Stick & Rudder #3. An All-Effects Strategy Against COVID-19

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D, Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Commercial, Security, Strategy
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COVID-19 is an advanced threat against humanity, requiring a broad-based combination of effects to defeat.

In a language of combined effects, the overall strategy is one of secure-induce (S I), supported by persuade-dissuade (P Ds) and defend-deter (Df Dt). The abbreviated combined effect is, S I P Ds Df Dt. We label this strategy as Population Security and Inducement, but here’s the break-down:

Secure vulnerable populations and Induce domestic and transnational controls on population movements. Persuade collaboration and Dissuade disinformation. Defend civil authority and economic prosperity. Deter and Defend against opportunistic threats. We will unpack these component effects shortly.

Why use this language?

By referring to strategy in terms of general types of effects, we can focus on combining them for best results. We know that we need at least a diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and social (DIMES) effort. More important is to actually do it. This requires a whole of government (WOG) plus private enterprise effort: WOG-plus. Disagreements get in the way.

One obstacle we can surmount is, the lack of a common language that captures all types of effects. Why? So that strategic priorities and objectives can be converted into combined effects created by activities. We do have that basic language in US military joint doctrine, but our military focuses on the M. We get diMes.

Big M is a culturally attractive to some. To others, it’s the doable alternative to mustering a WOG-plus strategy. The lately rise of “peer competition” utterly ignores the “s” even though that’s the one that has defeated big M in complex wars. So, how do we implement an all-effects strategy?

Our recommendation of S I P Ds Df Dt can be adaptively implemented with basic command & control principles for a dynamic, uncertain environment: centralized command (leadership); distributed control (empowerment); and decentralized execution (innovation). If we at least try to do this, we will improve present practices.

This job is more than all-domain warfare that dominates land, sea, air, space, cyber and information domains, and wins battles. Our essential job is an all-effects strategy that wins complex wars.

For COVID-19 and most threats today, there is no single solution. On a daily basis, we witness the need for a strategy that orchestrates a multitude of resources to produce various effects.

A Language of All-Effects

To speak a language of all-effects, we express our recommended strategy in terms of effects that are:

  • Preventive and/or Causative
  • Psychological and/or Physical
  • Cooperative and/or Confrontational
Cooperative and Confrontational Effects

In addition to the three distinctions above, we’ll categorize effects as DIMES-wide. These distinctions and categories are simplifications of reality. Yet, they can artfully produce Sunzi‘s ”inexhaustible combinations.” Our intent is to create superior strategic combinations; better than those of competitors. For details on how to influence will and capability with cooperative and confrontational ways and means, see ICSL Note #4, Planning to Win.

Combined Effect (S I P Ds Df Dt):
Population Security & Inducement

We break down our recommended combined effect, S I P Ds Df Dt, in terms of basic DIMES components. This helps allocate responsibility for the activities intended to produce these effects.

Diplomatic Persuasion and Dissuasion (d P Ds)

Diplomatically, we need to persuade scientific collaboration and dissuade exploitation of the pandemic. Constructive relations with China, for instance, are needed to promote sharing data and reduce disinformation. We also need to support international, regional and national/local organizations such as the World Health Organization, Africa Centers for Disease Control, national health commissions, and municipal clinics. Working with such imperfect actors (our exceptionalist selves included) is critical to having competitive diplomacy.

Persuading collaboration and dissuading exploitation need to serve our two primary strategic effects: secure vulnerable populations and induce domestic and transnational controls on population movement.

Informational Security and Inducement (i S I)

Informationally, we need data to characterize the environmental conditions that enable the virus. We also need to informatize our operations to create information effects that secure people and induce controls. As in the diplomatic effects above, we use activities to create information that conditions desired behavior. How?

First, we use the language of combined effects to convey the holistic desired outcome, which helps mobilize support. If we don’t do this, contradictory or selective information goes out, as we have seen with respect to the wearing of protective masks, the availability of testing, infection and fatality rates, and how to “flatten the curve not the economy.”

Second, we assess the effectiveness of: diplomatic persuasion and dissuasion; military defense and deterrence; economic security and inducement; and social defense, deterrence and security. We need this to measure progress and give reasonable hope. If we don’t assess the entire combined effect, we create unnecessary trade offs between effects. These are immediately politicized.

