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The National Defense Strategy A Year Later: A Small Wars Journal Discussion with Elbridge Colby

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The National Defense Strategy A Year Later: A Small Wars Journal Discussion with Elbridge Colby

Octavian Manea



"The paradox of war is that an enemy will attack any perceived weakness. So we in America cannot adopt a single preclusive form of warfare. Rather we must be able to fight across the spectrum of conflict. (…) History proves that nations with allies thrive, an approach to security and prosperity that has served the United States well in keeping peace and winning war. (…) We're going to make the military more lethal, and we are going to build and strengthen traditional alliances, as well as go out and find some new partners - maybe nontraditional partners - as we do what the Greatest Generation did, coming home from World War II, when they built the alliances that have served us so well, right through today."


-- Secretary of Defense James Mattis, SAIS, January 19th, 2018


Elbridge Colby is Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2017 to 2018, during which time he served as the lead official in the development of the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the principal DOD representative in the development of the 2017 National Security Strategy.

Let’s unpack the notion of principled realism at the core of both NDS and NSS. How is the world perceived through the lens of the principled realism? What type of international order is envisaged?

Principled realism focuses through a realist lens on building a free, open, and dignified political order within the international system. The logic is that America needs to play power politics so that we don’t live in a power politics world. Principled realism accepts that power and especially the agglomeration of power determines international outcomes. But it seeks to adapt that reality in service of positive ends. Principled realism diverges from other contending conceptual camps–progressive transnationalism, security communities, or the so-called rules-based order approach–in recognizing that the state as a political unit and military power and wealth as the currency of international politics remain fundamental.  These other camps believe that, if one could properly construct security communities or cultural compatibility, one could escape interstate competition.

Idealism about transcending war and the state reflects progressive views of world politics. These approaches, then, tend to see the melting away of the state as inevitable and the state and its military and economic power as less and less important. But principled realism reminds us that the state will remain the primary player in the international arena. In this sense, the 2018 National Defense Strategy is really more an empirical assessment of the primacy of the state. But it is not a machtpolitik strategy; it does not seek power maximization for its own sake or to dominate others. Rather, it seeks an enlightened sense of national sovereignty to promote a free and open order in which countries can determine their own fate, consistent with America’s interests in independence, sovereignty, and non-domination of countries in the key regions, particularly Asia and Europe. The NDS is clear-eyed in recognizing that interstate competition is the key dynamic driving today’s strategic environment, and that preventing the rise of a regional hegemon that can project power against us or exclude us from fair terms of trade is our highest national imperative.

To what extent is the worldview embedded in the NDS and NSS building on the previous conceptualizations like rules-based order? In the end, the post WW2 liberal international order was based on both power and rules, power legitimized through rules.

What’s wrong with the “international rules-based order” language is that rules per se do not define international order. “Rules based order” sounds like conceiving of or attempting to turn the international environment into a domestic environment. But a domestic environment requires the preponderance of power by a sovereign, which is incompatible with the preservation of meaningful state sovereignty. The other problem with the “rules-based order” phrase is that it tends to focus people on violations of the “rules” rather than the real issue, which is power. My favorite example is the South China Sea. If the Chinese could create artificial features, militarize them, and achieve military dominance in the South China Sea – and do this all legally – we would still have a problem with it. The issue is the attempt to dominate the South China Sea and beyond that South East Asia, not the rules per se. Just like the American Constitution, it is the checks and balances system that matters more than the particular rules, which are subject to change. That is why I prefer the term “a free and open order.”

There is another aspect here: Americans are jealous of our sovereignty. We don’t want to dissolve our sovereignty in transnational organizations; we want to retain flexibility. The NDS and the NSS reflect a different vision from the Obama Administration--maybe not a 180 degree shift, but a fundamental distinction in that the Obama Administration aspired ultimately toward a pooling of national sovereignty toward trans-nationalism. President Obama was instrumentally inclined toward some element of realism, i.e., prudence, but his administration’s basic approach was not principled realism. It was a progressive administration that was in some respects instrumentally prudential.

