Paper #40. How to Expand our Truncated “Operational” Approach to Warfare: Integrate Information as Operations

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Cyber, Leadership, Strategy
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Information is foundational to competitive strategy because it permeates technology and cognition in all dimensions. We need to integrate information as operations to win all-effects warfare. 

The Problem

Current joint military planning focuses on ways and means in the operational environment for integrating with other national instruments of power.[1] In the Information Age, this wins kinetic engagements but loses wars. Winning wars requires integrating superior effects in the information environment. To do that, there are two key challenges. 

First, military doctrine is narrow compared to the effects that military ways and means bring about. The effects of military operations are at least DIMES-wide: Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic, and Social. Yet, joint military planning doctrine confines itself to establishing military end-states and coordinating beyond that. Combined arms is where the coordination is happening, rather than at the target that wins wars: superior combinations of DIMES effects. 

Second, the US approaches warfare from a non-violent peace vs. violent war mindset. This naive separation has led to the cliche that when deterrence fails, the military wins wars. So we develop concepts such as the competition continuum, where warfare is a redline defined in terms of violence. Meanwhile, our adversaries wage “peace-war” that combines cooperation with confrontation, both of which may or may not involve violence. 

A Solution

Strategists can overcome these restraints to competitive strategy by integrating analysis, planning and operations. All of that is ”information” (see ICSL Paper #38). The focus should be on understanding the strategic information environment as an operational environment.[2] Why?

First, the information environment subsumes the operational environment, both physically and psychologically. The tangible energy and cognitive interactions of information as a process (operation) defines technological, economic and political-military advantages.

Second, effects matter more than ways and means, with a critical caveat: ethics, values and laws are paramount. That is, any ends do not justify any means in rules-based societies. Because effects become ways and means to achieve other effects, any current state is dynamic.  

Clearly, strategic guidance is more than military, so how military capabilities are employed affects much more than military outcomes. Yet, joint military doctrine often reinforces insularity, even when it changes. For instance, the most recent joint military planning doctrine (p. iii) separates planning from operational design, in order to clarify those processes. Planning, operational design and execution are described as iterative processes and the focus is on the operational environment. Crisis planning is for “emergent situations.” That’s a slow, truncated approach to a dynamic, densely interactive environment filled with adaptive agents. And the information environment is inherently emergent.

At least the need for integrated analysis, planning and operations is plain in JP 5-0’s description of strategic and operational art: “Strategic art and operational art are mutually supporting. Strategic art provides policy context to objectives, while operational art demonstrates the feasibility and efficacy of a strategy. Operational planning translates strategy into executable activities, operations, and campaigns, within resource and policy limitations to achieve objectives.” 

For the strategist, the question about strategic policy and operational effectiveness is, what are the combinations of strategic and operational effects in a changing strategic environment? The latter includes changes in policy that affect the strategist’s tasks. Let’s clarify these points with an example.   

Case: the Senkakus in the East China Sea

Consider the case of the US-Japan alliance in territory disputed by China: the East China Sea,  the Senkakus in particular. US policy is to defend Japan from an armed attack on its territory (or claimed territory) even though US government takes no position with respect to competing claims between Japan and China. The strategic effects of that policy need to be competitive vis a vis Chinese strategy. Therefore they should include support of Japanese diplomacy, information, economic and social activities as they relate to this situation. That is much more difficult to achieve than military defense because Chinese activities target the entire range of US-Japan alliance vulnerabilities. 

How close is US-Japan agreement on diplomatic policy, informational public diplomacy, military defense, economic activities in the East China Sea, and social relationships that affect this situation? An excellent example of diplomatic-and-more agreement is the joint statement made by the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee.[3] That statement took a broad view of security that included democracy, economic prosperity, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, human rights, and a rules-based international order. 

There several vulnerabilities that China exploits. Economically, the US is not part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as is Japan and other US allies. The US initiated the TPP under the Obama administration (2009) then pulled out of the agreement under the Trump administration (2017) prompting the other signatories to establish the CPTPP. Diplomatically, the Government of Japan still uses the seal of the Toyotomi clan.[4]This usage undermines relations with the Koreas in favor of China due to Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s brutal invasions of Choson (Korea, 1592-1598), which were beaten back by Chinese and Korean forces. Militarily, exercises can be an operational success but a regional failure if they include photos of Japanese warships flying the kyokujitsu-ki (rising sun flag of imperial Japan).[5] This informational output of the operation undermines Korean support and strengthens Sino-Korean ties. 

How are these seams exploited? Not narrowly-operationally, but via broadly-operationally.

That is, information outputs become inputs in the perpetual competition of ideas. All of the so-called operational effects must have informational impact, or they lose. For instance, a bilateral communique that does not cite common policies has little informational value even though the operation of producing the communique did happen. Public diplomacy that does not message social media about common policies and values has little information effect even though the operation of having a public diplomacy program did happen. Military exercises can be a success practice of joint functions, but for lasting effects they need to show and promote mutual commitment to more than military ties. The US-Japan Trade Agreement of 2020 provides mutual economic benefit, but the informational influence has been divisive. The agreement is touted in the US as a Japanese concession.[6] In Japan, the comparison is made to the CPTPP, which highlights another US “reverse course.”[7]

When we analyze US- Japan and China strategies in terms of DIMES-wide combined effects, as we did in Section III Chapter 2, we get the following.  The US-Japan security strategy is one of interdependent deterrence and defense. China’s strategy is much more aggressive: isolation and territorial control:

China-Japan Combined Effect Strategies

Note that the components of the two overall combined effects are mostly psychological— dissuasion, deterrence, persuasion, inducement, compellence. Only one component in each strategy is a physical effect—coercion and defense, respectively.  These effects compete against each other. Each can impose constraints on the other in the different conditions outlined above. China’s strategy is superior in that its imposed constraints present a dilemma to Japan: compel or risk either over-reacting or recognizing that the dispute exists. 

