News | July 1, 2021

Military Power Reimagined: The Rise and Future of Shaping

By Kyle J. Wolfley Joint Force Quarterly 102

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Major Kyle J. Wolfley, USA, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Battle Group Poland—multinational coalition of U.S., UK, Croatian, and Romanian soldiers who serve with Polish armed forces 15th Mechanized Brigade—performs winter live-fire training during Operation Raider Lighting, at Bemowo Piskie training area, Poland, January 16, 2019 (U.S. Army/Arturo Guzman)
Battle Group Poland—multinational coalition of U.S., UK, Croatian, and Romanian soldiers who serve with Polish armed forces 15th Mechanized Brigade—performs winter live-fire training during Operation Raider Lighting, at Bemowo Piskie training area, Poland, January 16, 2019 (U.S. Army/Arturo Guzman)
Battle Group Poland—multinational coalition of U.S., UK, Croatian, and Romanian soldiers who serve with Polish armed forces 15th Mechanized Brigade—performs winter live-fire training during Operation Raider Lighting, at Bemowo Piskie training area, Poland, January 16, 2019 (U.S. Army/Arturo Guzman)
Battle Group Poland—multinational coalition of U.S., UK, Croatian, and Romanian soldiers who serve with Polish armed forces 15th Mechanized Brigade—performs winter live-fire training during Operation Raider Lighting, at Bemowo Piskie training area, Poland, January 16, 2019 (U.S. Army/Arturo Guzman)
Battle Group Poland—multinational coalition of U.S., UK, Croatian, and Romanian soldiers who serve with Polish armed forces 15th Mechanized Brigade—performs winter live-fire training during Operation Raider Lighting, at Bemowo Piskie training area, Poland, January 16, 2019 (U.S. Army/Arturo Guzman)
Photo By: Kyle J. Wolfley
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The belief that the U.S. military finds itself in a “complex environment”—one in which conventional war is rare, but Great Power competition has returned, coupled with the persistent threat of violent nonstate actors—is so commonplace that it can now be considered a truism.1 The United States, China, and Russia are engaged in a security competition below the threshold of open violence, yet scholars and practitioners struggle to articulate how these states’ militaries attempt to achieve their goals through ways other than warfighting or coercion. This article better conceptualizes a type of military operation that is often misunderstood and understudied and that has the potential to become one of the most frequent tools of interstate competition in the coming decades. This military power logic, known as shaping, is a category of activity that entered the U.S. military lexicon in the mid-2000s amid a growing realization that nontraditional uses of force were necessary to manage new challenges. I define shaping as the use of military organizations to construct a more favorable environment through changing military relationships, the characteristics of partners, or the behavior of allies. There are four primary shaping logics: attraction to change international alignment; socialization to transform a partner’s roles and practices; delegation to pass the burden of security; and assurance to reduce an ally’s insecurity and manage its behavior. Militaries use shaping in an attempt to exert control over an ambiguous environment in which threats and allies are unclear. Through different activities, such as senior officer visits, exchanges, security assistance, forward presence, and certain types of military exercises, militaries employ shaping almost daily. However, shaping receives far less attention than warfighting, coercion, and other military activities that capture the conventional wisdom of what functions militaries perform. Although the term is used regularly to describe U.S. operations, our understanding of how other militaries use shaping is limited. This article explains the logic, traces the origins, and anticipates the future of this important type of military operation.2

Although warfighting and coercion theories are well established, the use of military organizations to construct a more favorable environment suffers from conceptual confusion as scholars and practitioners struggle to define these nonconventional activities. Over the past three decades, the U.S. military has applied various phrases and terms other than shaping, such as military operations other than war, preventive defense, cooperative security, security cooperation, and military engagement, to describe these missions, exposing its discomfort in trying to define these nontraditional tasks. Non-U.S. terminology also varies: British scholars and officers often use the terms defense diplomacy or defense engagement to describe these tasks;3 Chinese doctrine and scholarship refer to them as military diplomacy;4 and the Indian government defines them as defense cooperation.5 Given the volume of inconsistent labels, this article makes the case that shaping best represents the overall purpose and logics of these operations, thereby attempting to systematize how we describe these nontraditional military activities.

The use of shaping operations increased substantially following the end of the Cold War, primarily through the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Partnership for Peace program.6 Recently, changes in power and technology have made shaping more attractive for emerging powers such as Russia and China. This is apparent in the expansion of multinational military exercises in two non-Western security organizations: the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.7 The use of shaping by nondemocratic powers also suggests that this activity should not be synonymous with military-led democracy promotion, though the limited literature on shaping seems to imply this relationship.

