State of War, State of Mind: Reconsidering Mobilization in the Information Age

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 10, October 2020

By LCDR Robert “Jake” Bebber, USN

Recently, American policy-makers and national security thinkers have begun to recognize that revisionist powers in Communist China and Russia have no interest in preserving the current liberal order, and instead have embarked on a course to challenge and supplant the U.S. as the world’s superpower. However, the United States is not postured to mobilize for long-term strategic competition or war with great powers. American policymakers’ assumptions regarding war preparation, prosecution, and sustainment are not aligned to the emerging 21st Century landscape being dominated by three major trends: advances in understanding of neuroscience, emerging dual-use technologies, and new financial business models.  This report takes a holistic approach toward identifying how war mobilization in the 21st Century will look different from the industrial models of the mid-to-late 20th Century. Looking beyond the Defense Department, it explores economic, policy, social, technological and informational aspects of planning and preparation. It identifies why the intelligence and national security communities are not postured to detect or anticipate emerging disruptions and strategic latency. It puts forward strategies and recommendations on how to grow American power and create new sources of comparative advantage that can be rapidly converted into both kinetic and non-kinetic effects in all domains, not just the military domain.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the Department of the Navy.


Executive Summary


Part One: Understanding the Traditional Framework

Part Two: The Late Cold War

Part Three: Current Policy and Law

Part Four: Mobilization Considerations in the Information Age


Appendix: China’s Approach Towards Comprehensive National Power

For almost all things have already been found out, but some have been neglected, and others which have been known have not been put in practice. –Aristotle, The Theory of Politics

If the free nations want a certain kind of world, they will have to fight for it, with courage, money, diplomacy – and legions. … If liberal decent societies cannot discipline themselves to do all these things, then they have nothing to offer the world. They may not last long enough. … It is while men talk blithely of the lessons of history that they ignore them. –H. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

State of War, State of Mind:

Reconsidering Mobilization in the Information Age

Executive Summary

Recently, American policy-makers and national security thinkers have begun to recognize that that revisionist powers in Communist China and Russia have no interest in preserving the current liberal order, and instead have embarked on a course to challenge and supplant the U.S. as the world’s super power. Through geoeconomic and geoinformational strategies, both seek to reorder the world, undermine liberal political and economic institutions, and roll back the American-led system. While Chinese and Russian strategies thus far have employed means that seek to remain just below the threshold of outright military confrontation, this may not last. The newly published National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy have made clear that American policymakers are slowly recognizing the threat to American core interests posed by Russia and China and are beginning to take steps to confront them.

China has identified the commercial sector as a critical vulnerability in America’s ability to mobilize and conduct warfare. The networks and supply chains associated not only with the defense industrial base, but the entire “information economy,” and associated industries (to include media, entertainment, gaming, news, and social networking) which contribute to the American quality of life, are at risk of being captured or dominated by the Chinese Communist Party. The investments China is making give it the potential to create information dominance by expediting the “speed of knowledge” with faster millisecond networks and control. As the American and global commercial sector is moving to a posture of “just buy the data”, the infrastructure that collects and creates that data will be owned by China.

China has moved to “electronically bond” itself to key allies through commercial relationships and communications hardware and software. It is possible we are nearing a “critical mass” of “intricately connected, successive supply chains” that can be used collectively to both overtly and covertly guide, influence, disrupt, or deceive American policy-making – to include military and mobilization planning.


  • The scope of mobilization today pales in comparison to the activities of the Federal Government during the Cold War. The predecessors to FEMA and the Department of Defense continuously collaborated on all dimensions of mobilization (military, industrial, economic, civil, infrastructure, and governmental). Today, the focus is on government continuity and some civil emergency needs related to natural disasters and acts of terrorism.
  • Mobilization is fundamentally an act of political will, and one that must be led. It is a decision of the President, Congress and the people to prepare for war – sometimes not until after the onset of hostilities – or for the deterrence of war.
  • To the extent that mobilization planning is taking place, it is largely confined to the Department of Defense. This is misplaced. The Defense Department is not equipped to address concerns such as (but not limited to):
    • Organizing the economic institutions and industries necessary for both short- and long-term growth, to include global economic management, war financing, and trade
    • Industry workforce training
    • Alliance management and diplomacy
    • Emergency legislative and executive actions
    • Counterintelligence and law enforcement
    • Social mobilization
    • Information and messaging programs, to include counter-narratives
    • Public education, to especially include K-12
    • State and local emergency preparedness and civil defense
    • Political warfare, legal warfare, information warfare, or economic warfare – indeed these forms of warfare may be more important in a 21st Century great power war
  • Historical experience suggests that mobilizing an entire society for war will require a committee, organization, or entity that is representative of the national sources of power, can make rapid decisions, and has the authority of the President and Congress behind it. During and since the Second World War up through the end of the Cold War, this organization took different names and forms, but had two distinct characteristics: it was both industry-led and maintained a largely decentralized industrial base.
  • China and Russia are manipulating the information environment such that it erodes sovereign decision making. They are conducting cognitive warfare. The information technology supply chain, and associated industries, is quickly being leveraged by China. It is possible that by 2030, military spending will no longer be the relevant measure of the ability to succeed in accomplishing a nation’s military objectives. While cognitive warfare is not new, it has been transformed to such an extent and scope by technology (the digital age) that free societies are uniquely vulnerable. Constant connectivity, combined with attention-based economic models, have only accelerated connectivity. Almost all Americans now live in a state of “cognitive manipulation.” This cuts at the core of the ability of the national government to execute a major act of political will, such as war mobilization. We are well within the envelope of strategic surprise, yet we may lack the most potent of all resources – trust – necessary to respond since China and Russia may have already defeated popular will. This will have a profound impact on America’s ability to plan for and execute mobilization and transition to a war economy.

To succeed in a long-term strategic competition with China and Russia, the U.S. has to shift mobilization and preparedness to a strategic warning system that identifies emerging disruptions and is informed by a strategic intelligence system that can systemically monitor and evaluate sources of U.S. power and comparative advantages. These efforts must be whole-of-society, and include state and local governments, industries, research institutes, civic institutions as well as newer avenues of public participation, such as social media and organic social movements. Preparedness planning should leverage emerging dual-use and alternative technologies that create the capability to survive the opening stages of conflict but also transition to unconventional means to achieve war aims. Ultimately, success may depend on the collective security arrangements that the U.S. has enjoyed, and how well those relationships can been deepened to include joint research and development efforts, shared industrial base production, cooperative sustainment and logistics, and mutual strategic and political goals. Finally, policy makers must make a concerted effort to forge a broad, public consensus on long-term strategic competition and conflict. 


The “return” of “Great Power Competition,”[1] has focused attention among policy makers that strategic competitors have successfully employed geoeconomic and geoinformational strategies creating asymmetric advantages against the United States, allies, and like-minded friends and partners. More importantly, however, these advantages are translating into a reshaping of the global liberal international order and undermining the very democratic and international institutions that support the global order.

Specifically, China and Russia have also undertaken rapid military modernization and expansion programs, investing in capabilities that have, in many cases, narrowed the gap with U.S. and allied military capabilities, and in some cases even surpassing them. This has led to public acknowledgement by senior military and national security leaders and thinkers that in the event of conflict, U.S. and coalition forces would likely suffer high initial casualties and attrition rates, potentially losing most early engagements and being forced to retreat to more defensible positions.[2] In a possible near-term future conflict, the U.S. is facing the likely prospect of having to accept extremely unfavorable political terms of war termination.

