The Age of Disruption: How Power Shifts Create More Conflict

September 2019 No Comments

The Age of Disruption: How Power Shifts Create More Conflict

Authors | Editors: Aviles, W. (NSI); Blocksome, P. (Naval War College– Monterey); Bolduc, D. (Truth to Power LLC); Cooley, S. (Oklahoma State University); DeGennaro, P. (USARMY TRADOC G2 OEC); Dorondo, D. (Western Carolina University); Hinck, R. (Monmouth College); Kamp, A. (University of Maryland START); Koven, B. (University of Maryland START); Kuznar, L. (NSI); Levi-Sanchez, S. (Naval War College- Newport); Liebl, V. (CAOCL); Logan, M. (University of Nebraska Omaha); Maloney, M. (USSOCOM); McKee, M. (McKee  Innovation Consulting); Meredith III, S. (National Defense University); Munch, R. (USARMY TRADOC G2 OEC); Oliver, R. (USSOCOM); Pike, T. (USASD / NIU); Sample, E. (Oklahoma State University); Snow, J. (USSOCOM & Donovan Group); Zaborowski, M. (POL AF / USCENTCOM, CCJ-5, CSAG); Ligon, G. (University of Nebraska Omaha); Jones, R. (USSOCOM J52 Donovan Group); Yager, M. (JS/J39/SMA/NSI); Miller, W. (USSOCOM Director of Plans, Strategy and Policy) 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government. 

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Executive Summary

Global Power Competition creates more conflict, particularly when those in the arena believe “Power” to be finite, or a zero-sum game, against a defined set of actors. Both the 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy portend of a change in our focus: inter-state strategic competition is now the primary concern in U.S. national security. While the temptation exists for us to focus on the looming giants and the conventional arsenals they build, it is too recent in our history that focusing on one class of adversary—even those who may pose an existential threat compared to a lesser peril from others—leaves us vulnerable for at least three reasons. First, as argued throughout this white paper, because Global Power Competition will result in increased violence and disruption associated with that competition, our success depends on how well we deploy our military to deter unwanted violence in competition and in war. Historically, competition for power inferred power “over.” However, a central thesis of this white paper is that competition should be for power “of.” As Chapter One deftly summarizes, influence on—or power of the people— should be central to the securing of our interests and the modern goal of global power competition.

Second, while a focus on outbidding the activities of our near-peer adversaries is an alluring and measurable objective, to do so may result in a deficit in our lessons learned over the past decades of nonstate conflict. As argued in Chapter Two, great power and asymmetric threats are not orthogonal; instead modern threats are part of an integrated network of complimentary, pragmatic, and sometimes ideological interests that interact in ways that may at times augment our adversaries or weaken our allies. In essence, behind every violent extremist organization (VEO) is a potential great power who stands to gain or lose. As a consequence, decisions we make about what appear to be today’s proximal hazards can diminish our attention on those over the horizon—the Black Swan Scenarios (i.e., Swanarios) that foment in the fissures created by Global Power Competition.

Finally, a focus on inter-state competition mischaracterizes our reality. Moreover, every potential battle increasingly appears related, as near-peer adversaries use sub-conflict strategies to accomplish their goals iteratively—pushing against each other in unexpectedly consequential domains. To create a sustained competitive advantage, the U.S. must lean into the complexity that is associated with this multi-domain competition for influence. The push to understand these globally integrated fires is paramount. To do so, new analytic frameworks must be considered in the age of disruption, as well as a deference to the historical patterns that repeat and provide a roadmap of what to do more of, less of, or differently.

In an initial effort to engage the Strategic Multilayer Assessment Community on these topics, the following White Paper is organized in five sections: 1) an introduction: anatomy of the age of disruption, 2) historical, cross-cultural, and gender perspectives, 3) analytical frameworks for globally integrated fires, 4) regional deep dives and application of the concepts, and 5) operational perspectives.

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