Cover: Stretching and Exploiting Thresholds for High-Order War

Stretching and Exploiting Thresholds for High-Order War

How Russia, China, and Iran Are Eroding American Influence Using Time-Tested Measures Short of War

Published May 31, 2016

by Ben Connable, Jason H. Campbell, Dan Madden


Download eBook for Free

Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.4 MB Best for desktop computers.

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

ePub file 0.2 MB Best for mobile devices.

On desktop computers and some mobile devices, you may need to download an eBook reader to view ePub files. Calibre is an example of a free and open source e-book library management application.

mobi file 0.6 MB Best for Kindle 1-3.

On desktop computers and some mobile devices, you may need to download an eBook reader to view mobi files. Amazon Kindle is the most popular reader for mobi files.

Research Synopsis

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.2 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

توسيع واستغلال الحدود الفاصلة لشن الحرب الشاملة

Arabic language version

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.6 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback56 pages $12.50

Research Questions

  1. How have Russia, China, and Iran used measures short of war to exploit and stretch U.S. strategic thresholds for high-order conventional or nuclear conflict in eastern Europe, east Asia, and the Middle East?
  2. Does the United States apply the most effective theories and practices to defend against strategic threshold stretching and exploitation by competing nation-states?

U.S. thresholds for high-order conventional and nuclear war are diffuse and dynamic, differ across regions, and are hard to enforce. Since 9/11, three of the primary nation-state competitors to the United States — Russia, China, and Iran — have successfully exploited or stretched U.S. thresholds for high-order war in order to further their strategic ends and, in the process, undermine U.S. interests. Each of these countries has made expert use of some combination of measures short of war, including economic leverage, terrorism, limited military incursions, aggressive diplomacy, and covert action, to enact its strategies. Some argue that these actions constitute a new international order, or perhaps a new way of war. They do not: Use of measures short of war is time-tested nation-state behavior. U.S. policymakers and military service leaders would benefit from additional consideration of these measures, how they are used against the United States, and how they might be defended against and exploited to further U.S. strategic interests.

Key Findings

Use of Measures Short of War Is Not a New Phenomenon

  • Nothing can be done to eliminate the threat that measures short of war pose.
  • Instead, addressing their use requires development and maintenance of an effective U.S. grand strategy that seamlessly incorporates measures short of war into a long-term, globally integrated plan.


  • If the United States is to preclude further erosion of its global influence by nation-state competitors, it will have to address the problems of threshold exploitation and stretching. Policymakers and the military services should consider ways to better identify, forestall, and counteract the use of measures short of war against U.S. and allied interests.
  • It must recognize that neither linear threshold paradigms nor revolutionary terms can fully explain such events as Russia's involvement in Crimea or Iran's relationship with Iraq.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Army and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.