EDITOR’S NOTE: The current temporary theme we are using only credits a single author. This article was written by Tommy Daniel and Aaron Honn.

Competition Space Analysis (CSA) is an event and network-based methodology to map malign actor activities, revealing their foci and connections between seemingly benign organizations and people.

In modern great power competition, much of the U.S. military’s focus has been on ensuring military capabilities exist to secure Europe against Russia and counter China’s military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region.  However, hybrid threats and grey-zone tactics by malign actors are an increasingly serious threat to U.S. efforts to establish influence in strategic countries.  The U.S. military, primarily through Special Operations Forces (SOF), conducts indirect military actions to strengthen local populations’ resiliency to such threats. In conjunction with other agencies including the State Department, it works to counter malign influence.  However, no widely-known framework currently exists to help interagency teams visualize and understand the breadth of malign actors’ overt operations, activities, and investments (OAIs).  The U.S. military should use network and operational experience gained from counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan to develop a malign actor event and network data base – in military vernacular, a common operating picture—with interagency partners to help counter malign actors’ OAIs and synchronize United States Government (USG) efforts in contested spaces.  Competition Space Analysis (CSA) is an event and network-based methodology to map malign actor activities, revealing their foci and connections between seemingly benign organizations and people.  By visualizing malign activities over time, CSA allows the USG interagency to use targeted programming to better compete with other countries seeking to expand their influence in-country.  This article will discuss:  1) the depth and flexibility of Competition Space Analysis, 2) a hypothetical case study of effective application of Competition Space Analysis, and 3) the inherent potential of the expanded use of Competition Space Analysis for interagency efforts to plan and synchronize operations to counter malign activity efforts.

Why Competition Space Analysis?

CSA’s ability to inform a U.S. whole-of-government approach during great power competition is essential due to malign actors’ use of whole-of-society approaches and their military theories about using information and shared history in weaponized narratives against the U.S. in key areas around the globe. To achieve this, Competition Space Analysis codes political, economic, social, shared history, and nostalgic historical events. This allows for robust analysis through a whole-of-government lens.

How Do You Solve a Problem You Can’t Describe?

The Department of State (DoS) and various interagency organizations use the Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) and Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) to ensure that in-country activity advances U.S. policy priorities as laid out in the National Security Strategy, the State-USAID Joint Strategic Plan, and State regional and functional bureau strategies.  However, while these strategic documents identify malign foreign influence as something to combat, they lack a finer-grained picture of the physical actions, resources, and intent of malign actors. Without a useful methodology, interagency actors cannot effectively counter malign actor networks.

While operating in Eastern Europe, our interagency team comprised of DoS and DoD individuals developed such a methodology, which has since become known as Competition Space Analysis (credit to MAJ Charles Noble). Competition Space Analysis is an event data (behavior data) and network science approach that takes malign actor events and sorts them into various themes, e.g., economic, political, and shared history. This codification of events draws extensively from social science contentious politics literature were event data has been used “to trace the rise and fall of movements, shifts in goals or tactics”, and the geographic patterning of events. Long term, Competition Space Analysis can provide a wealth of analysis and robust statistical testing of malign actor events similar to contentious politics analysis methods. With this knowledge, DoS and USAID can better focus and target their counterprogramming efforts on specific locations and understand local and malign actor networks. Additionally, Competition Space Analysis informs and allows the interagency to observe malign actors’ reactions to their counterprogramming efforts.

Event Data:  How Rivals Also Vie for Hearts and Minds

As mentioned previously, the event data portion of Competition Space Analysis sorts malign actor events into standardized themes, which allows quick identification of what issues those actors are engaging with. Depending on the actor, the country, and the audience, these themes may include economic coordination, revisionist history, family conservation, and language or education-themed events. Over time, these events yield insights into malign actor operational aims and disposition. Because these themes are standardized and well-described, they can be reliably identified and coded by successive team members over a long timeline, allowing robust regression and multi-variable analysis. In addition, events conducted on a given theme can then be correlated with variables including municipal demographics, voting data, and other sociological indicators. This capability is vital because great power competition is ultimately local and its success or failure is dependent on local demographics, social trends, and cultural characteristics.  The interagency may have a big-picture understanding of malign actors’ strategic goals or lines of effort, but the informed analysis from Competition Space Analysis helps practitioners on the front lines of great power competition contextualize seemingly random operations by malign actors, identify patterns—and take action.

Network Mapping:  Who, What, Where, and Why?

