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Following is copyrighted material, appearing here courtesy of the author.



Richard I. Lester, Ph.D.

Dean of Academic Affairs

United States Air Force

Air University, Eaker College

Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama 36112-6429 USA

8 March 2001




The overall aim of this paper is to present a perspective on the human element of command in peace-support operations. The issues raised are particularly important as we step up to the increased pace of contingency operations driven by the continuing, unstable post-cold-war environment. Peace support is more than simply high-minded idealism; it is a sort of moral police work, coupled with a sense of humanitarianism. If peace-support operations are to be effective, enhanced military skills are necessary. The principal objectives cited herein are to comprehend the meaning and characteristics of leadership, management, and command; to differentiate among these elements and explore their interconnections; to analyze the skills and attitudes necessary to be an effective leader and commander in peace-support actions; and to determine what makes these characteristics effective or ineffective in the human element of command as they relate to peace-support activities. Clearly, the "human element" in command is increasingly more important in the current geopolitical environment where United States and United Nations armed forces operate. The need for and challenges of command and associated leadership in these areas is pervasive and accelerating. Human-in-command relationships tend to build coalition forces that are based upon respect, tolerance, and trust across many dividing characteristics. It should be noted that The George C. Marshall, European Center for Security Studies is a leading transatlantic defense educational institution addressing many of these important issues.

It is essential that we define the term human element of command in peace-support. Human-in-command implies both doctrine and attitude. This is a fundamental concept of command in peace-support that is centered on human interests and values. It emphasizes the important human side in command. Commanders charged with peace-support responsibilities need to exercise sound moral judgment, as well as diplomatic and military professionalism.1 My view on this issue is that fully engaged commanders, when using their influence, must ensure at every turn that the rules of engagement reflect democratic values - not bureaucratic values or worse. In a democracy, we must always have a respect for law and human rights, regardless of the behavior of the opposition and the temptation to respond in like manner. The practice of human-in-command is manifestly founded upon the rule of law. It abides by international law and requires that commanders cannot stand aside and see atrocities committed by any armed force. Human-in-command is ideologically based in sound leadership principles and is more missionary than imperialistic in foreign policy. Democratic nations that participate in peace-support missions need to commit themselves to this concept and practice of command.2

Experienced senior commanders advised this writer that the interface between leadership and command and the understanding of both are essential to mission accomplishment. One must be an executive to command. The essential functions of command—planning, making critical decisions, ensuring information flow, coordinating operations, and transmitting directives in conjunction with headquarters oversight-are better performed when leadership is fused with command. Discussions in the Air War College elective Leadership in the 21st Century, where this writer has led a seminar for a number of years, clearly indicate that one can be a manager without being a leader, or one may be a good leader without a command. But one must be a good leader to be an effective commander.3 In effect, commanders fulfill their human-in-command responsibilities by exercising effective leadership principles. Leadership of this type is an ethical act infused with vision and a commitment to realistic and effective peace-support action. It is a twenty-four hour-a-day job with no additional duties

In order to establish a common base of communication, let us define leadership, management, and command within the framework of peace-support operations. For the purpose of this discussion, leadership is basically the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in achieving a positive goal. Leaders make what they believe in happen: They have the capacity to translate intentions into reality and sustain it. They start out with the questions "What needs to be done?" and "What can and should I do to make a difference?" Management involves controlling and integrating resources to accomplish organizational goals. Command is the exercise of both leadership and management with the power to discipline. Command implies the power of decision over a person, persons, unit, or forces to effect unity of effort in carrying out a task or mission. Command further suggests legal authority, responsibility, and accountability over the operational direction of a unit to accomplish a mission. These commanders make things measurably better. 4

