This report’s authors examine the contributions of overseas campaigning instruments to U.S. strategic goals. The authors conducted statistical analyses of the relationships between these tools and deterrence, access and cooperation, and partner stability and developed rough-order-of-magnitude cost estimates for these instruments to provide the foundations of a decision-support tool to inform U.S. Department of Defense campaign planning.
Assessing the Value of Overseas Military Campaigning in Strategic Competition
Published Dec 13, 2023
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- What is the range of U.S. goals in competition? What are the overseas campaigning instruments through which DoD contributes to those goals?
- Which of those instruments appear to be most effective and under what conditions?
- Which run substantial risks of counterproductive outcomes and under what conditions?
- At a ROM level, what are the costs of different campaigning tools?
- Which instruments appear to represent relatively more cost-efficient tools for obtaining certain objectives in particular types of contexts?
In strategic competition against competitors that can outspend the United States (either individually or collectively), it is important to understand not only the efficacy but also the efficiency of campaigning measures. Unfortunately, neither the efficacy nor efficiency of overseas military campaigning measures beneath the threshold of armed conflict is well understood. In this report, the authors seek to address this gap and provide the foundations of a strategic evaluation and decision-support tool to inform U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) campaign planning—more specifically, to assist in choosing overseas operations, activities, and investments in a logically linked and sequenced plan in support of specific strategy-aligned objectives.
The authors break down campaigns into three sets of factors: overseas campaigning instruments (or inputs), campaigning outcomes, and contextual factors that are likely to influence the effectiveness of campaigning instruments. To uncover broad patterns among interactions between the United States and its competitors and allies and partners, the authors conducted statistical analyses on whether U.S. strategic objectives have been more or less likely to be achieved when the United States employs a given overseas campaigning tool. The authors then provide rough-order-of-magnitude (ROM) cost estimates for each overseas campaigning tool.
The results suggest stark trade-offs between different U.S. strategic objectives and between the likelihood of realizing U.S. objectives and the need to operate within budget constraints. These trade-offs have important policy implications.
- The persistent presence of U.S. forces overseas and treaty alliances appear to be the strongest, most consistent tools for deterrence.
- U.S. overseas campaigning instruments appear to contribute relatively consistently to improved military-to-military cooperation under steady-state conditions, but their contribution to cooperation during a contingency remains uncertain.
- Nearly all U.S. overseas campaigning instruments appear to pose some risk of negative effects on partners' internal stability, although typically this risk is associated only with certain types of partners or circumstances.
- The stark trade-off between the likelihood of realizing U.S. objectives and the need to operate within budget constraints suggests that certain effective campaigning tools may nevertheless need to be used only sparingly.
- Employ U.S. forces selectively for the highest-priority targets, and only when a careful risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis (including analyses of these forces' vulnerability) suggest that they are warranted.
- Commit to multilateral military exercises primarily as a long-term investment in building capabilities rather than as a short-term signaling device.
- Use campaigning to promote cooperation while being aware that peacetime gains in cooperation do not necessarily translate into improvements in contingency cooperation.
- Use risk assessments and plan risk mitigations for low-income countries, where many campaigning instruments appear to have at least some unfavorable consequences for such countries' internal stability and resilience.
- Improve data collection, knowledge management, and capabilities for analyzing the implications of campaigning decisions in the competition space.
- Adapt planning processes to incorporate evaluations of the efficacy and costs of campaigning tools.