PRISM  Volume 8, no 4

PRISM Vol. 8, No. 4

(June 2020)

As the National Security and National Defense Strategies state, the world has entered a phase of great power competition in which the United States is confronted by a rising China and a resurgent Russia. PRISM V.8,N.4 offers perspective on this competition with articles by Sir Lawrence Freedman, the Honorable Joseph Nye, and the Honorable Andrew Natsios.

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China today aspires to great power status. Tiananmen Square. (Willee710, January 10, 2014)

Who Wants to Be a Great Power?

By Lawrence Freedman

Strategic competition is back in vogue. After years of worrying about ethnic conflict and humanitarian intervention, civil wars and counterinsurgency, there is a renewed focus among policymakers, think-tankers, and academics on traditional strategic concerns and in particular great power confrontation. For many students of international relations this appears as no more than recognizing a feature of the system that never went away.

Wall of former KGB headquarters in Vilnius inscribed with names of those tortured and killed in its basement.
(Phillip Carter)

ROC(K) Solid Preparedness: Resistance Operations Concept in the Shadow of Russia

By Otto Fiala and Ulrica Pettersson

Resistance is a form of warfare. It can be planned. The Resistance Operations Concept is simply a resistance primer. It contains guidance and advice toward establishing a nationally authorized resistance capability. It advises the establishment of a pre-crisis organization for nations under greater threat, for the purpose of having a unified resistance effort against an occupier, and renders specific organizational guidance.

Iron Dome system intercepts Gaza rockets aimed at the city Ashdod. The Israel Defense Force has adopted methods and technologies to minimize the risk from strategic surprise. (Israel Defense Forces)

AI Singularity and the Growing Risk of Surprise: Lessons from the IDF’s Strategic and Operational Learning Processes, 2014-2019

By Meir Finkel

For decades, scholars have pondered the likelihood and effect of computers surpassing human intelligence, often referred to as the singularity. For militaries, artificial intelligence (AI) singularity will be a double-edged sword. We should seek to achieve and employ it, while denying our adversaries the opportunity to do so. When AI singularity does emerge, it will likely have profound implications for tactical capabilities, as well as strategic and operational decisionmaking.

“Taking the mature China-Africa relationship and the upstart BRI together, Chinese interests are now considerably exposed to security upheaval well beyond China’s borders.” (Shutterstock/Golden Brown)

China’s Private Military and Security Companies: “Chinese Muscle” and the Reasons for U.S. Engagement

By Christopher Spearin

On 7 February 2019, General Thomas Waldhauser, then-Commander of United States Africa Command, stated the following during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee: “The Chinese bring the money and the Russians bring the muscle.” “Chinese money” is evident in the fact that since 2009, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner.

The world is caught up in an existential struggle. COVID-19 has paralyzed the global economy, shut down international travel, and killed hundreds of thousands around the world.

COVID-19: The Pandemic and its Impact on Security Policy

By Matthias Rogg

The world is caught up in an existential struggle. The opponent is intangible; it spares neither state nor social group and does not stop at any border. For many of us, this struggle feels like war. Indeed, with the growing use of war-like language in the fight against COVID-19, also called coronavirus, a rapidly rising number of victims, and last but not least the economic consequences which are becoming increasingly clear, we seem to be experiencing a war-like situation.

Air Force air advisors assigned to the 409th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron brief the Niger Armed Forces (FAN) before training exercises in Agadez, Niger, July 10, 2019. The FAN learned how to efficiently and safely clear a building. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer)

No Such Thing as a Perfect Partner: The Challenges of “By, With, and Through”

By Emily Knowles

Taking a peacebuilding approach to working with local militaries and armed groups means using assistance to fragmented security sectors to increase cooperation between various formal and informal elites in a weak state. This approach places less emphasis on developing conventional military power and more emphasis on facilitating and improving relations between the different factions within the security sector and between the security sector and the civilian population. If international providers help local partners perform better at military tasks without ensuring that the forces have local legitimacy and strong accountability, progress is likely to be fleeting and could actually exacerbate civilian harm and the underlying drivers of violent conflict.

Syrian refugees protest at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. (Mstyslav Chernov) Refugee flows from fragile states are overwhelming the capacity of destination states worldwide.

Elite Incentives and Power Dynamics in Fragile States

By Sarah Rose

By 2030, it is estimated that half of the world’s poor will be concentrated in fragile states. These are countries where the social contract between the government and its people is weak or absent—a breakdown which both creates a heightened risk of shocks from conflict, violence, pandemic illness, and/or natural disasters, and limits the country’s resilience to them. The increasing interlinkage between global development and state fragility, the potential cross-border nature of some of the risks, and the deeply mixed track record of successful international intervention to date, have prompted many donor organizations—including the United States—to reorient their policies and approaches to better support fragile states’ pathways to peace, stability, and resilience.

Marshall Plan aid to Germany enabled that country to rise from the ashes of defeat, as symbolized by this worker in West Berlin. (U.S. National Archives)

Foreign Aid in an Era of Great Power Competition

By Andrew S. Natsios

Over the past decade the international political system has evolved into a state of great power rivalry in which the United States is challenged for international leadership by a rising China and a rapidly re-arming, revanchist Russia. A new militant nationalism is spreading across the globe; democracy appears to be in retreat as aggrieved populations turn to populist authoritarianism as a remedy. This rising political and strategic competition has now crossed over into the international development space.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis meets with China's Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe at the People's Liberation Army's Bayi Building in Beijing, June 28, 2018. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Perspectives for a China Strategy

By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

When the Munich Security Conference met in February 2020, China was the most frequently mentioned country, while there was an exaggerated mood of Western decline. Yet as the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown, China has both strengths and weaknesses. Its initial censorship, suppression of feedback and curtailment of international information allowed the pandemic to develop and fester. Draconian quarantine of Wuhan curtailed its spread somewhat; followed by a government propaganda campaign to attract others to the theme that China’s behavior had been benign. When the pandemic eventually subsides, however, China will be faced with the political and economic costs resulting from the exposure of both a failed public health system and an overly rigid party control system.

Book Review

Full Spectrum Dominance: Irregular Warfare and the War on Terror

Full Spectrum Dominance: Irregular Warfare and the War on Terror

Reviewed by Bryce Loidolt

One might assume that a history of America’s 21st century turn to irregular warfare would have little to offer policymakers grappling with the challenge of great power competition. In Full Spectrum Dominance: Irregular Warfare and the War on Terror however, Maria Ryan offers a meticulous account not of how the United States might organize itself for futuristic high-tech warfare or geopolitical competition, but, rather, how it came to elevate a form of warfare that many U.S. defense planners and practitioners would prefer to view through the rear-view mirror. And yet, the lessons implied by Ryan’s impressive piece of scholarship should serve as a cautionary tale not just for practitioners seeking to ensure irregular warfare remains a “core competency” of the U.S. military, but also for those managing the tradeoffs and dilemmas of the contemporary strategic environment.