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Integrating National Defense and Security Strategies to Win Complex Wars
Thomas A. Drohan
To win complex wars, we need to have better strategies than those of our opponents.
As a follow-on to The US National Security Strategy Needs Combined Effects, this paper shows how combinations of US National Security Strategy (NSS) effects can integrate US National Defense Strategy (NDS) objectives to create strategically significant advantages.
As in our previous combined-effects application to the National Security Strategy, we use the joint doctrinal language of operations design. Its basic logic is to align activities to produce effects to achieve objectives to realize goals.
We start by identifying key assumptions and logic in the National Defense Strategy.
Identifying Assumptions and Logic
Repeated throughout the NDS is the basic function of the Department of Defense (DoD): to deter war and protect security. This purpose makes sense from a mindset of, prepare for war. Today however, complex configurations of highly interactive systems, and the explosion of available tools in the hands of more actors seeking hostile ends, constitute epic change. Effectively, we are at war and peace all of the time. Neither national strategic document recognizes this fact.
The NDS approach assumes a logic of peace or war. When peace fails—that is, war is not deterred—the DoD’s job is to prevail in the resulting conflict. For the grey zone in between, military strength is to reinforce “traditional tools of diplomacy, ensuring that the President and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.” The problem with this viewpoint is that we also tend to assume, “war is an act of violence.”
Misapplied to warfare, this assumption overlooks effective methods of waging war in our densely interactive security environment. Competitive space is expanding to transform pursuits of relative advantage into matters of national security. Confusion about what constitutes legitimate competition thickens the fog of war in a boundless battlespace of weaponized information. What’s clear is that warfare is hybrid conflict marked by cooperation and confrontation.
This view is not new. Ambiguous conflict is ancient and makes sense from holistic perspectives such as weishe 威慑, which subsumes deterrence and coercion (p 150). Sunzi’s advice to attack by stratagem includes breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting, using combined energy, and keeping oneself intact to compete in the world (pp 111-112).
Our reality today also is more complex than peace-or-war, and it raises two questions central to the stated purpose of the National Defense Strategy:
- What kind of war are we to deter?
- What kind of security are we to protect?
What kind of war then are we to deter? The National Defense Strategy delimits the answer: use or threatened use of violence. At the same time, the document cites malicious rogues conducting operations our military doctrine would classify as irregular and/or unconventional. It’s vital to recognize that such hybrid strategies (p 1) may not directly involve violence. Activities include political subversion, economic intimidation, market partitioning, coercion by proxy, targeted defamation, digital theft, viral polarization, and even ocean-dredging territorial invasion. So far but perhaps not for long, sharp power competitors wage such warfare beyond the scope of our treaty commitments. Defeated actors reemerge using whatever tools are available.
What kind of security are we to protect? Given the emphasis national strategies place on values, a reasonable place to start is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1947-48). Its preamble proclaims human rights to be the provenance of peace: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
According to this logic, security includes freedom of speech and belief, freedom from fear and want, the right to rebel against oppression, equal rights of men and women, and rule of law. Along with many post-world war efforts meant to deter massive destruction, this democratic consensus packaged globalist ideals as ingredients of international security. They show up prominently as values and interests in National Security Strategy as Goal 4 — Advance American Influence. To our dismay, an increasing number of authoritarians exploit its benefits while undermining its principles. The National Defense Strategy grasps this reality with a list.
Placing Defense Objectives in Strategic Context
Department of Defense Objectives are listed as supporting the National Security Strategy, but it’s unclear how.
The following depictions help construct how. The diagram is a matrix of National Security Strategy goals and supporting objectives. Goals 1-4 are represented by the top panel. Each goal’s objectives are displayed on the front panel. The right side refers to cubes where each goal-objective pairing’s effects reside.
Diagram 1: U.S. National Security Strategy Matrix
The table below displays the National Security Strategy’s alignment of desired effects intended to realize each objective. Effects are a critical missing link in the NSS. Nearly all of them had to be deduced or inferred from goals or objectives, which we accomplished in a previous article. This absence is common for national-level strategies, so we use the concept flexibly to mean, the results of activities or capabilities.
Table 1: U.S. National Security Strategy Goals-Objectives-Effects Table
The next section uses the preceding diagram and table to explore how NDS objectives and capabilities might develop NSS combined effects.
