Assessing Russia’s Pursuit of Great Power

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Stuart E. Gallagher has served as a Military Advisor to the United States Department of State during the outset of the Ukraine crisis and is a recognized subject matter expert on Russian / Ukrainian affairs. He can be contacted at: s_gallagher@msn.com. 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.


Title:  Assessing Russia’s Pursuit of Great Power

Date Originally Written:  April 20, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 20, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author serves as a subject matter expert on Russian / Ukrainian affairs. The author contends that Russia has and will continue to pursue great power status seeking legitimacy from the international community.

Summary:  The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 forced Russia to cede its Superpower status. This event embarrassed Russian leadership who then retooled Russia’s instruments of national power and redefined how Russia engaged globally. This ceding of power also motivated Vladimir Putin and his retinue to pursue Great Power status. Russia will use crises to their advantage, including COVID-19, viewing global power as a zero sum game thereby strengthening itself at the expense of the west.

Text:  As the world embarks on a new decade looking to the horizon and 2035, it is important to take pause and consider the United States future relationship with Russia. Looking back, the United States’ relationship with Russia changed dramatically in the summer of 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union leaving the United States as the sole Superpower in the world. Russia struggled throughout the 1990’s politically, economically, and militarily. In the early 2000’s Russia began to get back on its feet showing early aspirations of returning to great power status as evidenced by systematically retooling and bolstering its instruments of national power (diplomacy, information, military, economic or DIME). In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a sovereign territory of Ukraine, and destabilized southeastern Ukraine employing what is now commonly referred to as New Generation Warfare. These actions redefined the contemporary security environment in a way not seen since the Cold War. Yet, 2020 ushered in a new and unexpected challenge to the contemporary security environment – the virus called COVID-19. Russia used COVID-19 to its advantage by exploiting the unpreparedness of other countries. Considering Russia’s past actions, it is safe to assume that it will use future events of this nature in the same manner to “legitimately,” in its view, return to Great Power status thereby re-establishing a new level of parity with the United States and other great power nations throughout the world.

A Great Power is “a sovereign state that is recognized as having the ability and expertise to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence, which may cause middle or small powers to consider the Great Powers’ opinions before taking actions of their own[1].” Russia was thoroughly embarrassed with the collapse of the Soviet Union as demonstrated in an address to the nation by President Putin where he stated that the collapse of the Soviet empire “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century[2].” At the turn of the century, when Vladimir Putin was about to enter the office of President of Russia, he delivered his manifesto. This manifesto focused on Russia’s past, present, and future struggles, providing a form of road map for what was required to return to great power status[3].

Since the turn of the century, Russia has taken many actions leveraging its vertically aligned instruments of national power to increase its standing in the world. Russia’s most profound action was the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of southeastern Ukraine by Russian backed separatist forces in 2014. However, today, with COVID-19 threatening the world, Russia has adopted a new mantle – that of savior. During a time when the world scrambles to contain COVID-19 and muster resources, Russia has swooped in to the rescue providing expertise and medical supplies to hard-hit Italy, affectionately referred to as “from Russia with love[4].” This assistance was viewed by “senior European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization diplomats less as generosity and more as a geopolitical move asserting Russian power and extending influence[5].” These diplomatic views are understandable considering the dubious, unsolicited “humanitarian assistance” Russia provided in eastern Ukraine in 2014[6]. In another recent instance, Russia provided an Antonov cargo plane full of medical supplies to help ease the burden as the United States struggled with the escalation of COVID-19 on its populace. These acts demonstrated that Russia could do what Great Powers should do in times of world crisis – help. Consequently, a United States concern about Russia’s actions providing legitimacy to their Great Power status quest is justified. Not only will the Kremlin use global-reaching events to highlight their humanity and power, but they will also manipulate these situations in a way that displays the weakness of the west.

One of the banner events the United States had to address in 2014 that redefined the contemporary security environment was the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. This annexation caught the United States senior leadership off guard resulting in significantly delayed reaction time(s). However, now that Russia has reasserted itself on the world stage as a Great Power, it is time to define Great Power Competition. At present, the United States government does not have a policy or a single working definition for great power competition. Simply put, “without a single definition – they [stakeholders to include: US military, the defense industry, elements of diplomacy and US policymakers] will inevitably develop different, and possibly competing, interpretations of great-power competition, with consequent effects for US national security and foreign policy[7].”

