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The Joint Force Remains Ill-Prepared to Consolidate Gains
By Thomas Theodore Putnam | Jan. 18, 2023

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Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Theodore Putnam, USA, is the Deputy Commanding Officer of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, and a graduate of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Advanced Warfighting School.
US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress, two German air force Panavia Tornados followed by two German Air Force
Eurofighter Typhoons, and one Belgian air force F-16 Fighting Falcon, fly in formation over Germany during Bomber Task Force mission

The President can no longer just look for a good fighter to plot the operational scheme that leads to victory in arms. He must also find a person who can reconstruct a society.

—Anthony Zinni1

A popular policy myth remains rooted in the U.S. mindset: that the military’s mission in combat is complete when the coalition is militarily successful in large-scale combat operations (LSCO) and that once the former regime’s forces have left the battlefield, civilian agencies can immediately move in and begin leading the difficult task of stabilizing the defeated nation. A study of history demonstrates the fallacy of this myth. Yet national policy and joint doctrine enable it to endure.

The time frame immediately following active armed conflict is particularly demanding and critical for the military. It embodies consolidation of gains, or taking advantage of the fleeting opportunity to translate operational successes into long-term strategic victory. To achieve consolidation of gains, the military needs to have a new operational emphasis and to pursue greater sustained interaction with civilian leaders, enabling the broader policy aims critical to strategic victory.

Militaries consolidate gains by undertaking activities to turn their temporary operational successes into lasting conditions that eventually allow legitimate civilian authorities to assume control under favorable circumstances.2 Consolidation-of-gains activities focus predominantly on establishing security and providing minimum essential stability activities, such as immediate humanitarian assistance and restoration of key infrastructure.3 In its entirety, consolidating gains includes establishing territorial security, denying adversaries influence over the occupied population, setting a sound footing for future governance and economic viability for the nation, developing conditions for better relations between the conquered and the coalition governments, and setting the conditions for ongoing regional stability. The successful consolidation of gains is a whole-of-government mission because effective execution requires expertise residing outside the military.

In recent years, the importance of consolidating gains has grown in the joint force. The 2018 Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC) acknowledges the need to “follow through” after armed conflict and highlights the importance of interorganizational cooperation.4 Although this is a very positive development, updates to core joint publications (JPs) have not incorporated consolidation of gains.5

Until joint doctrine incorporates consolidation of gains, the joint force will remain ill-prepared to translate fleeting military successes into long-term U.S. strategic victories. Preparing the joint force for consolidation of gains requires three changes. First, JP 3-0, Joint Operations, and JP 5-0, Joint Planning, must include detailed guidance covering specific consolidation-of-gains requirements and unified action-planning considerations. Second, the joint force must mandate unit preparation for the inherent complexities of consolidating gains. Third, the Department of Defense (DOD) must pursue a policy of operational control over U.S. Government participation during the consolidation of gains.

Nadia Schadlow’s 2017 War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory delivers a powerful historical analysis on the efficacy of government efforts to translate combat successes into strategic political victories favorable to the United States.6 Her analysis spans from the Mexican-American War to contemporary efforts in the U.S. war on terrorism. Her analysis found the United States ill-prepared for consolidation of gains. It is still unprepared.

Analyzing joint doctrine against Schadlow’s model yields specific recommendations that offer low-cost implementation options for DOD policymakers to ensure better joint force readiness for consolidating gains. Although these recommendations will support any consolidation-of-gains scenario, for ease of discussion this article concentrates on postconflict termination.7

What Is Consolidation of Gains?

For proper discussion of consolidation of gains, a clear definition is necessary. Schadlow does not explicitly define the term in War and the Art of Governance. However, her definition can be inferred: military-led actions to control territory and establish the functioning local government institutions necessary to reconstitute a favorable political order.8 This idea closely matches the definition in Army Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations: “the activities to make enduring any temporary operational success and set the conditions for a stable environment allowing for a transition of control to legitimate authorities.”9 Whereas Schadlow’s definition works for her intended audience—strategic-level leaders—it is too ambiguous for operational-level military leaders.

Unfortunately, consolidation of gains is essentially nonexistent in joint doctrine. The JCIC offers the only existing definition of “consolidation”: “continual and deliberate actions to secure gains and translate military success into the aims of policy.”10 Even with the JCIC’s contextual elaborations, this definition is too abstract to be useful. A deeper look into core joint publications, specifically JP 3-0 or JP 5-0, yields even less insight.11

Army doctrine, on the other hand, is more useful. FM 3-0, Operations, dedicates an entire chapter to consolidation of gains and provides additional context to better understand the subject. It states, “Operations to consolidate gains require the dynamic execution of area security and stability tasks based on the desired operational end state that supports the strategic objective of the campaign” (emphasis added).12 Although FM 3-0 provides the best definition, it fails to address consolidation’s purpose and requires pairing with the activities list. Furthermore, Army doctrine is myopic and does not consider interagency effort outside their support of military operations.

A better definition of “consolidation of gains” should incorporate the defining characteristics of its long-term purpose, which is: the establishment of security and the resumption of governance beneficial to the victor. I propose the following as a more appropriate definition for consolidation of gains:

Following armed conflict, the dynamic and simultaneous execution of the necessary offensive, defensive, and stability activities to secure an area and reestablish governance operations to set the conditions for sustainable strategic objectives, allowing for a transition of control to other legitimate authorities.

This definition reinforces the necessity of blending multiple activities and the need to directly contribute to strategic objectives from the outset of planning. Furthermore, the definition is sufficient in situations where the military is supporting a unified action partner.

The Schadlow Consolidation-of-Gains Model

Schadlow concludes that the government’s inability to prepare for consolidation of gains stems from an “American denial syndrome.”13 This syndrome originates from the American desire for civilian leadership of anything related to governance and an avoidance of any colonialism stigma. The consequence is a consistent avoidance of institutionalizing and preparing the military for political activities associated with the restoration of governance following combat operations.14 These relevant activities generally encompass reestablishing territorial security, denying the adversary any influence, and generating a political order favorable to the United States and its allies.

Schadlow provides five recommendations to improve the efficacy of future consolidating gains, but, for the purposes of this paper, her fourth recommendation regarding the use of technological solutions to enable political objectives does not apply.

Although Schadlow’s recommendations are intended for senior policymakers in the national security system, they are also applicable to the military. Pursuing these recommendations will generate a joint force capable of securing political conditions favorable to the United States and its allies.

Air Force Senior Airman builds GBU-38 joint direct attack munitions during large-scale readiness exercise

Recommendation 1: Policymakers Must Accept the Political Dimension Across the Spectrum of War. Schadlow reinforces the need to account for political requirements in the entire arc of warfare, from initial preparations to war termination. She believes all policymakers must “appreciate the complexity of politics” in war and recognize that governance requirements interlink with “conventional combat.”15 To successfully translate military gains into strategic victory, the joint force must align all its activities with political requirements. This process starts with national policymakers establishing the strategic policy aims. Because of its inevitable involvement in securing political requirements, the military must pursue discussions that specifically resolve the issues of “what to demand politically, and how far to go militarily.”16

To ensure that suitable political outcomes are achieved, best military advice must encompass the entire arc of warfare and not concentrate only on combat operations.17 From the outset of any discussion of war, acknowledging that “victory and conflict termination are two distinct and sometimes mutually antagonistic concepts” ensures that postconflict termination requirements are incorporated into the strategic risk calculation.18

A frank discussion of the realities of postconflict termination exposes the inherent complications of the interagency’s immediate assumption of responsibility for stabilization. Paralleling Schadlow’s findings, Hooker and Collins’s analysis of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lessons Encountered, found that a failure to adequately plan resulted in the prolonged involvement of the military and the inability to consolidate gains.19 Although it could be argued these populations never wanted liberal democracy, the ineffective synchronization during consolidation could never have set the conditions for sustainable, strategic outcomes favorable to the U.S. coalition.

Prior to conflict, the military and interagency must work with political leaders to identify all required conditions to fulfill strategic aims and understand how they nest with one another. This enables the whole-of-government alignment of ends, ways, and means to accurately assess risk before the leadership’s focus is consumed by combat operations. Not only does this kind of discussion enable the creation of assessment criteria to accurately identify strategic victory conditions, but it also ensures that the government acknowledges all postconflict termination activities. Whereas advice provided to civilian policymakers might be ignored, the military is professionally obligated to plan on executing consolidation-of-gains activities to secure strategic victory.

Warrant Officer, with Puerto Rico Army National Guard Aviation, performs preflight inspection on UH-60 helicopter

Recommendations 2 and 3: Normalize Unity of Command with Army Operational Control of Agencies in War. Schadlow’s analysis discusses the flawed yet persistent belief among policymakers that consolidation of gains is not an integral part of war. A “divide and fail” model results in separate commands competing over the conduct of governance.20 At best this results in delayed consolidation of gains. While the decisions and final shape of the units conducting military governance in the aftermath of World War II yielded “liberally oriented political and economic systems” in Italy, Korea, Japan, and Germany, delays and costs were incurred.21 At worst, competition for control on consolidation results in a protracted experience, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Schadlow’s “divide and fail” model is reinforced by Hooker and Collins’s findings that an “inability to integrate, direct, prioritize, and apply capabilities in the optimal manner diminished success as much as any faulty strategy or campaign plan.”22

War and the Art of Governance exposes a persistent U.S. belief wherein the military leads LSCO when combat operations are the focus, and civilians lead stabilization when governance and rebuilding are the focus. This belief infers a clean break in leadership responsibility at conflict termination, a perception reinforced by Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 3000.05, Stabilization, which unequivocally cedes any claim for leadership responsibility of the stabilization phase to the Department of State.23 Although DOD’s explicit support of a lead Federal agency is noble, regrettably this support obscures the necessity to blend security and stability activities across the transition between LSCO and stabilization in both time and space.

This obscuration predisposes the military to be insensitive to postconflict termination requirements and to toss the proverbial hot potato to an interagency unable to assume responsibility.24 Ambiguity in stabilization’s leadership responsibility is amplified amid ongoing combat operations and may result in leaders losing sight of the necessity to blend security and stability activities to consolidate gains.

