On February 10, 2023, the Joint Concept for Competing was published. The document was released under the auspices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and belongs to the field of doctrine.
The main idea of this concept is that the joint U.S. Armed Forces should expand their competitive thinking and their competitive approaches. It is proposed to view strategic competition as a complex set of interactions where the Pentagon helps the U.S. government to influence, gain advantage and leverage over other actors (global competition). Therefore, military capabilities will be used to proactively probe adversary systems to identify the vulnerabilities. Behavioral patterns will be implemented to conceal U.S. intentions until it is too late. Competition will shift to areas where the United States can use its advantages, leverage, and initiative. Finally, the Pentagon and other agencies would try to divert the attention and resources of adversaries to sub-areas of secondary or tertiary importance to the United States.
Clearly this decision has been made in the light of the fact that in an open conflict the U.S. is unlikely to be able to withstand a war on two fronts (with Russia and China), as a number of American strategists warn about. That is why they say that it is necessary to apply a strategy of deception and probing the weaknesses of the adversary.
In order to do this, a number of tasks must be accomplished:
– Expanding the competitive mindset, since other countries have different concepts of warfare.
– Shaping the competitive space, which is huge, amorphous and indefinable. It is proposed to divide it into manageable and more understandable sub-areas for analysis and planning.
Let us note the phrase: “Where and when U.S. and adversary interests align, the Joint Force will engage adversaries selectively and seek opportunities to cooperate with them for mutual benefit in the pursuit of shared or complementary strategic interests (e.g., counterterrorism, counter-piracy)”.
– Advance integrated campaigning based on the understanding that the Joint Force in strategic competition cannot and should not act alone.
It is noted that “the Joint Force must seek opportunities to integrate its operations and activities in time, space, and purpose with the activities of interorganizational partners, proxies, and surrogates”.
These provisions refer to application of double standards by the U.S., since when they need to; they are willing to work with their adversaries under any pretext. In addition, the mention of proxies and surrogates suggests that the U.S. system is constantly working to build up its agents abroad, which, if necessary, can be used for its own purposes.
Since strategic competition has long been talked about and a number of U.S. think tanks, such as RAND and CSIS, have already issued studies and reports on this topic, we can assume that this phenomenon has been adopted as an imperative for U.S. foreign policy, including the use of armed forces.
The paper defines strategic competition as “a persistent and long-term struggle that occurs between two or more adversaries seeking to pursue incompatible interests without necessarily engaging in armed conflict with each other. The normal and peaceful competition among allies, strategic partners, and other international actors who are not potentially hostile is outside the scope of this concept”.
And it also confirms Washington’s interests and willingness to play long the long game against its designated adversaries, which officially are China, Russia, Iran and the DPRK.
Let us read further. “In strategic competition, succeeding means retaining freedom of action to pursue national interests at an acceptable risk and sustainable cost and avoiding armed conflict with adversaries.
Competitive advantage can be achieved by shifting the competition into areas where the United States has durable relative strengths compared to our adversaries, such that our actions keep our adversaries on the strategic defensive or coerce them to undertake responses that are relatively costly or counterproductive for them in light of their strategic objectives”.
Indeed, historically, the U.S. has created politico-military alliances that it has managed in its own interests. From NATO to ANZUS to the relatively new CWAD and AUCUS, in all of them Washington has taken the lead.
Examples of strategic competition include the struggle between Athens and Sparta, the era of struggling kingdoms in China, the Great Game between Britain and the Russian Empire from 1830 to 1907, the struggle between Germany and France for dominance in Europe that began in 1870, and the Cold War between the USSR and the United States, including local wars in different regions.
The document is framed in the spirit of political realism, as it constantly talks about national interests and the balance of power.
However, there is one insertion that refers to the theory of liberalism in international relations.
It is said that ”while there is no sovereign authority or “umpire” for strategic competition, there are still commonly understood international laws, agreements, and norms (hereafter “rules”) that govern how international actors should compete. These rules exert significant influence on how interactions in strategic competition play out… The JCC assumes that maintaining U.S. leadership of a stable and open international system will remain a priority national security objective. Through engaging in the information environment and other competitive activities, the Joint Force can maintain a supporting role in shaping international norms and establishing the tenets of responsible behavior in the international arena”.
Here again we see those “rules” that are constantly talked about from Washington, while making no secret of the fact that they are needed in order to maintain U.S. leadership.
It goes on to say that “the competitive space is distinct from competitive actors or activity. It is the “field of play” on which international actors compete. The totality of the competitive space is too large and complex to be addressed directly in a single strategic approach. It is necessary to break down the competitive space into manageable sub-areas that are more tractable for analysis and planning, and that enable the focusing of efforts towards areas of strategic competition that accord with U.S. priorities”.
On p. 13 of the doctrine there is an interesting diagram showing these subareas and their interrelationships. There are four main areas that overlap–cognitive, geographic, domain, and thematic. The cognitive includes ideology, education, information, and innovation. The geographic represents the regions of the planet – the United States itself, Latin America, Europe, Africa, South Asia with the Indian Ocean, the Arctic, Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Asia with the Pacific. Domain covers the components related to types of armed forces, that is, land, maritime, cyberspace, air, and space. Thematic includes international order, global markets, climate, security, medicine, technology and violent extremism. All of these are things the U.S. military deals with. Therefore, religions, media, sociology and ethnographic issues, as well as many other things, are the Pentagon’s focus of interest.
The example of China shows how strategic competition works in practice. In general, the focus is on China’s interest in the Arctic region and Beijing’s efforts to enter the Arctic and obtain the appropriate status (China’s definition of itself as a near-Arctic power).
Among the instruments of national power that can be used are:
– Public Health.
Again, this is a fairly broad category. And the U.S. military is clearly preparing to work intensively in this complex system of relationships.
While the area of conflicts involving military force speaks of traditional deterrence, further it is referred to the limitations of these deterrence tools, which is what strategic competition is for.
The conclusion is seemingly banal. “The more competitive the United States is in terms of securing access, basing, and overflight; developing a defense industrial base; strengthening alliances and partnerships; and driving technological development, the better positioned the United States will be to fight and win an armed conflict”.
That is, in the end, there is finally war and the desire to win it.
The appendix provides recommendations on how to identify threats and risks, actors that may be competitors or friends to the U.S., how to gain a strategic advantage. It also points out the importance of identifying the instruments of power and sub-areas that belong to the field of competition, including alternative strategies, and ultimately how to develop an integrated theory of success.
At a minimum, the document should make it clear that the U.S. is determined to apply the full range of capabilities to suppress competitors. Although China is mostly mentioned, one should not be under the illusion that Russia is also implied, which Washington wants to crush without engaging in direct conflict. It is no coincidence that proxies and surrogates are mentioned, one of which is the AFU in Ukraine and the other is the terrorists in Syria. This doctrine deserves serious attention and elaboration of measures aimed at counteracting its implementation by the United States. It is clear that some of the actions outlined are already being used against Russia, while others will be used at the first opportunity. We should also keep in mind the statement “hide U.S. intentions until it is too late”, increasing intelligence activity and not trusting a single word of the U.S. establishment.