Perhaps more concerning is the success to which these strategic competitors have had operationalizing new and emerging technologies to achieve disruptive effects non-kinetically. Well documented interference campaigns in democratic processes and institutions globally, cyber-enabled economic warfare campaigns, and the international growth of a Beijing-led (and Moscow-supported) techno-authoritarian population control regime has given rise to the very real prospect of Chinese dominated global order without a shot having been fired.

The previous Obama Administration began the process of reorienting America’s defense priorities toward strategic competition with great power peer competitors, shifting thinking toward a search for “third offset” capabilities that sought to leverage existing U.S. technical capabilities to maintain superiority.[3] This was carried out in conjunction with a larger emphasis on a “pivot” to the Indo-Pacific region, though the emphasis appeared more aspirational rather than in actual reallocation of resources.[4]

Upon assuming office, the Trump Administration began a major review of the defense industrial base.[5] This was followed by major reorientations of policy toward peer strategic competition, as articulated in the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Military Strategy. Additional emphasis was put on traditional, “hard power” defense capabilities, to include a modest increase in defense spending, the elevation of U.S. Cyber Command to a functional combatant command, and the creation of the U.S. Space Force as a department within the U.S. Air Force. Additionally, Congress directed the creation of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, which has met to consider amending and updating national policy on mobilization.[6]

With a broad consensus among most bipartisan national security policy makers and thinkers on the need for the U.S. to shift its posture toward long-term strategic competition, several broad themes begin to emerge. These include:

  • The U.S. needs to revisit military strategies and operational concepts which have dominated planning since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. might need to rethink its entire “way of war.”[7]
  • China and Russia are attacking U.S. and allied vulnerabilities in the social, commercial, economic, and military domains by leveraging advanced information-based capabilities and global economic interdependencies.[8]
  • Existing and emerging developments in science and technology are being used by China and Russia to leverage power in non-kinetic engagements, creating mass disruptive effects which can defeat an opponent without going above the generally accepted threshold of war.[9]
  • The U.S. must pursue new military technologies and capabilities that leverage comparative advantages over Chinese and Russian militaries. In the near-term, it should repurpose or better adapt existing legacy technologies and capabilities to enhance combat credibility.[10]
  • The character, conduct and tempo of competition, conflict, and war is changing rapidly, largely in response to new technologies and capabilities being developed by the principal powers of China, Russia and the U.S.[11]
  • The U.S. should reconsider assumptions that any conflict with a peer competitor like China or Russia would be limited and/or brief, or that the homeland will remain a sanctuary.[12]
  • Defense of military and economic supply chains, and increased reliance of U.S. government and military on commercial suppliers and vendors is a critical vulnerability.[13] The ability of the defense and related industries to maintain and expand production and supply is questionable in any protracted conflict.[14]
  • The U.S. needs to renew attention to mobilization planning, to include expansion of military forces, homeland defense and protection of critical infrastructure, civil defense, and expansion of industrial support and capacity.[15]

These efforts are notable in their scope and in highlighting the growing concern – both in the U.S. and among its allies, friends, and partners – that America lacks the political resiliency and resolve to confront the challenge to the liberal international order.

Yet in turning attention once again to a peer challenger who possesses the economic, political, social, and military capacity to directly threaten U.S., allied and like-minded partner interests, these themes expose policy makers to the risk of overlooking key aspects of that challenge that pose very real threats to our ability to create and mobilize American and allied power. Importantly, they must build the institutional capacity to mobilize for the non-kinetic conflict going on now.

Indeed, most thinking and writing on strategic competition and mobilization of national resources continues to take place within the traditional confines of the national security and defense establishment. Many of the issues and proposed policy and program reforms revolve around the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community and the defense industrial base. They are focused on ensuring that the U.S. remains capable of engaging in traditional kinetic warfighting in all domains.

This is misplaced.

The Department of Defense is not equipped to address key concerns such as (but not limited to):

  • Organizing the economic institutions and industries necessary for both short- and long-term growth, to include global economic management, war financing, and trade
  • Industry workforce training
  • Alliance management and diplomacy
  • Emergency legislative and executive actions
  • Counterintelligence and law enforcement
  • Social mobilization and combating emerging non-kinetic mass disruptive engagements
  • Information and messaging programs, to include counter-narratives
  • Public education, to especially include K-12
  • State and local emergency preparedness and civil defense
  • Political warfare, legal warfare, information warfare, or economic warfare – these forms of warfare may be more important in a 21st Century great power war

It is apparent that strategic competitors are not interested in moving into the kinetic warfighting space – at least not until they have achieved such a comparative advantage and weakened U.S. and allied sources of power sufficiently so that a military response by the U.S. and coalition partners would be swiftly defeated or entirely irrelevant to their strategic aims.

It is not that kinetic warfighting and military power has lost its efficacy entirely when considering the mobilization of American power. Deterrence and reassurance demand that conventional combat capabilities sufficiently enable employment of credible combat power. The Department of Defense has also introduced the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC). The JCIC identifies ways to apply military power when adversarial behavior falls below the threshold that would normally trigger a direct response. It is specifically designed to improve the ability of the Defense Department to contribute to international competition outside of combat along a “competition continuum” that runs from actively hostile, to competitive, to cooperative.[16]

Yet rapid advances in science and technology have created new means by which nations and actors can amass and employ power and leverage new strategies that can achieve such asymmetries creating large systemic changes in the global order. New concepts like JCIC are a small part of the response to unconventional challenges. Powerful states like the U.S., allies and partners could be still crippled and rendered helpless in unexpected ways, or ways in which they are not prepared, because they have fallen into the familiar trap of “preparing to fight the last war.”

Mobilization in the 21st Century must adapt to the reality that strategic competitors are waging a global campaign specifically targeting the sources of U.S. and allied power, perhaps hoping to drive the U.S. and its partners into a kinetic fight where the outcome is pre-determined, delivering a killing blow. Strategies must be employed to do more than counter these non-kinetic campaigns; they must grow American power and seek to create new sources of comparative advantage that can be rapidly converted into both kinetic and non-kinetic effects in all domains, not just military.

To engage in effective strategic competition and be postured to marshal the sources of American and allied power will require new approaches toward mobilization and the need to reorder some aspects of society. This is not to say that there are not lessons to be drawn from the events of the 20th century, or that past theoretical frameworks have no value or application. We just have to take care which lessons we learn and how we apply them while broadening our aperture to be comprehensive in its approach.

This report will examine issues related to mobilization of American power for long-term strategic competition and crisis. It is composed of several parts. First, it will explain the traditional understanding and theoretical framework of mobilization. Next it will address issues from the American experience during the later stages of the Cold War. It will provide a brief overview of U.S. policy and law as it is currently constructed on preparedness and emergency response. Finally, it will consider the task of mobilization for the 21st century and how this new security environment will require different approaches. An appendix has been added that looks briefly at the Chinese concept of “Comprehensive National Power.”