Furthermore, a clean-break perception muddles the inherent complexity in the military-to-civilian transitions of responsibility in a postconflict termination environment. “Transitions, seams, and boundaries introduce inherent risk into an operation” that become further amplified when integrating elements outside a unified command structure.25 Conrad Crane and W. Andrew Terrill’s prescient warnings on postconflict termination preparations included the inevitability of transitions in an environment fraught with political and security uncertainty.26 The analysis of OIF indicates the United States did not effectively create unified action to enable these transitions.

While joint doctrine stresses a desire for unified action, unity of effort is extremely difficult to accomplish within the current U.S. interagency framework. JP 3-08, Interorganizational Cooperation, is replete with warnings about the difficulties and significant challenges in synchronization stemming from policy differences. Even when specific goals are agreed upon, the joint force commander must recognize an actual plan is necessary because these goals may be interpreted differently.27 This doctrinal forewarning is confirmed in Hooker and Collins’s analysis that found the United States was ineffective in internal synchronization during OIF.28

Recommendation 5: The U.S. Government, Especially the Military, Must Have Some Standing Capabilities and Organizations Prepared to Conduct Key Governance Tasks. The U.S. military’s inevitable participation in consolidation of gains has not changed since World War II. As noted in FM 3-0, the Army has been involved in consolidating gains of every conflict since the Indian Wars of the late 1800s, whether it predicted participation beforehand or not.29 As part of a Goldwater-Nichols military, the Army’s experiences apply to the joint force. Yet outside the passing mention in the JCIC, planning for this inevitable participation is nowhere to be found in core joint doctrine.

In the successful consolidation-of-gains experiences of World War II, the Army did not vie for its leadership position.30 The Army became the lead agency because it was the only coherent institution with the structure, sustainment capability, and personnel capable of implementing consolidation over large geographic areas.31 Reinforcing this perspective is the decision of John McCloy, the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany in 1949, who, when first approached in 1945 to lead consolidation of gains, rejected the position because he felt the military was in the best position.32 McCloy’s sentiments echo those made by Secretary of State James Byrnes toward the beginning of World War II.33 It is important to note that to be effective, the military was heavily reliant on outside expertise provided by civilians.

Reinforcing the joint force’s need to embrace a leadership role during consolidation is the interagency’s inability to satisfy expectations of leadership during consolidation of gains. A RAND study found the United States struggled in generating the necessary civilian workforce during OIF. Not only did this study note the difficulty in recruiting experienced personnel within the DOD, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development, but it revealed that the joint force filled these positions.34 The complications inherent in deploying civilians to an active combat zone highlight the need for military capabilities to fill these requirements.

Schadlow challenges the Army to recognize its past “efforts to escape” consolidation responsibilities, which failed and “only served to make those tasks more difficult.”35 The former commanding general of the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center, Lieutenant General Mike Lundy, reinforces this sentiment in “Three Perspectives on Consolidating Gains.” The inescapable requirement to execute military governance, combined with the interagency’s inability to meet desired participation levels, means the military must embrace a mission it will be assigned by default.36

The requirement to prepare for consolidation of gains is not solely an Army responsibility. Joint task force (JTF) staff must possess a deep understanding of consolidating gains requirements because JTFs integrate all component plans and resource the land component’s inevitable consolidation mission.

Marine scans for targets for Fire Support Coordination exercise

Recommendations to Improve the Joint Force

JP 3-0 and JP 5-0 Must Include Detailed Guidance Covering Specific Consolidation-of-Gains Requirements and Unified Action Planning Considerations. As Clausewitz states throughout On War, politics and military operations are inseparable.37 Regrettably, joint doctrine and policy largely ignore consolidation of gains, increasing the risk of failing to achieve strategic victory. If joint doctrine continues to ignore consolidation of gains, achievement of policy aims will remain in jeopardy. Incorporation into doctrine will better position the United States for effective consolidation of gains.

The JCIC states that “the Joint Force must view military operations and the follow-through to secure policy aims as an integrated whole.”38 It also recognizes a crucial reality—that the translation of military success into sustainable outcomes remains “one of the most difficult elements of campaigning.”39 Enabling successful follow-through implies the need for a close, continuing relationship with interagency partners to ensure military operations establish viable conditions for interagency authorities to assume leadership responsibility. Furthermore, the JCIC reinforces that governance tasks are directly connected to conventional warfare.

These critical aspects of warfare are absent from joint doctrine. Core joint doctrine does not contain definitive guidance on expected activities to guide practitioners. Nor do these publications contain substantive guidance on navigating the necessary interagency-military relationship to achieve unified action.

Without clearly articulating the consolidation of gains as a vital transition in doctrine, the joint force will remain ill-prepared to provide policymakers the best military advice on the most efficient means for securing strategic aims. While the current strategic military leaders with operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq still have opportunities to pass on essential knowledge, capturing this understanding in joint doctrine can ensure these hard-fought lessons are not simply lessons encountered.

Incorporating two specific areas from recent operational experience will generate a significant return on investment that will greatly benefit future generations. First, identify how operational-level military objectives are established. Second, include a realistic point of departure for expected military activities during consolidation of gains.

Clearly, operational-level military objectives are set within military channels. But a deeper examination of doctrine reveals two fundamental yet unaddressed questions about establishing military objectives. First, what factors influence the substance of military objectives to ensure military successes effectively contribute to strategic victory? Second, how much interagency participation is necessary to effectively link military successes to the eventual transition to civilian authorities?

In the arc of military operations, the military eventually transfers responsibility to a civilian authority, whether to the U.S. interagency or directly to a host nation element. Until operational environment conditions, which are dependent on and unique to each conflict, are met, this civilian authority is incapable of leadership. Current joint planning considerations ignore civilian authority requirements that would enable transition of responsibility.

Military objectives must positively contribute to the achievement of strategic aims. However, joint doctrine currently enables divergence to occur because no mandate exists for the joint force to nest military objectives directly into the interagency’s starting point requirements. Specifying the necessity to align military objectives with interagency postconflict termination starting points would ensure that the arc of military operations leads directly to the desired political outcomes.

Worse yet, joint publications lead practitioners to believe that only the military’s concerns matter. Joint doctrine is replete with examples of how the interagency supports the joint force, with no discussion of how their goals and objectives are synchronized. Interagency interactions in JP 3-0 concentrate on the truism of unified action, providing guidance to conduct “synchronization, coordination, and integration” with the interagency.40 In JP 5-0, interagency discussions concentrate exclusively on deriving requirements to support the joint force, simply keeping the interagency informed about military operations, and attempting to obtain information about interagency activity.41 Furthermore, doctrine fails to discuss transitions of responsibility to legitimate civilian authority to enable military redeployment.42

Practitioners may believe JP 3-08 could be a useful source for interagency-military synchronization. Regrettably, its guidance mirrors that of JP 5-0. The only significant instance on synchronizing objectives is found in the section on theater campaign plans. This guidance emphasizes obtaining interagency participation at the earliest phases to identify decision points that enable DOD to transition to a supporting role.43 Unfortunately, most contingency planners will likely overlook this section.

Understanding interagency starting point requirements reinforces the need to maintain an active dialogue to ensure alignment of military objectives. The conceptualized war outcomes are unlikely to exist at conflict termination due to war’s elements of uncertainty and chance.44 Maintaining focus on interagency-military transitions in doctrine reminds planners to account for the inevitable transitions of responsibility.

Interagency-military tensions are likely to arise because unity of command is not inherent in the government’s culture.45 JP 3-08 recommends producing a shared interagency-military plan.46 However, although JP 3-08 provides a descriptive list of helpful “hallmarks” of harmonious interagency coordination, it fails to address ways to overcome interagency impasses in either planning or execution.47 Doctrine must capture proven methods to overcome disagreements from recent government experiences. Providing established frameworks or recommendations in core doctrine allows future planners to capitalize on hard-learned lessons of recent experiences.

A viable post-consolidation-of-gains hand-off requires interagency-military integration early in the planning process. Although core joint publications contain some instances of guidance to begin planning postconflict activities and set conditions for stability activities well before the outset of armed conflict, advice on ways to do so is significantly lacking.48 Integrating specific requirements to begin collaborative planning prior to conflict increases the likelihood of strategic victory.

Joint doctrine stresses the requirement to secure a stable postconflict termination environment to enable redeployment. The Army’s consolidation-of-gains doctrine may be useful to a joint staff, but it is tightly focused on security activity to prevent resurgence of the enemy.49 As Schadlow notes, the military also needs better guidance on military governance to set conditions for strategic victory. Explaining what specific activities need to be addressed and how to achieve integration with the interagency will improve efforts to consolidate gains.

The achievement of desired political objectives does not automatically result from successful execution of “dominating activities.”50 Regrettably, joint doctrine provides only generalized guidance on stability activities, and this information is not placed in the context of consolidation of gains. JP 5-0’s December 2020 update was extremely disappointing; it did not codify the JCIC into doctrine and thus delayed the joint force’s comprehension and embrace of consolidating gains concepts.

Acknowledging postconflict termination activities that enable “war-winning” will facilitate an understanding of the requirement to plan and support more than security activities.51 Incorporating this information provides a frame of reference to understand operational requirements. Furthermore, it codifies standard requirements to expedite the next generation’s understanding of consolidating gains.

If capturing the experiences of current strategic leaders with operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be done in a timely manner, available options come from the works of military scholars. These include historical analysis, such as Nadia Schadlow, Charles Barry, and Richard Lacquement’s “A Return to the Army’s Roots,” which provides a strong starting point for inclusion in core joint doctrine.52 Another option is to derive validated principles from scholarly hypotheses. Conrad Crane and W. Andrew Terrill’s Reconstructing Iraq is one of several options available for doctrine writers.53

The Joint Force Must Mandate Unit Preparation for the Inherent Complexities of Consolidating Gains. Although the United States desires civilian leadership of stabilization to begin immediately following conflict termination, previous conflicts demonstrate that the joint force will be required to execute governance for consolidation to be successful. Both Schadlow and Lundy concur, stating that the military always finds itself governing out of necessity both during and after conflicts.54 To ensure military preparedness, Lundy insists consolidation of gains “deserves the same, or perhaps greater, level of professional forethought than combat operations.”55 This forethought requires intellectual preparation for the requirements and complexities of consolidating gains.

