Ideas and Challenges in a Complex World
Hoover Institution’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy
Strategy’s First Steps
Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy www.hoover.org/taskforces/foreign-policy
A GR AND STR ATEGY ES SAY
As we step off to discuss, debate, and decide on a way ahead, our greatest challenge will not be selecting a particular strategic model or combination of models—offshore balancing, primacy, etc.—but rather accurately and honestly determining our current global position, or starting point, what trends are likely, and what means we have or anticipate having to support our policy proposal. If we are unable to do that, any strategic proposal or model upon which we decide will not be compelling. Forgive the nautical analogy, but when in a precarious navigational situation at sea, the first question asked is, where am I? Then, what is affecting me (wind, current, etc.)? What do I have available to get me out of a questionable or hazardous position (power, rudder)? And, where do I wish to end up? The end point need not be where you initially wanted to be; but, if you are in a good place from which you can proceed, that’s OK. Some of the assessments are best guesses, and some are quite specific. Working our way through the best guesses and specifics must be the first order of business. This is going to be hard because we are in a different strategic dynamic than what most of us have dealt with before. As far as a clear end state, most will agree that it is a safe and secure homeland, current and future national prosperity, and an ability to confidently and effectively influence domestic and global activity to assure that end. What will be hard will be assessing accurately the current and anticipated forces and trends that will act in support of or run counter to reaching that end state. What is different? First, the information environment has changed. Communications have been evolving since the beginning of man, but the rate of change we are experiencing today is unprecedented. More than ever before it is compressing reaction times. It is upending the hierarchy, order, and control of information and authority. We are still learning how to live, operate, and lead in this new space. Our governance model and processes are based on the previous information space, and that is affecting assessments and decision-making in profound ways. Whether related to our current information environment or due to other factors worth addressing, we have allowed corruption of essential strategic terms and categorizations to occur. While global disorder is more apparent, we are not engaged in an ideological
working group on foreign policy and grand strategy
by Gary Roughead
struggle nor do we face existential threats. The descriptors of “most dangerous,” “most critical,” and “most important time” are overused—they overstate events and conditions, and cause emotion to overrun strategic thought. Our time is different, externally and internally, but the above descriptors overinflate assessments and cause disproportionate responses. We often conflate violence with threats and categorize events beyond their real level of criticality. Rational discourse is difficult because of the way information is articulated, frequently sensationalized, and transmitted. Our work should contribute to correcting these distortions. The speed and breadth of information reception and transmission, coupled with compelling desire or perceived need to respond so as to outpace information drivers, produce action that risks being at odds with strategic objectives. The diminishing hierarchical separation of information overlaid on a hierarchical governance structure will produce strategic discontinuities and missteps. We should attempt to redesign our response mechanisms to account for this mismatch. The second consideration we must assess is a strategic factor with which we have not had to contend before—environmental change. Two areas will be affected greatly: the north polar area and Asia. The diminishing icecaps will result in two very significant yet different considerations. In the north, three sea routes open: the Northwest Passage, the Northern Sea Route, and the Transpolar Route. Resources, energy, minerals, and food are available in this new opening. As a US-contiguous region, will it be a cooperative or competitive space, what strategic factors must be considered, and how will it affect our strategic relationships with Canada and Russia? The strategic implications of the diminishment of the Tibetan icecap, exacerbated by extensive hydro-engineering projects largely in China, and an exploding Asian demand for mankind’s most important and yet irreplaceable need (water) will have extraordinary strategic implications. Confrontation and conflict are in the offing on the Asian continent and present strategic challenges and opportunities for the United States. Energy, which has been and will remain a major strategic factor, is a third area in which the landscape is different from what we’ve faced before. Technology is changing the energy equation to the advantage of the United States and consequently will alter our Middle East interests. Not only will our energy circumstance change, but North America will be a massive energy source as other regional sources fade. What are the positive and negative strategic implications of this development? Fourth, it is clear that China looms large. Our assumptions and projections for China’s development must be central to our work. It is unlikely any other country will challenge our influence and our Asian and global relationships. We should examine the economic, diplomatic, demographic, military, and environmental factors of China’s evolution. Our strategic objective should be a cooperative relationship with China while not allowing any one nation to dominate Asia.
Strategy’s First Steps
The fifth, and I’ll make it the final area, is the likely future fiscal environment and what it means to military force design, our industrial base, and our strategic ambitions. Strategy and budgets are inseparable, and leaders have been avoiding the inconvenient truth of the cost of our current military and diplomatic force design. The fiscal forecast does not bode well for our nation’s industrial base, a key strategic advantage of the United States. It is changing and we should examine and validate industrial-base assumptions. If we do not understand the fiscal challenges ahead and do not consider the means to execute a strategy, our recommendations will ring hollow.
Copyright © 2013 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
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Strategy’s First Steps
Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy
The certainties of the Cold War, such as they were, have disappeared. The United States now confronts several historically unique challenges, including the rise of a potential peer competitor, a rate of technological change unseen since the 19th century, the proliferation of nuclear and biological capabilities, and the possible joining of these capabilities with transnational terrorist movements. There has been no consensus on a grand strategy or even a set of principles to address specific problems. Reactive and ad hoc measures are not adequate. The Hoover Institution’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy will explore an array of foreign policy topics over a two-year period. Our goal is to develop orienting principles about the most important policy challenges to better serve America’s interests.
Gary Roughead Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1973. In September 2007, he became the twenty-ninth chief of naval operations after holding six operational commands and is one of only two ofﬁcers in the navy’s history to have commanded both the Atlantic and Paciﬁc Fleets.
About the Author
For more information about the Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy, visit us online at www.hoover.org/taskforces/ foreign-policy.