Our overall point is, operations are effective to the extent they create information effects that compete well against adaptive adversaries. The volume and changing nature of information (input, change, output) demands the dynamic creation and rearrangement of intelligence and technology. 

For US joint planning doctrine to be effective in the IE, strategists can begin with three fundamental tasks: (1) interpret the National Security Strategy (NSS) as a strategy that provides overall guidance; (2) integrate the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and other relevant national strategies into the NSS; (3) integrate global operations into the NDS and NSS. This national level approach is valid for any derivative strategy. 

The NSS as Strategy

The Biden administration has issued interim National Security Strategic Guidance[8] while it develops a new NSS. For our purposes here, the main difference with respect to the Trump administration’s 2017 NSS is replacing “America First” with “diplomacy first.” We propose a combined effects approach to focus on a competitive national security strategy rather than a a domestic political posture.

In interpreting the NSS as a strategy, we use the language of joint military operations design, but with three changes that broaden its applicability. First, we apply our definition of information as a process of inputs, changes and outputs. This informatizes operations. Second, we  expand the military definition of tactics to include any instrument of power, not just the arrangement of forces. Third, we treat NSS strategy as a broader-than-military process that considers diplomatic, informational, military, economic and social ends, ways and means.  What happens to the NSS when we do this? 

When the NSS is taken as an effort to align national goals, objectives, effects, and activities, the document’s headings and key concepts translate as follows:

  • the four featured “pillars” of the National Security Strategy become “goals”
  • the sub-headings described within each pillar become “objectives” intended to realize each goal
  • the occasional sub-headings of the objectives, which the NSS expresses as verbs, become desired “effects” to realize each objective
  • the priority actions are “activities” purposed to cause desired effects

Using this language and inserting Biden administration changes in italics, the four national security goals are: protect the homeland and the underlying sources of American strength; promote American prosperity and a stable and open international system; preserve peace through strength and a favorable distribution of power; and advance American influence and democratic relationships

Next, we reveal the structure of the NSS in terms of its Hierarchy of Effort—goals, objectives and effects. We also fill in the gaps of effects and activities. Each of the four NSS goals are in bold with each goal’s objectives marked by a solid circle. Each objective’s effects are in italics marked by a hollow circle, followed by each effect’s activities marked by a square.

The two structural gaps in the NSS concern effects and activities. Except for the first two objectives Goal 1, effects are entirely missing. For the Goal 3, effects and activities are missing for the first objective. The absence of effects implies that priority actions will achieve objectives and realize goals directly. This thinking may be valid in some situations, but we have inferred desired effects from activities anyway (parenthetically referred to as “inferred effect”). The reason for adding an inferred effect in-between activities and objectives is to allow for activities’ results (effects) to combine in different ways. This agility enables holistic and asymmetric combinations. 

Activities and effects can and do interact anyway to yield combined effects otherwise not considered. Therefore in the portion of the NSS where both effects and activities are missing (Goal 3 Objective 1), we provide deduced effects and activities from that objective (referred to as “deduced effect” and “deduced activities”). 

The next section presents the structure of NSS strategic thinking. This is not a summary of the NSS; it is a condensation of key ideas (a reduced and updated version compared to ICSL Paper #8).

Goal by goal, we can see the supporting objectives, effects intended to realize those objectives, and activities meant to change conditions to bring about those effects. We have made some changes to the 2017 NSS with respect to tone and emphasis to anticipate the Biden administration’s adjustments. 

NSS Goals, Objectives and Effects 

US National Security Strategy Goals, Objectives, Effects

G1. Protect the Homeland & Underlying Sources of Strength
Secure resilient connectivity and sovereignty against theft, disinformation, terrorism, e.g.

  • O1. Secure US Territory: overcome vulnerabilities in air, maritime, space, cyberspace
    • Defend against weapons of mass destruction
      • Enhance missile defense; disrupt/counter WMD and proliferation 
    • Combat Bio-threats and Pandemics
      • Contain bio-threats; support bio-med innovation, emergency response
    • Strengthen Border Control and Immigration Policy 
      • Enhance border security; enforce laws; bolster transportation security
  • O2. Pursue Threats to their Source: ally against transnational threats in safe havens
    • Defeat Jihadist Terrorists 
      • Disrupt plots; sever sources of strength; combat radicalization
    • Dismantle Transnational Criminal Organizations
      • Improve strategic planning and intelligence; defend in depth
  • O3. Keep America Safe in the Cyber Era: protect at the private network level
    • Assess, Secure, Enhance and Defend Critical Infrastructure (inferred effect)
      • Prioritize risk; build layered defenses; improve info sharing and sensing
    • Deter and Disrupt Malicious Cyber Actors (inferred effect)
      • Empower authorities; expand awareness; impose consequences 
  • O4. Promote American Resilience: increase ability to withstand and recover from attacks 
    • Persuade and Induce to Prioritize and Prepare (inferred effect
      • Improve risk management; build a culture of preparedness
    • Persuade and Induce to Plan and Protect (inferred effect) 
      • Improve planning; incentivize information sharing

