Army Strategic Contexts (as related to Competition Continuum)

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Joint doctrine describes the strategic environment in terms of a competition continuum. Rather than a world either at peace or at war, the competition continuum describes three broad categories of strategic relationships—cooperation, competition below armed conflict, and armed conflict. Each relationship is defined as between the United States and another strategic actor relative to a specific set of policy aims. Cooperation, competition, and even armed conflict commonly go on simultaneously in different parts of the world. Because of this, the needs of CCDRs and Army component commanders in one area are affected by the strategic needs of others.

Although combatant commands and theater armies campaign across the competition continuum, Army tactical formations typically conduct operations within a context dominated by one strategic relationship at a time. Therefore, Army doctrine describes the strategic situation through three strategic contexts in which Army forces conduct operations:

Army Strategic Contexts

The Army strategic contexts generally correspond to the joint competition continuum and the requirements of joint campaigns. Because cooperation is generally conducted with an ally or partner to counter an adversary or enemy, Army doctrine considers it part of competition. Army doctrine adds crisis to account for the unique challenges facing ground forces that often characterize transition between competition and armed conflict.

A. Competition (Below Armed Conflict)


Competition below armed conflict exists when two or more state or non-state adversaries have incompatible interests, but neither seeks armed conflict. Nation-states compete with each other using all instruments of national power to gain and maintain advantages that help them achieve their goals. Low levels of lethal force can be a part of competition below armed conflict. Adversaries often employ cyberspace capabilities and information warfare to destroy or disrupt infrastructure, interfere with government processes, and conduct activities in a way that does not cause the United States and its allies to respond with force. Competition provides military forces time to prepare for armed conflict, opportunities to assure allies and partners of resolve and commitment, and time and space to set the necessary conditions to prevent crisis or conflict. (See pp. 1-63 to 1-76.)

B. Crisis

A crisis is an emerging incident or situation involving a possible threat to the United States, its citizens, military forces, or vital interests that develops rapidly and creates a condition of such diplomatic, economic, or military importance that commitment of military forces and resources is contemplated to achieve national and/or strategic objectives (JP 3-0). Commanders have to consider the possibility that overt military action may escalate a crisis towards armed conflict. The use of space and cyberspace capabilities provides other options that are less likely to cause escalation. The context of crisis is relative to an adversary, which is different from crisis response, which can result from a natural or human disaster. During crisis, armed conflict has not yet occurred, but it is either imminent or a distinct possibility that requires rapid response by forces prepared to fight if deterrence fails. (See pp. 1-77 to 1-86.)

Note. A crisis can be long in duration, but it can also reflect a near-simultaneous transition to armed conflict. Leaders do not assume that a crisis provides additional time for a transition to armed conflict.

Army forces contribute to joint operations, seeking to deter further provocation and compel an adversary to de-escalate aggression and return to competition under conditions acceptable for the United States and its allies or partners. Through rapid movement and integration with the joint force, Army forces help signal the readiness and willingness to prevail in combat operations. When authorized, Army forces can inform or influence perceptions about an operation’s goals and progress to amplify effects on the ground during a crisis; however, commanders ensure their message aligns with reality and that their narratives are truthful and credible. Army forces help the joint force maintain freedom of action and associated positions of relative advantage through the activities they conduct and their presence on the ground. They operate in a way that disrupts adversary risk calculations about the cost of acting contrary to U.S. national interests, compels de-escalation, and fosters a return to competition conditions favorable to the United States. If deterrence fails to end a crisis, Army forces are better postured for operations during armed conflict.

C. Armed Conflict

Armed conflict occurs when a state or non-state actor uses lethal force as the primary means to satisfy its interests. Armed conflict can range from irregular warfare to conventional warfare and combinations of both. Entering into and terminating armed conflict is a political decision. Army forces may enter conflict with some advanced warning during a prolonged crisis or with little warning during competition. How well Army forces are prepared to enter into an armed conflict ultimately depends upon decisions and preparations made during competition and crisis. At the onset of armed conflict, forward-positioned Army forces may defend key terrain or infrastructure while seeking opportunities to gain the initiative or reposition to more favorable locations with partner forces. Army forces help JFCs gain and maintain the initiative, defeat enemy forces on the ground, control territory and populations, and consolidate gains to establish conditions for a political settlement favorable to U.S. interests. Army forces provide landpower to the joint force and conduct limited contingency or large-scale combat operations to ensure enduring political outcomes favorable to U.S. interests. (See pp. 1-87 to 1-126.)


AODS7: The Army Operations & Doctrine SMARTbook, 7th Ed. (Multidomain Operations)This article is an extract from "AODS7: The Army Operations & Doctrine SMARTbook, 7th Ed. (Multidomain Operations)" by The Lightning Press. Download a free PDF sample and learn more at:  AODS7: The Army Operations & Doctrine SMARTbook, 7th Ed. (Multidomain Operations).

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