In addition to event data, CSA also focuses on network mapping using network science techniques. Malign actor networks are developed by analyzing open-source information such as social media posts from malign actors’ embassies, press releases by affiliated organizations and government agencies, and press coverage of events.  This open-source information provides data on time, date, location, key individuals, and key organizations that sponsored or facilitated each event. This data in turn informs our reconstruction of malign actor networks. This capability of Competition Space Analysis was informed by the DoD’s Attack the Network efforts to curb threat networks and IEDs during the Global War on Terror (GWOT), network engagement doctrine, and new countering threat networks doctrine.

Soft power is most effective when it is publicized; we can use our competitors’ own posts and press releases to identify their frequent partners, track their favorite themes, map their events, and, ultimately, determine what their objectives are.

Mapping competition space networks is conceptually no different from network mapping an insurgent organization. In fact, it is considerably easier due to the rate of information shared by malign actor embassies and agencies conducting hybrid warfare and grey-zone activities. Soft power is most effective when it is publicized; we can use our competitors’ own posts and press releases to identify their frequent partners, track their favorite themes, map their events, and, ultimately, determine what their objectives are.

With this information, our team used social network analysis to understand what actors or organizations hold central positions within the malign actor network, how information flowed within the network, and the structure of the network as a whole.

How CSA Imposes Costs on Our Competitors

Competition Space Analysis informs and empowers the interagency to impose costs on malign actors. It provides us data on: 1) Where and what type of events took place, 2) The frequency of events over time and proportion of nationwide events that fall within our scope of malign influence, and 3) The identities of key individuals and groups who facilitated or played a key role in the events.

As an example, Competition Space Analysis event data shows that the “Stonegard (hypothetical location)” municipality has seen a malign actor conduct three economic-themed events over the last two months. A review of historic CSA data shows that, over the last year, malign actors have only conducted 10 economic-themed events, most of which took place in the capital. During the monthly DoS interagency coordination meeting, interagency representatives discuss the increased activity in “Stonegard” and identify an opportunity to counter-program. USEMB Public Affairs Section (PAS) develops a plan to step up activities and messaging to emphasize U.S. economic support in Stonegard. USAID reps identify development funds that can counter malign actor activity in the municipality and surrounding region. A SOF cross-functional team representative recommends the Civil Affairs team meet with local community leaders to identify potential Overseas, Humanitarian, Disaster Assistance, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) projects in the “Stonegard” municipality, while the Military Information Support Team coordinates with USEMB Political Section to meet with local governance to support their emergency communications plan. If a military base is located near “Stonegard”, there also exists the potential for U.S. and host nation military cooperation through a training mission by a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha. Immediately, “Stonegard” becomes contested space using a whole-of-government approach powered by CSA. Additionally, Competition Space Analysis informs the success of our efforts over time by monitoring future events in the “Stonegard” municipality. Costs are imposed on malign actors and synchronized using Competition Space Analysis data. Ideally, the interagency influences the local government and community organizations to shy away from malign actors.

False Information

One potential challenge to network mapping is the possible deliberate introduction of false personas and event information by malign actors in an attempt to skew the network. While this a legitimate concern, it is somewhat limited by the whole-of-government approach malign actors often take when influencing populations. Malign actors often host highly publicized events to build rapport with communities. Faking these events would discredit malign actors with their target audiences and would be unnecessarily costly for their image.  Additionally, analysis of photographs of the events, individuals seen using microphones or handing out certificates, and speaker quotes in press releases can act as evidence of an individual’s placement in the network to reduce coding inaccuracies from false information attempts. 

Conclusion

For great power competition, CSA should be the foundation from which we develop our strategic campaign plans in each country affected by malign actors. Our experiences–as regional planner for a Theater Special Operations Command and a Special Operations Civil Affairs Team Commander and as a State Department Public Diplomacy Officer in Washington and overseas—have shown us that interagency teams operate in their own individual “silos of excellence” and lack a malign actor event and network data base–or a common operating picture—to help them counter malign actors’ OAIs and synchronize United States Government (USG) efforts in contested spaces. This increased need for collaboration among the interagency has been documented by RAND in 19 of 36 reports on USG strategic communication. The initial Competition Space Analysis brief to embassy leadership changed their perception of malign actor activity and led to more focused counterprogramming. As DoD continues to develop strategies in a great power competition, it has the abundance of resources, analytical experience, and flexibility to conduct Competition Space Analysis for the interagency in priority countries. Ideally, this would take place at U.S. Combatant Commands like EUCOM, AFRICOM, and INDOPACOM and inform the programming and activities of U.S. Embassies engaged in countering malign influence. This would maximize planning synchronization, because CSA analysts would be located adjacent to the Joint Interagency Coordination Group (JIACG) tasked with advising on operational planning efforts in line with the 2012 guidance on Interagency Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication of the Federal government. Additionally, either the J-7 or J-9 staff sections could act as a liaison, providing information and receiving requests for additional information from the country team or specific sections within the country team (e.g. USEMBs’ Public Affairs Sections, Defense Attachés, and USAID offices). To maximize CSA, interagency teams abroad could provide valuable “ground truth” through qualitative analysis to bolster CSA’s findings. An additional benefit of GCC’s hosting CSA analysts would be facilitating the US Military’s indirect action operations and nonlethal targeting operations. Competition Space Analysis could improve and support mission analysis and information preparation of the battlefield for large multi-national operations, security force assistance, influence operations, and civil-military operations. Competition Space Analysis, if adopted, must not solely reside within the intelligence community. There exists to great a possibility of Competition Space Analysis becoming overly classified and being lost as a common operating picture from which the interagency can plan and synchronize operations. For the United States to counter malign influence, it must first understand malign actor intent. Competition Space Analysis provides a data-driven methodological baseline to better understand malign actor behaviors and networks. Once networks are mapped and understood, the interagency can work together to counter them with our network of civil society organizations, international donors, and other U.S. government agencies. Competition Space Analysis is simple to train and a highly effective tool that provides our diplomats, government employees, and military with an analytical framework that allows the interagency to “achieve levels of knowledge, speed, precision, and unity of effort that only a network could provide” to compete against malign actors.