Getting from Defense Objectives to Security Effects
One by one, we critique, broaden and focus each of the eleven National Defense Strategy objectives to propose one-each combined effect at the strategic level of priorities--the National Security Strategy. The three-step method is:
- Look for relationships among NSS objectives and goals from the strategy matrix diagram
- Explore those linkages in the NSS strategic effects-objectives-goals table to discover combined effects that appear to complement each other
- For each NDS objective, identify capabilities that may contribute to an NSS combined effect
NDS Objectives, NSS Combined Effects
NDS Objective 1–Defending the homeland from attack.
National strategies should agree on what constitutes an attack. These two don’t. The NDS definition is kinetic and lethal. Adversaries exploit this self-imposed vulnerability via cyber, neo-mercantilism, and disinformation. The NSS plainly regards such actions as attacks. NSS Goal 1 (Securing the Homeland) includes securing critical infrastructure from and deterring and disrupting, cyber actors. NSS Goal 2 (Rejuvenating the domestic economy) involves countering various forms of predatory economics, securing the national security innovation base, and maintaining energy access. NSS Goal 3 (Peace via Integrated Elements of Power) encompasses deterring, defending against and defeating cyber threats, developing intelligence that responsively anticipates various threats, and achieving better results in cyber, space, diplomacy, and with respect to the national industrial base.
Combined effect. We can develop resilient synergies by anticipating threats and creating broad effects to counter them. One viable combination is: use information statecraft to undermine disinformation (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3); exercise economic diplomacy to create trans-regional wealth (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3); and demonstrate access to diverse energy sources (NSS Goal 2 Objective 5). This overall effect can: win support for, fund, and fuel defense against attack by weapons of mass destruction (WMD); and proactively defend against weapons of mass effect (WME).
NDS Objective 2–Sustaining Joint Force military advantages, both globally and in key regions.
We can leverage Joint Force military advantages to enhance other strategic effects. Consider multi-domain operations’ quest to connect any sensor to any shooter in any domain for all-domain command and control. Let’s applying this thinking to the National Security Strategy by interpreting effects, targets and tools expansively. The idea is to connect any activity to influence any relevant will and/or capability to achieve desired effects. This conceptual shift could transform “the fight” to compete in diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial, infrastructural, and legal dimensions.
Combined effect. Military advantages can be disproportionately strategic if shaped to realize broad effects. Consider the impact of a more-than-military Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) for global, securely networked, and rapid situational awareness. Besides deterring threats and assuring allies, a “National Security Enterprise Infrastructure” might combine these effects, too: deny economic espionage capabilities to defend our defense industrial base (NSS Goal 3 Objective 2); and secure critical infrastructure/defeat malicious cyber actors (NSS Goal 1 Objective 3).
NDS Objective 3--Deterring adversaries from aggression against our vital interests.
A narrow, kinetic-lethal definition of aggression limits how we safeguard vital interests. Adversaries suspect that violent aggression will provoke a forceful response, so nuclear and precision-weapon deterrence may work there. In most situations, however, threats use aggression short of violence, or with limited or proxy-sourced violence, to attack vital interests. Such as: Russian interference in foreign elections and annexation of eastern Ukraine; Iranian terrorism, illegal finance and trafficking operations; Chinese lawfare, territorial expansion, electro-magnetic attack, economic espionage and digital theft. We also see coordinated influence operations conducted by self-interested partners.
Combined effect. A recent Princeton University study identified foreign influence efforts that combine different effects. Trending are: “amplify, create, and distort;” “defame and persuade;” and “undermine institutions and shift political agendas.” How to compete here, within our national values? Let’s conceptually treat innovation as including infrastructure, and Joint Force effects as including information. Critical infrastructure (Goal 1 Objective 3) would include the National Security Innovation Base (Goal 2 Objective 4). Joint military capabilities (Goal 3 Objective 2) would reinforce diplomacy and information statecraft (Goal 3 Objective 3). This combination could influence international rules in multilateral forums (Goal 4 Objective 2) to render aggression transparent and mobilize more deterrent activities.
NDS Objective 4--Enabling U.S. interagency counterparts to advance U.S. influence and interests.
The Strategic Approach (p. 4) calls for “the seamless integration of multiple elements of national power” yet clings to cooperation or confrontation: “Should cooperation fail, we will be ready to defend the American people, our values, and interests.” While invoking partnerships to address vulnerabilities, the strategy also acknowledges that “revisionist powers and rogue regimes are using corruption, predatory economic practices, propaganda, political subversion, proxies, and the threat or use of military force to change facts on the ground.” Besides its too-late timing, the NDS answer to these threats is also narrower than these threats: alliances/partners + lethality + business reforms. The broader question that meets this objective is, how can we enable interagency capabilities to advance influence and interests all of the time?