Part One: Understanding the Traditional Framework

BLUF: Mobilization is made up of four interrelated classes of actions: military, industrial, civil defense, and alliances. It is how sources of national power are converted into wartime use. It is a political act that must be led and can have a deterrent effect. The most important factor in effective mobilization is whether it can convert output into wartime capabilities in time to be relevant.

At its heart, “grand strategy” is about power creation, harnessing all the tools of power for a strategic end, while “mobilization” is about power conversion. The two are interrelated and may be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

Creating power requires states to extract resources from society, usually in the form of human capital and financial resources, and to direct those resources toward activities such as arms, research and development, and supporting industries. The social exertion required can be viewed along a continuum from a highly intrusive and centralized state to one much less so.[17]

Figure 1: The Direction of Power Creation

Power creation mechanisms are influenced by external international and internal domestic forces. External determinants include geography, technology and international politics. Threats to state security emerge from one of more these external factors, such as an adversary in close proximity, or the emergence of a new technology, or international institutions which threaten the legitimacy of state rule. In response to these perceived external threats, states devise strategies and build capabilities – traditionally military capabilities – to implement these strategies. Producing and sustaining these capabilities require the construction of “power creation mechanisms.” In this way, “threats drive strategy, and strategy, in turn, shapes power creation.” [18]

It would be a mistake to overlook the internal pressures brought on by “domestic groups, social ideas, the character of constitutions, economic constraints (sometimes expressed through international interdependence), historical social tendencies, and domestic political pressures” in the creation of grand strategies and power creation mechanisms.[19] Much of this will depend on the character of the regime in which these pressures are embedded, such as whether they are authoritarian or totalitarian in nature or a more liberal democracy. However, even the most totalitarian of regime must achieve balance in their social and economic power creation programs with other domestic priorities to ensure stability. Finding and managing that appropriate mix and being able to adjust them according to internal and external events over long periods of time, is the challenge. Excessive devotion of resources and activities to create military power over long periods of time risk prolonged economic damage and may lead to an “unintended and undesired transformation of its society and political system.” At the same time, failure to devote enough resources may result in being inadequately prepared for war, potentially inviting an adversary to attack.[20]

States adapt their resource extraction strategies in response to domestic and international constraints noted above and direct those to activities designed to create power. In turn, power creation would ideally lead to more resources from which to extract. In many ways, the direction of these activities is not consciously for the purpose of power creation, but rather indirectly supports power creation. Public goods such as education or road construction, for example, are not explicitly funded and provided for the sole purpose of state power creation. Another example in the case of the U.S. would be immigration policy, which is designed to encourage migration to the U.S. for a variety of value-based reasons and not merely to enlarge the pool of military-eligible draftees. The figure below depicts the synthesis of internal and external pressures that influence both strategy and power creation.

Figure 2: Strategic Synthesis

Mobilization, traditionally understood, is the process by which a nation is brought to a “state of readiness for armed conflict,” and includes assembling and organizing the personnel, materiel, supplies, and the relevant and key production facilities to achieve such state of readiness.[21] The Department of Defense defines mobilization more narrowly as “process of assembling and organizing national resources to support national objectives in time of war or other emergencies.[22] (Emphasis added) “Traditional” mobilization is meant to convey the understanding that historically understood events, such as a surprise attack or a formal declaration of war, have either preceded or soon followed the political decision to move a nation’s economy onto a “war footing,” whereby civilian production is curtailed to support the expansion of war material. It does not capture strategic competition below the threshold of conflict or the use of non-kinetic forms of engagement.

More importantly, mobilization is an act of political will. The implication is that the President, Congress, and American people are preparing for war. This is an act that it as much preparation to fight as it is deterrent to the adversary or adversaries in pursuing a course that would lead to a fight.

Mobilization planning can contribute to both the warfighting capabilities of a nation as well as to deterrence goals. This planning can fall in to three general categories: crisis mobilization, tactical mobilization, and strategic mobilization.[23]

Crisis mobilization is the measures taken to respond to an immediate threat and either enhance currently deployed military forces or redeploy forces from peace-time areas to crisis areas.[24] An example might be the initial deployment of airborne and maritime forces to the Saudi Arabian peninsula immediately following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Tactical mobilization is measures taken to employ industrial assets, command relationships, organizations and formations necessary to put deployed forces, enhanced through crisis measures, on a better wartime footing through expanded supply lines and stockpiles, greater intelligence assets and additional manpower and material that is surged through an increase in production and training. Existing peacetime capabilities are stretched as much as possible without making fundamental changes in the social and economic organization of a society. In some ways, it may be the most important phase of a large-scale mobilization because war might break out during this phase, and tactical mobilization sets the conditions which permit efficient transition into the strategic mobilization phase.[25]

Strategic mobilization can be considered as the large-scale conversion from the civilian economy to an economy postured to generate military capabilities. This would typically require the use of political bodies for coordination of industrial production to meet military requirements.[26]

There are four classes of mobilization action that states plan to conduct, all of which are interrelated:[27]

  • Military – These activities include calling up reserves, activating the National Guard, initiating a draft, putting fiscal resources toward defense-related acquisition and appropriation, and expanding defense procurement purchases.
  • Industrial – These actions include activating the defense industrial base through tooling, ramping up production lines and plants, preparing for stand-by orders, stockpiling and enabling legislation. It also includes the process by which the armed forces establish equipment requirements, military support requirements, and determining what industrial capacity is essential for civilian needs and how to meet civilian priorities.
  • Civil Defense – These activities are related to leadership protection, general population protection, and defense of critical industries and infrastructure.
  • Alliances – These activities are related to leadership and arms transfer tasks and political diplomacy. Allies must establish common strategic objectives, shared burdens of logistics, materials, and manpower as well as a common base structure, command and control, and logistics systems. These might also require the establishment of regional power groupings and agreements. Importantly, post-war goals and long-term political, economic, and strategic objectives must be agreed to.

Central to mobilization is the economic capacity of the nation. It would be wrong to simply evaluate economic capacity as the amount of goods and services that can be produced over time. An example would be evaluating capacity using gross domestic product (GDP) or similar measurement. Further analysis would be required to consider what forms of output could actually be converted to military use, whether sufficient national willingness exists to translate economic capacity into military capacity, and the extent to which such a transition can actually be coordinated in the right amounts, at the right type, and in time to be relevant.[28]

In terms of strategic competition, the rapidity and efficiency of each side in expanding its economic and military power becomes an essential element in dictating the likely outcome. A potential enemy must be made to understand that the nation has both the will and the capability to project power in time to influence the outcome of an armed conflict.[29] Despite many of the differences between the prospect of mobilization in the 21st century compared to the experience of the Second World War, one similarity is that time prior to and after the outbreak of war must be used to get ahead of the problem and identify what is needed, by whom, and when, rather than simply identifying what America has the capacity to produce and when. This suggests a requirements planning based approach (e.g., what do I need?), rather than a capabilities based approach (e.g., what do I have now?), was central to America’s success leading up to and during the Second World War and should be the preferred approach today.[30]

There are several considerations in identifying potential requirements. These include:[31]

  • What types of production might be needed in support of conflict encounters?
  • What is the willingness of the nation to convert economic capacity into military capacity?
  • Can the economic capacity of a nation to mobilize support the current doctrine of warfighting, and be of the proper type, in the right amount, and be available when needed?
  • To what extent do mobilization considerations drive overall economic strategy?