Tommy Daniel is a Civil Affairs SOF Governance Officer. Tommy has multiple operational assignments in Europe with the 173rd IBCT(A) in Ukraine, future operations planner for Task Group Balkans, and most recently, a cross-functional team leader in the SOCEUR AOR. He has a Masters of the Arts in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies from King’s College London. 

Aaron Honn is a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State.  The recipient of three State Department Superior Honor Awards, he has served in Moldova, Sweden, Panama, Canada, and Washington D.C.  He has a BA from Yale University and a JD from the University of Houston.  He is currently attending the National War College, from which he anticipates receiving an MS in National Security Strategy in 2022. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the Department of State.

Photo Description: Malign actor network 2019

Photo Credit: Provideded by Tommy Daniel

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10 Comments

  1. From our article above:

    “Soft power is most effective when it is publicized; we can use our competitors’ own posts and press releases to identify their frequent partners, track their favorite themes, map their events, and, ultimately, determine what their objectives are.”

    Even without such analysis, what we can already ascertain and understand today, this is (a) that a primary objective of our opponents/our competitors, (b) those both here at home in the U.S./the West and those overseas in places such as China, Russia, N. Korea and in the Islamic World, this is in (c) “containing” the political, economic, social and/or value “change” demands that the U.S./the West is seeking — and has sought since the end of the Old Cold War — to make throughout the world.

    These such post-Cold War “at home and abroad” political, economic, social and/or “change” demands of the U.S./the West, these have been made with the goal of making the states and societies of the world (to include our own states and societies here in the U.S./the West) better able to interact with, better able to provide for and better able to benefit from such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy.

    There has, however, been a significant degree of “fall out” and “resistance” — both here at home and there abroad — as to these such “change” demands, as Walter Russell Mead notes below:

    “Over the past quarter century, Western policymakers became infatuated with some dangerously oversimplified ideas. They believed capitalism had been tamed and would no longer generate economic, social, or political upheavals. They felt that illiberal ideologies and political emotions had been left in the historical dustbin and were believed only by ‘bitter’ losers’–people who ‘cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them… as a way to explain their frustrations,’ as Barack Obama famously put it in 2008. Time and the normal processes of history would solve the problem; constructing a liberal world order was simply a matter of working out the details.

    Given such views, many recent developments–from the 9/11 attacks and the war on terrorism to the financial crisis to the recent surge of angry nationalist populism on both sides of the Atlantic–came as a rude surprise. It is increasingly clear that globalization and automation have helped break up the socioeconomic model that under-girded postwar prosperity and domestic social peace, and that the next stage of capitalist development will challenge the very foundations of both the global liberal order and many of its national pillars.

    In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as ‘Gemeinschaft’ (community) fought back against the onrushing ‘Gesellschaft’ (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago.”

    (See the Mar-Apr 2017 edition of “Foreign Affairs” and, therein, the article by Meade entitled “The Jacksonian Revolt: American Populism and the Liberal Order.”)

    Certain of our overseas opponents, for example Russia — in their effort to “contain” the U.S./the West — have (a) decided to exploit this such “market society” v. “local community” rift and (b) make “common cause” with the more-traditional/more-conservative populations thus threatened:

    “Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past.”

    (From “The American Interest” article “The Reality of Russian Soft Power” by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.)

    “Compounding it all, Russia’s dictator has achieved all of this while creating sympathy in elements of the Right that mirrors the sympathy the Soviet Union achieved in elements of the Left. In other words, Putin is expanding Russian power and influence while mounting a cultural critique that resonates with some American audiences, casting himself as a defender of Christian civilization against Islam and the godless, decadent West.”

