James P. Micciche is an Active Component U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer with deployment and service experience in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Europe, and Indo-Pacific. He is currently a Master’s candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He can be found on Twitter @james_micciche. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: As military competition below armed conflict once again becomes the norm, the U.S. requires deterrence options.
Date Originally Written: November 17, 2019.
Date Originally Published: December 23, 2019.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that traditional nuclear deterrence will not suffice in the current national security paradigm as it is focused on mainly deterring nuclear war or major conflict, which are the least-likely situations to occur.
Background: In June 2019, the United States Military’s Joint Staff published Joint Doctrine Note (JDN) 1-19 “The Competition Continuum.” The JDN further developed and refined the non-linear/non-binary continuum that defines the perpetual state of competition that exists between nations . This perpetual state of competition was originally proposed in the “Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC).” Within the JDN continuum the Joint Force, in conjunction with other elements of national power (diplomacy, economic, information, etc.), simultaneously campaigns through a combination of cooperation, competition below armed conflict, and armed conflict to achieve desired strategic objectives including deterring actions and goals of rival states. The continuum represents a shift in U.S. military doctrine from a counterterrorism-centric security strategy to one focused on competing with a spectrum of international agents and actors.
Significance: While not an authoritative document, JDNs generate and facilitate the creation and revision of joint and service specific doctrine. Therefore, the continuum proposed by the JDN will be integrated and operationalized by planners and doctrine writers across the Department of Defense (DoD). Within the JDN’s continuum, competition below armed conflict is not only the aspect that most regularly occurs, but also the most challenging for the DoD to operationalize. The JDN further refines the JCIC language by describing campaigning through competition below armed conflict as a protracted, constrained, often imbalanced, and diverse construct predicated upon a deep understanding of the operating environment where the joint force seeks to execute three newly codified tactical tasks: Enhance, Manage, and Delay. Despite clarifying the language of competition below armed conflict, the JDN fails to provide concrete examples of the concepts implementation to include the Joint Force’s role in deterrence which is vaguely described “Deterrence in competition below armed conflict is similarly nuanced [to deterrence by armed conflict} and perhaps harder to judge.” This paper will provide three options for planners and doctrine writers to employ deterring rivals through competition below armed conflict per the guidance outlined in the JDN and JCIC.
Option #1: Persistent Presence.
The United States, at the behest of partner nations, overtly deploys conventional ground forces to key strategic regions / locations to prevent aggressive incursions from rival states in fear of causing U.S. casualties and invoking a potential kinetic response. This same principle is applied to the regular exercise of freedom of navigation though global commons that are considered vital to U.S. interests.
Risk: Conventional U.S. force presence adjacent to competitor nations potentially escalates tensions and greatly increases the risk of armed conflict where U.S. personnel forward potentially face overwhelming force from a near peer competitor. The logistical and personnel requirements to deploy conventional forces forward are high and can lead partner nations to become overly dependent on U.S. forces thus creating enduring U.S. expenditures. The presence of a large U.S. footprint can facilitate competitor information operations focusing on delegitimizing the efficacy of host nation government / military possibly creating domestic instability, and prompting anti-U.S. sentiment amongst the population.
Gain: There have been successful historic and contemporary applications of deterrence by presence from a proportionally smaller U.S. force compared to rivals. Examples include U.S. / North Atlantic Treaty Organization forward presence in Europe during the Cold War as part of a successful deterrence strategy against larger Eastern bloc forces and the recent expansion of Turkish, Syrian, and Russian forces into Northern Syria upon the departure of a small footprint of U.S. forces in October of 2019. Presence can also facilitate collaboration and interoperability between U.S. and regional partners supporting the two other elements of the competition continuum cooperation and armed conflict.
Option #2: Civil Resiliency and Civil Engagement.
Many of the United States’ principal competitors attempt to advance their interests and achieve their objectives through various forms of population-centric warfare that seeks to instigate and capitalize on domestic instability. To deny access to, and mitigate the ability to influence populations needed to advance such a strategy, the Joint Force utilizes Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations capabilities to identify populations tied to key terrain and in conjunction with other elements of national power fosters civil resiliency to malign influence.
Risk: Fostering civil resiliency in populations vulnerable to or targeted by malign influence operations is a long-term undertaking requiring enduring programming funds and command support to be effective. Assessments of population-centric operations are difficult to quantify making the establishment of measures of performance and effectiveness exceptionally difficult and impeding the understanding of effects of enemy, friendly, and partner actions within the complex system of the human domain.
Gain: A population-centric engagement strategy facilitates interagency coordination enabling the utilization of multiple elements of national power to counter malign efforts by adversaries and simultaneously propagates U.S. soft power. Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations elements have exceptionally small personnel footprints and low logistical costs and can promote cooperation with host nation counterparts. Military-civil engagement programs and projects often permit personnel to operate in regions and nations where competitors have an established advantage.
Option #3: Proxies and Regime Fragility.
Today, the United States’ chief competitors and their allies are regimes that are authoritarian in nature and therefore all share the primacy of maintaining regime power as their supreme interest. The Joint Force can exploit this distinctive feature of authoritarianism and utilize clandestinely-supported proxies and / or focused information operations to threaten the domestic stability of autocrats taking actions against U.S. interests.
Risk: Creating instability comes with many unknown variables and has the potential to produce unwanted secondary effects including expanding conflicts beyond a single nation and engulfing an entire region in war. There remains a long history of the United States equipping and training proxies that later become adversaries. If direct U.S involvement in a proxy conflict becomes publicly known, there could be irreversible damage to the United States’ international reputation degrading comparative advantages in soft power and the information domain.
Gain: Operating through either a proxy or the information domain provides managed attribution to the Joint Force and increases freedom of maneuver within a normally constrained competition environment to threaten rival leadership in their most vulnerable areas. Working with proxies provides both an easy exit strategy with very few formal commitments and leads to little risk to U.S. personnel.
Other Comments: The above listed options are not mutually exclusive and can be utilized in conjunction not only with each other but also together with other elements of the competition continuum to achieve an objective of deterring unwanted competitor actions while concurrently promoting U.S interests. The U.S. cannot compete in an omnipresent manner and ts planners would do well to pragmatically choose where and how to compete based on national interests, competitor action/inaction, available resources, and conditions within a competitive environment.
 Joint Chiefs of Staff (2018) Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning. Retrieved from https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joint_concept_integrated_campaign.pdf?ver=2018-03-28-102833-257
 Joint Chiefs of Staff (2019) Competition Continuum (Joint Doctrine Note 1-19). Retrieved from https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/jdn_jg/jdn1_19.pdf?ver=2019-06-10-113311-233
 The Economist Intelligence Unit (2018). 2018 Democracy Index, The Economist Intelligence Unit. Retrieved from https://www.eiu.com/topic/democracy-index