Therefore, mobilization should not be exclusively concerned with armaments production or expansion of military forces. The changing character of warfare suggests that in the 21st century, non-kinetic capabilities will play a crucial, perhaps decisive, role. There is a larger strategic value to mobilization which emphasizes both its threat and deterrent value, encapsulating its political value and effects.

Lessons from previous conflicts suggest that it is the “magnitude and duration of fighting” that dictated the strategies a nation adopted to harness its economic power, but it is “prewar trends” that largely determined how mobilization took place. The “political economy” of warfare involves the interrelationship of political, economic and military institutions that generate the means to convert resources to defense needs and the conduct of war. This interrelationship can be visualized below:[32]

Figure 3: Factors Influencing Mobilization


American patterns of economic mobilization for war have gone through three major stages in its history: preindustrial, transitional, and industrial. The preindustrial era (prior to 1815) is characterized by a weak central government which challenged the ability of the government to mobilize the economy. After the War of 1812, the nation entered a transitional era (1816-1865) in which the state of military technology had experienced no meaningful change requiring a fundamental conversion of the economy, only an expansion and diversion of civilian production to military production. Following the Civil War and into the end of the Cold War – the industrial era – the central government began to act as the central regulator of economic activity. Huge bureaucracies in the corporate and government spheres, along with rapid technological revolutions in weaponry and capabilities, drove the civilian and military worlds together, blurring institutional lines. “The quantity and sophistication of military demand meant that increasing and diverting civilian production were no longer adequate; market forces could not be relied on.” Prioritization, allocation, price and other controls had to be introduced.[33]

Indeed, the extent to which military technology drives military power, and hence, mobilization, is hard to overestimate. Drivers of military technology include military innovation – how states attempt to gain advantages through the creation of new ways of generating military power – and military diffusion – the spread of military power. There are two key factors that determine the difficulty in adopting an innovation or whether a state has the capacity to adopt an innovation:

  • The financial intensity required to adopt an innovation; and
  • The organizational capital[34]

Financial intensity refers to the particular resource mobilization requirements involved in attempting to adopt a major military innovation. The higher the cost per unit of the hardware associated with the innovation and the more the underlying technologies are exclusively military oriented, the higher the level of financial intensity required to adopt the innovation.[35]

Organizational capital is an intangible asset that allows organizations to change in response to perceived shifts in the underlying environment.[36] New military technology must be combined with new organizational methods to create military value, usually through doctrine, training, or education.[37] Military organizations which define their critical tasks more broadly, make high investments in experimentation, and are younger tend to adopt new innovations quicker and more efficiently than those with the opposite features. The key determinant of success is whether the financial and organizational requirements for implementing the innovation match the capabilities of the state pursing adoption. If the state lacks the capacity to adopt, it might try to develop a countering strategy, acquire or work with allies, or move toward neutrality.[38]

There is a large body of literature on innovation, adaptation and diffusion that suggest other no less important determinants. Competition itself is an important factor, as states seek to emulate the military practices of other successful states. Information technology has provided a means for competing states to acquire and exploit sensitive technologies and intellectual property. These new military technologies, however acquired, do not exist in a cultural vacuum. “Military innovations requiring significant changes in sociocultural values and behavioral patterns spread more slowly, less uniformly, and with more unpredictable outcomes.” The compatibility of the technology with the cultural values and practices as well as experience will also play important roles. States can also apply military innovations in novel ways.[39]

To grasp the true dimensions of power creation and industrial preparedness, Clem and others recommend evaluating the “current military and readiness posture of the Nation’s principal adversary in the international arena …”[40] This requires a framework and criteria of evaluation that provides insights into the importance of the competition (is it vital?), and the state of the competition (is it close?). The framework should identify strategic and operational problem sets as well as competitive opportunities.

One approach might be to shift focus in mobilization planning to anticipating both what kinds of emergency peacetime force expansions are possible given today’s industrial base and the factors that influence it in order to execute expansion quickly, efficiently, and coherently[41]. This would align best with crisis and tactical mobilization scenarios, and lays out specific objectives, but would serve to redefine the problem:

What kind of planning do we do, what kinds of investments do we make, and what total cost over the next T years, if at the end of those T years we want to be able to expand components A, B,  and C of our combat forces by fractions of E, F, and G, respectively, within Z years?

For example, if we want the capability five years from now to expand from 24 to 36 army divisions within two years, what actions must we take now?

This approach takes the guess work out of warning times, combat attrition and consumption rates. The planning groups would meet periodically, looking ahead five years into the future and ask, if in response to some emergency, what should the Department of Defense do with the additional resources as a result of an increased budget and annual growth rate increases.[42]

Another approach is based on Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage theory.[43] Porter’s original work sought to identify the conditions which made certain companies based in certain nations capable of consistent innovation. “Why do they ruthlessly pursue improvements, seeking an ever more sophisticated source of competitive advantage?” He identified four broad national attributes that individually and as a system create “the diamond of national advantage.” These attributes include:

  • Factor Conditions. The nation’s position in factors of production, such as skilled labor or infrastructure, necessary to compete an industry.
  • Demand Conditions. The nature of the home market demand for the industry’s product or service.
  • Related and Supporting Industries. The presence or absence in the nation of supplier industries and other related industries that are internationally competitive.
  • Firm Strategy, Structure, and Rivalry. The conditions in the nation governing how companies are created, organized, and managed, as well as the nature of domestic rivalry.

Figure 4: Determinants of National Comparative Advantage


The effect on one point of the diamond of national advantage not only depends on the state of the others, they are also self-reinforcing: they constitute a system. Porter argues that the role of government in this system is to serve as a “catalyst and challenger, it is to encourage – or even push – companies to raise their aspirations and move to higher levels of competitive performance, even though this process may be inherently unpleasant or difficult.”[44]

In 2015, this model was adapted and expanded by Sorin Lungu at National Defense University into a Defense Technology and Industrial Base (DTIB) Competitiveness Model. National attributes were recategorized as either determinants or influencers. Determinants included defense budgets, national policies, operational concepts, technology diffusion and absorption, geopolitical tensions, law and industrial policy and industry structure. Influencers include the foreign policy of allies, friends, partners, neutrals and adversaries, their defense policies, and chance. These attributes are both mutually dependent and self-reinforcing, creating an Industrial Mobilization Competitiveness System.[45]

One often overlooked aspect of mobilization is the lack of planning for the cultural and social shocks that converting to a wartime economy bring to the population. Even during the Second World War, mobilization and the war economy drove social tensions.[46] The American people are culturally diverse and in a constant process of change and churn. Attitudes, habits, morals, and general patterns of behavior evolve over time, sometimes rapidly and other times slowly. Yet a system shock like mobilization and war can bring these changes in social patters into acute focus and manifest in profound ways. Ethnic, socio-economic, and generational tensions may be exacerbated. “Anti-elite” and “anti-war” attitudes tend to be shared among the same groups. These and other unforeseen social conflicts can have political consequences over time.[47]

Throughout the Cold War and into the 21st Century, national security researchers and planners approached mobilization mostly from the perspective of industrial base expansion. Informed by lessons from the First and Second World Wars, where the U.S. industrial base was largely unprepared, they sought to identify the key lessons of Allied success in the two major conflicts of the 20th century and how they might apply in a conflict with the Soviet Union. Toward the end of the Cold War and in the early 1990’s, more innovative approaches to competition, largely driven by economics and early information age technologies, emerged. These lessons were applied to an increasing interest in military innovation driven by the Revolution in Military Affairs and new operational concepts such as network-centric warfare.[48] While the emphasis remained on addressing how the U.S. might retain technological superiority on the battlefield, little attention toward preparedness and mobilization in the event of war with a possible peer competitor. The organizations and institutions charged with mobilization policy were largely left to wither. 

