So-called gray zone wars are not new, but they have highlighted shortcomings in the way the West thinks about war and strategy. This monograph proposes an alternative to the U.S. military's current campaign-planning framework, one oriented on achieving positional advantages over rival powers and built around the use of a coercion-deterrence dynamic germane to almost all wars as well as to conflicts short of war.
In this monograph, Dr. Tami Davis Biddle examines why it is so difficult to devise, implement, and sustain sound strategies and grand strategies. Her analysis begins with an examination of the meaning of the term “strategy” and a history of the ways that political actors have sought to employ strategies and grand strategies to achieve their desired political aims. She examines the reasons why the logic undergirding strategy is often lacking and why challenges of implementation (including bureaucratic politics, unforeseen events, civil-military tensions, and domestic pressures) complicate and undermine desired outcomes. This clear-headed critique, built on a broad base of literature (historical and modern; academic and policy-oriented), will serve as a valuable guide to students and policymakers alike as they seek to navigate their way through the unavoidable challenges—and inevitable twists and turns—inherent in the development and implementation of strategy.
Since World War II, a key element of America’s grand strategy has been its worldwide network of strategic allies and partners. The network has provided the United States an invaluable global presence, enhanced deterrence against adversaries and, when called upon, provided men and materiel to help fight wars. However, following the end of the Cold War, less attention has been paid to America’s allies, especially their “hard power” capabilities, despite the United States and its allies going to war more frequently than before. This volume addresses that gap, providing a holistic account of allied hard power and, in turn, the ability – and, indirectly, the willingness – of those same partners to use force independently or in concert with the United States and other allies.
Military engagement and forward-based U.S. military forces offer decisionmakers effective and efficient mechanisms for maintaining American influence, deterring aggression, assuring allies, building tomorrow’s coalitions, managing the challenge of disorder in the security environment, mitigating the risk of a major interstate war, and facilitating U.S. and coalition operations should deterrence fail. Unfortunately, significant cuts to overseas permanent presence and continuing pockets of institutional bias against engagement as a force multiplier and readiness enhancer have combined to limit the leverage possible through these two policy tools. Instead, reliance on precision strike stand-off capabilities and a strategy of surging American military might from CONUS after a crisis has already started have become particularly attractive approaches for managing insecurity in a more resource-constrained environment. This approach is short-sighted politically and strategically. Relying on stand-off capabilities and so-called “surge readiness” – instead of placing greater emphasis on forward presence and, when employed selectively, military engagement – will ultimately result in reduced American influence with friends and adversaries alike, encourage adversaries to act hastily and aggressively, and have the effect of reducing, not expanding, options available to any President.
U.S. competitors pursuing meaningful revision or rejection of the current U.S.-led status quo are employing a host of hybrid methods to advance and secure interests contrary to those of the United States. These challengers employ unique combinations of influence, intimidation, coercion, and aggression to incrementally crowd out effective resistance, establish local or regional advantage, and manipulate risk perceptions in their favor. So far, the United States has not come up with a coherent countervailing approach. It is in this “gray zone”—the awkward and uncomfortable space between traditional conceptions of war and peace—where the United States and its defense enterprise face systemic challenges to U.S. position and authority. Gray zone competition and conflict present fundamental challenges to U.S. and partner security and, consequently, should be important pacers for U.S. defense strategy.
This month, a team of U.S. Army War College (USAWC) researchers concluded a yearlong study on enterprise-level risk and risk assessment inside the Department of Defense (DoD). At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk and Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World argues for a new Department-level risk concept for describing, identifying, assessing, and communicating risk in an environment defined by sudden disruptive change. It suggests that a new concept should rest on four foundational principles: diversity, dynamism, persistent dialogue, and adaptation. Among At Our Own Peril’s many insights, perhaps the most enlightening are those concerning the strategic environment and the complex hazards emerging from it. The report characterizes the contemporary environment as one of “post-primacy,” where the United States remains a global power, but one that is commonly confronted by purposeful and contextual defense-relevant challenges that fall considerably outside of the DoD’s dominant bias and convention.