As DOD prioritizes joint all-domain operations (JADO) readiness, introducing consolidation-of-gains requirements places tension on its most precious resource: time. However, ignoring consolidation of gains places hard-fought JADO-based military successes at risk of becoming meaningless when the winning coalition struggles to secure strategic victory. To reduce such risk, the joint force must ensure officers are trained to consolidate gains. Understanding why the operation’s context changes following conflict termination, and interagency-military integration, is critical to strategic success.

Preparing for the power vacuum following successful combat operations requires embracing and understanding consolidation-of-gains requirements. Two simple, cost-effective avenues already exist for advancing unit preparation: first, incorporating a more definitive exploration of postconflict termination during professional military education (PME), and second, implementing mandatory execution of consolidating gains during joint training exercises.

PME will be indispensable for educating leaders on the intellectual framework necessary to surmount the complexities surrounding consolidation of gains.56 The most difficult skillset requiring military proficiency will be conditions-setting activities: planning, synchronizing, and resourcing. PME provides the ideal setting to standardize “the thoughtful reflection and study of how we consolidate gains on the battlefield.”57 Promulgation through PME will provide JTF staff with a deep bench capable of enabling the successful follow-through to generate strategic victories.

A focus on “war-winning” activities in PME will better prepare the joint force to instinctively align “warfighting” activities to achieve strategic objectives.58 While PME includes some instruction on how stability operations support strategic objectives, the preponderance of PME material focuses on warfighting. Explanations of how to set postconflict termination objectives that achieve national security objectives, and how the military operates in a whole-of-government environment, are insufficiently covered. This shortfall is reinforced by joint doctrine’s lack of detail on war-winning considerations. Creating time for war-winning-focused education is possible by compressing instruction on planning processes that most students already understand, while still maintaining Goldwater-Nichols Act requirements.

Training exercises offer the best venue to maintain competency in the difficult task of translating military success into strategic victory. As the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan evinces, consolidating gains is far more difficult and complex than executing LSCO. The requirements to effectively, and successfully, operate within a large staff cannot be replicated in PME. Not only do training exercises oblige the staff to understand the internal processes, but the interagency liaisons within the headquarters also provide realistic and invaluable insight into execution.59 Additionally, these exercises expose higher headquarters staff members evaluating the exercise to the requirements of war-winning.

Marine and Navy Lieutenant conduct Naval Surface Fire Support communication drills with Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force in Combat Information Center

DOD Should Pursue a Policy of Operational Control Over Government Participation During the Consolidation of Gains. The U.S. Government relies on consensus-building to achieve unity of effort. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the lack of strategic-level oversight and of in-theater coordinating authority resulted in the United States’s being “often unable to knit its vast interagency capabilities together for best effect” to achieve consolidation.60 President Joseph Biden’s National Security Council framework has not drastically changed the U.S. national security architecture. Until stovepiping and differing cultures can be altered, unity of effort will remain elusive.61

The joint force’s receipt of operational control of government participation during consolidation of gains will enable success. Accepting military leadership does not entail accepting military leadership without civilian oversight or assistance; this is anathema to U.S. values. Schadlow’s analysis demonstrates that military leadership is not impossible. During World War II, military governance, not State Department–led governance, consolidated gains in Italy, Germany, Korea, and Japan.62 Military officers synchronized security and governance activities within a joint force–type structure.63 The military lacks all the required expertise to successfully consolidate gains independently. Interagency participation and support from unified action partners is sine qua non to successful consolidation. By preparing for military leadership of consolidation, the national security system acknowledges the pragmatic reality of a postconflict environment: the interagency framework is not constructed to execute consolidation of gains.

Without a U.S. Government culture change, interagency partners will remain unlikely to accept the military as lead Federal agency during the tenuous transition to stabilization. To prevent future unity-of-effort issues, DOD should seek approval for operational-level unity of command of all government consolidation participation. Schadlow’s analysis demonstrates that the military is capable of leading military governance and other activities to consolidate gains. This policy change will not be easy to accomplish. Unless a catastrophic event or congressional action demands reform, this policy change will take several years, if not decades, because of the different stakeholders and the national security structure’s engrained culture. But the cost of blood and treasure spent in misplaced efforts makes it worthwhile to start changing now.

As a start point for this change, while DODD 3000.05 remains policy, the military should nest completion of consolidating gains as the endstate of the dominate phase. Because the military leads LSCO, nesting in this manner directly links military objectives to interagency starting-point requirements and alleviates any confusion about ownership of consolidation activities.

Some would argue there is no need to highlight consolidation of gains in JP 3-0 or JP 5-0. They would direct practitioners to JP 3-31, Joint Land Operations, which does cover some important consolidation-of-gains considerations. JP 3-31 states that the goal of major operations and campaigns is to prevail and consolidate gains quickly to “establish conditions favorable to the population and the U.S. and its international partners.”64 To do so, the joint force must begin postconflict termination planning at the initiation of joint planning and continually update its plans.65 In the dominate phase, JP 3-31 warns, an “isolated focus on offense and defensive operations” risks overlooking the “need to establish or restore security and provide humanitarian relief.”66 Acknowledging that other agencies may not be immediately available following LSCO, JP 3-31 informs military planners to be prepared to lead stability efforts.67 Finally, JP 3-31 states that effective stabilization requires integration of nonmilitary plans and efforts.68

At face value, this appears to be great advice. However, relying upon JP 3-31 risks relearning lessons encountered in previous efforts of consolidating gains. Although JP 3-31 contains great truisms, it is unhelpful to planners without significant experience or training in consolidating gains. Possessing only generalities, it does not explain how to anticipate, resource, or support joint force land component command requirements. The JTF must understand consolidating gains to effectively translate strategic requirements into operational objectives. Relying on JP 3-31 leaves the JTF with an inadequate understanding of how to incorporate consolidation-of-gains requirements into a coherent overarching plan that synchronizes all JTF component activities.


William Flavin, a peacekeeping expert, reminds practitioners that “conflict termination is the formal end of fighting, not the end of conflict.”69 And, as FM 3-0 notes, “Consolidation of gains is integral to winning armed conflict and achieving enduring success” because it directly bridges combat success to strategic victory.70 If consolidation is done well, friendly forces will retain the initiative. Stabilization will run smoothly because the adversary’s means and will to resist are no longer present. If consolidation of gains is not properly considered, or is executed without operational environment considerations, the conflict will likely persist and require the military to provide further assistance to enable stabilization.

DOD can enact internal improvements now to better prepare for consolidation of gains. Incorporating consolidation of gains into joint doctrine is the first step. The next step is training the joint force to plan, build, and implement consolidation of gains in a unified action environment. At the same time as these internal improvements are being implemented, DOD should pursue policy and cultural changes within the national security structure to acquire the unity of command necessary to effectively consolidate gains.

In his influential On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, Donald Kagan cautions leaders to place the same amount of planning effort and resources into the preservation of peace as they do for armed combat.71 In providing equal effort, countries will avoid the persistent errors of the past. Consolidation of gains sets the conditions for achieving policy goals and building a lasting peace. If the joint force does not emphasize its inherent role during this critical transition, it will remain ill-prepared to effectively achieve strategic objectives and will unnecessarily prolong armed conflict. JFQ


1 Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz, Before the First Shots Are Fired: How America Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 172.

2 Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, October 6, 2017, Incorporating Change 1, December 6, 2017), 8-1, available at <>.

3 As a term referring to the translation of military successes into lasting conditions, consolidation of gains is interchangeable with gains consolidation or consolidate gains. These should not be confused with the tactical task of consolidation used for “organizing and strengthening a newly captured position so that it can be used against the enemy.” See FM 3-90-1, Offense and Defense, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, March 2013).

4 The 2018 Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning emphasizes the requirement to secure gains, referred to with the term follow-through. Follow-through is achieved by the military synchronizing with other elements of national power as armed conflict ends to enable consolidation of gains and a return to competition. See Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, March 16, 2018), available at <>.

5 Core joint publications (JPs) include JP 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, March 25, 2013, Incorporating Change 1 from July 2017); JP 3-0, Joint Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, January 17, 2017, Incorporating Change 1 from October 22, 2018); and JP 5-0, Joint Planning (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, December 1, 2020).

6 Dr. Nadia Schadlow is an American academic with service in multiple high-level, defense-related government positions. Most significantly, she served as the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy in the Donald Trump administration, in which position she was the primary author of the 2017 National Security Strategy. She is a full member of the Council on Foreign Relations with articles in several well-respected national security–related publications.

7 A term for the cessation of active armed combat is not specifically defined in doctrine. William Flavin notes, “Conflict termination is the formal end of fighting [in large-scale combat operations (LSCO)], not the end of conflict.” Conflict termination should not be confused with termination criteria from JP 3-0. Termination criteria are specific standards that enable the military’s redeployment. For a definitive exploration of conflict termination, see William Flavin, “Planning for Conflict Termination and Post-Conflict Success,” Parameters 33, no. 3 (Autumn 2003), 96, available at <>. Additionally, although Army doctrine recognizes consolidation of gains in situations other than LSCO, the preponderance of literature covers the postconflict termination period following LSCO. Army doctrine recognizes that consolidation of gains might begin in the consolidation area—the area passed by the Army as it continues fighting to achieve military objectives. Consolidation of gains can also occur in other operations such as peacekeeping or peace enforcement. For specific insight, see chapter 8, “Operations to Consolidate Gains,” in FM 3-0.

8 This definition is derived primarily from the opening lines of War and the Art of Governance: “Success in war ultimately depends on the consolidation of political order, which requires control over territory and the hard work of building local governmental institutions.” See Nadia Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2017), 1.

9 FM 3-0, 8-1.

10 Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, 33.

11 The closest approximation to consolidating gains within joint doctrine is “stability activities.” Although these are activities inherent to consolidating gains, their use in doctrine is wholly under the umbrella of activities in the dominate or stabilize phases; they do not incorporate the functions required for them to be considered consolidation of gains.

12 Note the intentional use of “dynamic” to reinforce the interplay between security and stability tasks. See FM 3-0, 8-2.