You said recently that “from a strategic perspective, in many respects we face a situation not unlikely the one in the late 1970s when there was a real perception of the decline of the Western deterrent.” That context was the one conducive to the developing of what has been called the 2nd offset strategy and to a bolstering of the conventional deterrence posture in Europe (through forward presence, reinforcement, rapid reaction forces and pre-positioned equipment). The second part is what we’ve seen in Europe after 2014 through the European Defense Initiative and the other steps taken by NATO. To what extent would you expect that the 3rd offset strategy initiated by the previous Administration to continue? Where are we in the development of the 3rd offset strategy as well in addressing the problem sets that were at the core of its development? In the end its emphasis on new comparative advantages and edge is everywhere in the NDS.

Certainly, the Third Offset is very much alive, and I would say that the whole effort has been expanded. In some sense, the problem statement that the 3rd Offset focused on, which is the decline of the American conventional deterrent vis-à-vis China and Russia, has become the problem statement for the whole Department now. The popular perception is that the Third Offset was very much focused on leap-ahead technology. The NDS, while still very concerned about technology, is a little more agnostic about the balance in importance between operational concepts and force employment on the one hand, and technology on the other. But the bottom line remains: The Third Offset is being carried on and matured.


The late 1970s is the right analogy because you had the decline in the superiority of the Western nuclear deterrent, the erosion of American conventional forces in Europe because of Vietnam, and in particular the growth of the Soviet strategic arsenal and the capability of their conventional forces. This together led to the decline in the viability of NATO’s heavy reliance on the first use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against a Warsaw Pact assault.  In this context, the Second Offset was the answer.  It exploited the West’s, particularly America’s, major economic and technological edge for conventional forces as well as the recapitalization of the nuclear deterrent, a pillar often forgotten in the offset discussion. This period is comparable now because our massive conventional advantages have eroded, in part because of China and Russia’s focus on undermining our advantages and also our unwillingness to adapt, instead placing our attention elsewhere (particularly in the Middle East and South Asia). What’s different this time, particularly vis-à-vis China, is that we face a competitor that, unlike the Soviet Union, is not binding itself to a foolish and a self-defeating economic system and that possesses an economy that rivals ours in size.

As in the 1970s and ‘80s, the United States extends deterrence to allies and partners in the highly exposed front-yard of a great power competitor with both robust conventional forces and survivable second-strike forces capable of waging a limited nuclear war. Our response has to be an integrated conventional-nuclear strategy and posture. And I think we struggle with that. This is the context in which I make the argument that we have to face the problem of limited war, including limited nuclear war. We must adapt our strategy to face an opponent prepared to escalate with nuclear weapons. If we don’t have an option below the level of strategic nuclear war and the Russians can effectively escalate with limited nuclear use, we will be at a potentially decisive disadvantage. In the 1980s we were good enough along the conventional-nuclear spectrum: REFORGER exercises, the AirLand Battle operational concept, the Army’s Big Five modernization program, Pershing II IRBMs and GLCMs, etc.. Back then, the United States invested in both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and contemplated strategies for limited nuclear use, but it also developed conventional capabilities designed to offset the Warsaw Pact’s much larger conventional advantages. Ultimately the idea was also to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence and defense, though they always played a crucial role.

The difference between then and now was that nuclear weapons were so proliferated in Europe that any large conflagration would have almost invariably led to a strategic exchange. Today, however, nuclear weapons have been largely marginalized. Most people probably could imagine a purely conventional war with Russia or China. In fact, most of them would probably assume that it would stay conventional and largely limited to a relatively confined theater–so we need to deal with this reality.

There is this emphasis on eroding military competitive edge that affects the ability to wage the American Way of War? What core dimensions of the Desert Storm model are in jeopardy? What are the implications for providing regional reassurance and a deterrence umbrella for US allies?

Both the Russians and the Chinese saw that the Americans had a very effective way of war – the Desert Storm model. So, when the Iraqis attacked Kuwait and stopped there, we deployed light formations and took six months to build a coalition to assemble the iron mountain of capability. Once the whole operational architecture was ready, the U.S. launched an aerospace campaign to shut down Iraqi defense systems, establish full spectrum dominance over Iraq, and then launch the 100-hour ground invasion to achieve our focused objectives and terminate the conflict on our terms.

Over the last 20-25 years the Chinese and the Russians have taken note and invested in new capabilities as well as concepts of operations that challenge the Desert Storm model. Now we are facing potential adversaries that can contest our ability to defend our forward allies. What has changed today is the development of Russian and Chinese conventional forces, which allows them to potentially execute a fait accompli strategy. Basically, the main problem that we face is that the rational strategy for an aspiring hegemon like China and to some extent Russia is to try to fight small wars on the periphery of the potential coalition against it to split off those territories and eventually turn the balance of power in its favor. Essentially, it is about waging small, limited wars to shift the preponderance of power. Historically this is how Bismarck built the German empire. First, he fought the Danes, then the Austrians, and then the French – and before anyone knew it, the Germans were the potential hegemon in Europe.

