the e-Mobilisation of its national powers in a Comprehensive Approach. As NATO’s former Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said, “The military is necessary; but it is not sufficient…That is why the Comprehensive Approach not only makes sense; it is necessary.”

NATO defines the Comprehensive Approach as one that “seeks to produce coordinated actions aimed at realizing desired effects in order to achieve an agreed end state.” According to the UK’s Joint Discussion Note 4/05, it is: “Commonly understood principles and collaborative processes that enhance the likelihood of favorable and enduring outcomes within a particular situation.” And according to the US Army’s FM 3-07 Stability Operations: “A Comprehensive Approach is one that integrates the cooperative efforts of the departments, and agencies of the US Government, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, multinational partners, private sector entities, to achieve unity of effort toward a shared goal.”

As such, NATO’s Comprehensive Operational Planning Directive (COPD) already provides for general directions, following upon the alliance’s Comprehensive Planning Guidance (CPG) issued at the alliance’s 2006 summit held in Riga, Latvia. The United Nation’s Integrated Mission Planning Process (IMPP) is yet another attempt to operationalize the Comprehensive Approach, requiring a full engagement of all actors. But, from a strategic management perspective, these previous efforts fail to lay out in clear executive terms where, when, who, what, why and how to effectively implement such a holistic and comprehensive approach to security and defence issues in general.

Sitting idle until the conditions are ripe for a Third World War within Europe, and on its eastern flank, will only provide time for Russia to build up its forces. Fortunately, time is still in favor of a significant e-Mobilisation by the West – militarily of course, but more fundamentally in situational, societal, structural, strategic, systematic, and synergic ways. All these dimensions are crucial for a holistic Comprehensive Approach to take shape.

For some, the approach is the fallout of the alliance’s failed engagement in Afghanistan. For others, like myself, the absence of the Comprehensive Approach is precisely at the root of such insurgencies, as we witness today in Iraq and Syria. Henceforth, the Comprehensive Approach is much more than a response to the military’s perceived weaknesses in governance and civil society reconstruction. It is a call to action for a more holistic approach to issues of security and defence – and one that is needed in dealing with the current challenges posed by Russia. Addressing this fundamentally is key.

The Chinese have used what they call a Comprehensive National Power (CNP) to their strategic calculus for some decades, although their approach is much more quantitative. In the case of the Allies, a more balanced, qualitative and quantitative, approach can be used to establish the key dimensions of actions and execute Grand Strategy accordingly. Indeed, Grand Strategy is, according to Colin Gray: “The purposeful employment of all instruments of power available to a security community,” which in fundamental ways has many affinities with the Comprehensive Approach as applied in the case of insurgencies.

Thus, there is much added value, from a strategic management perspective, to consider a more holistic model for our strategic decision-making – one that integrates dimensions of situational context, socio-culture, organisational structure, strategic policy, systemic functions and synergy dynamic, in order to produce effects that are more synergistic. Indeed, the whole Comprehensive Approach must be greater than the sum of its parts.

Having developed the outline of a theoretical decision model, it appears that Synergy, which should be the net effect of our actions under a Comprehensive Approach, is the function of the situational, socio-cultural, structural, strategic and systemic dimensions. All these dimensions are interdependent and create together an effect which is greater.

The situational context dimension, referring to time and space, is already well in use in the Comprehensive Approach at approximately 12 percent of our actions and theory. The organizational structure dimension is also well founded and used at 21 percent. However, both the socio-cultural and the functional systemic dimensions are under-used and should both be employed at about 21 percent in our decision-making model. In contrast, there is significant over-usage of the political strategic dimension at around 26 percent, which should be used in theory at about 16 percent. Moreover, there appears to be a theoretical void to be filled in regards to the dynamics and synergy dimension at around 9 percent.


Ultimately, as it directly relates to practice, this means that the Comprehensive Approach is overly strategic and political and not focused enough on the socio-cultural, on the systemic, and specifically, on the synergistic dimension. Current decisions are made strategically perhaps, but without overall consideration for these significant dimensions.

In essence, addressing the root causes of insurgencies in the socio-cultural dimension, in a systematic and synergistic way, is crucial if we are to affect our national powers wisely. More so is this the case when faced with Russia’s Western “Arc of Influence,” which is essentially a strategic, very structural and situational approach. To put Russia of balance, would be to secure the hearts and the minds of NATO members, partners and friends the world over. This calls for a socio-cultural, for a systemic and synergistic e-Mobilisation leveraging all dimensions of our national powers to hold and build the West’s influence.

This calls for a Grand Strategy in a time of great uncertainty, perhaps even to a return to the old days of the Cold War, ensuring that power is kept in check and is well balanced. This may even imply a return to foreign expeditionary bases, such as in Poland namely. As such, we would be creating the conditions for global stability in the next 5-10 years, by already launching a global e-Mobilisation; working to rebuild our Strategic Culture.

Eric Dion is a doctoral candidate in management who is also retired from the Canadian Forces. Synergy – A theoretical decision model, is based on work for his doctoral thesis. (Image courtesy of Yves Herman/Reuters.)

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