13 For additional insight into the factors and themes generating the “American denial syndrome,” see chapter 1, “American Denial Syndrome: Failing to Learn From the Past,” in Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance, 22.

14 Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance, 14.

15 Ibid., 273.

16 Bradford A. Lee, “Winning the War but Losing the Peace? The United States and the Strategic Issues of War Termination,” in Strategic Logic and Political Rationality: Essays in Honor of Michael L. Handel, eds. Bradford A. Lee and Karl F. Walling (London: Routledge, 2003), 250.

17 Fred Charles Iklé is one of several authors who forewarn practitioners of the likely hyper focus on combat operations once hostilities begin. See chapter 1, “The Purpose of Fighting,” in Fred Charles Iklé, Every War Must End, rev. ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 2.

18 J. Boone Bartholomees, “Theory of Victory,” Parameters 38, no. 2 (Summer 2008), 29, available at <>.

19 Richard D. Hooker, Jr., and Joseph J. Collins, Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War (Washington, DC: NDU Press, September 2015), 406, available at <>.

20 Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance, 274.

21 See chapter 3, “World War II: Building an Organization,” in Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance, for an in-depth analysis on the evolutions of the U.S. governance structures during World War II.

22 Hooker and Collins, Lessons Encountered, 10.

23 The directive clearly states, “The Department of State is the overall lead federal agency for U.S. stabilization efforts; the U.S. Agency for International Development is the lead implementing agency for non-security U.S. stabilization assistance; and DOD [Department of Defense] is a supporting element, including providing requisite security and reinforcing civilian efforts.” See DOD Directive 3000.05, Stabilization (Washington, DC: DOD, December 13, 2018), available at <>.

24 Hooker and Collins’s overarching conclusion that “the military was insensitive to needs of the post-conflict environment” agrees with Schadlow’s findings that the military should maintain responsibility for all government contributions during consolidation of gains. For more, see Hooker and Collins, Lessons Encountered, 13.

25 A timeless teaching point continually reinforced by Colonel Patrick Scott O’Neal, former commander, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, U.S. Army.

26 Conrad C. Crane and W. Andrew Terrill, Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2003), 46.

27 JP 3-08, Interorganizational Cooperation (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, October 12, 2016, Validated October 18, 2017), I-15, available at <>.

28 Hooker and Collins, Lessons Encountered, 10.

29 FM 3-0, 8-3.

30 Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance, 146.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid., 122.

33 Ibid., 100.

34 See Molly Dunigan et al., Expeditionary Civilians: Creating a Viable Practice of Department of Defense Civilian Deployment (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2016), 2, 4, 111, available at <>.

35 Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance, 278.

36 Mike Lundy et al., “Three Perspectives on Consolidating Gains,” Military Review (August 2019), 12, available at <>.

37 In one specific instance: “The political object is the goal, war is the means of achieving it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.” See Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 87.

38 Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, 23.

39 Ibid., 24.

40 JP 3-0, I-8.

41 See JP 5-0, the paragraph on “Interagency Considerations” in section I-25 and chapter 3, “Joint Planning Process.”

42 JP 5-0, III-22.

43 JP 3-08, II-5.

44 Clausewitz, On War, 104.

45 JP 3-08, I-16.

46 Ibid., I-15.

47 The list is titled “Hallmarks of successful whole-of-government planning and operations.” See 3-08, II-3.

48 The JP 3-0 guidance on stability activities as part of LSCO is one of the few places that explicitly mentions collaborative planning to synchronize civilian-military efforts, but how to do this planning is not provided. JP 5-0 only implies a need to integrate interagency early, predominantly in the context of theater campaign plans. See JP 3-0, VIII-6, or JP 5-0.

49 Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3-0, Operations, states: “Army forces consolidate gains through decisive action, executing offense, defense, and stability to defeat enemy forces in detail and set security conditions required for a desired end state” (emphasis added). And although chapter 8 of FM 3-0, “Operations to Consolidate Gains,” mentions stability activities, the emphasis for military support is on security-related tasks. See ADP 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, 2019), available at <>; ADP 3-05, Army Special Operations (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, 2019), available at <>; and chapter 8, “Operations to Consolidate Gains,” in FM 3-0.

50 ADP 3-05; Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, 2.

51 Nadia Schadlow, Charles Barry, and Richard Lacquement, “A Return to the Army’s Roots: Governance, Stabilization, and Reconstruction,” in The Future of the Army Profession, 2nd ed., ed. Don M. Snider and Gayle L. Watkins (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 254.

52 Ibid., 258.

53 Crane and Terrill, Reconstructing Iraq.

54 Lundy et al., “Three Perspectives on Consolidating Gains,” 11.

55 Ibid., 12.

56 Not all joint headquarters staff officers are formally trained at a resident professional military education institution. However, the updates in doctrine will facilitate operational training and self-development.

57 Lundy et al., “Three Perspectives on Consolidating Gains,” 13.

58 Schadlow et al., “A Return to the Army’s Roots,” 254.

59 Joint headquarters, such as geographic combatant commands, are the most likely to have information assurance (IA) personnel, working in either a directorate or in a joint interagency coordination group. Joint interagency task forces will have various IA personnel, depending on their mission.

60 Hooker and Collins, Lessons Encountered, 10.

61 JP 3-08, I-4.

62 For additional details, see chapter 3, “World War II: Building an Organization,” in Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance.

63 It is fair to note that the varying degrees of effectiveness were due to geographic and resourcing issues.

64 JP 3-31, Joint Land Operations (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, October 3, 2019, Incorporating Change 1, November 16, 2021), IV-2, available at <>.

65 JP 3-31, V-1.

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid., V-6.

68 Ibid., V-9.

69 Flavin, “Planning for Conflict Termination and Post-Conflict Success,” 96.

70 FM 3-0, 8-1.

71 Donald Kagan, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 567.

The Age of AI: And Our Human Future
By John W. Sutherlin | Jan. 18, 2023

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Dr. John W. Sutherlin is a Professor of Political Science and Chief Innovation and Research Officer at the University of Louisiana Monroe.
The Age of AI
The Age of AI: And Our Human Future
By Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher
Little, Brown and Company, 2021
272 pp. $30.00
ISBN: 9780316273800
Reviewed by John W. Sutherlin

To fully appreciate The Age of AI: And Our Human Future, one must overlook its nebulous description of a decades-old issue and suspend any expectations for a well-researched and thorough account of this vital topic. The authors, who represent major policy, industry, and academic heavyweights, stumble in their attempt to raise awareness and often fail to provide meaningful insights. The analysis and research manifested here leave so many things unanswered. In the end, many will ask themselves why they selected this book out of the choices currently available. This is not a typical Kissinger work spanning 800 or more pages with thousands of sources and infinitely quotable passages exhibiting personal perceptions and a vast foreign policy knowledge. Further, this is not a Schmidt work of pithy industry-level expertise with keen insights or observations about Google software packages. Perhaps the authors were less interested in an exhaustive treatment of artificial intelligence (AI) and more captivated with making a simple declaration, a clarion call to arms. However, even with this notion as the focal point, the reader may be left wanting more. Still, the book is not without merit; some may find it a good starting point for a deeper dive into the subject of AI and public policy.

Each chapter begins much the same, as philosophers and authors of antiquity are used to lay a foundation for banal statements regarding policy concerns about machines making human decisions. Descartes, Spinoza, and, of course, Kant are paraded before the reader, creating intellectual mediocrity and a confusion of cerebral demands. Perhaps these authors really believe that St. Thomas Aquinas and TikTok can elevate our ethical discourse. Maybe there will be some readers that find incorporating Clausewitz and Gutenberg into the tussle is essential. I did not find it to be particularly helpful.

If the authors want readers to think about the postmodern world where computers make decisions, then why revisit the Middle Ages? What the readers get are often ambiguous or obvious statements. This book would have been more relevant if it had been written 15 years ago. “AIs chiefly use data to perform tasks such as discovering trends, identifying images, and making predictions.” And? Does the process of shifting from physical maps to “network platforms using algorithms” really represent a paradigm shift that requires another book to document the eroding of human values and input? Hardly.

This effort falls somewhere between a book and a journal article. If the reader thinks of The Age of AI as a policy briefing, then most frustrations, disappointments, and regrets will vanish. The book is worth reading if for only one set of questions asked: “Are humans and AI approaching the same reality from different standpoints, with complementary strengths? Or do we perceive two different, partially overlapping realities: one that humans can elaborate through reason and another that AI can elaborate through algorithms?” Regardless of the policy area—that is, national security, health care, or commercial interactions—AI is still growing fast, with few human restraints and little thought about its potential repercussions for moral decisionmaking.

The authors insist that “governments, universities, and private-sector innovators should aim to establish limits.” I guess the question is “How?” AI has already proved it can beat the socks off human chess players. Is it too late to install safeguards that prevent AI from making fatal decisions where humans are the means to a silicon end? The authors point out that Alan Turing showed acumen in the 1950s and that GPT-3 (third generation generative pre-trained transformer) technology today is closely approaching what AI would define as “consciousness.” What is next? Algorithms fashioning popular music for us to purchase? AI making cost-benefit analysis for rationing medicine? Or deciding which cities to bomb?

Oops! Too late. The authors, correctly, find that the AI Rubicon has been crossed.

AI “permits us to aggregate and analyze data” more quickly and without any messy human emotions and biased reasoning. But this also means no human morals and ethics. This could have been the place for the discussion to begin about our human future. The authors ask us to consider an ethical construct as “paramount,” allowing political leaders an opportunity to engage with humanity. Without sufficient human (or governmental) limits, nations may simply default to AI for, inter alia, national policy decisionmaking.

Yet I wonder. What would happen to the nation that forwent its reliance on high-speed computers that evolve into AI, instead embracing human fallibility and the sluggish analysis of complex data? Would anyone burn the calculators in favor of the abacus? The need for humans to incorporate ethics into their tools has been around since at least Galileo.

The AI ship has sailed. Now, humans must constantly integrate their flawed beliefs into both social and silicon systems. AI consciousness may be only another terabyte away, so the authors are correct there. GPT-3, for example, lacks the ability to act independently . . . for now.