Part Two: The Late Cold War

BLUF: U.S. grand strategy toward the Soviet Union shifted from one of détente to a more aggressive approach. In the latter stages of the Carter Administration and throughout the Reagan Administration, several steps were taken to increase resources, improve the state of readiness and increase mobilization capacity. While these improvements likely played a role in the operational success of conflicts in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, national mobilization was never truly tested. The vexing issues identified during the late Cold War period remain salient today, perhaps even more acutely. Little has changed fundamentally over the past forty years.

If you were to be sitting at your desk in late 1979 you would have witnessed the following events since the early part of the decade[49]:

  • America’s withdrawal from Vietnam had ended in what most considered at the time an ignominious defeat. The U.S. had been unable to prevent the collapse of South Vietnam and the invasion and forced unification with Communist North Vietnam. The war had cost approximately $3.5 billion and lasted from 1964 to 1975, sapping funds for research, development, advanced weapons procurement, and training. During the conflict, American and NATO forces in Europe had become dangerously fragile and under-resourced.
  • Weapons systems had grown far more complex, driving up per-unit acquisition costs, increasing time to delivery and fielding, and higher operation and maintenance costs. This led to a shrinking force faced with the dilemma of continuing acquisition of less capable legacy systems or much fewer newer systems.
  • S. military planning assumptions in a potential conventional conflict with the Soviets were called in to question after the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War. While the U.S. remained engaged in a counterinsurgency in Vietnam, two heavily mechanized militaries engaged in a sharp, brief conflict. Military planners noted the effectiveness of Soviet anti-tank and precision guided systems, and the high rate of munition expenditures. Both sides suffered rapid battlefield losses and combat attrition, and the Soviet made air defense systems had proven quite capable, as they had over North Vietnam.
  • The social cost of such a long war were readily apparent. The draft had become immensely unpopular and created deep fissures in the civil-military relationship, and in public trust in the military as an institution. The anti-war movement was also largely interrelated with other social and political movements, such as civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental movements which had the larger effect of generating the appearance of social upheaval.
  • Public trust in the federal government and major social institutions was in sharp decline. Pew Research showed a drop in trust in the federal government, from 54% in 1970 to 28% in 1979.[50] In 1977, pollster Daniel Yankelovich noted a steady increase in mistrust in all national institutions since the late 1950’s. Confidence in business had dropped from 70% in the late 1960’s to 15% in 1977. Other institutions, from the press, the military, professions like physicians and lawyers, had also seen similar sharp declines. By the mid-1970’s two-thirds of Americans were telling pollsters that believed that their own views “really doesn’t count.” More than six in ten would indicate that there was “something morally wrong” in the country. Despite President Carter’s campaign to restore faith in government, the level of mistrust had reached a peak in 1978.[51]
  • While the Soviet Union continued to invest more resources into its military and nuclear forces, the U.S. Defense Department operated under tightening fiscal constraint. This was exacerbated by high rates of inflation, lowering the actual buying power of an already shrinking budget, as well as an oil embargo.
  • Overall, the geopolitical balance appeared to have shifted sharply in the Soviet’s favor, especially in the developing world and on America’s doorstep in Central America. The non-aligned movement was growing, as well as international terrorism, to include Communist revolutionary groups. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian revolution and seizure of the American embassy staff crystallized the sense of American impotence at being able to shape world events and protect vital national security interests. Growing Soviet power in the critical region of the Middle East threatened European and Asian allies’ access to critical resources. There was a mounting fear that the Soviets would achieve dominance, perhaps without having to fire a shot. Alternatively, the Soviets might evaluate that the correlation of forces was overwhelmingly in their favor, tempting them into a calculated move into Western Europe and elsewhere.

The events described above would certainly have led you to be pessimistic about America’s long-term prospects at power creation in the coming decade. A review of the literature from the late Cold War era suggests that despite the eventual outcome, persistent issues remained all the way through the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Indeed, most of these issues continue to impact planning and thinking today.

In the late 1970’s, military planners began to shift their assumptions. Before, the U.S. and NATO strategy had relied on winning a “short war,” employing nuclear weapons if Soviet gains were coming too quickly. This strategy was made hollow by the lack of nuclear dominance. The U.S. had no credibility in terms of willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons.[52] Norman Augustine further elaborated:

“The fundamental problem I can see with planning for a short war is that we might get one. A short war, however, is precisely the kind of war we are most likely to lose, due to the disparity of existing weapons and forces and the likelihood that we will be on the defensive. A long war is the kind we are most likely to win. The deterrence value is letting a potential aggressor know that we are prepared to fight a long war if need be and that he might therefore get one.”

Incremental military technology changes were unlikely to deter further Soviet behavior. The USSR was already on a mobilization footing that resembled elements of aforementioned tactical mobilization, preparing to fight and win a long war. Collective defense would have to be improved with elevated attention being paid to blunting an initial Soviet thrust and transitioning into a “long, protracted war” on a global scale.[53]

Planners began to shift assumptions, driving strategic approaches and operational concepts into the 1980’s. In 1979 and 1980, two major exercises were held to test mobilization plans and procedures of all federal agencies, both military and civilian. These two exercises were known as “Nifty Nugget” and “Proud Spirit,” respectively. What they revealed was profoundly sobering. Significant gaps and inadequacies were revealed, and critical requirements to surge production and forces was wanting.[54]

At the same time, a 1976 Defense Science Board study of plans for industrial preparedness was deemed “virtually worthless.” A 1980 follow up study reached the same conclusion. Subsequent testimony before Congress stated that “the lack of programs to organize manpower for industrial mobilization and of a national plan for establishing priorities, widespread shortages of critical materials, constraints on the means for industrial expansion, the threat of destabilizing inflation, and an uncertain national will” put American credibility at risk.[55]

Some problems identified by the Defense Science Board studies echo down to today. These included:

  • Lack of raw materials. For example, nearly all manganese, vanadium, chrome, and diamonds came from Siberia and South Africa. For those resources the U.S. did possess, it could not exploit due to environmental restrictions on mining.
  • The machine tools identified for war production in the late Cold War were produced almost entirely in Japan or Europe.
  • At the same time, U.S. manufacturing equipment had been found to be decades old.
  • There was a growing scarcity in human capital, particularly among industrial engineers. “Over the next few years, the lack of properly trained people might be more of a limitation that our ability to mobilize than would any dearth of money or raw materials.”
  • During the Second World War, while the Axis powers had an early qualitative advantage, the advantage in machinery and equipment ensured that the U.S. and Allies would bring an enormous quantitative edge over time. That situation had reversed by the late Cold War.