    (From the “National Review” article entitled: “How Russia Wins” by David French.)

    Bottom Line Question — Based on the Above:

    Given the HUGE number of people — both here at home and there abroad — who have been, or in the future potentially will be, adversely effected by the U.S./the West’s such “change” demands,

    And given the understanding that this creates a equally HUGE population of disgruntled people throughout the world for our opponents/our competitors to work with; this, re: their “containment of the U.S./the West” goals,

    Given these such — already understood — matters, should we not, accordingly, (a) be focusing the majority of our “countering malign influence” efforts (b) more in this area?

  2. With regard to “competitive space,” let me offer what seems to be a rather new understanding thereof, one which, in democratic countries to be sure, offer amazing manipulative opportunities to our great power competitors. This such “competitive space” being in countries wherein globalization, democracy and national sovereignty are all present, and thus all now vie for supremacy, as explained below:

    “Abstract:
    Current economic and political developments spotlight the relationship between domestic and global governance and the impact of globalization on both. A key question is whether a sovereign state system, democratic governments, and an integrated global marketplace can coexist. The paper assesses analytic materialist arguments for their incompatibility and the key assumptions on which they rest. The paper describes the extant pressures operating to limit each of the three: how sovereignty and democracy work to constrain globalization, how globalization and sovereignty generate a democratic deficit, and how globalization and democracy lead to limitations upon, and even the transcendence of, sovereignty. How to make the three compatible, and failing that, which facet to restrain, characterizes political contestation in a globalizing age. Global and domestic governance reflect the need to reconcile the combined implications of globalization, sovereignty, and democracy, and to do so by restraining, limiting, or transforming one or more of these features.”

    (See the article “The Great Trilemma: Are Globalization, Democracy, and Sovereignty Compatible?,” in the journal “International Theory,” published online by Cambridge University Press, 17 May 2016, article by Arthur A. Stein. Here is the link: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-theory/article/great-trilemma-are-globalization-democracy-and-sovereignty-compatible/6C31601BAD38F90C3594D07290ED8722)

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

    For our authoritarian great power competitors, Russia and China, the above “trilemma” must seem like a gift from Heaven.

    Thus:

    a. If we are doing “competitive space analysis”

    b. And if democratic, capitalist and globalizing countries are the most important such “spaces” that we must watch,

    c. Then should not our opponents’ attempted manipulation of one or more of the three competing areas above be our top/our number one concern?

  3. The fundamental problem that we seem to be dealing with today, this is in understanding that “revolutionary” capitalism today — much like “revolutionary” communism in the recent past — obviously:

    a. Threatens the preferred ways of life, the preferred ways of governance, the preferred values, etc., of more-traditional/more-conservative regimes and populations throughout the world (to include our own). These such threatened populations and regimes, then as now,

    b. Providing a ready-made and indeed world-wide “arsenal” and “army” — of more-traditional/more-conservative regimes and populations (to include such elements in our own states and societies) — that our opponents can work with; this, so as to “contain” the U.S./the West.

    Here are some examples — in this case, of conservative/traditional populations in the U.S./the West — that our opponents intend to use — as their “containment” “permanent operating front:”

    “Compounding it all, Russia’s dictator has achieved all of this while creating sympathy in elements of the Right that mirrors the sympathy the Soviet Union achieved in elements of the Left. In other words, Putin is expanding Russian power and influence while mounting a cultural critique that resonates with some American audiences, casting himself as a defender of Christian civilization against Islam and the godless, decadent West.”

    (See the “National Review” item entitled: “How Russia Wins” by David French.)

    “Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past.”

    (See “The American Interest” article “The Reality of Russian Soft Power” by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.)

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

    It is as per an understanding of this such New/Reverse Cold War scenario (today, they are seeking to contain us) that, I suggest, we must come to (a) develop our “competitive space analysis” and (b) determine our counter-measures.

    (Thus, not so much case-by-case, but, rather, via a more comprehensive view.)

  4. In order to “keep pace with adversaries,” let us, indeed, “analyze the competitive space:”

    1. “The Main Battlespace is in the Mind:”

    “Thus, the Russian view of modern warfare is based on the idea that the main battlespace is the mind and, as a result, new-generation wars are to be dominated by information and psychological warfare, in order to achieve superiority in troops and weapons control, morally and psychologically depressing the enemy’s armed forces personnel and civil population.”

    (See “Russia’s New Generation Warfare in Ukraine,” in National Defense Academy of Latvia [April 2014], Page 5, by Janis Berzins.)