It has been our experience in the United States Air Force Commanders Professional Development School that the education of commanders in the human element of command is a lever for strategic change to enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness.5 This suggests that researchers, educators, and senior commanders should continue to analyze military organizations collaborating with one another and draw object lessons from this examination whenever possible. The objective is to develop more innovative, customized educational programs for implementing organizational change and transformation in the area of human-in-command. An excellent example of this type of curriculum exchange was the World Conference on Transformational Leadership in Military Settings held in Hammaro, Sweden, 6-9 June 1999.6 Educational topics discussed included the development of political astuteness, vision, and imagination. Educational objectives reviewed here emphasized that successful commanders should demonstrate uncommonly good judgment, understand uses of force and diplomacy, and become focused and consistent in carrying forward national peace-support operations.7 Based on a broad review of human-in-command and related curricula, the better educational programs in this area instruct commanders to be passionate advocates of peace-support initiatives. Through case studies, commanders need better exposure to the different types of peace-support operations-that is, traditional peacekeeping, peacemaking, and full-scale administration. Clearly, these skills will better equip commanders to deal with a rapidly changing future in the highly volatile area of peace-support. This type of commander development cannot come at the expense of classical values and tenets such as sound military and political leadership, honor, commitment, technical competence, and the concern for one's troops and the civilian population. Executive education at the commander level can help ensure that these timeless qualities are properly enacted. Lessons can also be learned from such examples as the less-than-satisfactory UN and US operations in Somalia in 1992 - 93. An academic curriculum centered around the case method, where similar situations are carefully examined, can be a valuable learning experience for future commanders.8

The highly respected senior combat veteran, Lieutenant General Walter F. Ulmer, United States Army, retired, advised this writer in May 2000 on the general issue of human-in-command in peace-support operations. He wisely stated, "Recognizing the unique function of the armed forces is still to win wars, I see it as important to emphasize that good leadership for human-in-command approaches cannot be allowed to diminish the traditional war-fighting ethos. Can both be had? My answer is yes, but it takes uniformly excellent leadership, and we don't yet have that in hand." General Ulmer concluded by stating, "' Uniformly excellent' is the challenge." 9

Increasing commitments to peace-support and other nonwar operations may be costing the military its combat edge.10 To ease this effect, well-planned and executed commander-centered development programs can help transition to more effective use of the military in operations such as Bosnia (Joint Endeavor), Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, and elsewhere. It is worth noting that while peace-support operations may degrade some combat skills, other skills are enhanced. Thus, intensive command training in this area is assuredly justified and to be encouraged. This is essential because peace-support operations are a significant and useful tool to help prevent and resolve conflicts before they pose direct threats to our national security. Operations of this kind also serve our national interest by promoting democracy, regional security, and political and economic growth.11

Peace-support leaders must be able to clearly communicate their mission to all concerned. They must be able to set goals and objectives and make sure they are understood by all involved. They must be able to put the right people in the right jobs and then instruct them to follow the same procedure in their own unit so that there are strong leaders throughout the peace-support- effort. Above all, the commander of such a force must be a positive role model.

The 2001 Annual Report to the President and the Congress by William S. Cohen, United States secretary of defense, addresses shaping the international environment. A key aspect of this defense strategy is promoting regional stability. Because of the implications of using the US military as a force for good in projecting military power over long distances, it is critically important for commanders, through formal education and personal experience, to develop a deepened understanding of time-honored command principles. This should be infused within the context of human-in-command realities for the twenty-first century.12 At the Human-in-Command in Peace Support Operations Symposium held at the Royal Netherlands Military Academy in Breda, 8 June 2000, Major General Keith Spacie (United Kingdom) suggested that this training should be based on the increasing commitments to peace-support and other nonwar operations with a sharper focus on human-in-command behavior.13 Recent experience has proven quite convincingly that honorable human-in-command conduct in internal stability operations and unconventional warfare pays political and psychological dividends. The student of human-in-command, for example, must be fully aware of the Geneva Convention provisions and must be instructed to adhere to them. The United States Air Force Judge Advocate General School provides this type of relevant instruction.14 Commander experience in several of our colleges within Air University has emphasized the proper treatment of civilians, prisoners, and property. Thus, if commanders treat their personnel with dignity and appropriate compassion as prescribed by law, then their forces are likely to behave in a similar fashion. It is also worth noting that commanders' reputations are usually made by those who serve under them, not those above them. As a member of the Air University Curriculum Review Board and the Air University Leadership Curriculum Integration Group, I have learned that an educational curriculum considering these issues, needs to address the fact that commanders must be human-in-command role models, leading by example as well as by authority and influence. 15

Commanders must promote both positive vision and humane culture within units. These commanders clearly distinguish between mistakes and crimes and deal with them appropriately. They understand that as leaders in peace-support activities, they are highly visible and must repeatedly set examples of what good leadership behavior looks like. Furthermore, they know that leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, money, or unlimited power; it is responsibility and national service. Successful commanders engaged in peace-support functions have a clear understanding of what constitutes acceptable mission performance and how results, performance, standards, and values are measured. To excel in these areas has become a sort of de facto mark of achievement for commanders.

