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Research Questions

  1. What are UGS?
  2. Why should the United States engage in UGS?
  3. How can engagement be done more effectively?

In this report, several authors explore the concept of undergoverned spaces (UGS) and the concepts, challenges, and prospects for developing new approaches to long-term competition in open-ended or infinite games within the context of UGS. This exploration marks an initial step toward developing a functional perspective on determining whether new approaches to strategy and engagement are warranted, and what the implications of those steps might be regarding the actions considered, the rationale for choosing among those actions, and the ways that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and National Security Enterprise (NSE) organize to perform them.

This report is divided into four parts, each presenting different perspectives on the challenges posed by UGS and the opportunities to improve how the United States competes within them.

Key Findings

  • There are many approaches to describing and understanding UGS.
  • UGS will remain a strategic challenge regardless of whether U.S. national strategy emphasizes great power competition, the promotion and expansion of international governance institutions, the countering of extremist violent groups, or other objectives.
  • UGS challenge the decisionmaking processes of DoD and the NSE, and effective engagement will require greater emphasis on being adaptive regarding how decisions are made, who participates in making them, and how policy and operations are executed in complex, open-ended competition.
  • Long-term competition will require new concepts and approaches that improve the integration of research, analysis, operations, and strategy.
  • Investments in the social sciences are crucial to better competing in and understanding UGS.
  • UGS will require new tools and rationales for policymaking that pay explicit attention to uncertainty and seek robustness and adaptiveness as a means for coping with it.
  • Artificial intelligence will be important but will have a limited impact on strategic decisionmaking and planning in UGS because of their open-endedness.
  • Research and analysis to support UGS will need more-robust infrastructure and organizations that can continue to accumulate knowledge and support the development of technologies as policy organizations adapt their structures, goals, and operations at a faster pace.

This research was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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.

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