Shaping is more subtle than overt, more building than breaking, more Sun Tzu than Carl von Clausewitz, and more soft than hard power, qualities that render shaping seductive to state leaders, especially given its underhanded nature and cost aversion. It is often difficult, however, to determine whether shaping is “working” or “successful”; its measures of effectiveness are often elusive.8 Moreover, the logic of shaping risks being misperceived by adversaries and appearing threatening to their interests. Thus, the stakes of conceptual clarity are high: major powers are exercising shaping with increased regularity, but without a clearer understanding, practitioners (especially policymakers and commanders) risk misperception and misapplication of a prominent source of military power.

This article proceeds in four stages. The article first defines shaping by comparing the concept with other forms of military statecraft—namely, warfighting and coercion—and then offers examples of each shaping logic. Second, the article traces the evolution of shaping operations in U.S. strategy documents and military doctrine. Third, the article argues that, due to systemic forces—the high costs of interstate war, changes in the balance of power, and the consequences of modern globalization—shaping operations will become a more attractive tool to major powers for the foreseeable future. The article concludes by discussing the need for scholars and practitioners to study shaping in the future and for commanders to take the role of shaping in military statecraft more seriously.

Shaping and Other Tools of Military Statecraft

Statecraft involves the use of foreign policy tools to protect a state’s interests, in particular national security. Scholars use various frameworks to differentiate among these instruments, but DIME (diplomacy, information, military, and economics) is the most prevalent today.9 David Baldwin’s seminal work on economic statecraft defines military statecraft as “influence attempts relying primarily on violence, weapons, or force,” effectively capturing the conventional wisdom on the typical “ways” (concepts or logics) and “means” (resources) of military strategy.10 Yet military statecraft involves far more than using tanks and aircraft carriers to deter and fight adversaries; shaping is key to understanding how militaries achieve their goals in other, cooperative ways.

For simplicity, the tools of military statecraft can be categorized into three overlapping categories: warfighting, coercing, and shaping.11 Warfighting is the use of violence within military organizations to overcome an adversary and achieve a political objective. Clausewitz provides the hallmark definition, noting that the goal of war is to “compel an enemy to do our will” through physical force: In order to do so, an army must “render the enemy powerless.”12 The political goals of wars vary: Total wars demand unconditional surrender from the adversary, while others are more limited by territory, objectives, or types of weapons employed.13 In U.S. military doctrine, warfare is divided into two major categories: traditional and irregular. When waging traditional interstate warfare, states use their lethal forces for conquest or protection—offensively or defensively.14

Coercing aims to convince an actor—be it state or nonstate—to do something it does not want to do by manipulating costs, benefits, and risks.15 As opposed to what Thomas Schelling labeled “brute force” (that is, warfighting), military coercion is largely a state’s threat of future pain, which can take the form of deterrence or compellence.16 Deterrence is an attempt to convince an opponent, through overt or implicit threats, that the costs of invasion—or another undesirable action—outweigh the benefits.17 While the goal of deterrence is to maintain the status quo, coercers can also compel others to alter their behavior by threatening, demonstrating, or using limited force. Short of violence, states can mobilize troops to persuade an adversary to back down or employ a naval blockade to impose unacceptable costs and thus force a concession from the target. States may also apply selective violence through strategic bombing to deny an adversary its military means or to punish its population to generate demands for surrender.18 Robert Art and Kelly Greenhill distinguish between this “wartime compellence” and “coercive diplomacy”: the former typically combines violent force and economic sanctions, while the latter occurs short of open warfare between two or more actors.19

This article defines shaping as a state’s use of military organizations to create advantage within environments by changing military relationships, the characteristics of partners, or the behavior of allies. The goals of shaping are to prevent threats from emerging and also to set the conditions for maintaining an advantage in case dangers do arise. Major powers use shaping to proactively manage allies, friends, and adversaries in the hope of avoiding the need for warfighting or costly coercion. By using shaping effectively, these powers may obviate the need to react under disadvantageous conditions in the future. Broadly, shaping avoids crises, threats, and violence and, as a recent U.S. military operational manual explained, keeps “adversary activities within a desired state of cooperation and competition.”20 Shaping relies primarily on attraction, legitimacy, persuasion, and positive incentives rather than the use or threat of force. As Derek Reveron notes, shaping is “different in fundamental ways from warfighting. Shaping is about managing relationships, not command and control; it is about cooperation, not fighting; and it is about partnership, not dominance.”21 While warfighting and coercing are the most familiar tasks assigned to the military—what could be thought of as “breaking” and “bending”—shaping is a rather surprising military task given its emphasis on “building” advantage in the environment.

