Russia, China and Iran Use Measures Short of War to Further Strategic Ends Against the U.S.

For Release

May 31, 2016

The United States will have to address the problems of foreign intervention and threats short of war if it is to prevent further erosion of its global influence by its competitors, a new RAND Corporation report finds.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Russia, China and Iran have successfully exploited or stretched U.S. thresholds for war in order to further their strategic goals and undermine U.S. interests, according to the study.

Each of the countries has made expert use of some combination of economic leverage, limited military incursions, aggressive diplomacy and covert action in order to enact its own strategies. RAND researchers explain why U.S. notions of thresholds for when to engage in war might be outdated.

“Nothing can be done to eliminate the threat posed by measures that are short of war,” said Ben Connable, lead author of the report and a senior international policy analyst at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Instead, addressing use of these tactics requires an effective U.S. grand strategy that seamlessly incorporates measures short of war into a long-term, globally integrated plan.”

While other analysts have taken the position that these actions constitute a new international order or perhaps a new way of war, RAND researchers assert that the use of measures short of war is actually a time-tested nation-state behavior which is not a new phenomenon.

In order to develop a workable U.S. strategy against the aggressive posture of other nations, the RAND report says that U.S. leaders must recognize that neither conceptual models that explain human decision-making in neat steps nor a more-realistic, dynamic model can fully explain events such as Russia's involvement in Crimea or Iran's relationship with Iraq.

A strategy to counter measures short of war should include tools to better identify, forestall and counteract the aggressive acts of nations such as Russia, China and Iran, while also supporting the interests of the U.S. and its allies, according to the report.

The report, “Stretching and Exploiting Thresholds for High-Order War: How Russia, China, and Iran are Eroding American Influence Using Time-Tested Measures Short of War,” can be found at Other authors of the study are Jason H. Campbell and Dan Madden.

The report was sponsored by the U.S. Army and conducted within the RAND Arroyo Center's Strategy and Resources Program. RAND Arroyo Center, part of the RAND Corporation, is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the United States Army.

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