Combined-Effects Competition & Warfare: Strategies from China and Russia

April 2023 No Comments

Speaker: Dr. Tom Drohan (Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies)

Date: 19 April 2023

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Thomas Drohan (Professor Emeritus of Military and Strategic Studies, U.S. Air Force Academy; Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies) as part of its SMA STRATCOM Series.

Authoritarian regimes and democratic countries tend to view competition and warfare differently, causing an imbalance in the activities and tactics used. Authoritarian actors tend to view warfare through a whole of society lens, using many levers of power and being more likely to employ coercive tactics to achieve objectives. Dr. Drohan emphasized that democratic states often resort to all-domain warfare only after conventional deterrence fails. However, he argued that democratic states can match their authoritarian counterparts by expanding their deterrence language and answering three basic questions: a) what is being prevented or caused, b) how confrontational should the competition be, and c) how psychological or physical should the activities involved be? Regardless, if the effort is deterrent or coercive in nature, activities are the first step.

To design combined effects answering the three above questions, Dr. Drohan first categorized activities as either physical (punish or demonstrate; deny or exercise) or psychological (intimidate or assure; neutralize or enhance) and as either confrontational (intimidate, neutralize, punish, and deny) or cooperative (assure, enhance, demonstrate, and exercise). All of which can be examined through the lens of either will or capacity to act in order to achieve desired effects. When examining the resulting effects, Dr. Drohan added if the effects were preventing or causing action. Preventative effects include deter, dissuade, defense, and secure; while causative effects include compel, persuade, coerce, and induce. All of which are categorized as either psychological or physical and confrontational or cooperative.

Both China and Russia have demonstrated the will and ability to use society wide levers of power to coerce actors. For example, China used a comprehensive military and political strategy to increase its influence in Southeast Asia by leveraging its 1962 military defeat of India to grow ties with Pakistan, strengthening Pakistan and isolating India. Dr. Drohan argued that China’s efforts in the region are designed to re-establish imperial China. Russia used a government and society-wide strategy in its invasion of Ukraine during 2014 by launching a convincing propaganda campaign for ethnic Russians living in Crimea. Russia has widely failed to do this during its latest invasion of Ukraine, leading to a widespread failure in achieving its military and political objectives. 

Speaker Session Recording

Also forthcoming!

Briefing Materials

Biography: Dr. Thomas Drohan is Professor Emeritus of Military and Strategic Studies, U.S. Air Force Academy, and a non-resident research fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. Commissioned through the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1979, he is a retired brigadier general with operational, command, and educational experience in the United States, Middle East, Central and East Asia. His expertise includes combat rescue, tactical airlift, anti-terrorism, information environment analysis, case method teaching, and strategic studies. Tom holds a B.S. in National Security Studies from the USAF Academy, an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Hawaii, and a Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University. He has served as Council on Foreign Relations Fellow in Japan, Curriculum Advisor at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, and Visiting Scholar at the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies—Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His publications include three books on strategy, and articles and blogs in military and defense-related journals and websites


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