So, as the United States sits in the year 2020 and looks to the future, will Russia’s Great Power status be granted, and what are the second and third order effects of doing so? To complicate these questions further, “there are no set or defined characteristics of a great power. These characteristics have often been treated as empirical, self-evident to the assessor[8].” In other words, granting legitimacy to a state is completely subjective in nature. Considering this fact, Russia could effectively grant itself legitimacy as a Great Power. Whether or not the international community would recognize this legitimacy is another issue altogether. On the other hand, by virtue of its position in the world, if the United States were to grant legitimacy to Russia, the international community would be inclined, if not compelled, to recognize this status as well. This granting of status would also reveal a paradox. The United States granting legitimacy to Russia as a Great Power would arguably re-establish parity more quickly, which would be especially helpful during times of world crisis, such as COVID-19 pandemic. However, this granting could also come at a high price, possibly resulting in another arms race, a series of proxy wars or worse. Regardless, at some point, the United States will be required to address this issue and the outcomes, for said decision(s) will have far-reaching impacts on both United States/Russia relations and the security environment well beyond 2035.


Endnotes:

[1] Neumann, Iver B. “Russia as a Great Power, 1815–2007.” Journal of International Relations and Development 11.2 (2008): 128-151.

[2] “Putin: Soviet Collapse a ‘Genuine Tragedy.’” World New on NBC News.com (2005). Retrieved April 20, 2020 from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7632057/ns/world_news/t/putin-soviet-collapse-genuine-tragedy.

[3] Putin, Vladimir. “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium.” Nezavisimaia Gazeta 4, Rossiia Na Rubezhe Tysiacheletii (1999): pp. 209-229. Retrieved April 18, 2020 from: https://pages.uoregon.edu/kimball/Putin.htm.

[4] Emmott, Robin and Andrew Osborn. “Russian Aid to Italy Leaves EU Exposed.” Reuters, World News (2020): Retrieved April 21, 2020 from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-russia-eu/russian-aid-to-italy-leaves-eu-exposed-idUSKBN21D28K.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Ukraine Crisis: Russian Convoy ‘Invades Ukraine.’” BBC News. (2014): Retrieved April 21, 2020 from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28892525.

[7] Boroff, Alexander. “What is Great-Power Competition Anyway?” Modern War Institute. (17 April 2020). Retrieved from: https://mwi.usma.edu/great-power-competition-anyway.

[8] Waltz, Kenneth N (1979). Theory of International Politics. McGraw-Hill. p. 131.

Assessment Papers Competition Contest: Civil Affairs Association Writing Contest (2020) Great Powers Russia Stuart E. Gallagher

Assessing COVID-19’s Impact on the Philippines in the Context of Great Power Competition

Hugh Harsono is currently serving as an Officer in the United States Army. He writes regularly for multiple publications about cyberspace, economics, foreign affairs, and technology. He can be found on LinkedIn @HughHarsono. 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. 


Title:  Assessing COVID-19’s Impact on the Philippines in the Context of Great Power Competition

Date Originally Written:  April 20, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 6, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that the Philippines are important to U.S. national security efforts and is concerned that China will use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to further exacerbate U.S.-Philippine relations.

Summary:  The Philippines is currently at a pivotal crossroads, with the coronavirus hastening the Philippines’ decision to choose a strategic partner in light of actions by Philippine President Duterte. Choosing between a historic relationship with the United States or a newer one with either China or Russia, the Philippines’ actions in the immediate future will set the stage for world history.

Text:  The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has placed the Philippines at a critical point in history in terms of Great Power Competition. Through a variety of extraneous factors, the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the Philippines’ decision to choose between its close historic relationships with America and a potentially prosperous economic future with its more regionally-aligned Chinese and Russian neighbors. Through careful analysis, readers will be able to understand how and why this sole event has forced the Philippines to this point in history, with this pivotal time potentially shaping the future of Asia for the next millennia.