Goal 2 (G2): Promote American Prosperity & a Stable and Open International System
Lead liberal, rules-based international growth. Rejuvenate inclusive domestic economy

  • O1. Rejuvenate Domestic Economy: incentivize investment, energy and infrastructure
    • Increase and sustain economic growth (inferred effect)
      • Reduce regulatory burdens; promote tax reform 
    • Enhance competitiveness in high wage technology (inferred effect) 
      • Improve infrastructure; reduce debt; support education and training
  • O2. Promote Free/Fair Economic Cooperation: reciprocity; oppose non-tariff barriers
    • Promote free market competition and private sector growth (inferred effect)
      • Work with like-minded partners; facilitate new market opportunities
    • Enforce standards of free, fair reciprocal trade and investment (inferred effect) 
      • Counter unfair trade practices; counter foreign corruption
  • O3. Lead in Research, Technology, Invention, and Innovation: emerging technologies
    • Enhance Strategic Science and Technology (inferred effect)
      • Attract and retain inventors and innovators
    • Establish Rapid Risk-taking Public-Private Partnerships (inferred effect)
      • Leverage private capital and expertise; rapidly invent and innovate
  • O4. Promote and Protect the US National Security Innovation Base: defend and enhance  
    • Identify Threats and Responsibilities to Protect Property (inferred effect)
      • Understand the challenges; protect intellectual property
    • Prevent Theft and Espionage (inferred effect)
      • Tighten visa procedures; protect data and underlying infrastructure
  • O5. Embrace Energy Cooperation: increase access and efficiencies; protect environment
    • Expand energy capacity and innovation (inferred effect)
      • Reduce barriers; promote exports, further America’s technological edge
    • Protect energy diversification and access  (inferred effect)
    • Ensure energy security; attain universal energy access 

Goal 3 (G3): Preserve Peace Through Strength & a Favorable Distribution of Power
Integrate all elements of power to deter and defeat threats; use technology and information

  • O1. Renew America’s Competitive Advantages: use technology and influence
    • Reverse strategic complacency
      • Increase awareness of threats, narratives and ops (deduced activities)
    • Enhance geopolitical access and deter strategic attacks (deduced effect)
      • Develop effective capabilities among allies (deduced activities)
  • O2. Renew Capabilities: achieve military over-match to impose dilemmas/enable IoP
    • Modernize combined capabilities
      • Reform for rapid affordable acquisition; improve readiness/capacity
    • Renew national defense industrial base, manufacturing and supply chains
      • Encourage homeland investment; grow critical private/public sector skills
    • Maintain credible nuclear forces to deter threats and assure allies
      • Sustain/modernize nuclear forces and infrastructure for stable deterrence
    • Maintain leadership, unfettered access to, and freedom of action in space
      • Advance space as a priority; promote space commerce; lead exploration
    • Deter, defend and defeat cyberspace threats
      • Improve attribution; enhance cyber tools/expertise, integration and agility
    • Develop intelligence to anticipate and respond to the variety of threats
      • Clarify threats; harness all available information; fuse analyses
  • O3. Diplomacy and Statecraft: catalyze pol-economic-social linkages to defend interests
    • Competitive diplomacy to build and sustain relationships
      • Preserve forward diplomatic presence and networks to advance interests 
    • Economic diplomacy to create wealth and strategic tools
      • Reinforce allied ties; deploy economic pressure against threats
    • Information statecraft to counter disinformation
      • Prioritize diplomacy; communicate and promote democratic values

Goal 4 (G4): Advance American Influence & Democratic Relationships
Set conditions for peace and prosperity via American and allied influence, values and interests 

  • O1. Encourage Aspiring Partners: cooperate with democratic rules-based competitors
    • Support rule of law and infrastructure (inferred effect)
      • Mobilize finances; capitalize technologies; incentivize markets
    • Invest in reforms and sustainable development (inferred effect)
      • Empower reformers; synchronize diplomatic-economic-military support
  • O2. Lead Cooperation in Multilateral Forums: use multinationalism to shape liberal rules
    • Win influence in multinational institutions that shape international rules
      • Lead accountability and shared responsibility in multilateral settings
    • Protect US sovereignty and support allied interests and values (inferred effect)
      • Ensure free commons of space, cyberspace, air and maritime domains
  • O3. Champion Democratic Values: promote freedom and equality under the law
    • Support oppressed peoples and individual rights
      • Support the dignity of individuals; defeat transnational terrorists
    • Promote civic society, minority cultures and freedoms (inferred effect)
      • Empower women and youth; protect religious freedom/minorities 

Opportunities for Combined Effects 

The preceding analysis creates opportunities to collaborate on the 16 added effects and two new sets of activities. Why do this?

Combined effects create agility for a more competitive strategy by providing more pathways to achieving objectives and goals. That can address the flexibility that’s needed with allies and partners. To incentivize that process, one need only note three sets of competitors who have managed to turn their challenges into opportunistic successes:

  • Islamic extremists’ 9/11/01 attacks provoked and activated the longest war in US history that is ending with US and allies’ withdrawal on Taliban terms
  • Putin-Russia’s complex warfare against Ukraine invaded, seized, and annexed Crimea
  • Xi-China’s maritime constructions seized, militarized, and continue to hold disputed maritime territory 

Naturally, successful outcomes are not an automatic result of a well-designed strategy. Uncertainty is ubiquitous. All sorts of variables influence the application of strategy. Adaptive execution is always important. However, what we can do is design and plan analytically aggressive competitive strategies.

The NSS contains activities and effects that can create synergistic advantages to achieve objectives and goals. There are also instances where activities and effects designed for particular objectives and goals can undermine other ones. Both types become clear when we seek combinations of effects. We present two sets of examples—within goals and across goals.

Synergistic Advantages Within a Goal

Within each goal we can look for any combinations of effects that help achieve any of the objectives, and for any that help realize the goal itself. This approach empowers leaders to empower strategists to find most competitive activities and effects. This takes leadership to overcome ownership of activities and claims of exclusive effects. 

Consider Goal 1 (Protect the Homeland & Underlying Sources of Strength). The two effects designed to realize G1 Objective 3 (Keep America Safe in the Cyber Era) can also support G1 Objective 4 (Promote American Resilience). Both of these effects relate to critical infrastructure and malicious cyber actors. The opposite also rings true. Effects that promote American resilience also can help keep America safe in the cyber era. Those effects are about preparing and planning. 

Achieving a synergistic combined effect requires close collaboration and in-depth knowledge of threats. In the preceding example (G1 Objectives 3 and 4), people securing infrastructure and disrupting cyber threats need to work with people in preparedness and plans. A potential combined effect is the following: 

  • Managing risk via shared information-sensing among allies and partners to induce a culture of threat awareness, to deter cyber attack at multiple layers of exposure, to impose coercive consequences on attackers. 

This combination of inducement and deterrence and coercion is more powerful than any of these effects by themselves. The combined effect needs to be tailored and timed to influence the particular will and capability of the targeted threat in particular circumstances. Hence the need for integrated analysis, planning and operational design, all the time.

Another example of mutually reinforcing effects, even if organized to support different objectives, is this combination: 

  • Strengthening border control and immigration policy (under G1 Objective 1)
  • Dismantling transnational criminal organizations (under G1 Objective 2)

The combined effect is the dilemma posed to some actors by strengthening friendly control and dismantling threat relationships. How to bring this about? Looking at the activities under each effect suggests where to start. Ensure that border and transportation activities are informed by strategic, community, and cyber intelligence. Note that the Biden administration strengthened immigration policy by expanding quotas. The policy change emphasizes that legal immigration adds to social diversity, an underlying synergistic source of American strength.  

Synergistic Advantages Across Goals 

Strategists can also search across all goals for effects that influence objectives placed under other goals. 

Look at Goal 2: Promote American Prosperity & a Stable and Open International System. G2 Objective 3 (lead in research, technology, invention and innovation) relies on achieving two effects: strategic-scientific discovery; and public-private risk-tasking.

Compare the above to Goal 3: Preserve Peace through Strength & a Favorable Distribution of Power. G3 Objective 1 (renew America’s competitive advantages) relies on achieving two effects. These are: reverse strategic complacency; and enhance geopolitical access while deterring strategic attacks.

Combining the preceding four effects can be influential in some contexts. The following would combined four effects: 

  • Strategically aware, privately-capitalized scientists and inventors fielding innovations that enable geopolitical and cyber access, and repeatedly deter strategic attack 

This effect and other combinations are limited by the individual rights and values that the NSS exists to defend. Such as when dominant private actors are unwilling to contract their talent in the nation’s service due to proprietary interests in privacy. Note Google‘s disagreement with the US government over defining the national interest. Hence the importance of public-private relationships to cultivate trust and provide incentives. 

Strategists should also look for negative influences that activities’ effects can have on objectives and goals.

Compare G3 Objective 1 (Renew America’s Competitive Advantages) to G4 Objective 2 (Lead Cooperation in Multilateral Forums). 

In some circumstances, cooperative activities in multinational forums can undermine America’s competitive advantages. Such as when cooperation with authoritarian regimes operating under unaccountable domestic politics benefits their national industries and technologies. 

Leaders can focus on which combinations of effects are likely to enhance objectives and goals, when, where, and in what context. 

Making NDS Objectives NSS-Strategic

The current (2018) National Defense Strategy’s “DoD Objectives” section offers the following  rationale for its priorities: prevailing in long-term strategic competition with China and Russia: 

In support of the National Security Strategy, the Department of Defense will be prepared to defend the homeland, remain the preeminent military power in the world, ensure the balances of power remain in our favor, and advance an international order that is most conducive to our security and prosperity.

What if the eleven National Defense Strategy objectives were broadened to create combined effects at the strategic level of priorities — the National Security Strategy?

Strategists can do this by looking for NSS goals and objectives in Figure 5-2 to which NDS objectives can contribute. The purpose of doing this is to consider rearrangements of ends, ways and means in a dynamic security environment. 

NDS Objective 1—Defending the homeland from attack

The definition of “attack” in the National Defense Strategy is kinetic and lethal. This constrains DoD strategists as cyber threats use information to attack information, then let nth order effects create physical consequences.[9] Our own centralized authorities for information warfare sustain this self-inflicted vulnerability. Despite the economic and social threats posed by cyber theft and disinformation campaigns, the NDS does not regard these actions as attacks. The NSS does.

NSS Goal 1 (Securing the Homeland) includes securing critical infrastructure, and deterring and disrupting malicious actors. NSS Goal 2 (Rejuvenating the domestic economy) includes securing the national security innovation base and maintaining access to energy. NSS Goal 3 (Peace via Integrated Elements of Power) includes deterring, defending against and defeating cyber threats, developing intelligence that responsively anticipates the full range of threats, and achieving better results in cyber, space, diplomacy, and the national industrial base.

To achieve decision superiority at the level of integrated security strategy, not just military strategy, national strategies need to agree on what we are defending the homeland against.

Combined effect. Strategists can create new synergies by combining the effects noted above under NSS Goal 3. A combination could be: assuring others with information statecraft to dissuade believing disinformation (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3); exercising economic diplomacy to induce trans-regional wealth (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3); and demonstrating access to diverse energy sources (NSS Goal 2 Objective 5). This combined effect would enhance deterring weapons of mass effect.  

NDS Objective 2–Sustaining Joint Force military advantages, both globally and in key regions. 

Joint Force military advantages can create other advantages if strategists are organized to take an all-effects approach to multi-domain operations. Consider the effort to connect any sensor to any shooter in any domain. Applying this command and control concept to the level of the National Security Strategy means connecting any activity to influence any relevant will and/or capability to achieve desired effects. This thinking requires more than a single spectrum of conflict defined by the absolute endpoints of competition or conflict, peace or war. The degree to which Joint Force advantages apply to any given fight depends on legal authorities and permissions.

Combined effect. Military advantages can be strategically relevant when used with other instruments of power to gain sustainable information effects. Consider the potential impact of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). A more-than-military JEDI that provides global, securely networked, and rapid command and control could orchestrate multiple effects. Besides deterring threats and assuring allies, a “National Security Enterprise Infrastructure” could strive to: (a) deny adversary economic espionage capabilities to better defend our defense industrial base (NSS Goal 3 Objective 2); and (b) demonstrate the will to secure critical infrastructure and defeat malicious cyber actors (NSS Goal 1 Objective 3). 

NDS Objective 3--Deterring adversaries from aggression against our vital interests. 

The National Defense Strategy’s kinetic-lethal definition of aggression is necessary, but it’s insufficient to safeguard vital interests against information threats. Deterrence relies on having credible capability–intent to use it. Adversaries know that violent aggression is likely to provoke a forceful response, so nuclear and conventional deterrence can work in some of those circumstances. In most situations, however, adversaries have developed options short of violence that can be combined with violence or not, to attack vital interests: Russia interference in U.S. and European elections, invasion and annexation of eastern Ukraine, cyber attacks such as Solar Winds; Iran proxy terrorism, illegal finance and seizures of vessels transiting the Arabian Gulf; China territorial expansion and lawfare to reduce freedom of navigation, economic espionage, biotech weaponization, and information controls over the internet. Authoritarian partners such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also conduct coordinated influence operations that democratic states cannot. 

Combined effect. A recent Princeton University study identified trends in foreign influence efforts between 2013-2018.[10] Most of the 53 cases: (a) used an approach of “amplify, create, and distort;” and (b) combined the effects of “defame and persuade,” or “undermine institutions and shift political agendas.” To preempt or counter these effects, strategists should be free to consider how to combine most relevant effects under each NSS goal. For instance: critical infrastructure (Goal 1 Objective 3) should include the National Security Innovation Base (Goal 2 Objective 4); modernized joint military capabilities (Goal 3 Objective 2) should reinforce diplomacy and information statecraft (Goal 3 Objective 3); and all of that should contribute to shaping international rules in multilateral forums (Goal 4 Objective 2). 

NDS Objective 4--Enabling U.S. interagency counterparts to advance U.S. influence and interests.

The National Defense Strategy calls for “the seamless integration of multiple elements of national power—diplomacy, information, economics, finance, law enforcement, and military.”[11] Yet the strategy clings to cooperation or confrontation:  “Should cooperation fail, we will be ready to defend the American people, our values, and interests.” While calling for interagency combined actions to employ all dimensions of national power, and to build partnerships that address vulnerabilities, the strategy further acknowledges that “revisionist powers and rogue regimes are using corruption, predatory economic practices, propaganda, political subversion, proxies, and the threat or use of military force to change facts on the ground.” 

The NDS answer to these threats is threefold: (1) rebuild military alliances as we build a more lethal Joint Force; (2) strengthen alliances as we attract new partners; and (3) reform the Department’s business practices for greater performance and affordability. The NDS calls for a competitive mindset to “out-think, out-maneuver, out-partner, and out-innovate…threat actors.” The bottom line for operations, however, is an “on-off” switch of cooperation or confrontation that limits how to protect “the American people, our values, and interests.”

Combined effect. Let’s assume that the Department of Defense gets all that it wants as expressed in the National Defense Strategy. That force structure would: be bigger; be more prepared for war; possess modernized nuclear forces; integrate resilient space, cyberspace and C4 ISR networks; deploy layered missile defenses; be more lethal, deployable, survivable and adaptive; have autonomous advantages; and be supported by agile logistics. The problem is that nothing in the NDS suggests how a militarily superior force could prevent or degrade the types of complex operations adversaries have already been conducting. To fill this gap, strategists should be empowered to cooperate and confront when and where appropriate. The difference between an “on-off” and a “both-on” button becomes clear in the next objective. 

NDS Objective 5–Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere.