    2. “Create a Permanently Operating Front Through the Entire Territory of the Enemy State:”

    “Asymmetrical actions have come into widespread use, enabling the nullification of an enemy´s advantages in armed conflict. Among such actions are the use of special operations forces and internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state, as well as informational actions, devices, and means that are constantly being perfected.”

    (See the initial quotes at “Russian New Generation Warfare: Deterring and Winning at the Tactical Level,” in Army University Press Military Review [Sep/Oct 2020] by James Derleth.)

    3. The Problem with Capitalism Providing Such a “Permanently Operating Front:”

    “… It is increasingly clear that globalization and automation have helped break up the socioeconomic model that under-girded postwar prosperity and domestic social peace, and that the next stage of capitalist development will challenge the very foundations of both the global liberal order and many of its national pillars.

    In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as ‘Gemeinschaft’ (community) fought back against the onrushing ‘Gesellschaft’ (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago.”

    (See the Mar-Apr 2017 edition of “Foreign Affairs” and, therein, the article by Walter Russell Mead entitled “The Jacksonian Revolt: American Populism and the Liberal Order.”)

    Conclusion:

    The problem for the U.S./the West in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, this is that “revolutionary” capitalism — much like “revolutionary” communism in the Old Cold War — provides one’s “containment” opponent with a worldwide “army” — a worldwide “arsenal” — of:

    a. Status quo-loving (or status quo anti-loving)/conservative/traditional folks

    b. Who are clearly threatened (and/or already harmed) by the political, economic, social and/or value “change” requirements of the “revolutionary” entity and, thus,

    c. Are easily won over by nations advancing “conservative”/”containment” causes. Here are some New/Reverse Cold War examples of this such phenomenon:

    “Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past.”

    (See “The American Interest” article “The Reality of Russian Soft Power” by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.)

    “Compounding it all, Russia’s dictator has achieved all of this while creating sympathy in elements of the Right that mirrors the sympathy the Soviet Union achieved in elements of the Left. In other words, Putin is expanding Russian power and influence while mounting a cultural critique that resonates with some American audiences, casting himself as a defender of Christian civilization against Islam and the godless, decadent West.”

    (See the “National Review” item entitled: “How Russia Wins” by David French.)

    “During the Cold War, the USSR was perceived by American conservatives as an ‘evil empire,’ as a source of destructive cultural influences, while the United States was perceived as a force that was preventing the world from the triumph of godless communism and anarchy. The USSR, by contrast, positioned itself as a vanguard of emancipation, as a fighter for the progressive transformation of humanity (away from religion and toward atheism), and against the reactionary forces of the West.

    Today positions have changed dramatically; it is the United States or the ruling liberal establishment that in the conservative narrative has become the new or neo-USSR, spreading subversive ideas about family or the nature of authority around the world, while Russia has become almost a beacon of hope, ‘the last bastion of Christian values’ that helps keep the world from sliding into a liberal dystopia. Russia’s self-identity has changed accordingly; now it is Russia who actively resists destructive, revolutionary experiments with fundamental human institutions, experiments inspired by new revolutionary neo-communists from the United States. Hence the cautious hopes that the U.S. Christian right have for contemporary Russia: They are projecting on Russia their fantasies of another West that has not been infected by the virus of cultural liberalism.”

    (See the December 18, 2019, Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs article “Global Culture Wars from the Perspective of Russian and American Actors: Some Preliminary Conclusions,” by Dmitry Uzlaner. Look to the paragraph beginning with “Russia and the United States as screens for each other’s projections.”)

    Bottom Line Question — Based on the Above:

    Does this such analysis of “competitive space” help?

  5. From the beginning of our article above:

    “In modern great power competition, much of the U.S. military’s focus has been on ensuring military capabilities exist to secure Europe against Russia and counter China’s military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region. However, hybrid threats and grey-zone tactics by malign actors are an increasingly serious threat to U.S. efforts to establish influence in strategic countries. The U.S. military, primarily through Special Operations Forces (SOF), conducts indirect military actions to strengthen local populations’ resiliency to such threats. In conjunction with other agencies including the State Department, it works to counter malign influence. However, no widely-known framework currently exists to help interagency teams visualize and understand the breadth of malign actors’ overt operations, activities, and investments (OAIs).”

    Let me propose such a widely-known framework; this being, a New/Reverse Cold War.

    Explanation:

    In the Old Cold War of yesterday, the Soviets/the communists were engaged in expansion; herein, targeting the more-liberal/the more-pro-change elements of the world’s populations and governments. This, while the U.S./the West at that time — engaged in containment efforts back then — acted more by, with and through the more-conservative/the more no-change elements of the world’s populations and governments.