A better analysis on artificial intelligence and political power is Michael Kanaan’s book T-Minus AI: Humanity’s Countdown to Artificial Intelligence and the New Pursuit of Global Power (BenBella Books, 2020). Schmidt even praises Kanaan’s work as an excellent source of analysis. For those more interested in the nexus between AI and the military, Christian Brose’s The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare (Hachette Books, 2020) is a better researched call to arms. JFQ

Is Remote Warfare Moral? Weighing Issues of Life and Death From 7,000 Miles
By Christopher Kuennen | Jan. 18, 2023

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Captain Christopher Kuennen, USAF, is an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
Is Remote Warfare Moral
Is Remote Warfare Moral? Weighing Issues of Life and Death From 7,000 Miles
By Joseph O. Chapa
PublicAffairs, 2022
288 pp. $29.00
ISBN: 9781541774452
Reviewed by Christopher Kuennen

When I explain the difference between the Services to new Air Force officer candidates, I occasionally joke that, if it came down to it, the Army could do its job with rocks, but the Air Force could not. My point is to emphasize the essential role of modern technology in the air domain, to overcome both the force of gravity and tyranny of physical distance. Warfare from a distance, of course, is not the exclusive purview of any single Service. And likewise, the lessons of Joseph O. Chapa’s Is Remote Warfare Moral? Weighing Issues of Life and Death From 7,000 Miles are applicable beyond the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) community upon which he focuses most of his attention. For a joint force charged with fighting from a distance—competing across oceans, planning against adversaries’ antiaccess/area-denial threats, and employing artificial intelligence (AI) to make rapid sense of complex situations a world away—Chapa’s book constitutes an important advance in the professional ethics of remote warfighting.

Is Remote Warfare Moral? is unique among comparable works in that its author is both a trained philosopher and a veteran of remote combat. Lieutenant Colonel Chapa, currently an Air Staff officer at the Pentagon, is also a rated RPA pilot and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford. Chapa’s unique perspective is inextricable from his exploration of the ethics of modern remote warfare. Indeed, his book often reads as a defense of the moral capacity of RPA operators, who have been alternatingly stereotyped as treating war like a video game or else suffering from crippling post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately, however, Chapa’s firsthand professional experience and subject matter expertise help him draw ethical insights from our nation’s use of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper that are relevant to broader questions about the role of human judgment in all forms of remote warfare, from missile defense to offensive cyber operations.

The first of these insights is presented as a response to claims that remote violence is incompatible with just war and thus that the idea of a professional “remote warrior” is oxymoronic. Chapa insists on defining war as a sometimes justified, though always tragic, defense of some political community. The moral uprightness of responding to an unjust threat lends license for lethal force to certain members of the community. It follows that the qualities that make these individuals good warriors should be defined by whatever the defense of the common good demands. The martial virtues — traditionally identified with courage, loyalty, and honor — thus rightly differ in practice between the Union infantryman at Gettysburg and today’s MQ-9 sensor operator, even as both fight justly against an unjust threat.

The second major insight in Is Remote Warfare Moral? is Chapa’s development of what he calls the judgment gap: “the distance between the point of application of human judgment and the effects of that judgment.” Remote warfare has been criticized for distorting situational awareness and imprudently placing life-and-death choices in the hands of decisionmakers far from the nuanced subtleties of any combat zone. While Chapa acknowledges the inherent limitations of ordering kinetic effects from the other side of the world, he also points out that RPA operators have some important decisionmaking advantages over fellow combatants. For one thing, operating with reduced personal risk could actually make it easier to weigh the demands of a tactical situation against ethical norms and strategic priorities. For another, modern RPA operations give crews not only intimate awareness of the battlespace, but also the final decision about employing lethal force in that battlespace—all in virtually real time. That is, although the physical distance between RPA crews and their targets is large, the judgment gap is small.

Chapa offers multiple examples of RPA operators relying on their unique perspective and ultimate decisionmaking responsibility to push back against morally (and strategically) questionable requests from supported units on the battlefield or behind desks in an operations center. Although these examples may surprise those who consciously or subconsciously think of remote warriors as mere “gamers” or disempowered cogs in a machine, others will find Chapa’s description of the judgment gap to be a helpful hermeneutic for conceptualizing the value of in-depth operator situational awareness. The major insights of Is Remote Warfare Moral? can help us appreciate Chapa’s RPA anecdotes beyond their individual particularities, as highlighting the criticality of informed human judgment in distributed, technologically mediated warfighting.

In his final chapter, Chapa addresses the ethical outlook for future remote warfare and notes how AI-powered semiautonomous systems could widen warfighting judgment gaps. This is an issue begging to be explored in more detail. If Is Remote Warfare Moral? has any notable weakness, it is its often narrow focus on looking back at ethical lessons learned over two decades of Air Force RPA employment at the expense of considering in more depth how these lessons might be applied across the spectrum of remote warfare. Chapa imagines a future conflict in which “cyber warfare operators might engage the adversary from Fort Meade . . . bomber crews will use standoff weapons—AI-enabled, air-launched cruise missiles—rather than penetrating heavily defended enemy airspace . . . [or] perhaps fighter pilots will remain at a safe distance while sending swarms of autonomous loyal wingmen, or drones, forward to conduct the air-to-air fighting.” Although Chapa’s insights about the martial virtues and judgment gap are well articulated and sufficiently generalizable, it might have been worthwhile to explore how, for example, a cyber operator would perform the kind of moral deliberation Chapa describes RPA operators performing today.

Under the assumption that such explorations will be carried on elsewhere, let me then reaffirm here what Chapa does have to say about the future. The martial virtues are whatever qualities of character empower Servicemembers to effectively combat unjust threats to the political community. At the same time, remote warfare need not impose a major judgment gap on human decisionmaking in conflict. As our military relies more and more on AI to confront the challenges of fighting from a distance, Servicemembers must be prepared—technically and ethically—to make their judgments count.

They might start by asking, Is remote warfare moral? JFQ

War Transformed: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Great Power Competition and Conflict
By Francis G. Hoffman | Jan. 18, 2023

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Dr. Francis G. Hoffman serves as a Distinguished Research Fellow in the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. His latest book is Mars Adapting: Military Change During War (Naval Institute Press, 2021).
Air Power Supremo: A Biography of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor
War Transformed: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Great Power Competition and Conflict
By Mick Ryan
Naval Institute Press, 2022
312 pp. $39.95
ISBN: 9781682477410
Reviewed by Francis G. Hoffman

Thinking about future wars and how to best posture tomorrow’s joint force is an exercise in intelligent speculation. Certainty about the future is a luxury we do not enjoy. We must accept what the late Colin Gray called the “inescapable opacity” of the future. Peering into this dimly lit future and determining just how warfare is adapting—and evaluating what today’s armed forces must do to recast their doctrine and equipment for future challenges—remains a complex challenge.

War Transformed: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Great Power Competition and Conflict offers keen insights into that question as well as some answers on how both individuals and security institutions should adapt to the changes. Author Mick Ryan is an experienced Australian Army major general who recently retired after leading the Australian Defence College. He has written about this topic in these pages before (JFQ 96, 1st Quarter 2020), postulating the need for an intellectual edge as a source of advantage in a dynamic era. In this, his first book, he builds on that theme to examine the potential impact of the ongoing fourth industrial revolution and of several key technologies, and how they will influence societies, states, and their security institutions.

Serious students of war will find this book to be a valuable synthesis of the many issues our profession faces. Using an old metaphor from Sir Michael Howard, Ryan calls for our current leaders to become “intelligent surf riders” and ride the waves of an ongoing tide instead of ignoring the building momentum of the changes driven by what Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum, described as the fourth industrial revolution.

Ryan places the issue within its historical context and provides examples from the three prior industrial revolutions. The rigorous study of the past is a valuable tool for the joint force to use to temper dangerous speculation about the future. This cognitive task must be continually renewed to help the force discern how wars of the future might differ from previous conflicts given changes in technology and weaponry, as well as other shifts in the security environment. As the author stresses, we live in an age where many environmental conditions are in flux. Breakthroughs in computer science, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, bio-enhancement, and hypervelocity missiles may alter the offense/defense balance in different competitions and may allow for combinations and cross-domain applications that may surprise us. Understanding not just the technologies involved but the organizational and conceptual reframing required to leverage them is crucial.

There are various visions about revolutionary changes in warfare and an array of disruptive technologies in the offing. Technology will undoubtedly play a role, but weapons and information systems are simply tools—means, not ends in themselves. Ryan’s emphasis on human and cognitive factors is a refreshing perspective compared with the technocentric orientation frequently stressed in U.S. defense debates. That said, the author’s insights on the applications of artificial intelligence and man-machine integration are forward leaning.

We must also remain open-minded and critical about change to be intelligent “surf riders” in what the author calls “the Age of Acceleration.” As Ryan demonstrates, the past reveals eternal themes and recurring consequences for poor navigation or sloppy thinking. We have to recognize the enduring continuities of human agency, the pervasive uncertainty, and the primordial forces that come into play in warfare. Critical thinking and a culture that embraces objective experimentation separate the diligent victors from the complacent losers of military history. “For those military institutions that are quick to anticipate, recognize opportunity, learn, and adapt,” Ryan concludes, “it will be an era of opportunity, prosperity, and security.” Those who shirk this intellectual task are more likely to find themselves in perilous situations. The price of complacency in this era could be disastrous. Chapter 4 of War Transformed raises issues about adapting military institutions, which could be useful for capstone courses for senior officers rising to prominent roles in their armed forces. That chapter also offers material for civilian leaders at the Pentagon as they think about what needs to be done at the policy level to mold tomorrow’s strategies and resources.

Ryan’s push for the institutional imperative to generate an intellectual edge is one of his major themes and clearly draws on his last post, at the Australian Defence College. He defined this as “an organization’s capacity to effectively nurture and exploit the disparate intellectual talents of its individuals to solve complex institutional problems.” Without such a capacity, the author questions where the challenges of future force design, creative operational concepts, and the integration of both kinetic and nonkinetic capabilities could be successfully solved. He offers a suite of initiatives involving continuous learning programs, technological education, guided self-development, technology-abetted educational tools, and specialized elite programs to generate this edge. The themes he identified resonate with the Joint Chiefs’ vision for professional military education and talent management and should be of interest to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff, as well as the Service Chiefs and their learning institutions.