Responding to the full spectrum of peace-support skills, General Sir Mike Jackson (United Kingdom), who commanded the Kosovo Force in Pristina, suggested at the Breda symposium that better-trained UN personnel were needed for the specialized operations involved in peace-support efforts. In a brief meeting I had with him, the general suggested that commanders need to be able to live with uncertainty, or at least to be able to adjust to it.16 Sir Mike's comments echo the sentiments of senior guest speakers at Air University, who submit that command instruction should always include an understanding of when to administer discipline and when to be compassionate. Commanders should be careful not to get the two confused. In this respect, educators need to provide commanders with solid research findings and the opportunity to explore case-study material from their own command situations and from the learning experiences of other commanders and senior leaders who have been directly involved in peace-support.17 Interviews with returning commanders have revealed their human-in-command lessons learned. It is clear that, in their judgment, command is an art to be mastered-a craft that requires the commander to think critically, plan strategically, and adapt and adjust to change. Such commanders must operate flexibly to accomplish the mission.18 They must have a global/regional and national/societal perspective, coupled with an infectious enthusiasm for compassion and justice. An authentic sense of service to the international community is another significant asset.19 These human-in-command requisites can be learned and applied in field operations. Well-developed educational programs can facilitate this type of skill development, attitude, and commander behavior. Suggested educational-delivery systems that foster learning these skills include case studies, simulations, focus-group analyses, seminars, workshops, symposiums, tutorials, mentoring sessions, and state-of-the-art presentations. Utilizing a combination of classroom techniques, large and small group exercises, and personal reflection helps participants discover new ways to tackle tough peace-support challenges. Well-balanced education programs of this type can improve commander readiness and intensify leadership capacity. An often-neglected area of study is the art of effective negotiating. This topic requires instructional attention. Commanders in peace-support deployments within a tense geopolitical and culturally diverse environment have more power than they may think. However, commanders must be skilled in knowing how to analyze power and improve their strengths, how to make concessions without weakening their position, and how to set goals which reflect their peace-support aspirations. Effective human-in-command leaders need to have a framework of strategy and tactics designed to permit them to measure how well they are prepared for negotiating and how well they are able to reduce the intangibles of negotiating to practical concepts. A key to good learning and execution in this area is to discover differences in negotiating techniques employed by commanders who do poorly and those who do well in peace -support missions.

US and UN peace-support leaders have concluded that commanders must be better prepared in comprehending that the cold war was easier to understand and more compelling than are the smaller, more episodic contingencies in which US forces are currently involved. This type of executive level-education for commanders needs to be grounded in a study of the dynamics of peace-support activity, such as when operational commanders are liable for actions of their subordinates. Administrators at Air University have also suggested that faculty who are planning, organizing, and implementing these educational programs emphasize that those who excel in peace-support operations must first cultivate their own humanity. On balance, operations must be especially sensitive to some moral and ethical code. Thus, commanders must ensure that whoever you are and wherever you fit on the peace-support team, core values should be a basic guide; therefore, core-values instruction is essential. Values remind us who we are, what we believe, and what it takes to get the mission done. These fundamental values should include at least six characteristics: commitment, integrity, honor, duty, service, and excellence. These characteristics are the common bonds among all comrades in arms, and they should be taught as the essential values that unify peace-support operations.

Dimensions of human-in-command leadership must include awareness that the traditional command-and-control bureaucracy usually will not work in operations other than war. When forces deploy, commanders should empower subordinates as a means of fostering humanitarianism in command, because a key element of this type of leadership is effective decentralization. Related to this, academics and researchers have a need to address the contributing causes of human abuses. This type of study could focus on institutional problems, ineffective leadership, inadequately trained or ill-disciplined troops, the high-frustration level among troops, and failure to understand the complexities of unconventional war. Within this complex mix, dynamic leadership is increasingly critical. However, commanders should not neglect the traditional concepts of leadership, such as developing trust, making sound decisions, and communicating clearly with the troops. These elements of leadership need to be more uniformly applied.20