Generally, the NDS emphasizes that we need to have a theory of victory that is able to beat their theory of victory. Their theory of victory is the rapid seizure of allied territory that presents the perception through nuclear or conventional coercion that the costs and risks of ejecting the them from their seizure would be too great and too daunting to be contemplated because such action could split the alliance or at the minimum tame our response sufficiently to negate its effectiveness.

This is largely about deterrence, not assurance. The point is to develop combat-credible forces forward (whether American or allied) that can blunt the adversary’s aggression so that they cannot consummate the fait accompli, so that they cannot seize territory or hold on to it. Ideally the alliance will deny the adversary their attempt at localized aggression so the adversary cannot achieve the fait accompli. Then, the adversary will face the terrible choice between accepting failure (a blunted and denied local aggression) or continuing the conflict, but in ways are so manifestly aggressive, unreasonable, and brazen that these actions will catalyze our and our allies’ resolve to fight harder and enlist support, direct or indirect, from fence sitters.

In a (maybe) forgotten book, Maritime Strategy or Coalition Defense (1984), Robert Komer (in the end, an instrumental policy maker during the 2nd offset strategy era) made the case for a sound/credible coalition defense focused on a “balanced land/air/sea strategy and posture aimed at helping our allies hold on to such areas of vital interest as Northeast Asia, the Persian Gulf and Western Europe.” Is this also the optimal overseas posture in the current operational environment - a sound integrated network of allies with the right capabilities in the A2/AD age? More broadly - what is the role of the allies and alliances from the NDS perspective?

Komer was basically right. He had a very acute sensibility for how the military balance and our political interests are properly related. He well understood that the purpose of the U.S. military posture vis-à-vis Europe was to fortify the European defense and fight the conflict on the terms that were most advantageous to the political solidarity of the Alliance and to the deterrent effectiveness of the Alliance. In that sense he supported more the defense in the Central Front in Germany against the Maritime Strategy. He argued against strategies of horizontal escalation that would have lost the main battle (although the Maritime Strategy was not actually one of true horizontal escalation).

This point is very relevant for the NDS, which is oriented on defending alliances and particularly defending the vulnerable allies in a way that is politically sustainable and credible in the sense that it would be a plausible way for the U.S. and its allies to fight and within reasonable limits prevail. This involves limiting the conflict in ways that are advantageous to us, and if the adversary seeks to expand or vertically escalate the war – well, that would be their initiative and would demonstrate their broader aggressiveness and unreasonableness, which would improve our position.

From a principled realist perspective, alliances are not an end in themselves. Both the NSS and NDS articulate that our interests are in favorable regional balances of power and that alliances are designed to sustain these favorable regional balances of power. Doing so will sustain free and uncoerced regional orders and tend towards the promotion of dignified, open systems of government, an ecosystem beneficial to our way of life but also to our allies. It’s an enlightened sense of self-interest. The NDS enables us to most effectively and credibly defend that alliance architecture in a way that elicits more effort by our allies, that is more equitable and puts less strain on our economy and society. If we can have stable regional balances of power in a way that frustrates aspirations for regional hegemony by the Chinas and the Russias of the world, then the ultimate attraction of free forms of government will likely prevail.

In the second half of the 1970s, Robert Komer concluded that “there is really no such thing as a NATO defense posture, only a collection of heterogeneous national postures which differ in their equipment, organization and procedures”. Is enabling a common, more networked defense posture between allies the way to achieve a stable and credible balance of power in Europe?

That should be our strategic objective.

There’s a broader point here. In the near term, due to the inadequacies of European defense, the United States needs to augment its posture in and investments for Europe in a combat-credible way. Over time, however, there should be no reason why the Europeans cannot essentially defend themselves, with the Americans providing the most advanced capabilities and monitoring the situation. The United States must be a crucial player in the European security balance because we have an enduring interest in preventing Europe from falling under a potentially hostile hegemon or a large European war, but that doesn’t mean a large standing military presence in Europe. The Russian threat is severe, but focused and limited. Europe could readily handle most of it. Germany for instance should play a much larger role in collective defense. It is a very serious failure in their obligations that they are not bearing the burden in providing for the collective defense of the Eastern states. They have made progress, and deserve credit for that, but they could do much more.

A more balanced relationship in which the Europeans take primary responsibility for defending themselves is a more natural and sustainable equilibrium. This was ultimately Eisenhower’s objective: America has an interest in a Europe of sovereign states that are able to collaborate and defend themselves, backed by America’s commitment. There is no reason that they should rely on the United States to provide the bulk of their defense.

Poland is pushing for a Fort Trump on its territory. Others in the East want a Fort NATO that cover the whole Eastern Flank. In a way this is a consequence of the original sin of the post-Cold War enlargement, when the alliance preserved its in-depth posture while leaving exposed its Eastern Flank. In today’s security environment the situation is no longer sustainable, as it could encourage a fait accompli strategy. Should the concept of presence be rethought in an A2/AD centric world?

Central Europeans need to understand that the 1990s and 2000s model of presence as an intrinsic virtue and military forces as symbols of reassurance is over. We can’t afford it; it is expensive; it doesn’t work. I am sympathetic to more combat-credible presence in the East because the security environment has changed. The NDS is very clear that the purpose of the Joint Force is to deter by ensuring that the Russian and Chinese do not see a plausible theory of victory. In particular, that means denying a fait accompli and blunting adversary aggression, so that they cannot lock in their gains and escalate to de-escalate. So forward presence makes a lot of sense, but it should be a combat-credible forward presence that is consistent with very significant demands across the globe, particularly in the three major theaters – Asia, Europe, and the Persian Gulf. The United States’ presence in Europe should be focused, lethal, and adapted to the Russia threat rather than an anachronistic reflection of the pre-1989 geopolitical situation. We don’t have enough forces to be everywhere all the time. Romania, Poland and the Baltic states should be much more focused on exercises, on making sure that U.S. forces can arrive and fight effectively, stationing of equipment, ensuring that roads, bridges, railways are ready. We should see future versions of the REFORGER exercises, not a static Maginot line type of posture, designed to show that reinforcing American forces can arrive very quickly, join allied and U.S. forces already there, and blunt Russian aggression in a very short amount of time. Rotational or stationed forces may make sense but they should be examined from a military perspective. That is: Is this going to contribute to our ability to delay or deny a Russian offensive?

For years Russia is investing in niche military competitive advantages. One example is building its A2/AD complexes along NATO’s Eastern Flank (especially in Kaliningrad and Crimea). To what extent can these bubbles be used to intimidate and coerce the frontline allies?

People tend to bifurcate political influence and military force. Of course, the real objective of having a military advantage is to develop political influence without having to use military force or using it in a very efficient way. Influence comes from the understanding that if you challenge the other side you will lose. If the states of the East are under the shadow of Russian power, including their A2/AD capability, and they perceive that the U.S. and the rest of the Alliance don’t have a credible and plausible way of defending them, then they will face strong pressure to defer to or even bandwagon with the Russians. The NDS is a big step in the right direction by saying that we are not going to abandon you, that the Russians are not going to be able to use that military power effectively to coerce you. But this requires a great deal from the Europeans as well.

How should the US approach the idea of developing an antidote to a competitor’s A2/AD-centric posture?

We are facing potential adversaries that have the real ability to contest our ability to defend our forward allies and partners. Our objective remains essentially defensive. If you have established A2/AD battle networks, then you are probably going to have an operationally defensive-dominant situation. We need to shift our power projection focus from one in which the military assumes that we will achieve full-spectrum dominance to one where we are focused on lethality and resilience from the outset, without full-spectrum dominance, while having the ability to frustrate, degrade, and ultimately block Russian and Chinese attempts to seize allied territory. It is essential that our conventional forces have the capacity to contest and deny Russian ability to secure the fait accompli. But we must figure out how to blunt and reverse Chinese or Russian gains without the kind of dominance the United States used to have.

What do the Russian and Chinese Ways of War, how they are structured and ultimately the strategies they are deploying, tell us about the (changing) character of war in today’s environment?

I am interested in the political aspects of the changing character of war, which I think is becoming operationally defense-dominant as the advanced states are able to obtain and deploy the necessary technology. You can be strategically offensive in an operationally defense-dominant world, though, as Germany demonstrated in World War One. In an operationally defense dominant situation, the fait accompli is a viable strategy. In an offense-dominant situation, a fait accompli is less effective because the aggressor is highly vulnerable. This is how I think we are going to think about that.

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


Given our consideration here of the concept of "realism" generally -- and of President Trump's "principled realism" specifically -- the following 2009 item from Paul Woolfowitz (yes, I know) might be interesting.  Here is an excerpt:

"During my time in the U.S. government, I’ve participated in many rounds of this debate. One of them was over whether to preserve the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights. Realists saw it as an annoying creation of Jimmy Carter’s administration; others thought it was more realistic to maintain pressure on an issue of major importance in the competition with the Soviet Union. ... "


If such things as "great power competition" is an/the excuse being used today; this, to retreat from such things as "democracy" and/or "human rights" promotion, 

Then how was it that such things as "democracy" and "human rights" promotion -- on and off during the Old Cold War (our only other "era of great power competition?") -- how is it that these such things were often seen, during this earlier time of "great power competition," in a much more favorable, in a much more essential, and indeed in a much more "realistic" strategic light?

(Apples and Apples? Or Apples and Oranges?)


Let me get this straight.  English is the international language of commerce and transportation.  The dollar, even free-floating for nearly 80 years, is stable enough for some countries to index their currencies to it.  Countries all over the world seek to send their children to English-speaking prep schools and to Western universities, where they're infused with dangerous, radical Western ideas, then sent back to their home country,   

Oh, yes.  We lost big.                

Bill C.

Tue, 01/22/2019 - 12:33pm

Our article by Elbridge Colby here is dominated by a discussion of "principled realism."

As to how we got there, the following two items may prove immensely useful:

The first is a November 2018 item by Colin Dueck -- entitled: "The Future of Conservative Foreign Policy" -- which can be found here:   

The second is a November 2018 item by Nadia Schadlow -- entitled: "Conservative Realism of the Trump Administration's Foreign Policy" -- (wherein, she begins her explanations re: "principled realism," and President Trump's adoption of same, by specifically referencing the Colin Dueck essay above).  Schadlow's item can be found here:

(Note that I have provided a portion of this Nadia Schadlow article, in my comment immediately below.)

From your reading of these two items, what conclusion do you reach; this, as to:

a.  How "principled realism,"

b.  Became the foundation, the central theory, of the Trump National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy?

The following may help us understand the thinking that went into the issues that we are considering here in this thread.  This is from Nadia Schadlow who, as we all know, was (but no long is) the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy in the Trump Administration.  (She, I believe, was instrumental in -- and indeed managed and oversaw the -- development of the Trump NSS?)


The National Security Strategy of the Trump administration advocated for a strategy of “principled realism” — it is realistic because it acknowledges the central role of power in international politics and that “the American way of life cannot be imposed upon others, nor is it the inevitable culmination of progress.”5  It is principled because “it is grounded in the knowledge that advancing American principles spreads peace and prosperity.” The strategy is animated by four principles.

The first is sovereignty: the preservation of American freedom of action and the unwillingness to cede control of decisions to multilateral organizations or other collective bodies. This view has deep roots in American conservative thinking, including skepticism of the United Nations and even hesitancy to support NATO at the beginning of the Cold War. As Dueck’s essay points out, the Trump campaign sought to appeal to conservative non-interventionists who stress U.S. sovereignty, and criticized conservative internationalists who champion U.S. engagement in multilateralism. However, this should not be mistaken for advocacy of retrenchment.

Instead, Donald Trump is wary of any separation of policy decisions from democratically elected leaders. His criticism of the European Union is rooted in a view that it diminishes popular democracy by undercutting the sovereignty of its member states. This position is neither isolationist nor anti-European. Rather, it arises out of a deep concern that the European Union is not fulfilling the objective for which it was originally created: to have a strong and capable group of European allies that are a source of order on the continent and can radiate stability in their wider neighborhood. As the various electorates in Europe are indicating, there is growing discontent with the path the European Union has chosen over the past decades and skepticism about the value of having surrendered many competencies to higher decision-making bodies too removed from the nations they are supposed to serve. Trump is similarly wary of giving up power to undemocratic bodies such as the United Nations. He is willing to work through such organizations, but his north star is whether these organizations produce actions consistent with U.S. interests and values.

