The US military and those of its allies are faced with the challenges of shifting focus toward great power competition while still maintaining the ability to counter threats on the fringes. Where does the Army fit in this new strategic landscape?
Season 1, Episode 9 of the Social Science of War podcast explores the role of land forces within great power competition. This episode focuses on two white papers released by the chief of staff of the US Army, one on competition and the second on multi-domain operations. Our two guests, including the chief of staff himself, discuss the implications for land forces within this strategic shift from counterterrorism to a national security strategy oriented toward great power competition. They define success in competition as preventing a major war and spend much of the conversation discussing the role of irregular warfare and shaping of the environment as ways to deter near-peer competitors.
General James C. McConville is the chief of staff of the US Army. A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, he is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point and holds a master of science in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also a national security fellow at Harvard University. Gen. McConville has commanded at multiple levels, including a tour as commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and has held multiple joint staff positions.
Professor Peter Roberts is a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, where he was previously the director of military sciences. He has been a regular commentator for global media outlets, provided evidence to parliaments around the world on military matters, and advised UK and foreign ministers, military chiefs, and governments on conflict, force design, and the future risks from warfare. Peter also hosted the Western Way of War podcast. He remains a nonresident professor of modern warfare at the École de Guerre in Paris. Prior to joining RUSI, Peter spent twenty-three years in the Royal Navy as a warfare officer and served all over the world with a variety of militaries and agencies.
The Social Science of War podcast is produced by the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. Visit our website if you would like to be a student or teach in the department or if you would like to connect with any of our instructors based on their expertise.
Kyle Atwell created and is the host of Social Science of War. Please reach out to Kyle with any questions about this episode or the Science of War podcast in general.
Note: This episode was originally published in July of 2021 as an episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, another series in the Modern War Institute podcast family. You can find the original episode and access all other Irregular Warfare Podcast episodes here, or visit the Irregular Warfare Initiative website.
Image credit: Justin Connaher, US Air Force
If we are going to "adapt the Army for strategic competition," then, I suggest, we must do this from the perspective of:
a. The U.S./the West, post-the Old Cold War, seeking to achieve (national security required?) "revolutionary changes" both at here at home and there abroad. (In our case today, in the name of such things as markets and democracy). And:
b. Such diverse entities as Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea, the Islamists — and even conservatives/traditionalists here at home in the U.S./the West — thus threatened — seeking to (a) prevent these such revolutionary changes from taking place and/or seeking to (b) restore a lost status quo anti. (This latter, if too much unwanted revolutionary change is thought to have already taken place).
(Note: Such revolutionary changes as the U.S./the West has sought to achieve/has achieved throughout the world post-the Old Cold War, these such revolutionary changes threaten /has already damaged the power, influence, control, status, safety, security, prestige, etc., of those that depend on the status quo — and/or on a status quo anti — for same.)
Question — Based on the Above:
a. Given that national security-required "progress" (and resistance to same/attempts at reversal of same) seem to be a constant and never-ending feature of human history,
b. What other periods in human history might we look to; this, to see how our and/or other nations successfully and properly organized, ordered, oriented, developed, deployed, manned, trained and equipped their Armies; this, so as to see their such — national security required — "progress"/revolutionary change" initiatives through? This, in the face of "normal"/"classic" resistance to same?
(As you can see from the above, I do not frame "competition" today strictly from the perspective of "great power" competition. "Great powers," after all and per my thesis above, being only one — of many — entities that our Army must be prepared to overcome in these such scenarios.)
From "The Army in Military Competition: Chief of Staff Paper #2:"
"Military competition encompasses the range of activities and operations employed to achieve political objectives and to deny adversaries the ability to achieve objectives prejudicial to the United States."
As to this such explanation/definition of military competition today, note that — in my initial comment above — I describe:
a. At my item "a" above, the political objective that the U.S./the West seeks to achieve throughout the world today (that is, to achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad; this, in the name of such things as markets and democracy) — and, in relation to same — I describe:
b. At my item "b" above, the objective (highly prejudicial to the U.S.'s such political objective) that our adversaries (those both here at home and there abroad) seek to achieve throughout the world today (this being, to prevent — and or to reverse — these such revolutionary changes).
