At a time when the U.S. maintains a significant military advantage over all other countries, it is seductive to think that simply applying those resources to any and all problems will cause success, but it will not. As a country, the U.S. can and must do better. One small step toward improving American strategic competence is to explicitly articulate our strategies as theories of success based on clear conceptualization of all variables and causal mechanisms.
The risk of violent conflict is growing in several regions of the world, which threatens U.S. national security interests and may trigger a military response in the near future. While foreign crises can arise in unpredictable ways, in many instances the warning signs are evident. Prior to conflict escalation, the opportunity exists to take preventive action to lessen the risk of events transitioning in an undesirable direction. In today’s global environment, security risks increase in a variety of ways because of coups d’état, security crises, cessations of political dynasties, and less predictable environments. With violent conflict opportunities increasing throughout the international system, state and non-state actors can impact societies in a manner that challenges U.S. national security interests as a global superpower.
Is it possible to intervene in another nation-state and pushback against the weight of that nation-state’s history? Can the weight of history be sufficiently balanced by intervention, allowing for the creation of enduring conditions that protect the outsider’s strategic interests? Today, the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the constraints on resources and time, probably make this an unattractive policy option. Instead, managing not resolving, the threats that pose risk to strategic interests is probably a more reasonable policy approach. This means accepting that an intervention in the affairs of another nation-state is limited to advise, assist and enable; and that the intervention will be a long-term commitment that works with the grain of history to achieve incremental progress.