War Transformed is a rather ambitious project that asks the right questions, and Ryan offers numerous answers and recommendations as well. They are stated in generic terms, appropriate for a global audience, leaving the readers to apply the proposals to their own specific national contexts. Readers may not agree with all of Ryan’s recommendations, yet he invariably frames the most critical issues and provokes his audience to join the debate. He offers a sober glimpse into the future, which will most certainly be a challenging era for the profession of arms.

War Transformed is strongly recommended as a guide to improve one’s ability to navigate our uncertain future. Not everyone is a “surf rider,” but this book will stretch minds and force readers to reassess longstanding assumptions and dated ideas. Its strength is in its synthesis of the ideas of many others, which makes War Transformed comprehensive and an excellent foundation for a security studies course. Supplemented by key articles for greater depth on competing ideas or specific technologies, it would be a superb text for a class on the changing character of warfare at either the undergraduate or graduate level. The issues collectively raised in War Transformed represent the cognitive challenge of our times, highlighting the need to change and to wisely assess the options before us. JFQ

British Successes in 19th-Century Great Power Competition: Lessons for Today’s Joint Force
By Isaac Johnson, Erik Lampe, and Keith Wilson | Jan. 18, 2023

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Major Isaac Johnson, USA, is a Psychological Operations Officer at U.S. Space Command. Lieutenant Colonel Erik Lampe, USA, is J2 Executive Officer at U.S. Space Command. Lieutenant Colonel Keith Wilson, USAF, is an Assistant Professor at the United States Air Force Academy.
iLord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, oil on canvas

History lights the often dark path ahead; even if it’s a dim light, it’s better than none.

—James Mattis1

It is no accident that many of our nation’s finest military minds—George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower—were avid readers of history. Former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis’s suggestion that “history lights the . . . path ahead” has proved accurate time and again. As the U.S. security establishment pivots from a focus on counterterrorism to one of countering peer adversaries in new domains of conflict, history may again serve as a guide. As this pivot is under way, the country finds it is no longer the clear global hegemon but rather is operating in a multipolar global power structure. How do we navigate this transition? In the decades after the American Revolution, Britain not only maintained its vital interests despite the loss of the American colonies, but it also successfully navigated a multipolar power structure to strengthen its position in the international community. This article explores 19th-century British strategies to maintain and expand global power that might offer helpful insight to today’s joint force.

Britain’s success was owed in large part to the employment of strategic agility. According to the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, strategic agility is “the ability for organizations to see shifts inside the . . . environment in which they operate. [It is] about staying competitive by recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities as well as identifying potential threats and mitigating or preventing them.”2 The British undertook both a reprioritization of global interests and a military rightsizing; pivoted to a new economic model that entailed a modified approach to key international relationships; and embraced new technology, applying a public-private approach in doing so. The modifications made by Britain apply in meaningful ways to the challenges presented to the joint force today. For example, the concept of global integration offers both strategic opportunity and risks, with relatively scarce resources requiring clear and consistent prioritization to avoid overcommitment.3 This article begins with pertinent geopolitical and historical context, transitions to presenting specific evidence of British strategic agility, and concludes with recommended applications of these observations for the joint force.

Chromolithograph of William Simpson’s India: Ancient and Modern


The relative position of the United States in the global distribution of power since the Cold War has received considerable academic attention. Political scientists commonly accept that the fall of the Soviet Union marked the transition from a bipolar world to one in which the United States enjoyed global hegemony. However, 1991 was some time ago, and the United States has faced enormous challenges to its supremacy over the past 30 years. Political science offers a compelling theoretical basis for the transitory nature of hegemony, and security scholars have studied the topic of American unipolarity and prospective decline for the past several decades.4 While some current works suggest the United States remains the sole global superpower, more argue it either is at risk of losing or has already lost its status as hegemon.5 Much of the variance in perspective centers around the devices employed to measure relative power.

Figure. Composite Index of National Capability Comparison with Forecast (China, Russia, United States, 1900–2030)

Perhaps the most applied data set on power is the Correlates of War project, which uses a composite index of national capability measurements to compare total power and sources of power between states over time.6 The figure depicts the findings from these data that highlight a surge in relative power by China and a plateauing of U.S. power, offering strong evidence the United States now operates in a multipolar environment and perhaps has since the earliest days of its counterterrorism fight after September 11, 2001. While U.S. decline may be a matter of debate, comparative gains by China make evident that, at the very least, the United States is no longer the world’s hegemon.

Britain’s shifting place in the world in the mid-18th through 19th centuries serves as a helpful comparison for the evolution of the political and economic position of the United States over the past 30 years. In 1763, Britain emerged from the Seven Years’ War as the dominant global power, having secured North America and India from France and Spain.7 According to James Holmes, Britain presumed that such a complete victory put an end to Great Power competition, so it allowed its military—and especially its navy—to stagnate.8 France and Spain, however, spent 20 years reconstituting their forces, determined to rebound from their losses in 1763.9 Meanwhile, increasing instability across the British Empire and a growing resistance movement in the American colonies forced the British military to shift to internal defense and counterinsurgency operations.

By 1775, Britain was fully engaged against a revolutionary insurgency in North America that eventually expanded into another global war with a resurgent France and Spain. With the conclusion of hostilities in 1783 under somewhat unfavorable terms, Britain lost its status as the unopposed hegemon to become an incumbent competitor vying for position in an evolving multipolar political environment.10 Having aided substantially in the American military victory during the war, France gained ascendancy and began establishing norms regarding free trade to exploit as economic leverage, while French revolutionary idealism gained influence over Britain’s war-weary people.11 To further complicate matters, the British government had to cope with a significant blow to its international reputation, pay down an enormous national debt, and manage an internal political crisis between increasingly antagonistic parliamentary factions that destabilized the government and weakened its legitimacy among the British population.12

Britain learned a valuable lesson from the American Revolution: it cannot afford to sacrifice strategic flexibility to maintain combat power in a single peripheral theater to the detriment of vital national concerns—for example, more economically essential colonies such as the Caribbean or even the homeland.13 From the end of the war and through the 19th century, Britain shaped its decisionmaking from its wartime experience and a renewed fear of losing further global influence to the French.14

Much like Britain following the Revolutionary War, the United States finds itself in transition. British success in the Seven Years’ War and U.S. success in the Cold War lulled both great powers into a false sense of security regarding the durability of their dominance on the world stage, enabling challengers to reestablish capabilities and influence relatively unopposed. Like Britain in 1783, the United States is emerging from 20 years of counterinsurgency operations into an environment in which advances in capability and world influence by global competitors challenge its position on the world stage.15 The United States now faces ascendant and resurgent competitors in Russia and China, a public tired of war, a reshuffling of financial priorities, internal political tensions, and enduring worldwide political and military commitments.16

As the United States increasingly operates within multipolarity, the presence of stronger strategic challengers renders the pursuit of national interests more difficult. It is only natural to ask how the United States might best compete in this environment. Nineteenth-century Britain’s example in successfully applying strategic agility to gain and maintain influence in a multipolar environment suggests an important lesson for U.S. decisionmakers and the joint force. The following three sections offer evidence of British strategic agility across three pillars—strategic prioritization, a whole-of-government pivot, and incorporation of key technologies—each of which provides lessons for the joint force today.

Aircraft from United Kingdom’s carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, and U.S. Navy carrier strike groups led by flagships USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson, fly in formation during carrier strike group operations in Philippine Sea

Britain’s Strategic Prioritization

The end of the American Revolutionary War represented a reflection point for British leadership. Amid squabbling over who was to blame for the loss of the American colonies, attention quickly shifted to what mattered most: Britain’s remaining security obligations and the required size of force to address these priorities. In a notably proactive step, Britain undertook a deliberate reprioritization of strategic interests and then rightsized its force to address these interests. The British realized they could not be everywhere at once and do everything they might like. They had to make difficult choices about where to apply scarce resources and which critical gaps to fill. Taking this step was not automatic, but they saw that the consequences of not reprioritizing were likely to be a rapid decline of the empire as overcommitment further set in. Therefore, establishing clear priorities and properly resourcing them was the first and most important example of British strategic agility.

Following the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown in 1781, well before the war had ended, the British decided to prioritize interests in the Caribbean, maritime Europe, and the Indian Ocean over its American colonies.17 Continued pressure from strategic adversaries France and Spain in new combat theaters and challenges to Britain’s expeditionary force caused Britain to relegate the Americas to a secondary interest to preserve strength elsewhere. Britain placed the defense of its claims in the Caribbean Islands above all other strategic priorities, risking even invasion of the homeland, believing the loss of the sugar islands would have catastrophic consequences to its greater imperial goals.18 By this time, the plantation system in the British West Indies was the British economic center of gravity, which financed the empire’s global reach.19 In particular, Britain drew considerable wealth from Jamaica, making it the most valuable island in the most valuable colony, the loss of which the British could least afford.20

Next, Britain prioritized defense of its homeland through the preservation of primacy in maritime Europe, as it remained engaged in Great Power competition with France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic over a range of colonial and commercial issues. Britain stood largely alone fighting an extensive global land and naval conflict, while invasion of the homeland by European antagonists remained a serious concern. France aimed to gain equal status to Britain’s and threatened to invade territorial Britain to achieve this goal.21 Meanwhile, losses mounted in the western Mediterranean region in addition to those in the Americas. For example, a French and Spanish fleet retook Minorca—a strategic deep-water port—from the British in August 1781, putting the British fortress at Gibraltar at risk and threatening further to degrade Britain’s position near its home waters.22 Britain, therefore, prioritized the active defense of local and regional maritime interests as a principal means of defending the homeland.