Given shaping’s focus on prevention, there is considerable overlap between its logics and the coercive logic of deterrence (especially extended deterrence over allies); however, there are also several differences worth noting. Shaping primarily targets partners and allies, while deterrence targets adversaries. Shaping is about relationships and is thus necessarily multilateral and cooperative, unlike deterrence. Moreover, shaping’s primary focus is on precluding threats from emerging in the first place; if shaping is effective, there is little need to convince an adversary that the costs of unwanted behavior outweigh the benefits. At the same time, deterrence can be improved by shaping through the attraction or delegation of partners. As a 2008 U.S. joint manual notes, shaping and deterrence are “distinct but mutually supporting.”22

To achieve the goals of shaping, major powers focus on two targets: the partner’s characteristics or the partner’s relationship with the major power. Relationships refer to the status of relations between the partners: friendly, neutral, or adversarial. Characteristics refer to both the partner’s combat power and the role the partner’s military serves for its society, such as an institution that inculcates national values, an armed force that protects the state from external or internal threats, or an organization that defends a certain regime or set of political interests.23 States achieve shaping’s goals through four main logics: attraction, socialization, delegation, and assurance. To change characteristics, such as the partner military’s coercive power or practices, major powers use socialization and delegation. To manage relationships, they employ attraction and assurance. Yet these logics vary in whether they rely on soft power characteristics, such as legitimacy, persuasion, and values. Attraction and socialization rely heavily on these attributes; assurance and delegation do not.24 Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the U.S. military’s categorization of operations as military engagement or security cooperation can be loosely applied to this distinction.25 The table depicts the four shaping logics arranged by characteristics and relationships.

The first two logics—attraction and socialization—similarly rely on persuasion and values more than on building or transferring material capabilities. These logics can be considered engagement activities, defined by Evan Resnick as attempts to influence other states by establishing and enhancing contacts across diplomatic, military, economic, and cultural domains.26 Attraction is a military’s attempt to create new allies or coalition partners, to detract from an adversarial alliance or coalition, or to reassure a rival. Using attraction, major powers persuade neutral states into a defense-pact alliance or multinational coalition and drive a wedge between an adversary and any potential partners. The targets of attraction are certain domestic actors, such as politicians, military officers, or the general public, who are skeptical of becoming the major power’s allies. Attraction often relies on convincing a weary public that security cooperation is beneficial via public diplomacy—essentially dangling greater security and military effectiveness as the “carrot.”27 The hallmark example of attraction is the U.S.-led NATO Partnership for Peace of the 1990s. This partnership intended to recruit new partners and former rivals for peacekeeping, promote democracy in post-Communist Europe, and prepare select militaries for potential NATO membership.28

Socialization is the use of military organizations to instill values, norms, or practices into other militaries through persuasion, teaching, and the building of habits.29 The goal is to shift the partner military’s identity and role to one that is more favorably viewed by the major power. For instance, militaries may encourage the values of democracy or respect for human rights in other armies; conversely, militaries may value state security and promote the protection of autocratic regimes against violent protests. Although socialization overlaps with attraction—in spreading the democratic belief that democracies refrain from fighting one another—the former focuses on transforming the values and character of the partner, while the latter does not. Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization training events to socialize regime protection against future “color revolutions” in the mid-2000s illustrate this logic.30

The other side of shaping—security cooperation—relies more on material power and threats of force than on the mechanisms of engagement described herein. Delegation is when major powers attempt to transition the responsibility of security, against both state and nonstate threats, to another military. Partner states that are unable to provide their own protection suffer from what Reveron describes as “security deficits,” something major powers attempt to overcome with weapons, training, and other forms of assistance.31 Since 9/11, Western powers have attempted to build the coercive and administrative capacity of weaker states with the goal of creating more stability while preventing the emergence of terrorism and civil war. Additionally, major powers may send advisors, funding, and equipment to another major power to avoid the responsibility of deterring or fighting a powerful opponent.32 Delegation, similar to assurance, attempts to relieve security deficits; however, delegation attempts to pass this burden to the partner, while assurance assumes the responsibility for it.