The Philippines and the United States share a myriad of close ties, many of them deeply rooted in both nation’s histories. For example, the Philippines and America enjoy very close military bonds. In fact, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s force structure closely mirrors that of America’s, to include similar civilian control mechanisms providing oversight over military actions, in addition to existing close relationships between the Philippine and United States’ Military Academies[1]. These relationships are further strengthened through events such as annual bilaterally-led Balikatan exercises, combined with a myriad of episodic engagements to include military Joint Combined Exchange Training, Balance Pistons[2], law-enforcement oriented Badge Pistons[3], counter-narcotics Baker Pistons[4], and regular civil-military events[5]. The Philippines and the United States’ close relationships have even extended into the cultural realm, with a mutual shared love of fast food, basketball, and American pop culture[6]. These factors, combined with the Filipino diaspora in the West and high rates of positive perceptions of America in the Philippines[7], showcase the close bonds between the Philippines and America.

However, since his election in May 2016, Filipino President Duterte has made it a point to form increasingly close relationships with China. Just several months after his election in October 2016, President Duterte announced a “separation” from the United States, with his trade secretary simultaneously announcing over $13 billion dollars of trade deals[8]. President Duterte has also regularly supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) development project, going so far as to court Chinese tourists to the point where mainland Chinese tourists account for the Philippines’ second-largest source of tourist arrivals, with a 41% increase from 2018 to 2019 and a projected 30% average growth by 2022[9]. Additionally, China’s seizure of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 has so far gone uncontested during President Duterte’s reign, to the point where China is developing military facilities on Scarborough Shoal, among other areas in the South China Sea[10]. This pursuance of Chinese military favor through inaction has also paid off for President Duterte, with China supplying the Philippines with aid ranging from rifles in October 2017 to boats and rocket launchers in July 2018[11][12], and even a state-of-the-art surveillance system in November 2019[13], culminating recently in the first-ever Philippines/Chinese joint maritime exercise in January 2020[14].

On a similar note, President Duterte has also sought closer ties between the Philippines and Russia. In October 2019, the Philippines and Russia signed several business agreements focused on infrastructure development, agriculture, and even nuclear power plant growth[15]. On the military front, Russia has so far made a landmark donation of weapons and equipment to the Philippines through two military deals in October 2017[16], with an additional promise of further equipment procurement in September 2019[17]. These landmark military procurement efforts have also been seen in military cooperation through the posting of respective defense attachés to both nations’ capitals, marking a new era of defense cooperation[18].

Despite being able to effectively balance between supporting historic partnerships with the United States and its new ones with China and Russia, the Philippines has now been forced to choose between the three due to implications stemming from the coronavirus. While President Duterte announced his decision to pursue “separation” from the United States in October 2016, the announcement of the revocation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between America and the Philippines was not made until February 2020, with an effective termination date of August 2020[19]. Under normal conditions, this revocation would allow the United States a total of six months to plan for full retrograde of personnel and equipment from the Philippines. However, the coronavirus has hastened this process, with an emphasis on force protection measures and a tightening of international and local travel restrictions throughout the Philippines[20]. As a result, this revocation opens immense opportunities for both China and Russia, particularly as these developing bi-lateral security pacts become an increasing reality.

The preceding is where the Philippines become a primary pivotal point in terms of Great Power Competition. The Philippines has enjoyed a long-standing and stable relationship with the West with America being a stabilizing regional guarantor, a fact highlighted in the chaotic aftermath of the American withdrawal from the Philippines in the 1990s[21]. At the same time, many other nations are looking at the Philippines as a test ground of China’s BRI, particularly amidst allegations of predatory lending and “debt-trap diplomacy[22] [23].” On the same note, others see the Philippines as being the key to forging a free trade agreement between the Russian-centric Eurasian Economic Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations community, further showcasing the critical importance of the Philippines at this pivotal time in history[24].

There is no question that multi-domain partnerships will a play important role for the Philippines to select a future strategic partner. America’s historic relationships and nuanced expertise in security programming create a strong choice for the United States as a strategic partner. However, economic and matériel promise by both China and Russia also make these two countries enticing strategic partners, particularly as Filipino financial markets struggle amidst the coronavirus[25]. The world will watch this evolving situation closely, particularly as the Philippines precariously approaches a crossroads in terms of selecting a strategic partner.