Third, the British prioritized interests in India for its natural resources, market opportunity, and geographic positioning. Britain came to rely on the vast amounts of commodities available on the Indian subcontinent, including cotton, silk, porcelain, spices, tea, and coffee. Many of these resources were extracted, returned home for production, and then sold back to or through India. India also represented a gateway to China—yet another market to sustain Britain’s global empire.23

Britain’s decision to downgrade its American colonies in priority required overcoming considerable thinking associated with sunk costs.24 Ultimately, Britain did not possess sufficient assets to protect all its interests, forcing a difficult decision about where its interests were most at stake. The American campaign, therefore, was reduced to a secondary interest. Additionally, Britain took to rightsizing its force. In the 30 years following the American Revolution, the British army grew from roughly 40,000 to 250,000 men for war with France from 1803 to 1814.25 This increase in ground forces allowed the British to fight successfully across a range of fronts during the Napoleonic Wars, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo.26 Meanwhile, strategic reprioritization allowed Britain to concentrate its naval forces to defend itself at sea, both at home and across major trading routes.27

Efficiencies achieved by applying resources to clear priorities led to the consolidation of the Royal Navy’s advantage over other powers, perhaps best reflected during this period by the defeat of French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar.28 After these wars, Britain significantly reduced the size of its ground forces to more sustainable levels.29 By the mid-19th century, the process of consolidating interests, setting clear priorities, and then adjusting the force to meet the needs presented by these priorities proved instrumental in Britain’s rise to global hegemon during the later Victorian era.

Whole-of-Government Pivot

Following defeat in the American Revolutionary War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Britain faced multiple challenges: an oversize debt load from the previous two wars, a navy requiring expansion, and challenges from France and other colonial powers.30 Britain realized its interaction with its colonies had to change lest it risk their loss from demands of self-governance or another colonial war.31 Britain addressed this issue through a whole-of-government approach to change its economic model, increase utilization of treaties and agreements, and engage in coalition-building with partners to counter French expansion. This initial approach to contain France’s ascendancy would serve as a blueprint for future British policies.

Britain had already started the move from mercantilism toward free trade economics prior to the Revolutionary War. As part of its diplomatic strategy, it attempted to engage France in trade, leading to a “most favored nation”–type treaty in 1786 between France and Britain.32 This treaty would end with the French Revolution in 1789, forcing a change in Britain’s engagement strategy with the new revolutionary French government and leading Britain to further embrace free trade across its colonies and with a growing number of neutral nations.33 While mercantilism and protectionist policies would endure for several decades, the increased economic gain from free trade and manufacturing progress aided Britain in servicing debt, building coalitions, and expanding military capability and control.34 Britain continued expanding free trade policies throughout the 19th century, including the 1843–1849 laws ending tariffs on imported grains and further agreements in 1860 to reduce tariffs between France and Britain.35 As an island nation, Britain had to maintain the ability to project naval power and secure its global trade enterprise, which fed the British economic engine and sustained its expeditionary military capability.

Britain also employed laws, treaties, and agreements to stabilize theaters of operations while enabling moral and legal justification for action. The Jay Treaty of 1794 is one example of the British ensuring economic growth, enabling reprioritization of military resources, and securing U.S. neutrality.36 The treaty gave the United States most favored trade status while leaving Britain free to embargo French trade and continue to impress foreign sailors, providing a source of labor critical to British naval strength.37 Similarly, the Slave Trade Act of 1807 further justified British naval actions against slave-trading competitors and undermined a vital source of labor for France and its colonies.38

To further contain French expansion that threatened British interests, Britain formed or joined seven international coalitions between 1792 and 1815, allying with more than 20 nations, including Spain, Russia, and Austria.39 Enhanced by its significant trade and manufacturing capabilities, the British subsidized allies within these coalitions to provide economic and military means to contain French influence.40 Britain’s ability to utilize a whole-of-government approach to building an economic and military defense structure, supported by a rapidly advancing joint force to enforce and protect these structures, was critical to containing France and establishing the foundation for reasserting British influence and global leadership.

Incorporation of Key Technologies

From 1760 through the end of the 19th century, Britain enjoyed successive industrial revolutions that helped advance its national interests. Although not all the advances during this era originated in Britain, the Industrial Revolution as a transformative process began in Britain and was British-led, and the results were exploited for British benefit to a greater extent than in other European powers of the time.41 Several international relations theories assert that technological innovation is a critical variable in establishing political and economic system dominance.42 A full description of the relationship between technology and Britain’s 19th-century rise would fill its own essay. Still, the criticality of certain technological developments to Britain’s attainment of its strategic goals warrants a brief treatment here.

As British international trade expanded throughout the 19th century, increased economic opportunity shrank the available labor pool from which the military could recruit.43 This trend, compounded by a significant military reduction after the Napoleonic Wars and the continuing challenge of maintaining a global empire, required the British military to develop modern technologies to augment its limited manpower. As historian John Shy points out, European armies operated from the same technological base for more than a century, until the explosion of technology in the early 1800s radically advanced the conduct of warfare.44 The British military’s most notable advances developed or adopted by 1850 to exploit this expansion included the steam engine, the locomotive, interchangeable parts, the percussion ignition system, and the rifle.45

As noted, British naval capability lagged relative to that of other powers before the American Revolution, primarily because of attempts to reduce costs and increase efficiency in peacetime, which rendered them unprepared for the wars that would come.46 After the American Revolution, the British admiralty endeavored to reinvigorate the navy; it had made significant headway in increasing the number and quality of ships and regained dominance by the Napoleonic Wars.47 Continued development in the 19th century of steam-powered ships and the incorporation of the first screw propeller in 1837 drastically increased the speed and agility of British warships while allowing them to maintain a full complement of weapons.48 These new steam-powered ships, sustained by Britain’s global supply network, served as the foundation of a new maritime force able to project power across the empire.49

On land, as on the seas, the steam engine enabled the development of transnational and transcontinental rail systems, which the British built across the empire to increase the speed and capacity of colonial export shipments during peace and to serve as a military transportation system during war.50 Ironically, the expansion of rail infrastructure across the European continent reduced the efficacy of British naval power—Britain’s traditional source of strategic leverage—by reducing European vulnerability to blockades and increasing the speed and responsiveness of land forces to territorial threats.51 Thus, Britain needed to make further advances in land power to maintain a competitive edge.52

Progress in industrial manufacturing and machining also allowed the mass production of advanced weapons technology. For example, the faster and more reliable percussion ignition system in firearms, standardized firearm components, and eventually breech-loading mechanisms elevated the rifle from a niche support weapon to the infantry’s primary armament, significantly increasing the range and lethality of the core of the British army.53 In addition, Britain used its significant manufacturing capacity to generate income and build coalitions across Europe to compete with France.54 Although the British did not invent all these technologies, Britain’s strategic flexibility in embracing scientific innovations from across Europe, its willingness to experiment with new tools and techniques, and its prioritization of funding for promising technologies kept it at the forefront of military advancement throughout the 19th century.

United Kingdom Royal Marines and U.S. Army Green Berets provide security before entering building during close quarter battle training at Grafenwöhr Training Area

What Can We Learn?

The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) describes a strategic environment rich with complexity, in which Great Power competition, rogue regimes, a weakening post–World War II international order, terror groups, and transnational crime threaten U.S. interests. The convergence of these threats is occurring as technology changes the character of war and conflict operates across domains with increasing speed and reach.55 President Joseph Biden’s 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (INSSG) continues to emphasize these themes, citing a revolution in technology, threats that defy borders, and a changing distribution of power across the world.56 It would not be difficult to conclude from this description of our global environment that the United States must engage everywhere—and the NDS and subsequent guidance illustrate a prescription for doing so.

The concept of global integration highlights the interwoven nature of the threat environment, prompting commanders across the globe to recognize equities they have in challenges historically treated as beyond their responsibility. The United States, however, cannot sufficiently address all that threatens its interests. Instead, it must put consistent effort toward the highest strategic priorities, much as Great Britain did following the loss of the American colonies in 1781. Substantive differences exist between the U.S. operating environment and that of the British in the late 18th century. The American colonies were not an existential threat to Britain, so King George III could afford to relegate the Americas to a secondary interest without considerable risk. In contrast, much of what the United States treats as a lesser priority possesses the ability to cause significant harm to U.S. interests. For example, violent extremism is considered the fifth-most-important security threat today, following China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. However, extremist organizations in several parts of the world possess the ability and intent to attack U.S. forces and their allies, if not threaten the homeland. No such risk attached to Britain in forgoing the American colonies.

Despite these differences, the critical parallel between British behavior in the late 18th century and the conditions in which U.S. joint force operates today remains: the necessity of clear prioritization of effort in a resource-constrained environment. We must be clear-eyed about the depth of challenges associated with the strategic environment; however, we must also be clear about where precisely we are focused and where we are assuming risk. And as the United States responds to a shifting environment with prospective new threats and activity from lower priorities, we must consider the risks of adjusting course too often. In addition to adhering to clear priorities, we must also secure a force size and structure able to meet those priorities.

Like Britain in the 18th century, the United States is engaged globally, depends on the sea, and operates with constrained resources and worldwide obligations, which require the joint force to partner across the whole of government to ensure U.S. interests are secured. The joint force must be able to defend trade routes and accesses that are critical to national economic growth. It must partner effectively not only across the whole of government but also with allied nations to ensure access and capability in the growing domains of cyber and space, each of which plays a key role in driving economic growth and enabling the force projection essential to protecting U.S. interests worldwide.57 The United States must continue to use existing alliances, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while adapting its role for a multipolar world, and it must develop new military and economic coalitions to ensure freedom of trade.

Britain’s 19th-century technological development provides two lessons for the modern U.S. joint force. First, the United States must aggressively experiment with, adapt, and adopt promising new technologies developed through public-private partnerships to maintain an edge against global competitors. Today’s fourth industrial revolution offers a significant opportunity for the U.S. military to exert influence through technological innovation in various fields, including quantum computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology.58 Examples abound of the U.S. military’s current efforts to modernize, including a global defense network linking all military platforms into a digital nervous system as well as numerous projects by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and various think tanks.59 However, the U.S. military must resist the temptation to expend precious resources on new projects on the basis of the allure of novel technologies. It must first determine the strategic value of potential technologies, then pursue opportunities for developing the most promising ones through collaboration with like-minded private businesses.