Combined effect. Let’s assume that DoD gets all that it wants as expressed in the NDS. That force would be bigger, more prepared for war; possess modernized nuclear forces, integrate resilient networks, deploy layered defenses; be more lethal and survivable, have autonomous advantages and agile logistics. How will that force prevent or degrade the types of operations adversaries have already been conducting? To close this gap, we need permissible interagency effects that can cooperate and confront when appropriate. So “trade wars” and the like would be considered for their impact on national security, rather than separate spheres of competition. This difference applies to the next objective, too.
NDS Objective 5–Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere.
Maintaining balances of power must recognize contested political-economic sources of military power. For instance the ability of the West to out-compete Asia, historically the dominant global economic power, is profoundly influenced by Eurasian integration. While the NSS recognizes economic prosperity as one of its four goals, the NDS fails to address how to advance that fundamental interest. Let’s walk through a potential combined effect.
Combined effect. Note the first objective under each NSS goal: secure borders; rejuvenate domestic economy; renew comparative advantages; and encourage new partners. Select the first effect under each of these objectives: defend against WMD; stimulate economic growth; reverse strategic complacency; support rule of law and infrastructure. Broaden WMD to WME. Add two effects to that of defend -- deter and compel. Assume we intend to deter escalation and compel an adversary to stop WME attacks while achieving the aforementioned effects. A possibility: invest in an economically performing, low corruption-rank, front-line ally to support rule of law while increasing comprehensive situational awareness of threats. Add assertive diplomacy and a social media truth campaign to persuade taking sides, cyber operations to cut illegal activities, and deployment of a credible military deterrent and coercive capability. Lead multilateral commitments to regional disaster relief operations. These economic, social, diplomatic, informational, and military effects interact. We need to proactively manage activities and effects to maintain balances of power.
NDS Objective 6--Defending allies from military aggression and bolstering partners against coercion, and fairly sharing responsibilities for common defense.
Bolstering partners (NSS Goal 4, Objective 1) requires more than defending them from military aggression and coercion. Proxies and specialized forces pose threats that evade defenses; power brokers have interests in maintaining the polarizing politics of hybrid war (see Mitchell Orenstein’s insights on Russia). Likewise, fairly sharing responsibilities for defending, deterring, compelling, securing and so forth, requires more flexibility than like contributions to common defense.
Combined effect. Security bargains that accommodate diverse interests fit complex relationships more than simple agreement on a common threat. The US-Japan security alliance, for instance, began as an American military guarantee in exchange for Japanese democracy, economic development, and military basing arrangements. It took 40 years for Japan’s domestic politics to accept “military alliance.” Military defenses are insufficient to secure states from economic intimidation, political coercion, terrorist attack, transnational crime, and social corruption—all of which weaken allies. Contesting these threats requires adapting and adopting broad effects.
NDS Objective 7–Dissuading, preventing, or deterring state adversaries and non-state actors from acquiring, proliferating, or using weapons of mass destruction.
Concepts for Dynamic Force Employment and a Global Operating Model focus on preparing for major combat. “Must-haves” include nuclear, cyber, space, C4ISR, strategic mobility, and counter-WMD proliferation capabilities. These strengths are unlikely to dissuade, prevent or deter WMD activities. Consider North Korea. We’ve tried nuclear deterrence, high-tech defense, coercive economics, political dissuasion, and conditional concessions. The Trump administration has added economic inducements with political assurances, while continuing nuclear deterrence and defense (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3) for South Korea. A war of narratives (see Ajit Maan, Narrative Warfare) is also at very much at play. So far North Korea’s use of limited force, diplomatic balancing, cyber theft, and black-market activities have thwarted attempts to prevent nuclear and missile proliferation.
Combined effect. If sustained over successive administrations, current U.S. strategy could alter regional relations to restructure North Korean incentives for nuclear weapons. The combination is diplomatic persuasion (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3), economic compellence and inducements (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3), and military defense and deterrence (NSS Goal 1 Objective 1, and Goal 4 Objective 1). This approach would approximate “foster American values” (NSS Goal 4 Objective 3) via projected South Korean values.
NDS Objective 8–Preventing terrorists from directing or supporting external operations against the United States homeland and our citizens, allies, and partners overseas.
NDS capabilities are postured against external kinetic threats. Integrating lethal-kinetic tools, C4ISR, and interagency combined actions reduces vulnerabilities. But what about internal operations against the U.S.? Porous social media, criminal and interest-prone proxies, narrow constituencies, and other opportune targets provide ample attack surfaces for the thoughtful terrorist.
Combined effect. Anti- and counter terrorist capabilities can advance several NSS effects. Defeating jihadist terrorists and dismantling transnational criminal organizations (NSS Goal 1 Objective 2) complements preventing theft and espionage (NSS Goal 1 Objective 4). This “defeat-dismantle-prevent” effect is restrained by how we ensure individual rights. For “prevent theft and espionage” to work, legal reforms might address the other supporting effect for that goal (“identify threats to and responsibilities for protecting property”) as easement property. The public good would be, trusted intelligence efforts to prevent intellectual property from becoming terrorist safe havens. This politicized issue is related to the next NDS objective.
NDS Objective 9–Ensuring common domains remain open and free.
The openness of common domains promotes distinctive aspects of American society mentioned in the NSS — innovative risk-taking, rapid development of ideas, shared responsibilities, and broad opportunities. These freedoms are prone to influence attacks. Common domains intended as places of sharing, tolerance and peace are also subject to filtering, hate, and radicalization. Keeping them open requires a mix of incentives.
Combined effect. Democracies tend to value common domains kept safe. Delivering this public good could help U.S. efforts in multilateral forums to shape international rules (NSS Goal 4 Objective 2). Other reinforcing effects are; enhancing geo-political access and deterring strategic attack (NSS Goal 3 Objective 1); and maintaining access and freedom of action in space (Goal 3 Objective 2). Effects interact. Expanding space operations can undermine multilateral influence if the winning narrative becomes, unnecessary militarization of space. Yet we also desire geo-political access in all possible dimensions. These effects might be combined as, favorable international rules for multi-domain access and deterrence.
NDS Objective 10–Continuously delivering performance with affordability and speed as we change Departmental mindset, culture, and management systems.
The NDS approach to performance emphasizes innovative, rapid relevance that’s affordable. Inside DoD’s warfighting cultures this means lethal-kinetic effects. These effects can enhance grand strategy. For instance, prototyping and intelligence analyses to improve capabilities could shape responses in the security environment, not simply respond to them.
Combined effect. DoD’s focus on effective performance can enhance strategic science & technology and empower rapid risk-taking (NSS Goal 2 Objective 3). The Defense Innovation Unit generates partnerships among government, academia and industry, and in ways that transform combined capabilities (NSS Goal 3 Objective 2). Networked weapons systems can empower joint, government, and private assets to build and sustain relationships (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3), deter and disrupt malicious cyber actors (NSS Goal 1 Objective 3), and support oppressed peoples (Goal 4 Objective 3).
NDS Objective 11–Establishing an unmatched twenty-first century National Security Innovation Base that effectively supports Department operations and sustains security and solvency.
The National Security Innovation Base is more than technologies filling known requirements. While defense industry can be incentivized to invest in “critical skills, infrastructure, and research and development,” microlevel activities supply demand-agnostic innovative ideas. Diverse individuals in collaborative groups generate pre-engineering concepts, strategies, tactics, and ideas about best effects. By seeking ways defense strategy objectives can enhance security strategy effects, the DoD can create impact beyond itself.
Combined effect. Prosperity (NSS Goal 2) is foundational to all goals: protecting the homeland (NSS Goal 1); achieving relative peace via integrated elements of power (NSS Goal 3); and advancing American influence (NSS Goal 4). DoD weapon technologies and strategic concepts should also: stimulate high wage manufacturing, science and technology (NSS Goal 2 Objective 1); support national security think tanks; expand energy capacity and innovation; and protect diversified energy sources (NSS Goal 2 Objective 5).
To summarize, NDS capabilities can expand lethal-kinetic focused defense to provide more comprehensive NSS-level effects:
- Countering weapons of mass effect
- Developing DIMEFIL-wide situational awareness
- Combining effects to defeat combined effects
- Confronting and cooperating using all instruments of power
- Capitalizing economic power
- Exchanging different security interests
- Restructuring relations
- Reforming multiple impact laws
- Shaping international rules to broaden deterrence
How can we do this? Let’s look at examples of dual effects – those that enhance the NDS and/or the NSS.