Discussions with deployed personnel reveal that command emphasis on cultural values and assumptions of the combatant population would be helpful in understanding how to deal with them more effectively. A heightened sense of additional cultural sensitization would elevate commanders' preparedness for a significant aspect of their work. Senior leaders should ensure that commanders in the field can recognize and deal with these situations well before they become incidents.21 This type of awareness could also include a practical understanding of human rights and the legal ramifications that may accrue from their abuses.22 Commanders in international peace-support operations in Ethiopia-Eritrea and in Sierra Leone could have benefited from a better understanding of these values and assumptions. As General Ulmer has suggested, as one reflects on the problems the military has had in recent peace-support activity, most of them are derived from two factors: The mission was not made clear to all, or troop discipline somehow broke down in the unit. Although neither of these sources is truly unique to peace-support, both are decisive in assessing a commander's effectiveness.23


Based on recent deployment experiences, the responsibilities of having a human-in-command philosophy are becoming more focused. On balance, the experiences cited in this article suggest that human-in-command leaders should also consider the following main points:

  • Examine the expectation that commanders create a peace-support vision and motivate and inspire their people toward that vision. An important attribute of successful leaders in command is that they possess not only vision but also a wider vision than their subordinates.

  • Realize that field commanders are awarded a special trust and confidence to fulfill their units' deployed missions and to care for their people with leadership and compassion in operations other than war.

  • Comprehend that the human-in-command concept implies that the leader display moral courage to protect the loyal many at the expense of the disloyal few. All military personnel deployed overseas deserve such leadership from all commanders at all times.

  • Understand that military leaders are charged to fight and win wars. However, the basic principles of human-in-command remain the same. They are simply employed in a different environment—that is, a hostile versus a more humanitarian setting. However, the will to win must remain paramount.

  • Value that discipline in troops is absolutely essential to establish and foster a more proper human-in-command climate. So often, winning the peace is a more difficult proposition than winning the war. Raping, plundering, and unnecessary killing can and will turn an entire nation against not only the perpetrators, but also the establishment sent to ensure peace-support. Often, nations have won the war only to lose the peace.

  • Know that the political aims, goals, and objectives of deployments must be clearly understood by all concerned. Cultural differences must also be factored into this equation. Historical knowledge of the area involved is most beneficial.

  • Realize that when a unit deploys, it cannot always know what it might be called upon to do. Thus, in terms of training, an armed peace-support force must be prepared to undertake operations throughout the spectrum of armed conflict. But such is the range of skills and knowledge required of units nowadays that it is most difficult to be up-to-date in them all, and it will almost always be necessary to sharpen up particular skills prior to a deployment.

  • Comprehend that there is a fundamental difference in peace-support operations: Commanders should not be aiming for a purely military solution or outcome to defeat the opposition. Their primary mission is to foster an armistice, pacification, and conciliation between and among the parties involved. This does not suggest, however, that the spectrum of operational tasks undertaken by a peace-support force could not be quite intensive and not involve force protection. The latter should always be uppermost in the thinking of the commander.


In sum, having a human-in-command of peace-support operations is a critically important challenge toward ensuring that global security concerns are met. Commanding in this aspect of military engagement is primarily a leadership responsibility. To realize this objective, human-in-command leaders must address doctrine, attitude, and a way of command centered on human interests and values. Commanders must be endowed with humane attributes, coupled with a strong and disciplined character. This implies both moral/ethical courage and compassion. Command humanism implies development of a philosophy that asserts the dignity and worth of military persons and their capacity for self-realization through enlightened people skills. The complexities and nature of increased peace-support operations require the intensification of both transformational and situational leadership to meet contemporary needs. Necessity breeds invention. The roles and skills of commanders in peace operations will require a reformed paradigm to meet their new obligations of command. Creative, commander-centered executive-education models and associated programs can assist in achieving this purpose and in the process, they can make coalition peace operations a more effective instrument of collective international security. The credibility of armed forces in the twenty-first century and the support of these forces by the American people will in large measure depend on this type of human behavior.

In a broader sense, it is expected that in the future, the United States will support clearly defined peace-support efforts. This most likely will be done within the context of allowing combatants the time and opportunity to negotiate and resolve their differences. If US forces are to be successful and have added resolve, future engagements in peace operations must be specifically linked to concrete political solutions coupled with appropriate humanitarian assistance. The entire effort must be adequately resourced. Operations of this kind are quite useful to advance US national interests and pursue our national security objectives.

According to Confucius, The superior man does what's right; the lesser man does what pays. Since lesser men abound, what is needed is an executive level of human-in-command activity grounded in solid leadership that pays- because it is important and the right thing to do.


1. Jackson, Sir Mike, General (2000), Speaker: Human In Command In Peace-support Operations Symposium, Breda, the Netherlands.