Second, the United States must use the development and propagation of novel technologies to strategic advantage by presenting allies and partners with alternatives to the technology and equipment offered by strategic competitors. As the INSSG attests, the United States amplifies its power by strengthening its partnerships. That strengthening should include mutual technological advancement, as the British realized nearly two centuries ago.60


The United States faces a moment of not only strategic complexity but also considerable opportunity. This article adds a voice to the discussion of how the United States should maintain and advance its interests in the coming years. The lessons derived from the British experience of the 18th and 19th centuries can help the United States navigate an increasingly multipolar security environment to advance its interests and to maximize its strategic position. The joint force will play a key role in operationalizing the three pillars of strategic agility: reprioritizing global interests and military rightsizing, contributing to a whole-of-government approach to international engagement, and embracing new technology through public-private collaboration. The United States should adhere to these three pillars to optimize its scarce resources, directing them toward priority threats and opportunities in the modern operating environment. The risk incurred in deviating from high priorities and the risk accepted on lower priorities must also be clear.

The United States will need to adjust its force size and structure to meet its priorities. The joint force will succeed only by fostering effective partnerships across the interagency community and with foreign nations. Although each of the pillars identified above warrants considerably more attention than space allows, the process of distilling complex history into lessons most worth learning is one of great value to decisionmakers. As an example of such distillation, this article serves as the basis for the joint force to identify the most crucial variables to reestablish the U.S. power advantages and think through the military’s role in national power. With more to do than we have the resources to accomplish, history must light the path ahead. JFQ


1 Jim Mattis and Bing West, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead (New York: Random House, 2019), 237.

2 “Strategic Agility,” Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, available at <>.

3 Global integration is defined as the arrangement of cohesive military actions in time, space, and purpose, executed to address transregional, all-domain, and multifunctional challenges. See Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 3050.01, Implementing Global Integration (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, December 31, 2018), A-1.

4 Hegemonic stability, power transition, relative power cycle, and leadership long cycle models studied by scholars such as Robert Gilpin, A.F.K. Organski, Charles Doran, George Modelski, and William Thompson emphasize the world’s leading position as transitory, with powers rising, plateauing, and then declining. Other examples of studies on this topic include Michael Mastanduno, “Preserving the Unipolar Moment: Realist Theories and U.S. Grand Strategy After the Cold War,” International Security 21, no. 4 (Spring 1997), 49–88; Michael Cox, “Whatever Happened to American Decline? International Relations and the New United States Hegemony,” New Political Economy 6, no. 3 (November 2001), 311–340; Immanuel Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New York: The New Press, 2003); Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, World Out of Balance: International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Christopher Layne, “The Waning of U.S. Hegemony—Myth or Reality? A Review Essay,” International Security 34, no. 1 (Summer 2009).

5 For specific examples of arguments on the U.S. hegemonic decline, see Hang Nguyen Thi Thuy, “The United States: Still a Hegemonic Power?” Journal of International Studies 8 (January 2012), 15–29; Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, “How Hegemony Ends: The Unraveling of American Power,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020, available at <>.

6 J. David Singer, “Reconstructing the Correlates of War Dataset on Material Capabilities of States, 1816–1985,” International Interactions 14, no. 2 (1988), 115–132.

7 John Burrow, “British Imperialism in the Age of William Pitt the Younger, 1783–1793” (master’s thesis, Murray State University, 2014), 23.

8 James R. Holmes, “Lessons From George III,” Naval History Magazine 32, no. 4 (August 2018), available at <>.

9 Ibid.

10 Burrow, “British Imperialism in the Age of William Pitt the Younger, 1783–1793,” 27.

11 Thomas F. Lynch III and Frank Hoffman, “Past Eras of Great Power Competition: Historical Insights and Implications,” in Strategic Assessment 2020: Into a New Era of Great Power Competition, ed. Thomas F. Lynch III (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2020), available at <>; Oscar Browning, “The Treaty of Commerce Between England and France in 1786,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 2, no. 4 (1885), 349–364; “Peace of Paris,” Britannica, available at <>.

12 “Debate in the Lords Respecting the Articles of the Provisional Treaty of Peace Relative to the Recognition of the Independence of America,” in Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England, vol. 23, ed. William Cobbett (London: R. Bagshaw, 1814), 305, available at <>.

13 Holmes, “Lessons From George III.”

14 Burrow, “British Imperialism in the Age of William Pitt the Younger, 1783–1793,” 29.

15 Jacob L. Heim and Benjamin M. Miller, Measuring Power, Power Cycles, and the Risk of Great-Power War in the 21st Century (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2020), available at <>.

16 Ibid.; Peter Rudolf, War Weariness and Change in Strategy in U.S. Policy on Afghanistan (Berlin: German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 2011), 8, available at <>.

17 Holmes, “Lessons from George III.”

18 Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 208.

19 Selwyn H.H. Carrington, “The American Revolution and the British West Indies Economy,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 17, no. 4 (Spring 1987), 823–850.

20 T.G. Burnard, “‘Prodigious Riches’: The Wealth of Jamaica Before the American Revolution,” The Economic History Review 54, no. 3 (August 2001), 506–524.

21 Gene Procknow, “How the British Won the American Revolutionary War,” Journal of the American Revolution, July 27, 2015, available at <>.

22 Ibid.

23 Shashi Tharoor, An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2016), 21–40.

24 The term sunk costs refers to loss aversion and the failure to renormalize the reference point after losses. See Jack S. Levy, “Loss Aversion, Framing, and Bargaining: The Implications of Prospect Theory for International Conflict,” International Political Science Review 17, no. 2 (April 1996), 179–195.

25 David G. Chandler and Ian Beckett, eds., The Oxford History of the British Army (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

26 British engagements stretching across the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars included Mysore, Toulon, Flanders, West Indies, Muizenberg and Ceylon, Ireland, Mysore (again), Holland, Egypt, Maratha, West Indies (again), Hanover, Naples, Sicily and the Mediterranean, South Africa and the Plate, Denmark, Alexandria, Walcheren, Indian Ocean and East Indies, Holland (again), North America, and Waterloo.

27 Martin Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Napoleonic Wars (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2014).

28 Geoffrey Till, “Trafalgar and the Decisive Naval Battles of the 21st Century,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 18, no. 3 (October 2005), 455–470.

29 Robson, A History of the Royal Navy.

30 “Treaty of Paris, 1783,” Office of the Historian, Department of State, available at <>.

31 Lebbeus R. Wilfley, “How Great Britain Governs Her Colonies,” Yale Law Journal 9, no. 5 (March 1900), 207–214.

32 Browning, “The Treaty of Commerce Between England and France in 1786,” 349–364.

33 Gene A. King, Jr., “The Development of Free Trade in Europe,” Paper presented at the 2008 Free Market Forum, Dearborn, Michigan, September 25–27, 2008, available at <>.

34 “Napoleonic Wars, The Treaty of Amiens,” Britannica, available at <>; Wilfley, “How Great Britain Governs Her Colonies.”

35 Wilfley, “How Great Britain Governs Her Colonies”; King, “The Development of Free Trade in Europe.”

36 Anuj Kumar Vaksha, “Jay Treaty 1794: The Treasure Trove for Principles of International Law on Protection of Foreign Investments,” U.S.-China Law Review 16, no. 7 (July 2019), 281–292.

37 Ibid. Impressment remained a source of contention and is often cited as a cause of the War of 1812.

38 Stephen Farrell, “‘Contrary to the Principles of Justice, Humanity and Sound Policy’: The Slave Trade, Parliamentary Politics and the Abolition Act, 1807,” Parliamentary History 26, no. 4 (2007), 141–202.

39 Édouard Driault, “The Coalition of Europe Against Napoleon,” The American Historical Review 24, no. 4 (July 1919), 603–624.

40 “Napoleonic Wars, The Treaty of Amiens.”

41 “Industrial Revolution,” Britannica, available at <>.

42 For a more detailed discussion on lateral pressure theory and long cycle theory, two theories that describe how technology and innovation factor into establishing political and economic dominance, see Nazli Choucri and Robert C. North, “Lateral Pressure in International Relations: Concept and Theory,” in Handbook of War Studies I, ed. Manus I. Midlarsky (New York: Routledge, 2011); Karen Rasler and William R. Thompson, “Global War and the Political Economy of Structural Change,” in Handbook of War Studies II, ed. Manus I. Midlarsky (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 301–331.

43 David M. Rowe, David H. Bearce, and Patrick J. McDonald, “Binding Prometheus: How the 19th-Century Expansion of Trade Impeded Britain’s Ability to Raise an Army,” International Studies Quarterly 46, no. 4 (December 2002), 551–578, available at <>.

44 David D. Bien, with commentary by John Shy, “Military Education in 18th Century France: Technical and Non-Technical Determinants,” in Science, Technology, and Warfare: The Proceedings of the Third Military History Symposium, ed. Monte D. Wright and Lawrence J. Paszek (Colorado Springs: U.S. Air Force Academy, Office of Air Force History, 1969), 61–63, available at <>.

45 Ibid.

46 Holmes, “Lessons from George III.”

47 Christine Macleod et al., “Making Waves: The Royal Navy’s Management of Invention and Innovation in Steam Shipping, 1815–1832,” History and Technology 16, no. 4 (January 2000), 308.

48 Lawrence Sondhaus, Naval Warfare, 1815–1914 (New York: Routledge, 2000), 37–42.

49 Ibid.

50 Barry Buzan, An Introduction to Strategic Studies: Military Technology and International Relations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), 22–24.

51 Rowe, Bearce, and McDonald, “Binding Prometheus,” 553.

52 Ibid., 553–554.

53 Buzan, An Introduction to Strategic Studies, 20–24.

54 “Industrial Revolution.”

55 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, available at <>.

56 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (Washington, DC: The White House, March 2021), 7–9.

57 “Cybersecurity and the New Era of Space Activities,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 3, 2018, available at <>.

58 Njuguna Ndung’u and Landry Signé, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Digitization Will Transform Africa Into a Global Powerhouse,” in Foresight Africa 2020, ed. Brahima S. Coulibaly and Christina Golubski (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2020), 61, available at <>.

59 Patrick Tucker, “The Future the U.S. Military Is Constructing: A Giant, Armed Nervous System,” Defense One, September 26, 2017, available at <>.

60 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance.