The strategic demands of a great power war with a peer-adversary—the high-end conflict—will inevitably push decision-makers to the pale of that which is ethically permissible. We have seen it in the two great wars of the 20th century. In the next great power war—and one hopes it never comes—western states will put their strategic and operational capabilities to the test. But such a war will also test the moral will of their citizens—the people in whose name the killing and dying will take place.
One cannot go far wrong by employing Thucydides as a foundation for any model, as General George Marshall reminded us. But Marshall surely did not mean for policymakers to end their studies with the Peloponnesian War. Rather, Thucydides is but a starting point for a much wider historical study aimed at revealing the true nature of strategic rivalries and the character of their ensuing conflicts.
The future of U.S. military competitiveness will depend upon the ability to remain a leader in innovation in these critical technologies through a national surge in science, while also building upon perhaps more enduring advantages in talent and training to advance innovation in concepts of operations.
This tunnel vision, and the misinterpretation of past grand strategic success...has the potential to shape the spectrum of analysis that informs American grand strategic thought today. To face the siren songs of historical mythology and American exceptionalism, the U.S. must first find the mast before it tethers itself to it. Some general agreement about where we are and where we want to go is the first step in the right direction towards a grand strategy firmly connected to reality.