PRISM  Volume 10, no 1

PRISM Vol. 10, No. 1

(September 2022) 

PRISM is National Defense University’s (NDU) flagship journal of national and international security affairs. PRISM’s mission is “To provide unique insight for current and future national security leaders on emerging security challenges beyond the strictly military domain of the joint force, including transnational, multi-domain threats, gray zone conflict, the technological innovation challenge, and geoeconomic competition among the great powers.”

PRISM is published with support from NDU’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS). In 1984, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger established INSS within NDU as a focal point for analysis of critical national security policy and defense strategy issues. Today INSS conducts research in support of academic and leadership programs at NDU; provides strategic support to the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commands, and armed services; and engages with the broader national and international security communities.

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People’s Liberation Army soldiers participate in a welcome ceremony during a meeting between then–Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., and his Chinese counterpart, General Fang Fenghui, at the Ba Yi, August 15, 2017 (DOD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

The 21st Century's Great Military Rivalry

By Graham Allison and Jonah Glick-Unterman

The era of uncontested U.S. military superiority is likely over. While America’s position as a global military superpower remains unique—both China and Russia are now serious military rivals and even peers in particular domains. If there is a “limited war” over Taiwan or along China’s periphery, the United States would likely lose—or have to choose between losing and stepping up the escalation ladder to a wider war. Choices the administration and Congress will make in 2022 and beyond can significantly impact the current trajectories. But the decisions likely to have the greatest positive impact are the hardest to make and execute.

Like the Great Wall of China, seen here at Jinshanling, the Belt and Road Initiative is an epochal achievement, but it is not
the only Asian effort to build global networks.
Courtesy Severin Stalder

The BRI and Its Rivals: The Building and Rebuilding of Eurasia in the 21st Century

By Anoushiravan Ehteshami

China’s re-emergence as a global power after 400 years raises profound questions about not only China’s place in the truly new world order in which no superpower can reign supreme but also the international system itself, as well as the ways in which China’s policies may be reorientating Eurasia’s regions in the direction of China.

Photo of panda by Digital Story. June 27, 2008

Panda Power? Chinese Soft Power in the Era of COVID-19

By Amit Gupta

The rivalry between the United States and China is not only one of military-strategic and economic challenges but also one of ideas. The West has had the advantage of presenting the more compelling image to the rest of the world. While China makes propaganda efforts, the United States enjoys soft power—the attractiveness of its culture, political ideas, and policies—and this gives America an international advantage. With a recent analysis suggesting that China’s economy will overtake that of the United States in 2028, China’s attempts to rebrand its image will not only have more resources but also find an increasingly eager international audience that seeks to engage the newly emerging number one global economy.

Napoleon at Austerlitz colored lithograph, ordered by the emperor Napoleon, by Antoine Charles Horace Vernet (called
Carle Vernet) and Jacques François Swebach, ca. early 19th century (Courtesy JoJan)

The Limits of Victory: Evaluating the Employment of Military Power

By Michael H. Levine

On November 28, 1984, then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger appeared before the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to deliver a speech titled “The Uses of Military Power.” The previous year had brought mixed results in the deployment of U.S. combat troops overseas. An invasion of the small West Indies country of Grenada wrested regime control from the one-party socialist People’s Revolutionary Government in favor of a relatively stable democracy. In Lebanon, however, the bombing of a Marine Corps barracks complex in Beirut killed 305 troops and civilians, including 241 Americans, and led to the withdrawal of the multinational peacekeeping force months later. Perhaps most central to Secretary Weinberger’s speech was the Vietnam War, an event that two decades later still struck deep into the institutional fabric of the U.S. military.

Photo by StockSnap

China, the West, and the Future Global Order By Julian Lindley-French and Franco Algieri

By Julian Lindley-French and Franco Algieri (With the support of The Alphen Group)

The primary purpose of this article is to respectfully communicate to a Chinese audience a Western view of the future world order. China needs the West as much as the West needs China. However, the West has awakened geopolitically to the toxic power politics that Russia is imposing on Ukraine and China’s support for it. China is thus faced with a profound choice: alliance with a declining and weak Russia or cooperation with a powerful bloc of global democracies that Russia’s incompetent and illegal aggression is helping to forge.