The situation on mobilization and industrial preparedness that U.S. and Allied policy makers found themselves in by 1980 might best be described a “structural disarmament.”[56] Despite the fact that U.S. national security was “inextricably bound up in the collective security of the West,” the U.S. continued to pursue a policy of industrial non-dependence, which continues to this day. At the time, the U.S. provided 20 percent of NATO’s forces, and was spending its defense resources on developing a full spectrum of capabilities. European allies were fast approaching the point where they would lack the resources to develop and produce themselves sufficient quantities of military capabilities, nor could they afford the cost of the U.S. capabilities.[57] Restructuring the European defense base would face significant obstacles, as budgeting decisions remained the prerogative of each country. Also, many European weapons systems were designed more so with arms sales in mind rather than collective defense. Most Allies lacked a defense surge capacity, or a force structure that could quickly be expanded.[58]  This called in to question the ability of U.S. and NATO forces to operate and carry out plans, and left in doubt whether the U.S. industrial base could ever hope to generate enough momentum to nullify Soviet numerical advantages even after the U.S. and NATO had mobilized in response to an attack.[59] Indeed, the Defense Department no longer even bothered to purchase war reserves, and new programs were moving at such a snail’s pace that often the capability was obsolete by the time it was deployed to the forces.[60]

Upon taking office in 1981, the objective of the Reagan administration was to provide combat forces with “staying power,” or posturing already deployed forces in peace time with the war material they would need to maintain combat credibility. Then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Mr. Fred C. Ikle, identified that U.S. and Allied forces would need to plan and prepare for galvanizing the defense industrial base to deal with threats and provocations short of actual conflict, which he defined as the “defense expansion capability.” Six factors were identified as having major effects on industrial preparedness:[61]

  • Modern weapons systems were much more sophisticated and complex, which in turn was limiting the production base in its capacity to respond and surge production.
  • The production base itself had grown immensely more complex, “involving a hierarchy of contractors, subcontractors, and vendors.” A single firm may be a prime contractor for one part of a system, but a subcontractor for another. Different divisions and departments within companies may be “prime” and “sub” simultaneously. Naturally, a bottleneck or slowdown in any one level of the hierarchy would reverberate throughout the entire production chain.
  • Warning time had been vastly reduced while the pace of combat had grown by orders of magnitude. This strictly limited surge potential, compressing the time that conflict might break out and expand, and a decisive result achieved, even more the defense base could be expanded.
  • The cost of sustaining the current force had grown to the point that budgeting for war reserves had been abandoned. Replacing combat attrition would be challenged after weeks, or even days, of intense combat.
  • Allied interest in sustainability of its forces had waned even further. As the gap grew, it had created political challenges within the Pentagon and Congress.
  • Finally, frequent shifts in policy guidance from the Defense Department on industrial-base retention, modernization, new capacity sizing, and other aspects had made it almost impossible to develop a stable policy.

Figure 5: Factors Affecting Defense Industrial Preparedness


Therefore, in the event of a Soviet attack – especially one with little warning – the time interval between the likely exhaustion of war reserves and the point to when defense output would have expanded was growing. This was coupled with the reluctance of allies to address their sustainment issues and the lack of stable policy guidance inside the Pentagon. It had become politically a hard sell and too expensive to expand and strengthen the defense expansion capability to support a major conflict scenario.[62]

Toward the end of his term, President Jimmy Carter, followed by the incoming Reagan Administration, responded with increased defense budgets. From 1980 to 1985, defense spending doubled from $142.6 billion to $286.8 billion. Naval forces grew from 479 combatants to 525, while the Army purchased thousands of new M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and Apache attack helicopters. Air-to-air fighters, including the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat and Air Force F-15 Eagle, were purchased in the hundreds. American strategic forces were modernized with the introduction of the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile systems, Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines carrying new Trident submarine launched ballistic missiles, and the resurrected B-1B bombers.[63] Overall, from 1981 to 1988, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact would increase their total manpower by a little over 10% each. While the Warsaw Pact would continue to enjoy a substantial advantage in tanks (more than 2:1), NATO held the edge in tactical combat aircraft, both quantitatively and qualitatively.[64]

Notably, President Reagan also embarked on a new strategic approach, eschewing the policy of détente of the previous decade and adopting a more confrontational approach that sought to exploit Soviet domestic and economic vulnerabilities from years of heightened industrial mobilization resource allocation. As noted previously, the Soviets had devoted much of their gross domestic product toward military production in preparation for a potential “long war” scenario with the West. This had created systemic economic distortion and domestic malaise by the early 1980’s. Reagan’s strategy, articulated in National Security Decision Directives 32 and 75, leveraged U.S. and Allied advantages in technology and innovation to shift the military balance back toward the U.S. and NATO. The new strategy employed geoeconomic approaches which denied access to the Soviets of critical technologies, and by coordinating with partners in Saudi Arabia, dramatically reduced the global price of oil, depriving the Soviets of an important income stream. Stepped up political actions helped create increasing tensions within Soviet client-states, who in turn demanded more financial support from Moscow to remain in power – aid the Soviets were hard pressed to provide. By the mid 1980’s, the Kremlin leadership was forced into hard choices between military and domestic spending, and it became apparent that the limited attempts at economic and domestic reforms by Mikhail Gorbachev would be insufficient for the Soviet system to survive in its current state.[65]

However, it was not readily apparent by the late 1980’s that Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in Europe were on the verge of collapse. Both sides adopted operational and tactical approaches that focused on the disruption and destruction of logistical supply lines and communications architectures. The Soviets developed an operational concept known as the Operational Maneuver Group (OMG), an updated variant of blitzkrieg that followed their doctrine relying on “deception, surprise, massive firepower, decent upon unexpected points, destruction of Western assets deep behind NATO lines and overwhelmingly rapid rates of advance.” For its part, NATO and the U.S. developed “follow-on forces attack” (FOFA) and AirLand Battle to “strike deep into enemy territory to keep units of the opposing army from reaching the battlefield.” While U.S. and NATO commanders remained deeply concerned about whether Allied mobilization efforts would be of sufficient quantity or even arrive at all, Soviet commanders appeared to have a great deal of confidence in their supply stores and transportation plans. As late as 1986, General Bernard Rogers, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, stated bluntly that “If attacked conventionally today, NATO would be forced … to decide to escalate to the non-strategic nuclear level.”[66] Fortunately, none of this was put to the test. Even so, a realistic assessment of the mobilization and readiness challenges the U.S. and Coalition forces faced just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990-1991 Desert Shield/Desert Storm campaign should have highlighted the fact that for all the display of advanced military capabilities in long range precision strike, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and stealth technology, significant mobilization, deployment and logistics challenges were sharply apparent. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) report after the war stated bluntly that “if there had been less than 6 months of preparation time before the start of hostilities, U.S. forces would have been sorely pressed to meet all [war plan] requirements.”[67] In a contested environment against a far more capable adversary such as the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the mobilization capacity of U.S. and NATO would have been acutely tested, and high losses are not inconceivable.