This, I suggest, is what might best be described as a New/Reverse Cold War.
(In the Old Cold War of yesterday, the political objective of the Soviets/the communists was to achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad, in their case, in the name of such things as socialism and communism — and, relation to same — the objective of the U.S./the West, back then, was to prevent [think "containment"], and/or to reverse [think "roll back"] these such revolutionary changes.)
Question — Based on the Above:
In the Old Cold War of yesterday, did the Soviets'/the communists' "ramping up" of their military capabilities, did this provide the Soviets/the communists with the ability to:
a. Overcome the U.S./the West's "prevent" (think "containment") and/or "reverse" (think "roll back") strategies? And/or, in some other manner, did this "ramping up" of the Soviets'/the communists' military capabilities provide that they might:
b. Achieve their "achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad" political objective in spite of our such strategies.
(I think the answer to "a" and "b" immediately above is "NO"?)
If not, then — given the U.S./the West's similar political objective that I describe above — are we "barking up the wrong tree;" this, by seeing the "ramping up" of our military capabilities as (a) our means to overcome our adversaries' "containment" and "roll back" strategies — and/or as (b) our means to achieve our "achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad" goals in spite of same?
Let's consider the ramping up and use of our military capabilities today from what may be (or may not be) a somewhat different perspective; that is, from the perspective provided by (a) GEN Sir Rupert Smith's "The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World" and (b) Joint Publication 3-22, "Foreign Internal Defense."
First, from GEN Smith:
"The ends for which we fight are changing from the hard objectives that decide a political outcome to those of establishing conditions in which the outcome may be decided."
Next, from JP 3-22 (see Chapter II, Internal Defense and Development, and therein Paragraph 2, Construct):
"a. An IDAD (Internal Defense and Development) program integrates security force and civilian actions into a coherent, comprehensive effort. Security force actions provide a level of internal security that permits and supports growth through balanced development. This development requires change to meet the needs of vulnerable groups of people. This change may, in turn, promote unrest in the society. The strategy, therefore, includes measures to maintain conditions under which orderly development can take place.” (Item in parenthesis here is mine.)
Question — Based on the Above:
Can we see both GEN Smith's thoughts above — and indeed the discussion from JP 3-22 above — as "rhyming" — and as being consistent with my suggestion that (a) the political objective of the U.S./the West today, this is (b) to achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad?
Herein to note that:
a. In the GEN Smith item provided above — military force is used — not to decide a political outcome (for example, revolutionary change in Northern Ireland) — but, rather, to "establish the conditions" in which this such outcome (again, "revolutionary change") might take place?
b. Same-same with JP 3-22? (See "maintain conditions under which orderly development [i.e., "revolutionary change"] can take place.”
From this such perspective, thus, to see how our adversaries (exs: Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea, the Islamists, etc. — and even conservatives/traditionalists here at home in the U.S./the West) — thus commonly threatened by "revolutionary change" — might come to (a) see each other as "natural allies" and might come to (b) organize, order, orient, develop, deploy, fund, man, train and equip their military/their militant forces so as to prevent the U.S./the West from "establishing and/or maintaining the conditions in which orderly development/revolutionary change might take place?
("Competition," military and/or other, to be seen from this such perspective?)
As to my suggestion above, that our adversaries (those both here at home and there abroad — given that they are commonly threatened by the "achieve revolutionary change both at home and abroad" political objective of the U.S./the West post-the Old Cold War); as to my suggestion above that these folks might come to each other as "natural allies," consider the following:
“Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past.” (See “The American Interest” article “The Reality of Russian Soft Power” by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.)
a. If we are going to "adapt the Army for strategic competition,"
b. Then, must not both acknowledge — and plan, prepare, train, man and equip, etc. our Army — for this exact such feature of our strategic reality?