Those who view the president as an opponent of the so-called liberal international order are off point. He is not intent on tearing down this order, but rather is merely raising questions about whether institutions established over 60 years ago are up to the task of today’s challenges — and whether they are serving U.S. interests. He comes from the business world and does not take the value of these institutions as a given. He consistently asks how they perform and what benefits accrue to the United States. Critics should remember that many Americans are also asking these questions.

The second principle is the need to respond to a world defined by competition. Trump’s National Security Strategy put competition front and center. Trump came into office suspicious of what one observer has referred to as “the unrestrained optimism of the era of globalization in the 1990s.”6 He called out the competitions that were unfolding across political, economic, and military spheres, all accelerated by advances in technology. Trump sees the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The nature of the order the United States has created and led over the last century has not been static. It has allowed, and even encouraged, the rise of new powers. This order provided a foundation for other states to grow, and some of these states emerged as competitors or adversaries. The reality is that the liberal international order has enabled the rise of illiberal powers that seek to exploit that order to their advantage.

Central to this diagnosis is the administration’s emphasis on great power competition. The Trump National Security Strategy addressed in a straightforward manner the realities of global competition and the power shifts taking place in the world. Engagement with China, Russia, and Iran had not succeeded, as all three powers exploited the accommodating posture of the United States. The Trump administration called for the United States to reestablish a policy based on peace through strength, reversing the disastrous defense budget cuts under sequestration, and developing a national defense strategy to reestablish the balance of power in key regions.

Trump, like other realists, does not believe that the arc of history will take care of America’s security problems. He dismisses the view that new power equilibria (such as the rise of China) will not matter because international rules and domestic regimes would ultimately lead to convergence and political harmony. He has challenged the idealism of conservative internationalists, questioning whether the world is inexorably progressing toward liberal democratic values.7

These views have been upsetting to critics from the right and the left. An op-ed, published early in the Trump administration, by then-National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, cited the president’s “clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”8 Critics disputed this assessment, with some calling it Hobbesian.9 Yet, events have borne out Trump’s view. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a genuine community of common purposes with such states as China, Russia, and Iran.

The third principle is an emphasis on catalyzing change. Trump, conscious of the costs of ambitious policies, is cognizant that the United States cannot and should not bear undue burdens. He believes America’s agency is limited. Also, even as the United States remains the world’s sole superpower, it is not a hegemon capable of controlling all outcomes.10 He therefore believes that realism requires a new emphasis on catalyzing actions by others.

This has been a repeated theme throughout his administration, whether called “burden sharing” or sharing responsibility. When the president visited the Middle East early in his tenure, he called on leaders of Muslim-majority countries to take the lead in fighting radical Islamists ideologically. Although other presidents, whether Republican or Democratic, have called out allies and partners to do more in terms of defense spending, the results have been uneven. Trump’s approach, on the other hand, has been more forceful and direct. In a sense, he understands that catalyzing change sometimes requires making others uncomfortable.

In this respect, the Trump administration actively seeks cooperation, in security matters as well as trade, but demands reciprocity. The president has reached out to modernize America’s alliances, even as he forcefully argues that these allies must meet their defense spending obligations. And it has started to work. More NATO allies are now increasing their spending on defense, while Germany may be more willing to consider diversifying its natural gas supplies.11 Similarly, the president wishes to advance trade agreements but insists that such deals address persistent, structural trade imbalances, many of which are the result of tariff and non-tariff barriers, as well as currency manipulation. He has demanded that countries such as China stop stealing America’s intellectual property — the United States loses about $600 billion a year to intellectual property theft, with China accounting for the majority of cases.12 For the president, it makes no sense, from an American point of view, for the United States to care more about European or East Asian security than about its allies in those regions. As a businessman, he cannot abide unfair trade relationships.

The fourth principle is an unabashed confidence in the United States. He believes in American exceptionalism. “America,” he has stated, “has been among the greatest forces for good in the history of the world.”13 He sees a restoration in American confidence at home — through, for example, a growing economy — as an essential foundation for an effective foreign policy. He knows that the free world cannot stand up to revisionist powers without the leadership of a confident America, though he does not believe this means the United States should be a policeman in all the world’s hotspots or should impose its values on others.


