Russia, China Are Outmaneuvering US: Generals


China and Russia are outmaneuvering the US, using aggressive actions that fall short of war, a group of generals and admirals have concluded. To counter them, the US needs new ways to use its military without shooting, concludes a newly released report on the Quantico conclave. The US military will need new legal authorities and new concepts of operation for all domains — land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.

From Little Green Men in Crimea to fortified artificial islands in the South China Sea, from online meddling with US elections to global information operations and to industrial-scale cyber espionage, America’s adversaries have found ways to achieve their objectives and undermine the West without triggering a US military response, operating in what’s come to be called “the grey zone.” No less a figure than Defense Secretary Jim Mattis took on the topic in his National Defense Strategy and in this morning’s graduation address to the Naval Academy.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testify before Congress.

“Putin seeks to shatter NATO. He aims to diminish the appeal of the Western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority,” ran Mattis’s prepared text. “His actions are designed not to challenge our arms (emphasis added), but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals.”

Likewise, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, has publicly warned that our adversaries don’t abide by our doctrine, with its clear distinction between war and peace and its tidy phases of escalation. The American military operates in phases, with Phase 0 being peace (officially, “shaping” the environment) and so on. Traditionally, actions other than war are just that to the US and do not merit a military response, let alone a kinetic one. What adversaries are doing is “competition with a military dimension short of a Phase 3 or traditional conflict,” he said as far back as 2016. “(Their) employment of cyber, unconventional capability, space capabilities (and) information operations (go beyond) what we would call Phase 0 shaping.”

“From SecDef and chairman, down to the units in the field… there’s great recognition” of the grey zone problem, said Nate Freier, a researcher at the Army War College. (Freier wasn’t involved with the Quantico conference or writing the report, but I consulted him as a leading expert on the concept). Awareness has grown dramatically since just two years ago, Freier said, when he and his colleagues published a study on the grey zone called Outplayed and Dunford was making his comments on competition.

Russia, China Are Outmaneuvering US: Generals Recommend New Authorities, Doctrine