Competition Below Armed Conflict

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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. 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.

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.)

Operations during competition are intended to deter malign adversary action, set conditions for armed conflict on favorable terms when deterrence fails, and shape an operational environment with allies and partners in ways that support U.S. strategic interests and policy aims. Theater armies support combatant commanders (CCDRs) as they conduct operations to deter adversaries and achieve national objectives. Their operations, conducted as part of a combatant command campaign plan, are conducted over time and across broad areas without armed conflict. This may include cooperative training, support to local institutions, construction projects, and a range of other activities. In many cases, enduring engagement is necessary, especially given the tendency of adversaries to pursue strategic objectives over long periods of time that do not comport with the shorter political-strategic cycles found in the U.S. or among many of its allies and partners.

Army forces contribute to conventional deterrence during competition by preparing for armed conflict, including large-scale combat operations. This includes assisting allies and partners to improve their military capabilities and capacity. Preparation for combat operations and demonstrating the interoperability of the U.S. joint force with allies and partners presents the strongest deterrence to adversaries. Deliberate messaging that communicates the will and capability to conduct combat operations can amplify the deterrent effect of physical actions on the ground. Interoperability, coupled with the demonstrated capabilities and capacity of Army forces, reinforces a unified approach to defending mutual interests. Even a small contingent of forward-stationed U.S. Army forces are a challenge to defeat when operating with allies and partners. A force ready for large-scale combat operations contributes to the potency and integration of the other instruments of national power, provides CCDRs capabilities for graduated responses, and enables the Army to help the joint force achieve national strategic objectives through competition rather than armed conflict.

Competition Activities

Competition involves activities conducted under numerous programs within a combatant command. The CCDR uses these activities to improve security within partner nations, enhance international legitimacy, gain multinational cooperation, and influence adversary decision making. Competition activities include obtaining access for U.S. forces, maintaining sufficient forward-based presence within a theater to influence conditions in the strategic environment, and mitigating conditions that could lead to a crisis or armed conflict. At any time during competition, but especially during times of heightened tension, leaders must take great care to ensure Army forces avoid activities that accidently provoke crisis or armed conflict. Army forces, as directed by the theater army, must stay within an activity level that meets the CCDR’s intent for readiness without unintentionally increasing tensions.

Activities that occur during competition are directly tied to authorities provided in various titles of the United States Code and approved programs, and they are integrated and synchronized with the Department of State, other government agencies, country teams, and ambassadors’ plans and objectives.

Military Engagement

Military engagement is contact and interaction between individuals or elements of the Armed Forces of the United States and those of another nation’s armed forces, or foreign and domestic civilian authorities or agencies, to build trust and confidence, share information, coordinate mutual activities, and maintain influence (JP 3-0). Military engagement occurs as part of security cooperation, but it also extends to interaction with domestic civilian authorities. Army forces will also routinely communicate with nongovernmental organizations, either directly or indirectly, to ensure expectations and roles are understood.

Security Cooperation

Security cooperation is all Department of Defense interactions with foreign security establishments to build security relationships that promote specific United States security interests, develop allied and partner nation military and security capabilities for self-defense and multinational operations, and provide United States forces with peacetime and contingency access to allied and partner nations (JP 3-20). These efforts may include Army forces participating in joint and multinational exercises and employing regionally aligned forces. Conducting security cooperation is one of the Army’s primary stability tasks.
• Security assistance is a group of programs the U.S. Government uses to provide defense articles, military training, and other defense-related services by grant, lease, loan, credit, or cash sales.
• Security force assistance is the Department of Defense activities that support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their supporting institutions (JP 3-20).
• Foreign internal defense is participation by civilian agencies and military forces of a government or international organizations in any of the programs and activities undertaken by a host nation government to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to its security (JP 3-22).
• Security sector reform is a comprehensive set of programs and activities undertaken by a host nation to improve the way it provides safety, security, and justice (JP 3-07).

Nuclear Deterrence and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction

U.S. nuclear capabilities are foundational to the deterrence of adversary weapons of mass destruction use. To ensure the credibility of this deterrent, joint and Army forces must integrate the planning and operations of nuclear and conventional forces. Further, Army forces must plan, train, and exercise to conduct operations under the adversary threat or use of weapons of mass destruction in order to deny the adversary any perceived advantage that might result from employing weapons of mass destruction. To do so, commanders and staffs must continuously assess, protect, and mitigate the effects of adversary chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons use and contamination hazards. They must train under simulated weapons of mass destruction conditions. When under threat of nuclear attack, commanders must balance the risk of dispersing forces to mitigate the impact of nuclear effects across their AO against the ability to concentrate sufficient combat power to achieve objectives. In a chemically contaminated environment, a commander’s decision-making ability is complicated by the effects on Soldier stamina, reaction times, and sustainment. Each of these environments requires unique actions to ensure a formation’s ability to maneuver, fight, and sustain operations.

Humanitarian Assistance

USAID is the lead U.S. government agency, responsible to the Secretary of State, for administering civilian foreign aid and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. USAID often works in concert with Army forces when Soldiers are tasked to provide assistance. It can supplement forces conducting civil affairs operations that the DOD conducts to build relationships and win the trust, confidence, and support of local populations.

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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