Democracy will always benefit from the requirement to persuade the public––to gain consensus on, and legitimacy for, the use of force in order to defend or pursue national interests. If this opportunity is ceded for fear of being unconvincing, or in fear of explaining the ugliness it will entail, then a society will find itself bereft of clarity in the political objective and therefore unable to craft strategy appropriate the task at hand. Furthermore, the failure to have these discussions leaves the populace underprepared for the brutality and sacrifice that war may require.
As the U.S. and China respectively prioritize advances in the same strategic technologies, innovations may take place simultaneously, and diffusion may occur almost instantaneously. As China has become a global leader in multiple critical technological domains—including unmanned systems, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, and quantum information science—indigenous Chinese innovation, rather than simply its rapid expropriation and effective emulation of foreign advances, also has the potential to prove highly disruptive. Under these conditions, neither the U.S. nor China is likely to achieve or maintain an enduring technological advantage.
Multi-Domain Battle offers a conceptual structure for an extension of the technological and doctrinal Second Offset. This combination can continue to offset any adversary's ability to mass effects in the cyber, information, and electro-magnetic spectrum as well as massed lethal fires. The desired capabilities needed to force seams in enemy defenses and establish temporary windows of opportunity in the physical and cyber domains will serve to set disciplined conditions for a conceptual and actual Third Offset.
The big strategic question that the United States must ask in response to all of this, is not: “how do we regain power projection dominance in every conceivable context?” Instead, policymakers and strategists should ask, “how do we meet the status quo strategic goals of the United States in a 21st century political-military context?” It should not be assumed that an expansive power projection capability is the only way to meet every US goal. Making this assumption in the context of relatively cheap and increasingly effective defensive technologies will inevitably put the United States on the wrong side of the cost imposition curve.