Military Deterrence and Defense (m Dt Df)

Militarily, we need to use our preeminent capabilities to produce strategically relevant effects. For the COVID-19 threat, military operations include Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA). DSCA actions have helped secure the population and induce controls (as limited resources permit) by providing medical assets, transportation and logistics. However the pandemic also presents opportunities for opportunistic exploitation.

All-domain operations are a partial solution to preventing and defeating Russian land-grabs in eastern Europe, Iranian attacks in the Middle East, North Korean provocations on and beyond the peninsula, and Chinese expansion into disputed territories. Are US military deployments against such opportunism a distraction from COVID-19, or can they help secure populations and induce transnational control?

If we plan and assess operations with all-effects in mind, we find military activities that generate useful “non-military“ effects. Military operations that are not unilateral—-that is, operations conducted with allies or partners—can have the following effects on states’ domestic will and capability: diplomatic (greater common interests), informational (enhanced resolve), economic (expanded tech transfer) and social (extensive networking).

Economic Security and Inducement (e S I)

Economically, we need to secure supply chains and mitigate sources of viral spread, while inducing market activity and growth. We want both effects, even though today’s politics informatize each desired effect as either-or. In reality we have a blend of both. What do we have now?

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid and Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of March 2020 includes $500 billion in loans and guarantees for large businesses, state and local governments; $377 billion for small businesses; $260 billion in unemployment insurance; $150 billion in grants to health care organizations; $150 billion in aid to state and local governments; $45 billion for disaster relief; $31 billion in educational funds; $27 billion for medical research and supplies. $35 billion for public transit and airports; $20 billion for veteran services; $48 billion for food and agriculture; $10.5 billion for the Defense Department; $18 billion for social programs and community aid; $1.1 billion for diplomacy; $400 million in election security; $150 million for the arts and broadcasting; and $93 million for Congressional costs.

The CARES Act is broad on security and deep on inducement. Supply chain security seems missing, to be addressed by further legislation. This deficit in economic security influences our other desired effects. By taking a combined effects perspective, we can see where to make adjustments.

Diplomatic leverage is limited while the US depends upon China for critical infrastructure. Global diplomacy, therefore, is vital. Deep-tier information about supply chain dependencies is also vital because many alternative suppliers also depend upon China. Our military deterrence and defense might be challenged by threats to cutoff medical supplies, or by bioweapons of unrestricted warfare. While we are supply chain-dependent on drugs and devices needed to treat COVID-19, the federal government is economically mitigating some of the sources of viral spread by providing businesses, state and local governments, and individuals more resources.

Social Deterrence, Defense and Security (s Dt Df S)

Socially, we need to deter and defend against threats to social health, and secure those conditions. Deterring and defending against such a threat as the CoV-2 virus requires public access to healthcare, employment, housing, and education. The epidemic raises public awareness of contentious details. Access to healthcare depends upon sufficient healthcare professionals nearby. Employment and housing depend upon economic growth, skills (education) adapted to market demand, and a minimum wage margin over a living level of unemployment benefits. Public education requires “digital equality” for online learning.

All of the above are eternal issues. In a pandemic, the meaning of “security” relative to other values (justice, domestic tranquility, defense, welfare) becomes clarified for the threat at hand, but not necessarily resolved in the long-term.

Critical Roles & Relevance

We described a strategy of Population Security and Inducement as a combination of effects to defeat COVID-19: secure-induce (S I), supported by persuade-dissuade (P Ds) and defend-deter (Df Dt). The interrelationships among each component effect are key to adjusting the synergy of the whole strategy. All components (diplomatic, informational, military, economic, social) need to proactively collaborate to dynamically sustain the desired combination of effects. Each piece has a critical role to play for the entire strategy to be successful.

  • The diplomatic effect must achieve international consensus
  • The informational effect must assess and integrate the meaning of the entire combined effect
  • The military effect must plan all-effects into all-domain operations
  • The economic effect must sustain the others—a blend of globalized interdependence and strategic protectionism
  • The social effect must be strengthened by other effects, particularly informational and economic.

All of these considerations are highly relevant to other threats we face today. This threat-type will re-emerge because it is so prevalent. All other complex threats look like COVID-19 in several key respects. They are advanced, persistent, uncertain, and adaptable. To defeat them, we need systemic solutions that consider all instruments of power. To begin to do that, we need to speak a language of all-effects strategy.

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

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