2. Ibid.

3. Air War College Elective, Syllabus, Seminar 13, AY 2000, Leadership In the 21st Century, Air War College, Maxwell AFB, AL.

4. Arnott, G. Colonel (1999), Leadership in the 21st Century. Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, 174-177.

5. Personal observation by the author.

6. Author attended as a participant and guest speaker.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ulmer, W. F., Lieutenant General, US Army, Ret., to Lester, R. I. (2000) Peacekeeping talk: E-mail.

10. Brinkerhoff, J., The Military Command Function (unpublished paper). The Military Conflict Institute, website,

11. Cohen, W. S. (2001), Annual Report to the President and the Congress. Washington, DC: Department of Defense (scattered references). Also see Government Executive, (March 2001), Washington, D.C., 46.

12. Cohen.

13. Spacie, K., Major General, British Army, CB, OBE, to Lester, R.I. (2001) Peace Support Operations: E-mail and discussions with the author.

14. Personal observation by the author.

15. Ibid.

16. Jackson.

17. Van Baal, A., Lieutenant General, A.P.P.M., (2000), Speaker: Human-In-Command In Peace Support Operations Symposium, Breda, the Netherlands.

18. Smith, Y. Colonel (1999), Speaker: Company Grade Officer Professional Development Course, Fairchild Air Force Base, WA.

19. The Economist, (5 August 2000), Peacekeeping: New York, 23.

20. Vogelaar A. Ph.D. (2000), Speaker: Human-In-Command In Peace-Support Operations Symposium, Breda, the Netherlands Also see Ulmer, 2001.

21. United States, Joint Chiefs of Staff (1999), Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Peace Operations, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, Vol 1., Joint Pub 3-07.3.

22. Bath, R. J. (1994), Roads to New Strength: Preparing Leaders for Military Operations Other Than War. Cambridge, MA : John F. Kennedy School of Government, National Security Program, Harvard University, Vol 1 (Suggests the need for fundamental policy adjustments to accommodate operations other than war).

23. Ulmer, 2001.


The author expresses his sincere thanks and appreciation to Lieutenant General W.F. Ulmer,

US Army, retired, and to Major General K. Spacie, British Army, CB, OBE, for their wise counsel and assistance in the preparation of this article. Both of these senior officers have had extensive experience in executing peace-support operations.

Discussion Questions and Ideas

(Select from the following for discussion and additional ideas)

  • What are peace-support operations and why are they important?
  • What are some of the important factors a commander should consider in peace-support operations?
  • Do you consider peace-support activities to be a fundamental command responsibility? Why?
  • What are some of the key human elements of command?
  • Why are core values important in the art of command?
  • Within the context of peace-support operations, what is command, and does it differ from leadership and management? How has it changed in recent peace-support engagements? What changes might we anticipate in the future?
  • How do operational commanders go about avoiding human-rights abuses?
  • When is the commander liable for actions by subordinates? Is this justified?
  • How do you impart commander instruction without appearing to lecture? How do you explain that human-in-command actually contributes to peacekeeping military effectiveness? Provide examples.
  • Are civilian life and corporate military styles counterproductive or helpful to promoting the human-in-command principles?
  • How do you measure success in peace-support operations?
  • How would you describe a political –diplomatic-military human-in-command officer?
  • Do the commanders you know have an authentic sense of service to country and mission? Give examples.
  • Deployed human-in-command leaders function in an uncertain environment and deal with highly complex problems that are often impacted by events and organizations outside their respective military service. How do they handle these situations? Give examples.

Character and Nature


Current and Future Peace-Support Operations

  • Diverse, complex, sensitive, and increasing number of missions

  • Continued austere military budgets

  • Keen competition for high-quality and adequately trained personnel

  • Changing, challenging, widely dispersed operations

  • Limited public awareness of military culture/stresses

  • Close public scrutiny of operational strategy and effectiveness

  • Leading-edge skepticism about intervention/involvement

  • Opportunities to apply new defense doctrine

  • A new form of power projection


Dr. Richard I. Lester is the Dean of Academic Affairs, Ira C. Eaker College for Professional Development, Air University, Maxwell AFB AL.

As an international scholar from the United States to Great Britain, Dr. Lester did post-graduate work at University College, University of London and completed his Ph.D. at the Victoria University of Manchester. He is widely published in national and international journals and is a frequent lecturer at military institutions in the United States and abroad.