Education is something that touches every single member of the military profession, and is important for the civilians who work with the military as well. Military education is something with which everyone in the military has some direct experience. After all, one could not get to top military positions today without attending staff college courses, and often war college-level courses, taught in military institutions. Higher military education— the focus of this article—is the education that takes place at the rank of major and above and includes the joint staff college courses as well as courses at the strategic level designed for colonels and generals.
National armed forces and military education institutions create mission statements defining the institutional and individual goals of each course in higher military education. The aims of the higher military education institutions in the West are generally similar, with mission statements that reflect the need to develop officers who are critical thinkers and problem solvers, who will be prepared for higher command and to serve effectively in national and multinational staff positions. But while the goals are clear, the process of achieving those goals is usually not as explicitly laid out. As a practitioner, having spent the last twenty-two years as an academic involved in higher-level military education, I have to focus on the process. From this experience I will lay out some principles that are essential to meet the goals of educating officers to meet tough challenges. While most of the principles set out here are basic to all higher military education institutions, there are a few principles that apply specifically to multinational institutions.
There are a few truly multinational institutions in the Western nations, and it is likely that in the future there will be more. This reflects the realities of modern operations. In the future, operations such as Libya and Afghanistan that involve multinational staffs and do not necessarily have a single lead nation will likely be the norm. Educating midrank and senior officers to operate in a multinational environment is already essential.
Multinational military education is the central focus of the Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia, which is a unique institution in that it is equally owned and operated by three nations: Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Because each of the Baltic countries alone did not have the resources to offer a top-tier higher military education for its officers, in 1999 the three Baltic States decided to pool their resources and expertise and create a single staff college that would provide higher courses for officers and selected civilians. The result is a comprehensive institution that offers a year-long joint staff course to officers not only from the Baltic States, but also from NATO, EU, and partner nations. In
addition, the Baltic Defence College (where the author of this article is Dean) runs a half-year course for colonels and higher-level civilians as well as a half-year course for civilian members of the defense and foreign ministries. Based on the experience of the Baltic Defence College, this article will lay out some of the key principles that guide our planning and development.
The insights presented here are not simply those of an American, or European, or an American who works for Europeans. They are the insights of a military educator who works in a highly multinational environment. There is one thing that a long period of working in a completely multinational environment will teach you – that the fundamentals of the military profession transcend nation and culture. Still, there are some aspects of education that apply especially to multinational environments, and I will discuss these later in this article.
While all professional officers attend staff college and higher military education courses sometime in their career (usually several times in their career), they only understand military education through their experience as a student and, as students, they were primarily focused on the task at hand, which was to do well in their courses and graduate. Afterwards, while most officers use the skills they learned and developed in the higher-level courses throughout their careers, few officers think about the process of military education. Yet because military education is so central to the military profession, and so central to the ethos of military leadership, it is essential that senior leaders take some time to think seriously about the principles that ought to guide higher military education.