Assurance is a major power’s attempt to reduce an ally’s sense of vulnerability by promising protection through defense commitments and the forward presence of soldiers. Without such signals of support, the ally may act in ways counter to the major power’s interest, such as acting aggressively, developing a more independent foreign policy, or considering closer alignment with a rival power. One way to limit this adverse behavior is to send signals of commitment through treaties, troop deployments, arms transfers, and multinational exercises, thereby reducing the ally’s insecurity.33 By promising protection, major powers aim to influence domestic opinion in favor of the patron or pacify the region by limiting the severity of the security dilemma—that is, when one’s states accumulation of security (via increases in weapons or territory) threatens another’s.34 Of course, there is substantial overlap between the concepts of deterrence and assurance, given that the latter involves the extension of security commitment to an ally. Yet assurance differs from the types of deterrence covered under coercion: Not only is the logic of assurance aimed primarily at the ally rather than the adversary, but also security commitments often dampen the fears of the rival that the ally will not act aggressively. The 2015 U.S.-led Operation Dragoon Ride, which intended to prevent Russia’s sphere of influence from extending over a weary and uncertain European public, is an example of assurance in action.35

This article’s definition of shaping, which draws on U.S. security and defense documents from the 1990s and joint doctrine from the mid-2000s, differs from other military applications of the term. For instance, a recent Joint Force Quarterly article offers strategic shaping as a “coercive strategy . . . to complicate an adversary’s calculus and target his strategic intentions, not just his forces. The objective is to create a sharp deterrent effect by removing the adversary leadership’s sense of control of the crisis or conflict.”36 The authors firmly situate this concept within theories of coercion, which they argue can be improved by imposing multiple dilemmas, posturing assets to threaten what the adversary values, and displaying asymmetric capabilities.37 This adversary-focused use of shaping differs from this article’s conception of shaping as constructing a more favorable environment through changing relationships, transforming partners, and managing allies—which aligns closer to the term’s use in U.S. strategy documents, as described in the next section. This definition also draws attention to how shaping is sometimes used at the tactical or operational level—such as when one unit supports the main effort of a mission through preparatory fires to ensure the enemy is degraded before ground soldiers attack, or obscuring the enemy’s observation of friendly forces.38 In earlier doctrine, this activity was often described as “supporting” efforts to increase the odds of success for the “main efforts” in war.39

The Evolution of Shaping in U.S. Strategy and Operational Doctrine

Origins. While warfighting is the type of military behavior most commonly associated with Clausewitz, the origins of shaping are drawn from the writings of Sun Tzu. Though Sun Tzu's focus was on explaining methods of warfighting, Sun Tzu mentions numerous times throughout The Art of War how statesmen and generals can subdue their enemy “without having to fight a battle.”40 Sun Tzu acknowledges the immense costs of war—the “great affair of the state. The field of life and death”—and how engaging in prolonged violent battle is detrimental in terms of both lives and treasure.41 In light of these potential losses, the preferred approach to defeating one’s adversary is to first “stymie the enemy’s plans” and “his alliances,” even before attacking “his troops” or, reluctantly, “his walled cities” when there is no other option.42 As one scholar of Chinese strategy explains, “Thus in the Art of War, Sun Tzu treats warfare, from its preparation to execution and termination as first and foremost a contest of wisdom. Use of force is secondary.”43 When warfighting is necessary, Sun Tzu emphasizes the concept of shi—that is, developing a favorable configuration of power or strategic advantage prior to battle—a term so important that it occurs 15 times throughout the short book.44

Though the term does not emerge in official foreign policy discussions until at least the end of the Cold War, shaping in practice holds a long pedigree. One of the oldest forms of shaping is the use of military attachés—liaison officers deployed to the capitals of other nations to observe the military developments of these states, while providing advice to ambassadors and cooperating with host militaries. Though the term and diplomatic status of attaché was codified in the 1850s, the stationing of military officers for political or diplomatic purposes dates back to the Roman empire.45 Another common shaping activity is the use of military assistance and advisers to create stronger foreign militaries. Historical examples include French covert assistance to undermine the British in the early years of the American Revolution,46 as well as U.S. and Soviet funding proxies to develop spheres of influence and prevent the ideological expansion of each other, especially in the developing world.47

The End of the Cold War and Indoctrination of Shaping. Despite the common historical use of shaping, the term was not codified into U.S. foreign policy documents until after the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. The 1997 National Military Strategy painted a picture of the novel security environment, which comprised numerous nonstate threats: ethnic conflict, transnational crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and environmental damage.48 In the preface, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged that the military instrument of power would need to contribute to the grand strategy of engagement, “helping to shape the international environment in appropriate ways to bring about a more peaceful and stable world.”49 In order to implement this strategy and protect the first core interest of enhancing American security, the document identified three mechanisms: shaping the international environment, responding to the full spectrum of crises, and preparing now for an uncertain future.50

