Steve is a former senior military strategist with 28 years service within the US Army, now a writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thinking leaders, he is a founding member of the Military Writers Guild, his writing focuses on issues of foreign policy, national security, strategy and planning, leadership and leader development.
Two episodes into the final season of Game of Thrones and the only swords we have seen drawn came during a heartfelt moment between Jon Snow and Arya Stark. After seven seasons, thirteen major battles, and 2,339 deaths, it is fair to say we might have expected a bit more than two hours of tearful reunions and one gruesome corpse collage, courtesy of the Night King. But, let there be no doubt, we are on the cusp of the fourteenth and likely most epic battle thus far in the series: the Battle of Winterfell.
With the Army of the Dead descending on Winterfell from the Last Hearth, we are treated to a classic tale of coalition building. Daenerys Targaryen’s army is led by a rag-tag collection of personalities delicately weaved together after 68 episodes of bitter feuds, familial rivalries, drunken episodes, and romantic interludes. In the midst of all of this, Jon Snow reveals to the Dragon Queen that he is, in fact, her nephew, Aegon Targaryen, the last male heir to the Iron Throne. In essence, we see all the challenges present in building an international military coalition today.
The first of these challenges is achieving a perception of legitimacy among the actors involved. This is essential to multilateral action, not all that different than what we have seen recently in Syria. Despite generations of enmities, the armies of Winterfell set aside their past differences and forge a single, united force under Daenerys.
With the issue of politics settled – for now, anyway – establishing a common vision of what “success” looks like follows in short order. In modern coalitions, allies may have significant differences in defining success. Fortunately for the Dragon Queen, an army of frozen dead more or less settles that debate rather quickly.
A coalition partner’s willingness to accept risk represents the third challenge. Since each member of a coalition will come with their own policies regarding their tolerance for risk, any coalition is only as strong as its weakest link. These differences must be defined before engaging in operations; the time to learn that the partner on your right flank has rules of engagement that do not allow them to fire until fired upon - is not when you are staring down the Night King astride a dragon.
Finally, coalition partners may possess the will to participate, but not the capability. This is fairly critical information when preparing a coalition for operations, whether conducting a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan or confronting a frozen horde in The North.
Daenerys’s ultimate success in building a coalition will be tested soon. As the second episode draws to an end, the Army of the Dead closes on Winterfell as her armies assemble for the coming battle. Have enough dragonstone weapons been forged? Are her forces adequately prepared for the onslaught to come? Will the coalition hold in the heat of battle? And, if they achieve a decisive victory in Winterfell, what awaits them in King’s Landing?
Winter is here.