The U.S. Army has completed yet another document outlining how it’s preparing for, if not permanent war, at least for a permanent state of confrontation with Russia and China, in the name of “deterring” “great power conflict.” The document, entitled “The Army in Military Competition: Chief of Staff Paper #2” (Chief of Staff Paper #1 was “Army Multi-Domain Transformation, released and reported last week), makes the case for the service’s role in great power competition short of war with Russia and China.”Winning matters," the document says, " and a streak of continual successes in activities from humanitarian assistance to combat operations makes a powerful statement."
“I want all readers to understand that military competition is an ‘infinite game,’” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville wrote in the preface. “We can define winning in competition in many ways: deterring conflict, upholding our interests, remaining the security partner of choice, keeping allies and partners free from coercion and subversion, and discouraging adversaries from malign actions because they know that these acts will not succeed. What we must remember is a win today is an opening for new competition activities tomorrow.” In other words, competition is neverending.
War, in fact, if it comes to that, is just one form of competition in a continuum of competitions. “Military activities during competition can be either defensive or offensive; lethal or non-lethal; unilateral or multilateral; employ conventional, irregular, and special operations forces from each of the military services in multiple domains,” McConville argues. “Armed conflict is one element of … the competition continuum”—which includes even “general state conflict.”
A constant component of the “continuum of competition” is the “narrative”, and in that narrative, reputation is everything. “A reputation for strength and reliability is a significant competitive benefit that might cause adversaries to seek less ambitious objectives or, in some instances, to choose not to compete at all and seek cooperation instead,” the document reads. “The Army contributes to narrative competition by being a lethal, competent, credible force and being recognized as such by key audiences among allies and partners as well as adversaries,” the paper states.
“Simply being a world-class force and demonstrating that quality through successful operations conducted in a manner consistent with institutional values fosters a positive reputation for the U.S. Army,” the document goes on. For the Army, “maintaining high standards and being a partner of choice for military education, exercises, capacity building and equipment sales” is important to winning in narrative competition, according to the paper.
The document is clearly an exercise in self-delusion, among other things, in that it makes no reference to the fact that Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya are all in chaos as a result of U.S. or U.S.-led military interventions. No narrative will cover these failures with a story of a “competent, credible force” though it has proven to be lethal to an untold number of civilians.