Episode 5, Season 1 of the Social Science of War podcast examines the role of military power, and the Army specifically, in shaping a favorable security environment in the context of great power competition.
Our guests begin by introducing the significance of shaping, when military power is used not only to fight wars but also to attract and influence partners and allies. Shaping includes multiple activities such as multinational training exercises with foreign militaries, establishing US military presence in bases around the world, security force assistance and military aid, and other uses of military power that allow the Army to attract, socialize, delegate to, and assure allies and partners to align with US national security interests. Given the National Defense Strategy places a high priority on the US alliance and partner network, shaping is an essential concept to understand how the United States leverages the US Army to strengthen its relationships.
Topics discussed in detail include the tradeoff between deterrence and shaping, whether the Army needs to invest in unique capabilities to support shaping efforts, what the social science literature finds about the effectiveness of shaping operations (to include a discussion on the impact of US basing posture on reassurance of allies), and the risks involved in shaping activities (to include a discussion on the importance of understanding the security dilemma when making decisions about the employment of US forces). The conversation closes with a discussion on the implications of shaping for tactical- and operational-level Army leaders.
Dr. Brian Blankenship is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Miami. He has published extensively on alliance burden-sharing and reassurance, to include on the effectiveness of US basing posture, joint military exercises, defense spending, and more. He was previously a Stanton nuclear security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a US foreign policy and international security fellow at Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. He holds a PhD in political science from Columbia University. His forthcoming book, discussed in this episode, is titled The Burden-Sharing Dilemma: U.S. Coercive Diplomacy and Alliance Politics.
Retired Army Brigadier General Kim Field is currently the director of strategy, plans, and policy at US Special Operations Command. She has previously held multiple senior positions both in the Army and in the Department of State, to include serving as the deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Academically, General Field served as the executive director of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from 2019 to 2021 and is also a previous assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point.
Major Kyle Wolfley is a US Army strategist at US Army Cyber Command and recent assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. Kyle’s 2021 award-winning book, Military Statecraft and the Rise of Shaping in the World, is based on his PhD research at Cornell University, and serves as the motivation for today’s conversation.
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 the Social Science of War. Please reach out to Kyle with any questions about this episode or the Social Science of War podcast in general.
Image credit: Sgt. 1st Class Walter E. van Ochten, US Army
From the beginning of the second paragraph of the introduction to our podcast above:
"Our guests begin by introducing the significance of shaping, when military power is used not only to fight wars but also to attract and influence partners and allies."
As to this such suggestion, consider the alternative thesis for why and how U.S. military power has been used (for "shaping," etc.?) post-the Old Cold War:
“Since the 1990s the focus of American international security policy has been focused on creating conditions for extending zones of security and prosperity to other states under the theory that ‘political as well as economic globalization would make the world safer — and more profitable — for the United States.’ Consequently, the United States saw expansion, rather than retraction, of American military presence around the world.”
(See the 2016 edition of the book “Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the US Military” by U.S. Naval War College Professor Derek S. Reveron; therein, see the bottom of Page 2 of the Introduction chapter.)
From the perspective offered by Professor Reveron's quoted item above, military power — post-the Old Cold War — this was/is used for much the same purpose as military power was used before the Old Cold War, to wit: to maintain the conditions under which orderly development" (political, economic, social and/or value change — necessary so as to properly interact with, properly provide for and properly benefit from such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy) might take place:
"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.”
(See our own Joint Publication 3-22, "Foreign Internal Defense;" therein, see Chapter II, "Internal Defense and Development" and Paragraph 2, "Construct.")
From the perspective that I provide above, note that (from the podcast title/caption above) "winning friends and influencing people" is not what our military is used for today.
Rather, as my quoted items from Professor Reveron's book above and from our own Joint Publication 3-22 above suggests, (a) what our military forces are used for today, (b) this is to stand hard against those individuals and groups — and those states and societies — who would seek to prevent such political, economic, social and/or value changes (such "development") as we — and our partners and allies — seek to achieve throughout the world today; this, in the name of such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy.
Thus to consider that:
a. The purpose of U.S./Western militaries post-the Old Cold War,
b. This has reverted to — this is much same as — the purpose of the U.S./Western militaries before the Old Cold War?
To expound on my suggestion above that:
a. "Winning friends and influencing people is not what our military is used for today. But, rather, that
b. Standing hard against those individuals and groups — and those states and societies — who would seek to prevent such, market-based, "development"/"change" as the U.S./the West and our partners and allies seek to achieve throughout the world today — THIS is what our military is used for today. (Such things as "shaping" to be considered from THIS such perspective?)
To expound on this such suggestion, let us consider (a) who are considered to be the primary enemies of the U.S./the West today and (b) what are these such enemies "weaponizing" to use against the U.S./the West today.
First, as to "enemies" of the U.S./the West today (both great and small enemies and both here at home and there abroad enemies), as to these such "enemies," let us consider this from the perspective of JP 3-22 above. In this regard note that — as JP 3-22 discusses above — (a) "development" is our political objective, (b) "development requires change" and that (c) "change promotes unrest in societies."
From this such perspective, thus, the U.S./the West enemies today (those both here at home and there abroad), these are those individuals and groups — and those states and societies — who would stand in the way of such, market-based, political, economic, social and/or value "development"/"change" as the U.S./the West, and our partners and allies, seek to achieve throughout the world today.
Next, as to what these such ("conservative?") enemies of the U.S./the West have "weaponized" to use against the ("progressive") U.S./the West today, consider that this is (quite logically given the U.S./the West "development"/"change" political objective) such things as "traditional values." Examples:
“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday delivered remarks that appeared to be aimed at conservatives overseas, saying there are ‘two Wests,’ with one, ‘the cosmopolitan West,’ being ‘a tool of the liberal elites.’ The ‘traditional’ West has ‘mainly Christian values,’ and that aligns with Russia, Putin said during his speech at a foreign policy conference near Moscow. The elites have ‘strange values,’ he continued, and they are ‘aggressive’ and ‘neocolonial.’ ”
(See the October 27, 2022 “The Week” article entitled “Putin Seemingly Uses Speech to Appeal to Conservatives Abroad” by Catherine Garcia.)
"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.)
Based on the information that I provide above, the question becomes:
a. Can one really hope to "win friends and influence people" (i.e., "shape" from that such perspective); this,
b. If one's political objective (and one's military personnel employed in the service of same) is to achieve — often highly unwanted and often market-based — political, economic, social and/or value change/"development?"