Maintaining balances of power requires recognizing sources of power. Historically military power has followed economic power. The ability of Europe by the end of the 19th century, then the U.S. by the mid-20th to supplant Asia as the dominant economic power, is again being contested. At play are long-term forces of economic integration. Because the National Security Strategy includes economic prosperity as one of its four goals, there is strategic-level recognition of this source of power. Both national strategies mention the need for competition, innovation and risk-taking, but neither proposes to cooperate and confront in matters of national security. If matters of national security are narrowly viewed as military activities, this perspective inhibits strategic options. Consider the following procedure to expand strategic options.

Combined effect. Look at the first objective under each NSS goal: secure U.S. borders; rejuvenate the domestic economy; renew comparative advantages; and encourage new partners. Select the first NSS effect under each of these NSS objectives: defend against WMD; stimulate economic growth; reverse strategic complacency; support rule of law and infrastructure. Change WMD to WME (per our previous example for NDS Objective 1). Loosen the restriction on “defend” to include other effects, such as deter and compel. Assume we want to deter escalation and compel an adversary to stop WME attacks while we achieve the preceding NSS effects. Such as, invest in an economically performing, low corruption-rank, front-line NATO ally to support its rule of law, while increasing awareness of threats to that ally. Add more effects: assertive diplomacy and a social media truth campaign to compel taking sides in relationships; cyber operations against illegal activities; and deployment of a deterrent and coercive military capability to that ally. Finally, lead regional multilateral natural disaster relief exercises to socialize cooperation. 

NDS Objective 6--Defending allies from military aggression and bolstering partners against coercion, and fairly sharing responsibilities for common defense.

Bolstering new and aspiring partners (NSS Goal 4, Objective 1) requires more than defending allies from military aggression and coercion, for at least two reasons. First, military aggression and coercion can be committed by proxies and specialized forces to avoid triggering a formal defense treaty response. Second, power brokers of polarized politics have interests in maintaining confrontation and cooperation. Therefore combined effects are needed to secure, induce, persuade and defend vulnerable partners. Fairly sharing responsibilities for various effects entails more flexibility than sharing “like contributions” to common defense. Agreements based on unlike contributions to security, in accordance with niche capabilities and strengths, are more practical, feasible, and effective alternatives to symmetrically equivalent alliances. 

Combined effect. Security bargains that exchange different political, economic and military interests may be more appropriate than assuming agreement on common threats. The US-Japan security arrangement, for instance, began and endures as a differentiated exchange of contributions due to the Japanese constitution’s constraints imposed during the American postwar occupation. Such arrangements are controversial—Japan’s foreign minister in 1981 lost his job for stating that the security relationship included “military alliance” (doomei). Possessing credible nuclear forces can deter major threats and assure allies against massive attack; however, allies also need security from various dangers. These threats include unwanted foreign influence in domestic politics, economic intimidation, criminally induced corruption that facilitates coercion. Each partner seeks effects tailored to its context. These services and products can be provided by a security relationship that may or may not include military alliance.

NDS Objective 7–Dissuading, preventing, or deterring state adversaries and non-state actors from acquiring, proliferating, or using weapons of mass destruction. 

NSS security goals and NDS concepts for “Dynamic Force Employment and a Global Operating Model” focus on lethal agility and resilience. Such force employment is for major combat that potentially involves nuclear, cyber, space, C4ISR, strategic mobility, and counter WMD proliferation. These capabilities are must-have, but are unlikely to dissuade, prevent or deter WMD activities unless accompanied by other types of effects. Consider the case of North Korea. Presidents and special negotiators have tried nuclear deterrence and high-tech defense, coercive economics, political dissuasion, and conditional concessions. The Trump administration extended economic inducements with political assurances, accompanied by nuclear deterrence and defense for South Korea (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3). The Biden administration faces three decades of North Korean success in which the periodic use of limited force and diplomatic balancing has thwarted all attempts to prevent nuclear and missile proliferation.

Combined effect. Pyongyang’s strategy of aggressive dependence attempts to compel the U.S. to reduce sanctions and accept a North Korean nuclear capability. A strategy to shape bilateral and multilateral relations could change North Korea’s incentives for nuclear weapons. One combination is diplomatic persuasion (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3), economic compellence and inducements (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3), and military defense and deterrence (NSS Goal 1 Objective 1, and Goal 4 Objective 1). Sustaining and adjusting compellence and inducement across US and allied democratic administrations to another requires political agreement among the US, South Korea and Japan vis a vis North Korea and China. Without that, there will be no change in North Korean strategy until Pyongyang loses internal control. The best feasible approach is to strengthen trilateral mechanisms of security cooperation. The approach would “Champion Democratic Values” (NSS Goal 4 Objective 3) to cultivate a South Korea-Japan relationship that competes well against Chinese influence. 

NDS Objective 8–Preventing terrorists from directing or supporting external operations against the United States homeland and our citizens, allies, and partners overseas.

National Defense Strategy capabilities are postured to prevent external operations against the U.S. The degree of integration among lethal-kinetic tools and C4ISR continues to improve as noted in the Strategic Approach. Expanding the competition, even within a cooperate-or-confront mindset, has improved interagency combined actions that reduce U.S. vulnerabilities. What about internal operations against the U.S.? The information environment blurs such distinctions. Exploitation of social media, criminal and interest-prone proxies, narrow constituency politicians, and corrupt officials provide terrorists ample attack surfaces for influencing U.S. citizens, allies and partners. DoD capabilities could be permitted to influence these adversary desired effects, to include creating vulnerabilities.

