How Relevant is the Speed of Relevance?

How Relevant is the Speed of Relevance?
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The 2017 National Security Strategy and the subordinate National Defense Strategy and National Military Strategy represent a genuine inflection point in U.S. strategic culture. While the origin of the great power competition that drove this shift can be traced back at least to the end of the last century, the intent to more proactively challenge rising revisionist powers clearly lies within these documents. The military-strategic architects of this more dynamic approach to protecting the dominant geopolitical position of the U.S. were Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford. This deliberate shift and their strategic stewardship were also accompanied by the rising favor of a new lexicon of buzz terms, including idioms such as “competition continuum” and “competition below the level of armed conflict.” One of the new terms that both Secretary Mattis and General Dunford drew upon repeatedly during this time was the “speed of relevance.” Both men separately have been credited with the genesis of the expression; they also both identified the speed of relevance as being an adaptation and an aspiration that is fundamental to gaining competitive advantage. They have, however, used the term in subtly different senses, and this divergence is worthy of further analysis. Ultimately, if the intention and sentiment of their respective speeds of relevance is to bring competitive advantage to the joint force, it must be based on shared interpretation and a coherent and achievable goal.

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