The 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review Report developed a more detailed defense strategy that emphasized the “shape, respond, prepare” framework laid out by the National Security Strategy. The report notes that the goals of shaping include the following: “promote regional stability, prevent or reduce conflicts and threats, and deter aggression and coercion on a day-to-day basis” through the use of military activities such as forward-stationed troops, military exercises, and officer exchanges.51

Despite the inclusion of shaping in high-level strategy, the U.S. military struggled with defining these types of operations as it found itself responsible for activities other than warfighting or coercion. The military’s discomfort with nonwarfighting activities is evident in how it began labeling them. The 1993 edition of Joint Publication (JP) 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, distinguished between two main military activities: war and military operations other than war (MOOTW). The publication noted that MOOTW fell outside of the realm of combat operations, focused on “deterring war and promoting peace,” and were intended to “keep the day-to-day tensions between nations below the threshold of armed conflict” and “maintain influence in foreign lands.”52 The Joint Staff’s May 1997 Concept for Future Joint Operations was the first major joint document that articulated the concept of shaping. In the foreword, the authors explain, “America’s Armed Forces must be able to shape the strategic environment to prevent war, respond when deterrence fails, and begin now to prepare for an uncertain and challenging environment.”53 The doctrine notes that an overseas presence has a “stabilizing effect” that allows peacetime engagement to positively shape the environment.54

The 9/11 Attacks and Renewed Focus on Shaping. The al Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, provided the next major impetus for shaping in U.S. military doctrine. Although warfighting would remain the priority focus for the invasion of Afghanistan, there was a sense that military units needed to get ahead of these problems in the future. The military began expressing its ideas for operations along a timeline in its 2001 revision of JP 3-0 by laying out four sequential phases in which peace, war, and then peace again would take place: deter/engage, seize initiative, decisive operations, and transition.55 Yet military planners wanted to create an environment that would preclude threats from emerging: Commanders and staffs at geographic combatant commands began imagining how to better shape their environment. General Charles Wald, the deputy commander for U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) in the mid-2000s, described the need for a “Phase Zero” that would come prior to combat operations in order to prevent the need for costly military intervention following a future terrorist attack. For Wald, the four-phase campaign model depicted in the pre-9/11 edition of JP 3-0 was insufficient to properly shape the environment and “prevent conflicts from developing in the first place.”56 In order to obviate the need for costly warfighting, he described how USEUCOM imagined Phase Zero as an opportunity for “building capacity in partner nations that enable them to be cooperative, trained, and prepared to help prevent or limit conflict.” Instead of measuring victory in terms of enemy combatants killed during war, success would be determined by how many conflicts were avoided, which would save both American lives and treasure.57 This understanding of shaping was then implemented in the 2006 edition of JP 3-0, which expanded the phasing model by including Phase Zero to “enhance international legitimacy,” “gain multinational cooperation,” and “assure success by shaping perceptions and influencing the behavior of both adversaries and allies.”58 This edition discontinued the binary war versus MOOTW framework by creating three new clusters of operations: major operations and campaigns; crisis response and limited contingency operations; and military engagement, security cooperation, and deterrence.59 The concept of shaping was generally dedicated to the first cluster to describe how joint force commanders could influence their environment before combat operations become necessary. This categorization largely remained intact for the most recent (2017) version of JP 3-0, but with more articulation of shaping’s goals: “help set conditions for successful theater operations”; “provide a deeper, and common, understanding of the OE [operating environment]”; and “advance national security objectives, promote stability, prevent conflicts (or limit their severity), and reduce the risk of employing U.S. military forces in a conflict.”60

Shaping as a More Prominent Foreign Policy Instrument

Although post–Cold War threats of instability and terrorism precipitated an increase in shaping, changes in technology and the international distribution of power will likely continue to make shaping attractive in the future. Specifically, three systemic forces will increase the incentives for shaping.61 First is the influence of major weapons systems that make conventional war extremely costly. The massive destructiveness of nuclear weapons encourages immense caution among national leaders against interstate war as the primary tool of foreign policy crises.62 Moreover, the technological progress of air defense weapons, missiles, and sensors over the past decade has made conquest more challenging and provided at least a marginal advantage to the defense.63 Because shaping (as well as deterrence) does not require the actual use of violent force, states will be attracted to this less costly option to achieve their goals.

Second are the consequences of globalization—the increase in transactions across national borders, caused by advances in transportation and communication, that provides quicker and cheaper connections for both state and nonstate actors.64 Advances in overland and sea shipping, as well as in information technology, have given violent nonstate actors (such as insurgents, separatists, and terrorists) increased ability to achieve their goals against states; such actors can now organize, communicate, finance, and transport at much higher rates than in the past.65 All major powers today use shaping as a way to protect themselves against the possibility of terrorism or separatism in their countries or on their peripheries.