Endnotes:

[1] Steffen J. (2015). The Role of the U.S. Military in the Professionalization of the Armed Forces of Liberia (Master’s thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, United States of America). Retrieved from https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a623974.pdf

[2] Leuthner, S. & Cabahug, S. (2015). Joint Combined Exchange Training Evaluation Framework: A Crucial Tool in Security Cooperation Assessment (Master’s thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterrey, California, United States of America). Retrieved from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=790460

[3] U.S. and Philippine Forces Conduct Joint Training in Negros Occidental. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://ph.usembassy.gov/us-and-philippine-forces-conduct-joint-training-in-negros-occidental

[4] Taboada, J. (2019, August 30). Baker Piston 19-2 holds counter-narcotics simulated exercise. Retrieved March 19, 2020, from https://palawan-news.com/baker-piston-19-2-holds-counter-narcotics-simulated-exercise

[5] U.S. and Philippine Service Members Jointly Volunteer at Day Care. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://ph.usembassy.gov/us-and-philippine-service-members-jointly-volunteer-at-day-care

[6] Meyers, J. (2019, October 29). Ties between the U.S. and Philippines run deep. It won’t be easy for Rodrigo Duterte to unravel them. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from https://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-us-philippines-explainer-20161031-story.html

[7] Poushter, J. & Bishop, C. (2017, September 21). People in the Philippines Still Favor U.S. Over China, but Gap Is Narrowing. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2017/09/21/people-in-the-philippines-still-favor-u-s-over-china-but-gap-is-narrowing

[8] Reuters (2016). Duterte: Philippines is separating from US and realigning with China. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/20/china-philippines-resume-dialogue-south-china-sea-dispute

[9] Xinhua. Philippines expects to attract 4 mln Chinese tourists annually by end of 2022. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-12/20/c_138646442.htm

[10] CIMSEC (2020). China’s Military Modernization Is Becoming A Real Problem For America. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/chinas-military-modernization-becoming-real-problem-america-138537

[11] Zheng, S. (2017, October 5). China arms Philippine police for counterterrorism mission. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2114152/china-arms-philippine-police-counterterrorism-mission

[12] Reuters. (2018, July 30). China donates small boats and RPG launders to Philippines. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/diplomacy/article/2157406/china-donates-small-boats-and-rpg-launchers-philippines

[13] CNN. (2019, November 22). DILG launches Chinese CCTV surveillance system in Metro Manila. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/11/22/DILG-Chinese-CCTV-Manila-Safe-Philippines.html

[14] Maitem J. (2020, January 15). Philippine, Chinese Coast Guards Stage Joint Drill in South China Sea. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/philippine/coast-guards-joint-drill-01152020135718.html

[15] ABS-CBN News. 2019, October 04). Philippines, Russia ink 10 business agreements. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://news.abs-cbn.com/business/10/04/19/philippines-russia-ink-10-business-agreements

[16] Mogato, M. (2017, October 25). Philippines, Russia sign two military deals. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-russia-defence/philippines-russia-sign-two-military-deals-idUSKBN1CU1K6

[17] Simes, D. (2019, November 4). Why Russia is arming a longtime US ally in Asia. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://www.ozy.com/around-the-world/why-is-russia-arming-a-long-time-u-s-ally-in-asia/220634

[18] Russia posts first defense attaché to Philippines. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-09/04/c_138365216.htm

[19] Esguerra, D. (2020, February 11). Philippines officially terminates VFA with US. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://globalnation.inquirer.net/185186/fwd-breaking-philippines-officially-terminates-vfa-with-us

[20] Santos, A. (2020, March 09). Crossing the Pacific to beat the Philippines’ coronavirus lockdown. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2020/03/crossing-pacific-beat-philippines-coronavirus-lockdown-200319022504907.html

[21] Winger, G. (2020, February 06). For want of a visa? Values and Institutions in U.S.-Philippine Relations. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://warontherocks.com/2020/02/for-want-of-a-visa-values-and-institutions-in-u-s-philippine-relations

[22] Green, M. (2019, April 25). China’s Debt Diplomacy. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/04/25/chinas-debt-diplomacy

[23] Pandey, A. (2019, September 05). China: A loan shark or the good Samaritan? Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://www.dw.com/en/china-a-loan-shark-or-the-good-samaritan/a-48671742

[24] Ramani, S. (2017, January 07). The Growing Russia-Philippines Partnership. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://thediplomat.com/2017/01/the-growing-russia-philippines-partnership

[25] Tu, L. & Sayson, I. (2020, March 17). Philippines becomes first country to shut financial markets thanks to virus. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-16/philippines-shuts-financial-markets-after-virus-spurs-stock-rout

Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Competition COVID-19 Great Powers Hugh Harsono Philippines United States

Assessing U.S. Relative Decline

Adam A. Azim is a writer and entrepreneur based in Northern Virginia. His areas of interest include U.S. foreign policy and strategy, as well as political philosophy and theory. He can be found on Twitter @adamazim1988.  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.


