Note #5. Mastering Diverse Spectra of Conflict. Dr. Thomas A. Drohan, Brig Gen, USAF (ret.).

Previous notes introduced the idea of combined effects strategy for complex competition and warfare. Let’s consider this type of competition and warfare as sophisticated forms of conflict. Combined effects arise from four distinctions, degrees to which an actor decides to:


(1) cooperate or confront
(2) prevent or cause behavior
(3) influence will or capability
(4) do the above psychologically or physically

OK, but how are combined effects better than singular effects? In other words, what can these distinctions or choices enable combined effects to do that simpler approaches to conflict cannot?

In answering this question about complex competition and warfare, let’s take cooperation and confrontation as dialectical opposites. We can imagine confrontation as the thesis, and cooperation as an antithesis to that. The synthesis of these two concepts is coop-frontation; however, that result does not imply an additive or equal measure of the thesis and antithesis. Instead, the synthesis is a range of possibilities along a spectrum defined by its ideal-type end points — cooperation and confrontation. Why bother thinking this way instead of the typical “on” – “off” switch or “when peace fails” mentality?

The fundamental advantage of thinking of combined effects as inclusive and interactive is that we get blends of “coop-frontation” — combinations of more or less confrontation and more or less cooperation. Such flexibility enables us to begin to think in ways that can be more influential in more contexts.

The same dialectical thinking can apply to the other three distinctions of combined effects theory. That is, let’s add our other choices to coop-frontation — influencing will and capability in psychological and physical ways to prevent and cause behavior. These distinctions are all dialectical opposites. Therefore they also can be used to define diverse spectra of conflict: deter–compel; dissuade– persuade; defend–coerce; and secure–induce. These spectra contain different degrees of each concept.

What coop-frontational blends make sense? Here are four that come to mind by combining the different concepts, along with a somewhat notional example of each:

a. Coercive persuasion. Russia persuades the Venezuelan President to stay in Venezuela, backed by an influx of Russian military advisors.

b. Induced deterrence. Deter Iran’s nuclear proliferation with economic sanctions that will induce domestic revolt.

c. Defended compellence. Encrypted financial information/assets used to compel social compliance in the United Arab Emirates.

d. Secure dissuasion. China dissuades Italy from joining US ban on Huawei by securing increased economic ties.

Security strategy needs to be relevant to complex competition and warfare. The leader, unit, agency, firm or nation-state that masters diverse spectra of conflict can have inexhaustible strategic advantages over actors who can’t or won’t for whatever reasons.

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