Third, changes in the structure of the international system—that is, the distribution of capabilities between major powers—also encourage the use of shaping activities. The structure of the system during the Cold War was bipolar, which made deterrent activities such as massive conventional exercises more attractive. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resultant loss of support for weaker clients by both superpowers created a decrease in state capacity but an increase in weapons available to separatist groups.66 However, the system appears to be approaching multipolarity in which Russia, China, and to a lesser extent India are acquiring more power; thus, shaping provides a means for states to attract allies and balance against one another.


Changes in power and technology will likely increase the incentives for states to engage in shaping; however, there have been few attempts by scholars or practitioners to examine shaping.67 This is partly because studying shaping is essentially studying power. Therefore, as in all analyses of power, one must determine what “success” is and imagine the counterfactual (what would have happened if shaping did not occur) in order to determine effectiveness.68 The ability to assess whether straightforward shaping activities, such as building partner capacity, are effective in improving security or governance is notoriously challenging.69 Even determining the most important causes of traditional military power—the ability to win conventional wars—is not uncontroversial.70

Despite these research problems, the stakes are high for commanders to understand and plan for shaping: Not only can shaping be misapplied, but it may also result in unintended, negative consequences. Combatant commands generally direct their shaping activities through theater security cooperation plans, creating an opportunity for commanders and staffs to grapple with and articulate the goals of shaping. For instance, are port visits intended to attract new partners, and why do we think these activities would be successful? Should the United States attempt to socialize democratic practices in other militaries, or could this result in resentment or blowback? Are multinational exercises an attempt to assure an ally of a security commitment or to delegate responsibility to it? These two logics are not necessarily mutually supporting. Promising security often removes the incentives for a partner to develop its own security capacity.71 Moreover, like deterrence, shaping’s “prevent but prepare” logic unfortunately provides an opportunity for misperception by competitors and has the potential to elicit negative reactions.72 For instance, U.S. efforts to encourage democracy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are viewed by Russia as undermining its own security, while U.S. troop presence in the Middle East may create resentment and invite attack.73 Commanders should direct their staffs to understand how to not only employ the logics of shaping to create a more favorable environment but also to anticipate how forward presence, engagement, and military exercises are perceived by adversaries. Thus, commanders, policymakers, and scholars would benefit from a clearer focus on this increasingly prominent way of military statecraft. JFQ


1 For example, see Lisa Ferdinando, “U.S. Military Adapting in Complex Environment, Mattis Says,” DOD News, October 9, 2017, available at <>; Jim Garamone, “Dunford: U.S. Faces Volatile, Complex Security Situations,” DOD News, September 26, 2017, available at <>; Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), 2–3.

2 This article was adapted from Kyle J. Wolfley, Military Statecraft and the Rise of Shaping in World Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).

3 Strategic Defence Review (London: Ministry of Defence, July 1998), 19, available at <>; Joint Doctrine Publication 0-01, UK Defence Doctrine, 5th ed. (London: Ministry of Defence, November 2014), 59–60; Andrew Cottey and Anthony Forster, “Reshaping Defence Diplomacy: New Roles for Military Cooperation and Assistance,” The Adelphi Papers 44, no. 365 (2004); Juan Emilio Cheyre, “Defence Diplomacy,” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, ed. Andrew F. Cooper, Jorge Heine, and Ramesh Thakur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

4 Kenneth Allen, Phillip C. Saunders, and John Chen, Chinese Military Diplomacy, 2003–2016: Trends and Implications, China Strategic Perspectives 11 (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2017), 8–11.

5 Annual Report 2018–2019 (New Delhi: Ministry of Defence, Government of India, 2019), 197–204, available at <>.

6 Kyle J. Wolfley, “Military Statecraft and the Use of Multinational Exercises in World Politics,” Foreign Policy Analysis 17, no. 2 (April 2021), available at <>.

7 Marcel de Haas, “War Games of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization: Drills on the Move!” Journal of Slavic Military Studies 29, no. 3 (2016), 378–406. See also Wolfley, “Military Statecraft.”

8 A 2008 manual on shaping cautions, “Commanders and their staffs have to operate in a world of ambiguity and complex relationships with a wide range of partners and where progress toward goals is very difficult to measure.” See Military Contribution to Cooperative Security (CS) Joint Operating Concept, version 1.0 (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, September 19, 2008), 8n11, available at <>. On the difficulty in assessing deterrence effectiveness, due largely to selection bias, see James D. Fearon, “Selection Effects and Deterrence,” International Interactions 28, no. 1 (2002), 5–29.