Title:  Assessing U.S. Relative Decline

Date Originally Written:  March 7, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  March 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from an American point of view, in regards to U.S. relative decline vis-à-vis Russia and China.

Summary:  American policy since World War II imposed “world order,” which is fraught with the inability to enforce as well as aspirations exceeding capabilities. As a result, America is entangled in futile Middle Eastern conflicts, plagued with populism and President Trump, faced with the rise of Russia and China, debt, polarization, and public health issues. This situation prompts a paradigm shift from excess militarization to the elevation of national spirit.

Text:  In the early 20th century, a British historian named E.H. Carr made an odd proclamation: “Only the West is in decline.” The author sought to explore this idea by writing a book titled “Is The West in Decline? A Study of World Order and U.S. Relative Decline” published January 2018. This article seeks to summarize the findings of this book by making a few key points.

The United States, as the linchpin of Western civilization after Europe’s collapse in the 20th century, is not going through absolute decline. Rather, the United States is experiencing what Joseph Nye of Harvard University calls “relative decline,” which means other countries are rising as a result of America’s slowdown which can turn around. But the slowdown is yet to be a cause for severe concern. In a short book titled “Is the American Century Over?” Nye conducts an assessment and concludes that the United States is at least fifty years ahead of its nearest competitors in terms of military and economic capabilities.

But there are clear symptoms of American relative decline vis-à-vis other countries. In a number of public lectures, Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago argues that there are three evident symptoms of American decline: entanglement in Middle Eastern conflicts, the rise of Russia and China, and the emergence of President Donald Trump. In addition to this are three internal symptoms that result from Mearsheimer’s list of external symptoms: the growing national debt, polarization, and a downturn in public health. One can argue that the national debt is the biggest threat to national security. As a result of debt, the United States barely has the capacity to stem the rise of polarization as evinced by problems such as domestic terrorism and health problems such as the recent opioid crisis and the mental health epidemic. When combining these six symptoms, the resulting decline in American power is evident. For example, one of America’s key tasks during the post-World War II period was to keep Europe united within political institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. These institutions are presently fraying as a result of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and Britain’s faltering relationship with Germany.

From a big picture perspective, American foreign policy boils down to the fulfillment of one task after it emerged as the world’s foremost power subsequent to World War II, which was the maintenance of what is known as “world order.” During Sir Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” Speech in Fulton, Missouri, Britain passed the responsibility of managing world affairs to the United States after its empire had severely contracted during the 1940’s. Now, the United States no longer seeks to shoulder the entire burden of maintaining world order. President Donald Trump has made “America First” the main priority of his political agenda. World Order has always been fraught with two permanent conditions. For one, aspirations always exceed capabilities, as noted by Pankaj Mishra in a book titled “The Age of Anger.” Second is the issue of enforcement, as noted by Henry Kissinger in his last book titled “World Order.” It is simply impossible for one nation, despite their capabilities, to enforce law and order on the entire world.

These conditions have led to the failure of liberal democracy as a system that can be imposed on the world.  The result is the United States incurring ongoing costs by defaulting to a realpolitik approach towards Russia and China, and in turn the costs have led to polarization and populism domestically. America is now faced with the option of experimenting with a constructivist foreign policy and a paradigm shift from a militaristic and costly realpolitik approach to a diplomatic approach that brings multiple parties together in the way of a burden-sharing approach to world order. Combined, Europe and East Asia have a higher GDP than America; it would be remiss to not ask these two regions to increase their share of defense spending. America will eventually be forced to advance its security and economic interests to contribute its fair share to world order, while considering a shift from an offensive approach to a defensive approach to national security. Overreach and America’s unnecessary entanglement in Afghanistan, which is considered “The Graveyard of Empires”, has led to the neglect of America’s first ever foreign policy proclamation, namely, “The Monroe Doctrine.” Because of Afghanistan, which Andrew Bacevich has called “a flight of fancy,” Russia and China have found apparent holes in American defense and have penetrated Africa and Latin America to the detriment of America’s hemispheric security.