Planning Dual Effects for Defense and Security
Effects can be planned for, and from, National Security Objectives. Each of the eleven NDS objectives below is paired with two such effects. The Defense (D) effect is an NDS-level supporting effect that helps achieve that NDS objective. The Security (S) effect, drawn from a combined-effect example in the previous section, is an NSS-level supported combined-effect to which the NDS objective can contribute.
1. Defending the homeland from attack
(D) Defend against weapons of mass destruction.
(S) Deter weapons of mass effect.
2. Sustaining Joint Force military advantages – global and key regions
(D) Connect any shooter to any sensor in any domain via a Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure.
(S) Connect any activity to any targeted will and/or capability via a National Security Enterprise Infrastructure.
3. Deterring adversaries from aggression against vital interests
(D) Deter aggression against vital interests.
(S) Deter, secure, disrupt, defeat, assure, persuade, and dissuade hostile influence on vital interests.
4. Enabling U.S. interagency counterparts to advance U.S. influence
(D) Enable interagency to advance values/interests and defend them should cooperation fail.
(S) Enable interagency to advance values/interests via cooperation and confrontation all of the time.
5. Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere
(D) Maintain prepared, lethal, credible and resilient military balances of power in our favor.
(S) Maintain prepared, all-effects, credible and resilient balances of power in our favor.
6. Defending allies from military aggression and bolstering partners against coercion; fairly sharing responsibilities for common defense
(D) Defend allies from aggression and coercion via fair-share contributions to common defense.
(S) Secure, induce, persuade and defend allies via most effective-type contributions to security arrangements.
7. Dissuading, preventing, or deterring adversaries from acquiring, proliferating, using weapons of mass destruction
(D) Dissuade, prevent or deter adversaries from proliferating or using weapons of mass destruction.
(S) Craft a variety of combined effects to shape relationships and incentives against weapons of mass destruction.
8. Preventing terrorists from directing or supporting external operations against the U.S. and citizens, allies, and partners overseas.
(D) Deter and defend against terrorist external operations against U.S., allies and partners.
(S) Deter, defend against, and influence terrorist operations against U.S., allies and partners.
9. Ensuring common domains remain open and free
(D) Demonstrate and exercise capabilities to ensure open and free access to common domains.
(S) Persuade establishment of international rules for multi-domain access and deterrence.
10. Continuously delivering performance with affordability & speed as we change Departmental mindset, culture, & management systems
(D) Deliver innovative and rapid performance that we can afford.
(S) Employ networks of nth generation technology to improve effectiveness and efficiency of strategic outcomes.
11. Establishing an unmatched twenty-first century National Security Innovation Base that effectively supports Department operations and sustains security and solvency
(D) Establish unmatched innovation to effectively support DoD operations, sustains security and solvency.
(S) Nurture innovative weapons and concepts processes that strengthen economic foundations of security.
Authoritarian actors are striving to master these effects. We need to compare feasible combinations of D’s and S’s to evaluate strategies in various contexts.
We are in arenas of warfare that are all-domain, all-instruments-of-power, and all-effects. Conflict involves cooperation and confrontation. How will we fight?
Doctrine should not determine how, despite our adherence to its language. The freedom to reinterpret concepts is key to improving paradigms of warfare such as combined arms. In our age of unprecedented global connectivity and multi-dimensional competition among actors, critical thinking about strategy assumes great importance.
We have demonstrated how the National Defense Strategy can empower combined effects for each of the eleven objectives in the National Security Strategy. Our recommendations, however, are constrained by existing practices, interests, and values. These constraints create effects that can reinforce each other. Deterrent interests, for instance, should conform to persuasive values.
Combining effects can integrate otherwise separated efforts and goals if we flexibly adjust ends, ways and means. All of that is contested. Therefore, we should expansively conceive and orchestrate the basic elements of strategy. We should consider:
- Ends as superior combinations of supporting and supported effects;
- Ways as the targeting of will and capability; and
- Means as activities that influence will and capability.
What role can national leaders fulfill?
First, clarify benefits of the National Security Strategy, and distribute costs of implementation among subordinate strategies. This responsibility frames the effectiveness of strategic power. A related political challenge is to expand non-security-related competition as global conditions permit.
Second, update permissions and authorities to fit the contemporary security environment. This might include moving capabilities to accountable agencies that possess the permissions to use them, compared to mandating more working groups.
Subordinate leaders can focus on discerning commander’s intent and designing competitive operations to achieve superior effects at the strategic level of significance.
Complex warfare presents challenging opportunities to achieve strategic effects. We need people, technologies, and strategies that fight to win them.