Developing a spy mindset means understanding the five steps of the Intelligence Cycle:
1. Planning & Direction
4. Analysis & Production
Leaders often complain about intelligence failures, but they are ultimately responsible for shaping the success or failure of their own Intelligence Cycle.
Planning for success begins with step one, Planning & Direction. The Intelligence Cycle doesn’t set sail until leaders define the intelligence gaps that are preventing them from making decisions with the right degree of confidence.
However, before defining the intelligence gaps, leaders must first look to the future (vision) and have a solid grasp of how to get there (strategy). Once this is clear, they can gather the right people, information, and resources to harness the wind.
Schopenhauer was on point: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
Good leaders also consider how their own actions contribute to the current situation. We don’t exist in a vacuum. In the case of Ukraine, this self-awareness appears to be lacking. What Putin is doing in Ukraine is horrible and probably includes war crimes, but we would be wrong to conclude that Putin’s invasion couldn’t have been avoided.
Given Ukraine’s lack control over Crimea and Donbas, along with other problems related to corruption and economic development, Ukraine isn’t currently eligible for NATO membership. However, as recent as October 2021, as Russia was amassing troops along the border, the U.S. officials visited Ukraine and discussed NATO membership.
We’re under no obligation to acquiesce to Putin’s demands or red lines, obviously, but we’re also under no obligation to show our cards, rush the process, or give Ukraine false hope. Why force the issues if we’re not ready to execute?
The war has begun, so now what?
Given that Russia is slowly encircling Kiev and possesses natural resources that are critical to the global economy, we should turn our attention to desired outcomes.
NATO and a coalition of the willing are providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine, not boots on the ground, but the primary counteroffensive is focused on economic leverage, to include freezing Russia’s central bank assets overseas. This raises some important collection requirements that need answers.
Suppose we ban Russian oil and gas exports:
- Will Russia find other customers?
- Will our coalition of the willing hold the line?
- How long can Russia sustain the sanctions?
- Will rising oil and gas prices hurt us more than Russia?
In other words, what do we hope to achieve, and how do we measure net-positive or net-negative results? Keeping in mind that Putin has his own vision and strategy for Ukraine, we should also consider what leverage he might have.
Developing a spy mindset means asking the following questions:
Is Putin banking on the fact that Western leaders are beholden to green energy lobbies, which might relish high oil and gas prices to hasten the transition to green energy?
Will dialog with autocratic regimes (Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, etc.) about pumping more oil, rather than approving domestic sources, suggest to average Americans a willingness of the greens to sabotage their own economy?
Will the spike in nickel prices force the greens to understand that commodities for EV batteries don’t grow on trees and require carbon fuels to mine?
Is Putin banking on the fact that Western leaders are trapped by inflationary monetary policies that can’t be resolved by adjusting interest rates or printing money?
Will rising gold and silver prices break the paper markets?
Question: Is offering NATO membership to Ukraine worth all this potential downside and pain? Or could we achieve most of our objectives without NATO membership?
Unfortunately, what was originally the best and now the most likely solution (NATO membership for Ukraine off the table) will create the perception of a Russian victory.
Circling back to the Planning & Direction step of the Intelligence Cycle, leaders with the right vision and strategy, having asked the right questions and having received the right answers, could have prevented this mess.
Not because Putin said so, but because it wasn’t in our national interest.