A New Strategy for Complex Warfare: Combined Effects in East Asia

by Thomas A. Drohan


*This book is in the Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security (RCCS) Series (General Editor: Geoffrey R.H. Burn).

With the advent of the information revolution, security competition and warfare have become intensely dynamic and diverse. Technological innovations generate unprecedented capabilities that empower more individuals with skills and access. Continued diffusion of information and influence is stretching the boundaries of security competition and warfare. Adaptive adversaries are using asymmetric, hybrid strategies that blend confrontation with cooperation.

In contrast, the United States focuses on combat capability, precision engagement, and preemptive strike against armed combatants. We organize for security in terms of functions rather than performance, sculpted by the National Security Act of 1947. Recent Defense Strategic Guidance announcing a rebalance toward the Asia Pacific region intends to deter and defeat aggression with combined arms while predicting that wars are ending. Like the National Security Policy, the guidance also calls for an international order of universal individual rights. This approach to strategy does not generate effective power against complex threats.

American traditions of superior firepower and exceptional culture inhibit our ability to counter effective, sometimes brutal, strategies of complex warfare. The problem with a technological approach rooted in exceptionalism is that situational strategy matters. As proactive competitors evolve techniques to circumvent US strengths, it is clear that the profession of arms needs to become a profession of effects.

This study intends to overcome three American weaknesses of strategy-making: (1) weapons-centric identities, which inhibit intellectual and operational flexibility; (2) ingrained beliefs in enduring lessons, which kills full consideration of new solutions; and (3) the projection of our own cultural expectations onto other societies and groups, which creates false standards and poor threat assessment. Taken together, these limit envisioning and executing more effective strategies.

This book develops new theory for superior strategy in complex warfare. The approach is comprehensive and practical, and it is applied to three contemporary security crises involving the United States, China, the Koreas, and Japan. Beginning with existing theories on strategy and culture, a new interpretation of “combined effects strategy” is introduced based on research and years of experience.

Drawing from security theory and military doctrine, combined effects strategy is presented as a comprehensive process that subsumes the prevailing paradigm of combined arms. The entire book is written using the language of combined effects theory developed in the first chapter. Extensive use of symbols, text boxes, and charts orients the reader on combined effects in the three cases that follow.

Unlike previous works, this study considers security culture as a way to understand warfare conceived and waged broadly: patterns of confrontation and cooperation, threat perception and assessment, and strategic effectiveness. Also for the first time, contemporary crises detail the interaction of strategies operating as lines of effect which when combined, create powerful synergies. A summary analysis of each case develops implications for future strategy. The concluding chapter is unique in its discussion of the influence of security culture on operational concepts, when lines of effect combine, and how security culture informs combined effects strategy, particularly for the United States.

A New Strategy for Complex Warfare: Combined Effects in East Asia is an important book for students, faculty, policy makers and practitioners with interests in strategy, global and US national security, defense policy, Asian regional security, Asian studies, military culture, military effectiveness, the future of warfare, and foreign policy.


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