This, and more of her thoughts on this/these matters, can be found here:

I now have a greater understanding of the philosophy underpinning the National Defense Strategy after reading this interview with Mr. Colby, but Colby is viewing the world through one soda straw instead a more holistic kaleidoscope. He somewhat addresses competition short of armed conflict, or gray zone competition, when he refers to China and Russia seeking to expand their territory and shift the preponderance of power through small, limited wars. This implies that China and Russia must conduct strategic preparation of the environment to set conditions quick, decisive war to achieve a limited objective. A recent example is Crimea. They will then attempt to normalize it politically in hopes that others, especially the U.S. will not seek to dislodge their military and paramilitary forces.  Crimea backfired for the Russians, but the Chinese have achieved success in the South China Sea through incrementalism that fell below the level of aggression that would trigger a military response.  

This interview side steps the reality of gray zone competition, although it is addressed in the National Defense Strategy.  Simply relying an improved conventional and nuclear force posture will not deter these sophisticated political warfare tactics. It is not a lesser threat either, assuming an interest is worth fighting for based on our expensive forward posture, then it is a safe assumption if that interest is threatened short of traditional armed conflict and we do not have a strategy to counter it, then we have a significant gap in our strategy. A significant gap that the Chinese have effectively exploited much more effectively than the Russians. 

Addendum 2:

Here is the Colby item that I reference in my initial comment below:

In this earlier article (November 2018), by our interviewee Elbridge Colby above, one can see what appears to be the central underlying basis for his (and, thus, for President Trump's?) thoughts; this being:

a.  Surrender, defeat, the acceptance of same and "moving on;" this,

b.  As relates to the pursuit by the U.S./the West's of its grand political objective -- since at least World War II -- of transforming the outlying states and societies of the world more along modern western lines.

(In this regard, see especially the final sentence -- of the final paragraph -- of this earlier Colby item, which I provide below.)

Thus today -- and via the thoughts expressed by Colby here (and by President Trump in his NSS accordingly?) -- the U.S./the West:

a.  Formally admits defeat,

b.  Formally withdraws from the field of battle. (Via a "fait accompli" effort of our opponents -- just one not discussed here?)

c.  Formally succumbs to China's, Russia's, Iran's, N. Korea's, ISIS's, AQ, etc.'s common "containment" and "roll back" strategies and, thus,

d.  Formally submits to a "world order" that is more to China's, Russia's, Iran's, N. Korea's, ISIS's, AQ's, etc., liking.  

(Thus, while the U.S/the West wins the "battle" of the Old Cold War -- cir. 1989 -- such entities as China, Russia, Iran, N. Korea, ISIS, AQ, etc.; these folks win the actual "war" -- cir. 2017 -- and, this, without China and Russia, post-the Old Cold War, even firing a shot at the U.S./the West?)


In a situation of mutual vulnerability to large-scale nuclear attack, the fait accompli is the most attractive offensive strategy for a power that is weaker than its opponent, as China and Russia are relative to the United States and its allies. The fait accompli strategy works by moving or attacking in a way that forces the defender’s counterpunch to have to be so costly and risky as to seem not worth the benefit of reversing it. It is most insidious when the violence needed to succeed with the fait accompli is less grievous, making the very great response needed to eject the attacker seem not only too perilous but also unjust. As a consequence, in a nuclear world, advantage in the deadly competition in risk-taking between two states armed with survivable arsenals will thus accrue to the side that can take action and hold territory — and then push the onus of responding onto the other side in such a way that the sort of escalation required to remedy the situation is simply too costly and risky. ...

This requires a defense strategy and posture that will deter a rising and increasingly assertive China and an alienated and more capable Russia. That, in turn, requires that Beijing and Moscow believe the United States might realistically put its strategy into effect despite the attendant risks and the relatively lower stakes compared with those at issue in the Cold War. In a situation of substantial mutual vulnerability over stakes that are important but not truly central to the United States, the best strategy to serve U.S. political ends is one focused on advantageously managing escalation in a way that seeks to keep or shift the burden of dramatic escalation onto Moscow or Beijing. This is highly suited to a strategy focused on defense rather than expansion or transformation, and thus is the best way to achieve the goal Hans Morgenthau set out for a wise foreign policy, that “the task of armed diplomacy [should be] to convince the nations concerned that their legitimate interests have nothing to fear from a restrictive and rational foreign policy and that their illegitimate interests have nothing to gain in the face of armed might rationally employed.”


Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Wars, it would seem, are "won" or "lost" based on the political objective of the parties concerned.  In this regard, the U.S./the West would seem to have lost this 70+ war; while such entities as Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea, ISIS, AQ, etc.; they would seem to have -- most definitely given Colby's thoughts above -- won?