9 David A. Baldwin uses the terms propaganda, diplomacy, economics, and military, which builds on Harold Laswell’s classic framework closest to the diplomacy, information, military, and economics construct today. See Harold D. Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (New York: Meridian Books, 1958), 204–205; and David A. Baldwin, Economic Statecraft (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 13.

10 Baldwin, Economic Statecraft, 13–14. In a separate work, Baldwin highlights the preoccupation with “military force” in the majority of international relations scholarship on power, most of which assumes military statecraft is used as the threat or use of force. See David A. Baldwin, Power and International Relations: A Conceptual Approach (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 109–111, 178–188. On ends, ways, and means, see H. Richard Yarger, “Toward a Theory of Strategy: Art Lykke and the U.S. Army War College Strategy Model,” in U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, vol. I: Theory of War and Strategy, ed. J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr. (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2012), 45.

11 These categories are overlapping because distinguishing them in practice is often difficult and some types of military operations transcend single categories. For instance, wartime compellence straddles warfighting and coercing, while deterrence spans coercing and shaping. For more information, see Wolfley, Military Statecraft. The first inclusion of shaping as a military “way” was in the 1997 National Military Strategy, along with two other ways: responding to the full spectrum of crises and preparing now for an uncertain future. See National Military Strategy of the United States of America—Shape, Respond, Prepare Now: A Military Strategy for a New Era (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, 1997).

12 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 75.

13 See, for instance, John J. Mearsheimer, Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), 28–30. Clausewitz also hinted at this distinction in an incomplete plan for revision. See “Two Notes by the Author on His Plans for Revising On War: Note of 10 July 1827,” in Clausewitz, On War, 69.

14 Joint Publication (JP) 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, Change 1 (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, July 12, 2017), x, I-4–I-5. Robert Art’s use of the term defense somewhat confusingly includes both attacks into enemy territory as well as protection of one’s own. He notes that states could attack in a first strike preemptively or preventatively as a form of defense. See Robert J. Art, “To What Ends Military Power?” International Security 4, no. 4 (1980), 4–8, 11–13.

15 Robert J. Art and Kelly M. Greenhill, “Coercion: An Analytical Overview,” in Coercion: The Power to Hurt in International Politics, ed. Kelly M. Greenhill and Peter Krause (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 4–5.

16 Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 2–6, 69–78.

17 Glenn H. Snyder, Deterrence and Defense: Toward a Theory of National Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 14–16. Snyder attributes this distinction to Robert E. Osgood, “A Theory of Deterrence,” unpublished manuscript, 1960.

18 Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 12–19.

19 Art and Greenhill, “Coercion,” 14.

20 JP 3-0, Joint Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, January 17, 2017), VI-1.

21 Derek S. Reveron, “Shaping the Security Environment,” in Shaping the Security Environment (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2007), 2–3.

22 Military Contribution to Cooperative Security, 3.

23 Timothy Edmunds, Anthony Forster, and Andrew Cottey, “Armed Forces and Society: A Framework for Analysis,” in Soldiers and Societies in Postcommunist Europe, ed. Anthony Forster, Timothy Edmunds, and Andrew Cottey (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), 8–15.

24 On soft power, see Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: PublicAffairs, 2004), 5–15. See also Joseph S. Nye, Jr., The Future of Power (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011), 25–49.

25 See JP 3-0 (2017), VI-3. Reveron, however, argues that these terms often merely reflect the current U.S. administration’s preference of language to describe shaping activities. He notes how the George W. Bush administration attempted to limit Clinton-era engagement activities that were not tied to specific security objectives, thus using the term security cooperation instead of engagement. See Reveron, Exporting Security, 49–50.

26 Evan Resnick, “Defining Engagement,” Journal of International Affairs 54, no. 2 (2001), 559–561. Several authors have described and advocated for U.S. grand strategic options that use the term engagement—notably selective engagement and deep engagement; these grand strategies would place a high emphasis on both forms of shaping.

27 Nye, The Future of Power, 47–48, 99–109.

28 James M. Goldgeier, Not Whether but When: The U.S. Decision to Enlarge NATO (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1999), 19–30.

29 This article’s use of the term socialization mirrors that of Alexandra Gheciu, who builds on other constructivists in international relations. See Alexandra Gheciu, NATO in the “New Europe”: The Politics of International Socialization After the Cold War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 10–14. Regarding how communities instill practices, see Emmanuel Adler, “The Spread of Security Communities: Communities of Practice, Self-Restraint, and NATO’s Post–Cold War Transformation,” European Journal of International Relations 14, no. 2 (2008), 195–230; and Vincent Pouliot, “The Logic of Practicality: A Theory of Practice of Security Communities,” International Organization 62, no. 2 (2008), 257–288.

