Rediscovering Operational Art in an Era of Great Power Competition

At the Munich Security Conference in February, US President Joe Biden confidently declared, “We are not looking backward; we are looking forward, together.” Yet, even as he foretold a better future, he invoked the ghosts of the country’s Cold War past: “We must prepare together for a long-term strategic competition.” Great power competition, largely now a distant memory of America’s past, was roaring back.

Unlike halcyon days bygone, however, the competition to shape the international order is focused mainly on the United States and China, with Russia often left lurking in the shadows. The competitive norms of the old Cold War have been replaced with those of the new Cold War: the nine-dash line and the South China Sea, conflict across the cyber domain, and widespread diffusion of military technology. Understandably, debate has raged over the inevitability of military conflict, defense budgets are rising in response, and emergent concepts are framed around a vision of large-scale conflict unimaginable since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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