View of the ruined city center of Kharkiv, March 1, 2022, after a Russian attack (DepositPhotos/Pavel Dorogoy)

Defining and Achieving Success in Ukraine

By Frank Hoffman

This article examines the ongoing war in Ukraine and explores options that lead to ending the conflict in some way that would constitute success or “victory.” Decisive victory in a purely military sense is an unlikely prospect. A frozen conflict, a larger and longer version of Donbas across the entire Ukrainian frontier, is increasingly likely despite the efforts by the West to induce Russia to back down. The prospects of a grinding stalemate are evident and extending the fighting creates spillover consequences for other U.S. strategic priorities. A war of endurance may play to U.S./European economic advantages but could evolve in a way that harms longer-term interests.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David, 1805 (Chateau de Malmaison)

Great Power Competition: Understanding the Role of Leaders in French Joint Forces

By Nicolas Delbart and Julien Riera

Engaged in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations for several decades, Western forces are now faced with the resurgence of Great Power competition (GPC) and the specter of high-intensity warfare. This type of conflict, characterized by the clash of symmetrical military powers confronting each other with high-tech capabilities in a wide range of domains and fields of action, marks the return of potentially high levels of attrition and the end of the relative operational and strategic comfort known during past asymmetric conflicts. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 is an excellent example of this, demonstrating the disinhibition of a part of the stage with respect to international law. Is France, seen as a balanced power, ready for this return to GPC?


The Honorable Kevin Rudd served as Prime Minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010, and again in 2013.

Interview with Kevin Rudd

Reviewed by Michael Miklaucic

The interview was conducted by Michael Miklaucic on March 29, 2022. The Honorable Kevin Rudd served as Prime Minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010, and again in 2013.

Book Review

Why Nation-Building Matters: Political Consolidation, Building
Security Forces, and Economic Development in Failed and Fragile States

Why Nation-Building Matters

Reviewed by Roger B. Myerson

The recent fall of Kabul is a stark reminder that policymakers need to understand much more about the problems of nation-building. Some may try to swear off any further involvement with nation-building, but these problems cannot be ignored when failures of law and governance in weak states underlie a pressing migrant crisis on America’s own borders. As the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has noted, America’s refusal to prepare for future stabilization missions after the collapse of South Vietnam did not prevent the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but instead ensured that they would become quagmires. To begin thinking more carefully about these vital problems, a good place to start is with Keith Mines’s book Why Nation-Building Matters.

The Digital Silk Road: China’s Quest to Wire the World and Win the Future

The Digital Silk Road

Reviewed by Walter M. Hudson

The Digital Silk Road is Jonathan Hillman’s hi-tech companion to his book The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century, published in 2020, which dealt with the vast Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the largest developmental project of our time. The Digital Silk Road (DSR) is the BRI’s high-tech portion, its transoceanic fiber-optic cables and its space-based satellite chains every bit as much a part of the BRI as a railroad project in Africa or port construction in South Asia. And like the BRI, the DSR’s goal is global and hegemonic: in establishing it, China intends to be the world’s “indispensable hub and gatekeeper” of the digital space.

The Ledger: Accounting for Failure in Afghanistan

The Ledger and The American War in Afghanistan

Reviewed by Dov S. Zakheim

The American war in Afghanistan has finally come to an ignominious end, but the inevitable post-mortems have only just begun to trickle in. No doubt soon they will become a flood, adding to the mountains of studies, analyses, and full-length volumes that have appeared virtually since the onset of the war two decades ago. In no small part because of the chaos that surrounded America’s final withdrawal from that embattled country, many analysts and observers have been quick to draw parallels with its equally chaotic departure from Vietnam nearly a half century earlier.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War

2034: A Novel of the Next World War

Reviewed by James P. Farwell

This is a thriller that carries a cautionary note for those interested in national security who worry about the risks of human miscalculation. The point that the book makes is that in the emerging threat environment, when state players rely heavily upon technology to improve military capabilities, the human factor remains central.

Old and New Battlespaces: Society, Military Power, and War

Old and New Battlespaces

Reviewed by Sean McFate

How and why warfare is changing has become its own genre of late. Enter Jahara “Franky” Matisek and Buddhika “Jay” Jayamaha. Both have military backgrounds and are on faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Old and New Battlespaces builds on their previous scholarship regarding “social media warriors.” Like their articles, readers will find the book either astonishingly naïve or extraordinarily prescient, depending on what war they inhabit.