30 Wolfley, Military Statecraft, chapter 5.

31 Reveron, Exporting Security, 27.

32 John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2014), 157–162.

33 Roseanne W. McManus and Mark David Nieman, “Identifying the Level of Major Power Support Signaled for Protégés: A Latent Measure Approach,” Journal of Peace Research 56, no. 3 (2019), 365–366.

34 See Robert Jervis, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30, no. 2 (1978), 167–170.

35 Robbie Gramer, “Operation Dragoon Ride,” Foreign Affairs, May 13, 2015, available at <>.

36 Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Matthew D. Strohmeyer, and Christopher D. Forrest, “Strategic Shaping: Expanding the Competitive Space,” Joint Force Quarterly 90 (3rd Quarter 2018), 10–15, available at <>.

37 Ibid., 12.

38 A recent Army doctrinal manual defines a shaping operation as essentially support to the main effort in combat: “an operation that establishes conditions for the decisive operation through effects on the enemy, other actors, and the terrain.” See Army Doctrine Publication 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, 2017), 13–14.

39 See, for instance, Army Field Manual 100-5, Operations (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, 1993), 6-6.

40 Sun Tzu, The Art of War: Sun Zi’s Military Methods, trans. Victor H. Mair (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 86.

41 Ibid., 76, 80–83.

42 Ibid, 85.

43 David Lai, Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2004), 3–4.

44 “Introduction” and “Key Terms,” in The Art of War, xlv, 11, 78.

45 Alfred Vagts, The Military Attaché (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), 3–14.

46 Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774–1787 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 33–49.

47 Michael E. Latham, “The Cold War in the Third World, 1963–1975,” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. 2, ed. Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 258–280.

48 The National Military Strategy of the United States of America, preface.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid., 2–3.

51 Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, May 1997), 9. See also Reveron, “Shaping the Security Environment,” 4–5.

52 JP 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, 1993), I-3–I-5; Hal Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post–Cold War Order (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 2016), 274–275.

53 Concept for Future Joint Operations: Expanding Joint Vision 2010 (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, May 1997), foreword.

54 Ibid., 11.

55 JP 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, 2001), figure III-4.

56 Charles F. Wald, “The Phase Zero Campaign,” Joint Force Quarterly 43 (4th Quarter 2006), 72–73.

57 Ibid., 73–75.

58 JP 3-0, Joint Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, September 17, 2006, Incorporating Change 1, February 13, 2008), IV-27.

59 Ibid., chapters V, VI, and VII.

60 JP 3-0, Joint Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, January 17, 2017, Incorporating Change 1, October 22, 2018), V-9.

61 Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979), 67–71. See also Jonathan Kirshner, “Globalization, American Power, and International Security,” Political Science Quarterly 123, no. 3 (2008), 365.

62 Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 23–38; Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 240–254.

63 Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the Western Pacific: Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of the Commons in East Asia,” International Security 41, no. 1 (2016), 19–22, 47.

64 Though the authors doubt the degree of the impact of globalization on national security, they provide a useful discussion. See Norrin M. Ripsman and T.V. Paul, Globalization and the National Security State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 5–10.

65 Audrey Kurth Cronin, “Behind the Curve: Globalization and International Terrorism,” International Security 27, no. 3 (2002/2003), 30–58.

66 Stathis N. Kalyvas and Laia Balcells, “International System and Technologies of Rebellion: How the End of the Cold War Shaped Internal Conflict,” American Political Science Review 104, no. 3 (2010), 415429.

67 Important exceptions include Reveron, “Shaping the Security Environment” and Exporting Security; Carol Atkinson, Military Soft Power: Public Diplomacy Through Military Educational Exchanges (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014); and Alexandra Gheciu, “Security Institutions as Agents of Socialization? NATO and the ‘New Europe,’” International Organization 59, no. 4 (2005), 9731012.

68 Baldwin, Power and International Relations, 57–59.

69 See, for example, Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

70 See Ryan Grauer and Michael C. Horowitz, “What Determines Military Victory? Testing the Modern System,” Security Studies 21, no. 1 (2012), 83–112.

71 Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker, “Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Effectiveness of Security Force Assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies 41, nos. 1–2 (2018), 89–142.

72 Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 58–76.

73 Darya Korsunskaya, “Putin Says Russia Must Prevent ‘Color Revolution,’” Reuters, November 20, 2014, available at <>; Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).