The success of the U.S. and its Allies in winning the Cold War led to a sense of complacency in evaluating preparedness planning. Since the anti-Communist nations emerged victorious, one might well have concluded that the U.S. had significantly improved its ability to expand its defense industrial base if required. As noted above, Allied commanders continued to complain of significant shortcomings and investment in mobilization preparedness. In 1988, the Air Force Association published a study titled “Lifeline in Danger – An Assessment of the United States Defense Industrial Base.” Despite the significant defense buildup during the 1980’s, the report concluded that American industry was still unable to expand to meet wartime production needs within 18 months, as required by new planning assumptions and operational concepts developed since the beginning of the Reagan Administration. Instead, defense buildup had merely stretched the limits of the current defense industry to meet increasing peacetime demands. Global economic growth had made the U.S. military a less important customer as consumer demands rose. The number of defense firms was declining, and despite the modest increase in overall defense spending, budgets remained unpredictable. Defense systems still had key dependencies on foreign resources, and relations between industry and government were best described as “poor,” what the report called the “military industrial complex myth.” An emphasis on public charges during the 1980’s of industry “overcharging” for parts created further complexity in acquisition rules and funding instability.[68] Toward the end of the 1980’s, defense research funding was declining. Finally, issues surrounding interoperability and cooperation with Allies in weapons development, procurement and production had remained little changed since beginning of the decade. Government efforts had fallen well short of achieving the sort of defense expansion capacity that Mr. Ickle imagined in 1981.[69] 

Part Three: Current Policy and Law[70]

BLUF: Current policy and law toward preparedness planning, civil defense and mobilization has been slow to adapt to the realities of great power competition. Little effort has been made to address how production and infrastructure will be prioritized, and state and local governments have not been integrated into preparedness planning. No mechanisms exist to coordinate public volunteer organizations in their response to emergencies.

Addressing mobilization and preparedness for a long-term competition and potential conflict begins first with an understanding of current policy and law.

The scope of mobilization preparedness planning today pales in comparison to the activities of the Federal Government during the Cold War. The predecessors to FEMA and the Department of Defense continuously collaborated on all dimensions of mobilization (military, industrial, economic, civil, infrastructure, and governmental). Today, the focus is on government continuity and some civil emergency needs related to natural disasters and acts of terrorism.

Historically there were four legislative pillars for mobilization and resource preparedness. The Defense Production Act, a provision within the National Security Act of 1947, the Strategic and Critical Materials Stock Piling Act, and the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 (FCDA). The FCDA was terminated in 1994 but portions of it were simultaneously reenacted under Title VI of the Stafford Act under the heading “Emergency Preparedness” and granted directly to the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).[71]

On the administrative and executive side, the responsibility for mobilization activities related to the above statutes have been transferred, successively, to the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (1958-1962); the Office of Emergency Preparedness (1962-1973); the Federal Preparedness Agency, part of the General Services Administration (1973-1979); and in 1979 to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).[72]

Defense Production Act

The President is granted broad authorities to “influence domestic industry in the interest of national defense” in the Defense Production Act (DPA) of 1950 (P.L. 81-774, 50 U.S.C. §§4501 et seq.). The scope of DPA has extended beyond military preparedness and capabilities to now include “enhance and support domestic preparedness, response, and recovery from natural hazards, terrorist attacks, and other national emergencies.”

Current authorities include, but are not limited to:

  1. Title I: Priorities and Allocations, which allows the President to require persons (including businesses and corporations) to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services as necessary to promote the national defense.
  2. Title III: Expansion of Productive Capacity and Supply, which allows the President to incentivize the domestic industrial base to expand the production and supply of critical materials and goods. Authorized incentives include loans, loan guarantees, direct purchases and purchase commitments, and the authority to procure and install equipment in private industrial facilities.
  3. Title VII: General Provisions, which includes key definitions for the DPA and several distinct authorities, including the authority to establish voluntary agreements with private industry; the authority to block proposed or pending foreign corporate mergers, acquisitions, or takeovers that threaten national security; and the authority to employ persons of outstanding experience and ability and to establish a volunteer pool of industry executives who could be called to government service in the interest of the national defense.

The term “national defense” under the DPA means programs for military and energy production or construction, military or critical infrastructure assistance to any foreign nation, homeland security, stockpiling, space and any directly related activity, emergency preparedness activities, and critical infrastructure protection and restoration. “Emergency preparedness” specifically includes activities authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Act (Stafford Act) (P.L. 93-288 §§42 U.S.C. 5121 et. Seq.).

The Role of FEMA

Prior to enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, the responsibility to “advise the President concerning the coordination of military, industrial and civilian mobilization” lay with the Administrator of FEMA through a provision in the National Security Act of 1947. (War and National Defense, Emergency Preparedness, 50 U.S.C. § 3042). However, 50 U.S.C § 3042 was repealed by the NDAA leaving unclear where the statutory responsibility resides for whole-of-nation mobilization, military or national disaster. It is possible this authority is still implied in other existing FEMA authorities, as they are distinct from legacy Executive Orders or FEMA’s general direction to lead consequence management efforts. FEMA still retains the responsibility to coordinate national mobilization plans and programs for the Executive Branch though it has not actively done so in over two decades. At the beginning of the Clinton Administration, FEMA largely abandoned its mobilization role to adopt an “all hazards” approach. This was hastened by the end of the Cold War and by the failures of the Federal Government response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Strategic and Critical Materials Stock Piling Act

The purpose of the Strategic and Critical Materials Stock Piling Act (P.L. 76-117 50 U.S.C. §§98 et seq.) is to provide for the acquisition and retention of stocks of certain strategic and critical materials and to encourage the conservation and development of sources of such materials within the United States and thereby to decrease and to preclude, when possible, a dangerous and costly dependence by the United States upon foreign sources or a single point of failure for supplies of such materials in times of national emergency. The National Defense Stockpile is to serve the interest of national defense only and it is not to be used for economic or budgetary purposes. The Secretary of Defense is designated as the National Defense Stockpile Manager by an executive order and the program is run by the Defense Logistics Agency with additional related duties assigned by executive orders to the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture.

Civil Defense

The legacy civil defense authority for the Federal Government is found in Title VI of the Stafford Act. The purpose of this title is to provide a system of emergency preparedness for the protection of life and property in the United States from hazards and to vest responsibility for emergency preparedness jointly in the Federal Government and the States and their political subdivisions. Congress recognized that the organizational structure established jointly by the Federal Government and the States and their political subdivisions for emergency preparedness purposes can be effectively utilized to provide relief and assistance to people in areas of the United States struck by a hazard. The Federal Government shall provide necessary direction, coordination, and guidance, and shall provide necessary assistance, as authorized in this title so that a comprehensive emergency preparedness system exists for all hazards. The term “hazard” includes “accident or man-caused event” which would encompass attacks upon the United States. “Emergency preparedness” means all those activities and measures designed or undertaken to prepare for or minimize the effects of a hazard upon the civilian population, to deal with the immediate emergency conditions which would be created by the hazard, and to effectuate emergency repairs to, or the emergency restoration of vital utilities and facilities destroyed or damaged by the hazard. This title includes as examples of “emergency preparedness” numerous instances of what would historically be considered pre-and post-attack civil defense activities.