Combined effect. DoD capabilities can promote key NSS effects. Defeating jihadist terrorists and dismantling transnational criminal organizations (NSS Goal 1 Objective 2) can be combined with preventing theft and espionage (NSS Goal 1 Objective 4). This “defeat-dismantle-prevent” combination encounters the external-internal boundary erected in order to protect individual rights. For “prevent theft and espionage” to work, we would need to treat the other supporting effect for NSS Goal 1 Objective 4 – “identify threats to and responsibilities for protecting property” – as easement property. The public utility for the common good would involve authorized and accountable intelligence. That is, the right to protect one’s intellectual property should not become a safe haven for terrorist operations. This highly contentious domestic issue is related to the next NDS objective.

NDS Objective 9–Ensuring common domains remain open and free.

NDS objectives like this one may frustrate achieving other objectives, but they are central to distinctive American values. The free openness of common domains such as public information promotes treasured aspects of American society mentioned in the NSS — innovative risk-taking, rapid development of ideas, shared responsibilities, and broad opportunities. At the same time, these freedoms have to be defended, many more proactively than ever before. “Common domains” may imply cooperation, but adversaries do not share that assumption. Internet pioneers, for instance, envisioned unprecedented sharing, tolerance, diversity, prosperity and peace, only to see their creation also being used to filter information, socially profile individuals, amplify hate, induce trends, enable new forms of theft, and facilitate radicalization right in the homeland. Keeping contested common domains open requires a mix of incentives.

Combined effect. This NDS objective could help U.S. efforts in multilateral forums to shape international rules (NSS Goal 4 Objective 2). Most nation-states want common domains to be open and free if they can be kept safe. Mutually reinforcing desired effects would be: enhance geo-political access and deter strategic attack (NSS Goal 3 Objective 1); and, maintain access and freedom of action in space (Goal 3 Objective 2). These effects interact. Activities that expand operations in space can undermine influence in multilateral forums if the activities are seen to militarize space unnecessarily. Yet, we also desire geo-political access in all possible dimensions. These three effects might be combined as, favorable international rules for multi-domain access and deterrence. 

NDS Objective 10–Continuously delivering performance with affordability and speed as we change Departmental mindset, culture, and management systems.

The NDS approach to Department of Defense performance emphasizes innovative, rapid relevance that’s affordable. Inside the dominant warfighting cultures of the DoD, however, performance means lethal-kinetic effects. This legacy metric judges the value of performance, from weapons to commanders. That’s historically understandable, but to improve the National Security Strategy, DoD performance needs to make grand strategy more effective. For instance, prototyping and intelligence analysis to improve the development of capabilities can be designed to support national security priorities. Requirements should include shaping the security environment, not just responding to it.

Combined effect. DoD’s focus on effective performance can contribute activities to enhance strategic science & technology, and empower rapid risk-taking (NSS Goal 2 Objective 3). The Defense Innovation Unit generates such partnerships among government, academia and industry, and in ways that develop combined capabilities (NSS Goal 3 Objective 2). Just as corporations create prototypes to shape future markets, new technologies can transform operations and strategies. Extending this to allies and partners, 5th generation combat systems can empower joint, government, and private assets to build and sustain relationships (NSS Goal 3 Objective 3), deter and disrupt malicious cyber actors (NSS Goal 1 Objective 3), and support oppressed peoples (Goal 4 Objective 3).

NDS Objective 11–Establishing an unmatched twenty-first century National Security Innovation Base that effectively supports Department operations and sustains security and solvency. 

The National Security Innovation Base should include more than technological advantages. We also need the advantages of better strategy. Better technology should help win wars. Defense industry can be incentivized to invest in “critical skills, infrastructure, and research and development,” but who will invest in superior concepts, stratagems, tactics, and effects? Innovation for national security is broader than the Department of Defense. Many departments and agencies contribute to the National Security Innovation Base. By seeking ways defense strategy objectives can enhance security strategy effects, the DoD can create impact beyond itself. 

Combined effect. Prosperity (NSS Goal 2) is foundational to all of the other National Security Strategy goals: protecting the homeland (NSS Goal 1); achieving relative peace via integrated elements of power (NSS Goal 3); and advancing American influence (NSS Goal 4).  A DoD weapon technologies and strategic concepts process could help: stimulate high wage manufacturing, science and technology (NSS Goal 2 Objective 1); support national security think tanks; expand energy capacity and innovation; and protect diversified energy sources (NSS Goal 2 Objective 5).

Formulating Synergistic Effects for Defense and Security

Next, we consider differences between National Defense Strategy effects and National Security Strategy effects. Each of the eleven NDS objectives below is paired with two effects:

  • The Defense (D) effect is a supporting effect to help achieve that NDS objective.  
  • The Security (S) effect comes from a combined effect example in the previous section. It’s an NSS-level supported combined effect to which the NDS objective contributes. 

Effects can be planned for, and from, National Security Objectives. The choices and flexibility to make changes can help integrate defense and security efforts in proactive and adaptive ways. 

