Geopolitical competition is increasingly playing out in the gray zone—the space beyond diplomacy and short of conventional war. The nature of this competition is forcing the United States to confront the liabilities of its strengths. This report assesses current U.S. government actions to deter, campaign through, and respond to competitors’ gray zone tactics.
In October 2018, leaks revealed that the White House was considering banning Chinese students from entering the United States. Then in late November, Reuters reported that the Trump administration may step up vetting measures of Chinese students. Yet, for an administration promising to compete more effectively with China, this is a particularly counterproductive proposal, not only on legal and ethical grounds, but also from a purely competitive standpoint.
It’s bipartisan Washington gospel that America’s private sector will deliver the innovation the country needs. However, at the front-end of an era of rapid, disruptive technological change in which global competition is heating up, such expectation is increasingly a bad idea without a far more strategic, centralized, and White House-driven approach to the challenges ahead.
The industrial base review coupled with policy and strategy documents gives DoD and its inter-agency network a great deal of homework for the upcoming year. While it is clear that the Department will be rigorously working toward supporting and reinvigorating industries as well as deeply engaging with its partners and allies, it will have to overcome the challenge of the competing interests associated with these two core strategic goals.
As we enter 2018, the stage for defense is now set. The president has signed the NSS. The secretary of defense has released the NDS and NPR; the MDR is soon to follow. The White House has made its FY 2019 budget request, and posture hearings are close at hand. However, ambition often outpaces resources, and as with the Obama administration, there is reason for concern with the administration’s plans.
Despite the brief notoriety of U.S. special operations activities after the tragic ambush in Niger last October, U.S. strategic priorities in Africa remain inscrutable. For a recent example of the administration’s enigmatic approach to the continent, look in turn at the Africa sections in the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Defense Strategy (NDS). You will find a curious disconnect.
The release of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy offers a window to evaluate current and ongoing U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific region. But while the documents offer bold, clear strategic direction at a time the United States and the world need clear guideposts, the administration’s actions are at odds with the strategies.
The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy outline a U.S. shift from counterterrorism to inter-state competition with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. However, U.S. policymakers need to be prepared for much of this competition to occur at the unconventional level, since the costs of conventional and nuclear war would likely be catastrophic.