For a long time, America has traded off a truly free market system, education, and health care for militarization and the imposition of world order. International relations theorists call this “the security dilemma.” John Herz, an international relations theorist, has called it “the absolute predicament and irreducible dilemma,” which is the inability to allocate resources to social welfare due to security concerns. As a result, radical leaders like President Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders who appeal to American pathos are gaining momentum. Europe, Arab Gulf Countries, and East Asia have long prospered from the U.S. security umbrella by enjoying U.S. defense subsidies that enable these regions to invest in human development instead of defense, to the detriment of American citizens. To resolve this “security dilemma,” one must evaluate the main threat, which is not a physical one; rather, the threat is a moral and spiritual one. Baudelaire wrote of the “baseness of men’s hearts” that will lead to what Kierkegaard called “the common plight of man.” From a realist perspective, this threat is relevant. Hans Morgenthau, in “The Politics of Nations,” identified six dimensions of power: military, economic, population, territory, natural resources, and spirit. As long as there is a disproportionate amount of focus on militarization at the expense of national spirit, the United States will not be able to reverse what is known as “relative decline” vis-à-vis Russia and China.


Endnotes:

[1] Azim, A. A. (2018). Is The West In Decline? A Study of World Order and U.S. Relative Decline. Brandylane Publishing. / https://www.amazon.com/Decline-Study-World-Order-Relative/dp/0692967168

Adam A. Azim Assessment Papers Budgets and Resources Competition United States

An Assessment of the Concept of Competition as a Foundation to Military Planning

Jeffrey Alston is a member of the United States Army National Guard and a graduate of the United States Army War College.  He can be found on Twitter @jeffreymalston.  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.


Title:  An Assessment of the Concept of Competition as a Foundation to Military Planning

Date Originally Written:  February 23, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  March 26, 2020.

Author and / Article Point of View:  The author is a field-grade, maneuver officer with nearly 30 years of commissioned service. The article is written from the point of view of an American strategic analyst viewing the developments in the national security space since the release of the 2017 National Security Strategy.

Summary:  The U.S. Military is overextending its intellectual resources regarding great power competition and is losing its focus on core warfighting concepts. Recent national security documents have codified the great power security environment. The absence of any coherent foreign policy and subsequent strategy, coupled with over reliance on the military as the single foreign policy tool, puts U.S. military planning at a critical juncture.

Text:  Dutifully, the U.S. Armed Services (Services) seized upon the competition task following publication of the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) and has-especially at the Joint Staff level-expended considerable effort framing[1] the military aspects of competition. At the same time, the Services are attempting to realize fundamental concepts which embrace the new challenges of a multi-domain environment with the vocabulary of competition seeping into its foundational documents. Without question, a nation’s military makes up part of its power and in the case of the U.S., holds the charge that they fight and persecute the nation’s wars securing victory through its unique capabilities. Logically, it follows then, the expansive idea of competition-at heart an international relations framework- should not be the sole conceptual focus of its military planning.

Seizing upon competition as a framework for structure and employment of the Services is understandable given recent history. The genesis of today’s U.S.’s strategic atrophy coincides with the end of the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union left America with a sense of winning-if not hubris. The spectacular victory in Desert Shield/Desert Storm clinched this idea of a unipolar moment for the U.S. The promise of the “fog-lifting” Revolution in Military Affairs, the lack of an ideological or near peer competitor and selective military engagements (Bosnia, Somalia, Desert Fox in Iraq / Kuwait, et al) did not place demands for any type of comprehensive national strategy thinking let alone theory development. Operationally, the military was unsurpassed in its capability.

Then the 9/11 attacks occurred and the nation entered the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The opening phases of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, initially about regime change, were successful. However, lack of a meaningful goals for the successive phases of the GWOT, a lack of sustained, whole of nation effort to conduct the GWOT saw counterinsurgency and counter terrorism tactics elevate to take the place of actual strategy[2]. Simultaneously, debates about the utility of military force in such environments became more frequent in political and scholarship spheres. Frustration with quantifiable or sustainable goals in either campaign began to center on simple timelines and troop levels. Two decades of GWOT was exacerbating this period of strategic atrophy.

