Joe McGiffin has served in the United States Army for seven years. He is currently pursuing a M.A. in International Relations prior to teaching Defense and Strategic Studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He can be found on Twitter @JoeMcGiffin. 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 the space domain, climate change, and views of military purpose evolve, multiple options below the threshold of war are required.

Date Originally Written:  August 10, 2021.

Date Originally Published:  September 13, 2021. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active-duty service member. This article is written from the point of view of the U.S. towards the anticipated operating environment of the next thirty years.

Background:  Conflict below the threshold of war is characterized by subversive tactics and the amoral use of force[1]. Democratic states cannot justify the use of these means in the defense of their national security interests[2]. The United States requires alternative strategies to bolster the free world order and deter or defeat adversaries through legitimate, transparent methods.

Significance:  The strategic environment is a fluid expression of geopolitical changes. A state’s ability to predict, adapt to, and manipulate those variables will determine its relative influence and security over the next thirty years. To be competitive strategically, free nations will need to synergize their private and public assets into courses of action which maximize effective and efficient use of resources.

Option #1:  Diversify Space Exploitation: The Techno-National Approach

The space industry has yet to scratch the surface of the domain’s strategic potential. Navigation, communications, surveillance[3], and even transportation are the starting point[4]. The United States and its allies can invest in new space capabilities to harden their physical and economic vulnerabilities. One approach could be the use of additive manufacturing and recycling of inert satellites in orbit to produce in-demand computer components[5]. This plausible course of action would reduce materiel costs for these parts and alleviate U.S. economic dependence on China. As the industry grows, so too will the technology, expanding potential for other space-based capabilities and options.

Risk:  This option requires a long-term commitment by public and private entities and offers few short-term returns. The exact timeline to achieving the desired end state will prove unpredictable as necessary technological breakthroughs are difficult to anticipate. Additionally, this approach may trigger the weaponization of space as these strategic platforms become the targets of adversaries.

Gain:  Industrial use of space will alleviate economic interdependence with adversaries and provide enhanced economic security and physical protection of strategic supply lines. There is also the potential for alliance and partnership-building by offering interstate collaboration on required research, development, and manufacturing.

Option #2:  Green and Lean Logistics: The Climate Change Approach

Rising sea levels, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, and the diminishing supply of oil and natural gas will impact the geopolitical environment[6]. While the first two factors will require direct action to mitigate as they continue, finding alternative fuel options has national security implications that are not widely discussed. Previous DoD tests indicate that current technologies could reduce military fuel dependency by up to 90% without impacting operations[7]. As a higher research and investment priority, more astonishing gains can be anticipated.

Risk:  As one of the leading exporters of oil and natural gas, the United States’ transition to alternative energies will face even more staunch resistance than it has previously. Making alternative fuels a priority investment may also restrict defense spending on other strategic assets.

Gain:  This approach enhances military capability and could present a new means of promoting U.S. influence and democratic values internationally. The tooth to tail ratio of the resulting force will extend operational reach exponentially while curtailing vulnerabilities and expenses through the reduction of required support personnel, platforms, and installations. Alternatively, the sustainment network could be maintained with enhanced flexibility, capable of nesting with disaster response and humanitarian aid agencies to assist with international relief operations.

Option #3:  Comprehensive Defense Force: The Demographic Change Response

The sole purpose of a professional military in a democracy is defense. This option expands the definition of defense to include protection from all threats to the nation and the promotion of its ideals, not just those posed by enemy forces. International social unrest poses a danger that is not conventionally considered as a strategic threat. For example: Megacities are projected to present a critical factor of the international environment over the next thirty years[8]. They are typically in a stagnant or declining state, offering refuge for illicit non-state actors seeking to destabilize the host nation for their own purposes. Relieving the conditions which promote instability proactively defends the United States and her allies from criminal or terrorist actions against any potential target. Using the military in conjunction with other means could help defuse these regions if done in a deliberate and unified manner.

Risk:  U.S. military and aid personnel will be targeted by militant actors as they work to improve the megactiy’s administration and infrastructure. Additionally, host nation corruption could lead to fraudulent use of humanitarian resources or sympathetic support of an embedded actor, requiring strict supervision and involvement. There is also the potential that the non-state actor is a proxy or funded by an adversary and will execute missions with the intention to discredit allied aid operations.

Gain:  Aiding states improves ties, alleviates unrest, and promotes democratic values and U.S. influence. Eliminating their power bases neutralizes illicit non-state actors, depriving adversaries of proxy forces for use in subversive tactics. The military will integrate more completely with the U.S. interagency, resulting in increased impact from unity of effort in future strategic endeavors.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.