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March 19, 2021

Negotiating [Im]plausible Deniability: Strategic Guidelines for U.S. Engagement in Modern Indirect Warfare

American adversaries such as Russia and Iran are persistently challenging U.S. interests around the world through indirect attacks. Rather than threaten the United States head-on, these competitors employ nebulous tools like private military contractors, proxies, and cyber-driven disinformation campaigns that are difficult to attribute, enabling plausible deniability, and muddle the distinction between violent and nonviolent actions. The frequency and ubiquity of these incidents—whether in Syria, Afghanistan, or even back home—suggest that indirect attacks will remain a primary tactic in geopolitical competition for the foreseeable future. Yet, the implications of these indirect means of competition for U.S. policy are not well understood. The centerpiece of these attacks is adversaries’ ability to threaten U.S. interests repeatedly over time and geographies while obfuscating the seriousness of the threat and keeping the acts below the threshold of public attention. We find that by mitigating domestic political pressure in the targeted state to react decisively, indirect attacks provide that state the benefit of decision space for how to respond. The aggregate implication for national security is that the use of indirect attacks may have the overall effect of reducing the level of conflict in the international system by increasing opportunities to offramp escalation. For this to be true, however, states must take advantage of the space to leverage other tools like diplomacy to reduce tensions.

March 19, 2021

A Friend to All is a Friend to None: Analysis of Russian Strategy in the Middle East

Since the start of the Arab Spring, Russia has sought increased influence in the Middle East, rekindling relationships and building influence in Syria, Turkey, Libya, Israel, and elsewhere. The return of Russian influence puts pressure on U.S. interests in the region. In the increasingly complex security environment of today’s world defined by transregional and multi-functional challenges across all domains, the United States is constrained in the Middle East by both available resources and an American public exhausted by military efforts in the region. America must make difficult choices and prioritize efforts. This article analyzes Russia’s strategy in the region, framed by the ways, means, ends, and risk models, to uncover risks to the Russian strategy that the United States could exploit.

March 19, 2021

Iran’s Gray Zone Strategy: Cornerstone of its Asymmetric Way of War

Since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran has distinguished itself (along with Russia and China) as one of the world’s foremost “gray zone” actors. For nearly four decades, however, the United States has struggled to respond effectively to this asymmetric “way of war.” Washington has often treated Tehran with caution and granted it significant leeway in the conduct of its gray zone activities due to fears that U.S. pushback would lead to “all-out” war—fears that the Islamic Republic actively encourages. Yet, the very purpose of this modus operandi is to enable Iran to pursue its interests and advance its anti-status quo agenda while avoiding escalation that could lead to a wider conflict. Because of the potentially high costs of war—especially in a proliferated world—gray zone conflicts are likely to become increasingly common in the years to come. For this reason, it is more important than ever for the United States to understand the logic underpinning these types of activities, in all their manifestations.

March 19, 2021

Time for a New National Innovation System for Security and Prosperity

In his 1989 classic The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers Paul Kennedy wrote, “To be a Great Power—by definition, a state capable of holding its own against any other nation—demands a flourishing economic base.” Kennedy should have added, “an economic (and technology) base that is flourishing more than its competitors.”

March 19, 2021

China and America: From Trade War to Race and Culture Confrontation

The Thucydides Trap is an intellectual trap for the unwary when uncritically applied to China. China is not a rising power; it is a returning power. The psychology is different. Misapprehending the nature of the problem will exacerbate it.

March 19, 2021

China and America: A New Game in a New Era

China and the United States are in a different game than the rising power/established power conflicts of the past. Most analyses of such rivalries are based on pre–World War II history and fail to notice that the game changed radically after World War II. Sometimes when alterations are made in the rules or implements of a game, the risks and the optimal strategies change.

March 19, 2021

The Military in the Time of COVID-19: Versatile, Vulnerable, and Vindicating

Since the eruption of the world’s latest pandemic, COVID-19 in December 2019, militaries throughout the world have taken on a variety of unfamiliar domestic tasks—an arena which is usually reserved for internal security forces. In Peru the military called upon 16,000 reservists to help fight the pandemic—an exceptional move that did not even occur during the fight against the rebel group Sendero Luminoso in the 1980s. The Italian military found itself driving truckloads of deceased COVID-19 victims to mortuaries, provoking questions about possible post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). In Spain, the military has also drawn international attention, not only for its assistance in imposing national lockdowns, but moreover for the revealing uniforms, with deep v-neck shirts and leather suspenders. This prompted both comments from mainly female writers, reflecting on the physical attraction of the male soldiers, and a deeper and more critical discussion on the role of the Spanish military during the civil war and the succeeding dictatorship.

March 19, 2021

Natural Hazards and National Security: The COVID-19 Lessons

Natural hazards can have serious implications for national security. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates how first-order challenges are created for our national security planners, not least maintaining SSBN and SSN submarine crew and air crew rosters during quarantine restrictions, as well as keeping forces operationally effective while establishing social distancing in supply, repair and support facilities, gyms, and mess halls. We must also expect our adversaries to try to exploit the dislocation such events cause to further their own agendas.

March 17, 2021

The Role of Europe in the New Great Power Competition

The US Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) program hosted a speaker session on March 17, 2021, presented by Rector Federica Mogherini (College of Europe; Former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), as a part of its SMA INSS/PRISM Speaker Series.

Feb. 24, 2021

Innovating for National Security

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) program hosted a speaker session on February 24, 2021, presented by Mr. Michael Brown (Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)), as a part of its SMA NDU/PRISM Innovation Series.