    In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, however, these matters are reversed. For example, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, with the U.S./the West now engaged in expansion, it is the U.S./the West, today, who targets and seeks to utilize the more-liberal/the more-pro-change elements of the world populations and governments. This, while our great power rivals today — now engaged in containment of the U.S./the West — targets and seeks to utilize the more-conservative/the more-pro-change elements of the world’s populations and governments. For example, as noted below:

    “Compounding it all, Russia’s dictator has achieved all of this while creating sympathy in elements of the Right that mirrors the sympathy the Soviet Union achieved in elements of the Left. In other words, Putin is expanding Russian power and influence while mounting a cultural critique that resonates with some American audiences, casting himself as a defender of Christian civilization against Islam and the godless, decadent West.”

    (See the “National Review” item entitled: “How Russia Wins” by David French.)

    “Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past.”

    (See “The American Interest” article “The Reality of Russian Soft Power” by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.)

    “During the Cold War, the USSR was perceived by American conservatives as an ‘evil empire,’ as a source of destructive cultural influences, while the United States was perceived as a force that was preventing the world from the triumph of godless communism and anarchy. The USSR, by contrast, positioned itself as a vanguard of emancipation, as a fighter for the progressive transformation of humanity (away from religion and toward atheism), and against the reactionary forces of the West.

    Today positions have changed dramatically; it is the United States or the ruling liberal establishment that in the conservative narrative has become the new or neo-USSR, spreading subversive ideas about family or the nature of authority around the world, while Russia has become almost a beacon of hope, ‘the last bastion of Christian values’ that helps keep the world from sliding into a liberal dystopia. Russia’s self-identity has changed accordingly; now it is Russia who actively resists destructive, revolutionary experiments with fundamental human institutions, experiments inspired by new revolutionary neo-communists from the United States. Hence the cautious hopes that the U.S. Christian right have for contemporary Russia: They are projecting on Russia their fantasies of another West that has not been infected by the virus of cultural liberalism.”

    (See the December 18, 2019, Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs article “Global Culture Wars from the Perspective of Russian and American Actors: Some Preliminary Conclusions,” by Dmitry Uzlaner. Look to the paragraph beginning with “Russia and the United States as screens for each other’s projections.”)

    “For Putin, he suggests, the populist wave in Europe was a predictable response to the permissiveness of European societies, particularly with regard to immigration and gay rights. And in the rise of the right across the continent he sees an opportunity to address himself to a wider audience. ‘The Russian conservative turn . . . must be exported, and Putin sees himself as the harbinger of that anti-modernist movement.’ ”

    (See the Mar 24, 2018 The Irish Times article “Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin: Two Takes on the Russian President” by Raudhan Mac Cormaic.)

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the above:

    As to a “widely-known framework” — which “would help interagency teams visualize and understand the breadth of malign actors’ overt operations, activities, and investments (OAIs)” — I suggest (a) the New/Reverse Cold War concept I propose above (b) meets this criteria.

    In this regard, note MG James Linder, and his co-authors, seeming agreement here:

    “Differing from the previous Tsarist regional empire and the Soviet globalist one, the new Russian foreign policy has a more pragmatic goal. It aims to build different types of buffer zones against NATO encroachment to the West and U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Central Asia. …”

    ( From MG James Linder, et. al’s “The Battlefield of Tomorrow Fought Today: Winning in the Human Domain;” therein, see the major section entitled: “How We Fight: Shape, Deter, and Defeat.”)

    1. In my paragraph above which begins “In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, however;” in this such paragraph, please change the second-to-last sentence thereof to read:

      “This, while our great power rivals today — now engaged in containment of the U.S./the West — targets and seeks to utilize the more-conservative/the more-NO-change elements of the world’s populations and governments.”

      Apologies.

  6. From the New/Reverse Cold War framework that I provide above, it is clear what the job of our interagency teams should be; this being, to:

    1. From a “defense” perspective — and re: our revolutionary/change goals for both ourselves and the rest of the world — :

    a. See the more-conservative/the more-no-change elements of the world’s populations (i.e., the so-called “social conservatives” both at home and abroad) as our “natural enemies” (or, if you prefer, as our “natural challenge”).

    b. To announce this fact to the world. And, then:

    c. To take the other steps needed — to prevent these such “conservative” folks from being used, so effectively, against us by our great power opponents/competitors.

    (In effective, our opponents in New/Reverse Cold War of today, much as we did versus them in the Old Cold War of yesterday, have [a] used the more-conservative/the more no-change elements of the world’s populations as [b] a “permanently operating front” against us.)