The military was not going to give up the initiative as it sought to make lasting impacts in the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. The military design movement began to find leverage in the Services as formations struggled to achieve sustainable outcomes in their areas of operations. Design “how-to’s” began to fill the pages of military journals, institutional curricula and be integrated into exercises. Tactical formations were left to seek the best way to leverage their capabilities in the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan[3].  Attempting to leverage design was further evidence of an absence of strategy. Design was an awkward and uncomfortable translation into formations which normally are assigned an objective set of mission essential tasks to master and execute.

Enter the 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy and the corresponding concept of great power competition (GPC). Correctly identifying today’s national security realities, strategic competition is-in the context of the current environment-a concept requiring more thought and analysis for it to be a useful national security construct[4]. “Competition,” as a government wide framework, is not encouraging. The U.S. Department of State strategic plan for 2018-2022 mentions the term “competition” three times; the Treasury Department’s equivalent, once. While not an exhaustive review of interdepartmental policy coordination, it stands witness to the lack of whole of nation integration, if not linkage of competition at the national level. In the absence of a definitive “competition” strategy at the national level, the Joint Staff and Services must resist the temptation to unnecessarily militarize GPC.

The NSS and NDS provide the Services a framework to begin their realignment within an environment of GPC. However, as documents such as the Joint Staff’s Competition Continuum[1] frame the role of the Services as a function of competition. This is a mistake. Strategic competition is an environment for the military and is best if it informs broad decisions in the Services’ role of man, train and equip, but not its warfighting approaches. The Continuum document reflects a tremendous amount of intellectual capacity devoted to and carefully considering the aspects of competition: it is thought provoking, but misplaced. The American military would do well to resist, once again, elevating its capabilities to fulfill a strategic gap at the national levels and instead focus on core warfighting abilities and tasks.

The Services are at a crucial stage in the planning and programming for the out years; all with fresh eyes towards their obligations in an era of GPC. The U.S. Army has initiated a well-intentioned intellectual renaissance on large scale combat operations. The U.S. Army and Air Force (and the others) are collaborating and struggling with realizing Multidomain Operations[5]. In reviving and focusing on these ideas, the Services can appropriately complement national power as an element of GPC vice being its foundation. Until workable GPC foreign policy goals are established, acceptable political risks are identified and corresponding national strategies are in place, best would be for the Services to carefully navigate the contours of GPC.

The Joint Doctrine notes mentioned earlier and related documents (ie. Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning) are not helping in this cognitive framework. Their prominent use of a continuum of conflict[6] as a foundational model conflates national strategy formulation with military campaigning. While these sample documents speak to the role of interagency contributions to competition, recent campaigns make such whole of government intentions suspect. Most notably, the continuum of completion-conflict-competition is fertile ground for obscuring definitive political objectives. A lack of political objectives upends strategy formulation. Combined, this is not the space to expand military planning efforts. Competition is without a doubt, part of the global security environment, but it is a condition of that environment, not a principle of warfighting planning.


Endnotes:

[1] U.S. Department of Defense. (2019). Joint Doctrine Note 1-19, Competition Continuum. Washington, DC. From https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/jdn_jg/jdn1_19.pdf?ver=2019-06-10-113311-233

[2] Stachan, H. (2013). The Direction of War: Contemporary Strategy in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Keller, J. (2018, January 22). The 1st SFAB’s Afghan Deployment Is A Moment Of Truth For The Global War On Terror. Retrieved December 12, 2019, from https://taskandpurpose.com/analysis/sfab-train-advise-assist-afghanistan

[4] Wyne, A. (2019, February 11). America’s Blind Ambition Could Make It a Victim of Global Competition. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from https://nationalinterest.org/feature/americas-blind-ambition-could-make-it-victim-global-competition-44227

[5] Air Force, Army Developing Multidomain Doctrine. (2018, January 25). Retrieved January 7, 2020, from https://www.jcs.mil/Media/News/News-Display/Article/1425475/air-force-army-developing-multidomain-doctrine/

[6] U.S. Department of Defense. (2018). Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning. Washington, DC. p. 8 From https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joint_concept_integrated_campaign.pdf?ver=2018-03-28-102833-257

Assessment Papers Competition Defense and Military Reform Great Powers United States