1. Defend the Homeland from Attack

(D) Defend against weapons of mass destruction (WMD)

(S) Deter weapons of mass effect

2. Sustain Joint Force Military Advantages

(D) Connect any shooter to any sensor in any domain via Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure

(S) Connect any activity to any targeted will or capability via National Security Enterprise Infrastructure

3. Deter Adversaries from Aggression 

(D) Deter aggression against vital interests

(S) Deter, secure, disrupt, defeat, assure, persuade, and dissuade hostile influence on vital interests

4. Enable Interagency to Advance US Influence and Interests

(D) Enable interagency to advance values & interests; defend them should cooperation fail

(S) Enable interagency to advance values & interests via cooperation and confrontation all of the time

5. Maintain Favorable Regional Balances of Power

(D) Maintain prepared, lethal, credible and resilient military balances of power in our favor

(S) Maintain prepared, all-effects, credible and resilient balances of power in our favor

6. Defend Allies from Aggression, Bolstering Partners against Coercion; Sharing Responsibilities

(D) Defend allies from aggression and coercion via fair-share contributions to common defense

(S) Secure, induce, persuade and defend allies via effective-type contributions to security arrangements

7. Dissuade, Prevent or Deter Adversaries from Acquiring, Proliferating or Using WMD

(D) Dissuade, prevent or deter adversaries from proliferating or using WMD

(S) Employ a tailored variety of combined effects to shape relationships and incentives against WMD

8. Prevent Terrorists from Directing or Supporting Ops against US, Allies and Partners 

(D) Deter and defend against terrorist external operations against U.S., allies, partners

(S) Deter, defend against, and influence terrorist operations against U.S., allies, partners

9. Ensure Common Domains Remain Open and Free

(D) Demonstrate and exercise capabilities to ensure open and free access to common domains

(S) Persuade establishment of international rules for multi-domain access, deterrence

10. Deliver Performance, Affordability, Speed; Change Mindset, Culture, Management Systems

(D) Deliver innovative and rapid performance that we can afford

(S) Employ 5th generation technology to improve effectiveness and efficiency of strategic outcomes

11. Establish Unmatched National Security Innovation Base to Sustain Ops, Security Solvency 

(D) Establish unmatched innovation to effectively support DoD ops, sustain security and solvency

(S) Nurture innovative weapons, concepts & processes to strengthen economic foundations of security


To expand our truncated version of ”operational“ strategy, we need to integrate operations as information.

Current joint military planning focuses on ways and means in the operational environment for integrating with other national instruments of power. More specifically, the focus is on kinetic or violent ways and means, an approach that ignores non-kinetic or non-violent ways and means as warfare. Superior effects, however, are what matter whether we refer to that as competition, cooperation, confrontation, conflict and warfare. 

Many examples and analytic exercises illustrate these dynamics. US-Japan and China competition in the East China Sea reveal the competing combined effects strategies. By analyzing the US National Security Strategy as a strategy, strategists can add effects to create synergies to achieve objectives and goals. Subordinate strategies such as the US National Defense Strategy can be made significantly more strategic by combining effects and objectives to realize goals.

All of that requires sharing data sets with trusted technologies. Rebuilding that information foundation is vital to competing in modern warfare. Critical competencies include shared processing, controlled AI, and real-time analysis-to-action then back to analysis and planning. 

Restraints to competitive strategy can be overcome properly by integrating analysis, planning and operations. That is based on shared information and processes. Aggressive sharing would include anticipatory analysis of linkages patterns, and anomalies that inform adaptive planning and proactive operations design.

Recognizing that information is an operational process itself consisting of inputs, changes and outputs can help break down dysfunctional distinctions such as information or operations.  Such integration faces bureaucratic, legal and political opposition—much of which is amplified by adversaries. This only reinforces the need for strategists to understand the strategic information environment as the operational environment.

What strategists can do is largely two-fold. First define information broadly as a process because it does permeate technology and cognition in all dimensions of competition. Second, analyze competition to include cooperation and confrontation, rather than an endpoint partner of conflict.

Instead of a redline of violence in-between competition and conflict that defines warfare, the entire spectrum of cooperation and confrontation includes kinetics and non-kinetics, and violence and non-violence. Within existing policy constraints, analysts and planners and operators can at least be aware of the full range of cooperation and confrontation. 

With these changes, the sharing of information across alliances and partners at any level can be a powerful creator of influence. Without these changes, an operations-centric approach to warfare ignores information as influence, relegating information to supporting operations. The key failure of this mindset is its focus on short-term kinetic effects.

[1] “Joint planning is the deliberate process of determining how to implement strategic guidance: how (the ways) to use military capabilities (the means) in time and space to achieve objectives (the ends) within an acceptable level of risk.” Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Planning, 1 December 2020, p. xi,

[2] “Leaders conduct joint planning to understand the strategic and operational environments to determine the best methods for employing the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) capabilities to achieve national objectives.” Ibid.




[6] “The U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement (USJTA) entered into force on January 1, 2020. In this agreement, Japan committed to provide substantial market access for the United States by phasing out most tariffs, enacting meaningful tariff reductions, or allowing a specific quantity of imports at a lower duty. Once USJTA is fully implemented, nearly 90 percent of U.S. food and agricultural products imported into Japan will be duty free or receive preferential tariff access,” A similar positive statement by Japan’s METI Minister is not to be found. 

[7] From a Japanese perspective, the original “reverse course” was the re-militarization of Japan during the postwar American occupation, after de-militarizing (and democratizing) Japan. A second reversal was the so-called Nixon shock of 1971, when the US recognized the Peoples’ Republic of China without consulting Japan.    


[9] The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack by Darkside is an example of this approach.



Author: Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.

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