    2. From an “offensive” point of view, we should follow the guidance of people like LTG (ret.) Cleveland here. In this regard, note that we will be working by, with and through the more-liberal/the more-pro-change elements of the world’s populations and, specifically, will be (a) using these folks to (b) create a “permanent operating front” to be used against our opponents. (This, after all, is what our opponents did versus us in the Old Cold War.)

    a. From the National Defense University Press paper “Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone” by Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin:

    “Advocates of UW first recognize that, among a population of self-determination seekers, human interest in liberty trumps loyalty to a self-serving dictatorship, that those who aspire to freedom can succeed in deposing corrupt or authoritarian rulers, and that unfortunate population groups can and often do seek alternatives to a life of fear, oppression, and injustice. Second, advocates believe that there is a valid role for the U.S. Government in encouraging and empowering these freedom seekers when doing so helps to secure U.S. national security interests.”

    b. From, respectively, first the “Prefix,” and then the “Conclusion,” of the Rand paper “The American Way of Irregular War: An Analytical Memoir” by Charles T. Cleveland and Daniel Egel:

    From the Prefix:

    “To provide a proactive defense against the irregular warfare campaigns of our enemies and the necessary offensive potential to destabilize our Great Power adversaries, we must turn to, and not away from, the American way of irregular war.”

    From the Conclusion:

    “The Achilles’ heel of our authoritarian adversaries is their inherent fear of their own people; the United States must be ready to capitalize on this fear. … An American way of irregular war will reflect who we are as a people, our diversity, our moral code, and our undying belief in freedom.”

  7. With regard to my New/Reverse Cold War thesis above, (a) note the Old Cold War example provided below and, then, (b) consider whether this example, also, supports my such thinking:

    ” As true as this rings, there is enough rhyme in recent history to remind us that it was not always so. The last time Russia and the United States grappled indirectly as adversaries in ‘the gray areas’ during the final phase of the Cold War, it was the United States that put a hybrid ‘blend of military, economic, diplomatic, criminal, and informational means’ to effective use, notably in Central America. Of course, there were important differences between the character of that confrontation and today, but much about the goals and the means were comparable, only it was the United States that seemed to ‘have it down.’

    In the early 1980s, Central America had gone from backyard backwater to flash point in the Cold War. Walter Cronkite’s first question for President Ronald Reagan shortly after his inauguration was about El Salvador. Reagan reassured the American public that — less than a decade after the American tragedy in Vietnam — he had no intention of sending U.S. combat forces into a Central American quagmire. His administration then built on Jimmy Carter’s reactive stance to contain the spread of Cuban-inspired, Soviet-aligned revolutions from Nicaragua to El Salvador and beyond through a combination of measures. Some of them were prosaic, others unorthodox and controversial in the extreme. In El Salvador, light footprint counterinsurgency held off Latin America’s fiercest guerilla army while a democratic political strategy took hold. Covert action supported insurgents, the Nicaraguan Contras, who kept the Sandinista government off balance and mired in war. U.S. military forces on permanent exercise menaced from across the border in Honduras. Aid programs pumped U.S. dollars into the underdeveloped region. Desultory diplomatic negotiations mollified regional actors, allies, and the U.S. Congress. Information operations aimed at the homeland audience featured images of Soviet tanks headed toward Harlingen, the first American city at the southern tip of Texas.

    The purpose of all this? Defending America from hostile foreign interference — the Monroe Doctrine. But it was also a ‘forward strategy for freedom,’ as Secretary of State George Shultz called it, which above all served to demonstrate that America had revitalized its will to oppose the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Whether or not hybrid war as employed in Central America was a good thing or bad is a matter of political judgement. It associated the United States with unsavory allies and terrible human rights violations, while the misguided evasion of Congressional restrictions on covert action led to the Iran-Contra scandal that nearly wrecked the Reagan administration. Certainly the consequences of protracted war were very costly to the people of the region, even if they could be said to have benefitted from the advent of democracy. Objectively, the United States did achieve its stated aims, specifically containing the spread of leftist revolution elsewhere in Central America and reversing it in Nicaragua; lasting peace coincided with the end of the Cold War itself, but it cannot be said that the wars in Central America made any contribution to that outcome.

    Employed as part of a broader strategy, what hybrid warfare did was allow the United States to carry out open-ended competition and signal certain confidence that the value of protecting the U.S. sphere of interest was greater than any opponent’s interest in upsetting it. After all, it would have served little purpose to test the escalation dominance the United States enjoyed in the hemisphere, say by threatening direct action against Cuba or rattling nuclear sabers. Instead, the method was a low-fear, low-cost, economy-of-force way to manage superpower confrontation that remained well below the threshold that might have provoked a more energetic response.

    That the United States and NATO, a conventional defensive alliance, should be confounded by similar maneuvers on the part of Russia and left groping to ‘connect the dots’ from Crimea to the Baltic is not a surprise. What should not be a matter for confusion is that hybrid warfare is not the exclusive province of a nefarious Putin, but rather a method available to any power with the motivation to employ it. This takes us only half way toward a solution. But, in paraphrase of Clausewitz, the first essential act of judgment is to establish the kind of war in which we are embroiled.”

