Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Friendly Fire: The Risks and Rewards of Red Teaming

Friendly Fire: The Risks and Rewards of Red Teaming

Despite all the fascination with new technologies and religious extremism, there is little new in war. So often, great ideas have origins that can be seen in ancient history, going back further than Herodotus or Thucydides. This sparkling book on red teaming is another example.

In the 13th century, the Roman Catholic hierarchy established a position for what came to be known as advocatus diaboli or devil’s advocate to prosecute the opposing argument when saints were nominated. That position served to discover and raise issues with the claimed attributes and miracles of nominees. Many military organizations today have formal devil’s advocates called red teams to pinpoint flaws in their secret plans. These red teams identify potential gaps in new strategies and test new weapons systems through simulation.

In his second book, Micah Zenko outlines the benefits of institutionalizing the practice of red teaming. He offers numerous anecdotes drawn from military, intelligence, and commercial business practice, and he describes best practices for creating and employing this technique. Military organizations are often accused of promoting compliance over independent thinking. No doubt, the appeal of red teams and “tiger teams” of experts in defense circles reflects the limitations of military bureaucracies in which institutional blind spots, unchallenged assumptions, ossified patterns, and fixed habits of mind can block rigorous thinking and creative problem solving.

The author’s wide-ranging research leverages insights and experiences from some of the foremost military educational programs devoted to critical thinking and red teaming, such as the U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Program at Fort Leavenworth and the British equivalent at Shrivenham. Zenko also incorporates insights from other government agencies and the competitive business world. The intelligence community makes great use of alternative analysis in its estimates.

Zenko captures many forms of this technique, including corporate red teams that challenge…

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