    (See the April 7, 2015 “War on the Rocks” article “America Did Hybrid Warfare Too” by Todd Greentree.)

  8. What is the old saying?

    a. If it looks like a duck:

    The party doing “containment” (U.S./the West in the Old Cold War of yesterday; Russia and China in the New/Reverse Cold War of today) targets and attempts use — as “a permanently operating front throughout the entire territory of the enemy state” [Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff] — the more-conservative/the more-no change elements of the world’s populations. (See my first full comment above.) And:

    b. If it swims like a duck:

    To wit: the party doing “containment” (see my “a” above) — threatened by the “expansionist” entity’s “revolutionary” activities so close to home/in its own back yard/in its own sphere of influence, etc. — in defense, resorts to “hybrid warfare” (a “blend of military, economic, diplomatic, criminal, and informational means” — see my second full comment above.)

    Then, indeed:

    c. It may be a duck:

    (From our article above) “a widely-known framework” (in this case, the New/Reverse Cold War) — a framework, thus, “which currently exists to help interagency teams visualize and understand the breadth of malign actors’ overt operations, activities, and investments (OAIs).” Yes?

  9. If the New/Reverse Cold War concept I suggested above is accepted (U.S./the West now in “revolutionary” and “expansionist” mode; Russia and China, thus threatened, now in “containment” [and even “roll back?”] mode), then the next step would seem to be to discuss (from the sub-section heading before the third and fourth paragraph of our article above):

    a. Not “How Do You Solve a Problem that You CAN’T Describe. But, rather,

    b. “How Do You Solve a Problem that You CAN Describe.”

    In this regard, let us take just a moment to address my contention that Russia and China feel threatened, and that this is the basis for their “containment,” etc., actions:

    “Since the end of World War II, the United States has pursued a strategy aimed at overturning the status quo by spreading liberalism, free markets, and U.S. influence around the globe. … the United States’ posture stokes fear in Beijing and beyond.” … But at its heart, U.S. grand strategy seeks to spread liberalism and U.S. influence. The goal, in other words, is not preservation but transformation. … The United States has pursued this transformational grand strategy all over the world. … In each of these regions, U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military policies are aimed not at preserving but at transforming the status quo. …”

    (See Dr. Jennifer Lind’s “Foreign Affairs” [Mar/Apr 2017 edition] article “Asia’s Other Revisionist Power: Why U.S. Grand Strategy Unnerves China.”)

    Next, let us address what makes ANY “revolutionary” entity (for example, the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War of yesterday but also the U.S./the West in the New/Reverse Cold War of today) such easy prey — this, for those seeking to “contain” them — this such reason being (using our Old Cold War and New/Reverse Cold War examples above) that “revolutionary” market-democracy — much like “revolutionary” economic and political communism — provides one’s “containment” opponent with a worldwide “army” — and indeed a worldwide “arsenal” — of:

    a. Status quo-loving (or status quo anti-loving, if to much unwanted change is thought to have already taken place) conservative/traditional folks who

    b. Are clearly threatened by the political, economic, social and/or value “change” requirements of the “revolutionary” entity and, thus,

    c. Are easily won over by politicians and nations advancing “conservative”/”containment”/”roll back” causes. (There is probably no better example of this, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, than the examples I provide in my initial comment above.)

    An Old Cold War example, however, may also prove useful, in this case, as relates to communist revolutionary efforts in Nicaragua back-in-the-day:

    ” ‘Blood of Brothers’ is a graphic account of a country torn in half over the Sandinistas’ efforts to build a new political and economic order. Early on, Mr. Kinzer saw that Sandinista policies were alienating ordinary Nicaraguans. In 1983 most Nicaraguans had still not fallen to the depths of deprivation and despair which they would reach in later years, but many were already unhappy and restive. . . . When the Sandinistas decreed that foreign trade was to be a state monopoly, they effectively declared war on these small-scale entrepreneurs. . . . [ And ] by trying to transform [ the existing system of food production ] so completely and so suddenly, they were underestimating the deeply ingrained conservatism of Nicaraguan peasants.”

    (See the April 7, 1991 New York Times article “The Sandinista Decade,” by Linda Robinson.)

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

    In Linda Robinson’s article above, she points to “the deep political convictions” of the communists — this, to achieve (a) immediate and (b) complete and comprehensive political, economic, social and value change in Nicaragua.

    Thus, in trying to describe “How Do We Solve a Problem that We CAN Describe,” might we — also — begin by looking at the U.S./the West’s such “revolutionary” “deep political convictions?”

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