National Security Defense Directive 47

NSDD 47 (July 22, 1982) was the last executive order related to national mobilization and is likely still in effect. It states “It is the policy of the United States to have an emergency mobilization preparedness capability that will ensure that government at all levels, in partnership with the private sector and the American people, can respond decisively and effectively to any major national emergency with defense of the United States as the first priority.” It outlines the duties of the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board, which was directed to prepare a plan to carry out NSDD 47 in 45 days. It directs policy on both military and industrial mobilization, human resources, health, economic stabilization and financed, civil defense, earthquakes, government operations, emergency communications, law enforcement, food and agriculture, and social services. It appears that records of Board activities are found in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Resource Preparedness

Resource preparedness is addressed in four Presidential directives and executive orders, PPD-8 (National Preparedness), Executive Order 12656 (Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities), Executive Order 13603 (National Defense Resources Preparedness), and Executive Order 12626 (National Defense Stockpile Manager).

  • PPD-8 (National Preparedness) is aimed at strengthening the security and resilience of the United States through systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the nation.
  • EO 12656 (Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities) focuses on national preparedness planning for a nuclear attack and National Security Emergencies.
  • EO 13603 (National Defense Resources Preparedness) focuses on resource preparedness for both military and civil activities.
  • EO 12626 (National Defense Stockpile Manager) assigns this position to the Secretary of Defense.

Executive Order 13603 delegates authorities and addresses national defense resource policies and programs under the DPA. Upon the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, it re-delegated its authority to FEMA. The order designates six federal resource agencies under the DPA for prioritizing and allocating resources.

  • Agriculture (feed resources, facilities, livestock, veterinary, plant health, farm equipment and commercial fertilizer)
  • Energy (all forms of energy)
  • Health and Human Services (health resources)
  • Transportation (civil transportation)
  • Defense (water resources)
  • Commerce (all other materials, services, facilities, construction materials)

The Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and FEMA are responsible for determining whether a resource falls under the definition of “national defense.” FEMA is responsible for all national defense programs not under the determination authority of the Department of Defense, including civil defense, continuity of Government and emergency preparedness.

The order also eliminated the authority and process for adjudicating resource disputes among federal agencies found in previous executive orders and it now rests entirely with the President. The order requires those disputes to be funneled through the National Security Council.

Command, Control, Communication

Executive Order 13618 (July 6, 2012) addresses the need and responsibility of the federal government to communicate during national security and emergency situations and crises by assigning federal national security and emergency preparedness communication functions. It established an executive committee to oversee federal national security and emergency preparedness communications functions, created a program office within the Department of Homeland Security, and assigned specific responsibilities to federal entities.

State and Local Government Roles and Responses[73]

State and local government agencies will be a critical component of homeland defense, mobilization and emergency response. In many cases, they will represent the first response to an attack. Yet most major mobilization and war planning at the federal level has little representation of state and local governments, let alone important community and non-profit organizations such as Red Cross. The same societal issues that make federal planning and response efforts difficult are no less so in state capitols or local town halls. Indeed, many of these local pressures eliminate any capacity for detailed mobilization and war planning. One noticeable trend at the local level is the growing isolation of military families and installations from the general population. The transient nature of the professional military leaves little opportunity for meaningful community participation or growing shared values. Even in major “military towns” such as naval fleet concentration areas like Norfolk, Virginia or Army installations like Fort Bragg, North Carolina, military families are clustered in and around the facility. Families will tend to move on to a new location every two to four years.

One area of growing state and local participation is in the protection of critical infrastructure, such as power utilities, water and telecommunication services. National level exercises with significant local participation like “GridEx” are meant to test the resiliency of power networks and have continued to highlight the need for further resiliency investment and pre-disaster planning.

Funding remains a central concern, and in most cases and state or local government lacks the resources to act on their own or in a coordinated fashion without federal leadership, participation and support. Cybersecurity is often identified by state and local governments as a glaring need, but the lack of federal support has made state and local networks vulnerable and fragile. The growing trend of “ransomware” attacks on local jurisdictions is one example.

Significant gaps remain in coordinated mobilization planning, to include roles and responsibilities, relationships with local emergency response agencies, homeland security, and the lack of a Department of Defense intergovernmental affairs office to coordinate with states.

Importantly, major national security policy making and coordination, is not conducted with state and local governments. Little in the way of intelligence sharing or counterintelligence threats is made available to state and local agencies. Outside of intelligence, national objectives related to foreign direct investment and the protection of intellectual capital are uncoordinated. Adversaries like China can leverage this lack of coordination by engaging with state and local leaders, often unbeknownst to federal authorities. The Chinese government is even able to wield political influence in state capitals and local city halls.

Recent political disagreements involving immigration law and the status of refugees are not going away. Both from a perspective of power creation strategies as well as mobilization policies, clear federal guidance will be required.

Previous exercises as well as natural disasters have highlighted the lack of coordination mechanisms that can link together community organizations and the general population with federal, state and local responses. The American people consistently show are remarkable capacity to provide financial support and donations in relief efforts. However, these efforts are not coordinated, leaving them inefficient and less than effective.

Key Points for Consideration

As noted above, federal law and policy is focused on government continuity and consequence management. The scope and resources devoted to mobilization are but a shell of their former self due to the drawdown of the Clinton Administration and the lack of attention since 2000. To date, no effort has been put toward expanding mobilization planning to include state and local governments, even though the brunt of any civil defense initial response would be born there.

Federal and state agencies lack adequate guidance to establish operational priorities across jurisdictions under logistically constrained conditions. Additionally, no organization at the national level has been tasked and exercised to make national-level decisions on allocation of scarce resources for both the civilian and military sectors. No system exists to provide operational priorities to target the most effective use of materials and services in response to complex catastrophes.[74]

There are no common linkages or formalized relationship among the four principal directives governing resource preparedness (PPD-8, EO 12626, EO 12656, and EO13603). The delegated responsibilities in EO 13603 and EO 12656 are not integrated into the National Preparedness System, so there is no unifying architecture to integrate them.

Mobilization and war financing is not adequately addressed. Today, advanced economic modeling might provide insights into how the Federal Government might utilize various tools to rapidly extract funds, rearrange trading networks and maintain a robust civilian economy.

Information, both as a domain and as a strategic resource, is not addressed at all. No planning is being done on information dissemination and the need to mobilize popular support and maintain it. The U.S. population is already in a state of cognitive manipulation from foreign powers. Political will has long been identified as a critical vulnerability to open societies. A coordinated strategy is needed, to include authorities and responsibilities.

Part Four: Mobilization Considerations in the Information Age

BLUF: To succeed in a long-term competition with China, the U.S. has to shift mobilization and preparedness to a strategic warning system that identifies emerging disruptions and is informed by a strategic intelligence system that can systemically monitor and evaluate sources of U.S. power and comparative advantages. These efforts must be whole-of-society, and include state and local governments, industries, research institutes, civic institutions as well as newer avenues of public participation, such as social media. Preparedness planning should leverage emerging dual-use and alternative technologies that create the capability to survive the opening stages of conflict but also transition to unconventional means to achieve war aims. Ultimately, success may depend on the collective security arrangements that the U.S. has enjoyed, and how well those relationships can been deepened to include joint research and development efforts, shared industrial base production, cooperative sustainment and logistics, supporting influence operations and home resiliency efforts, and mutual strategic and political goals. Finally, policy makers must make a concerted effort to forge a broad, public consensus on long-term competition and conflict. 

While analogies to the Cold War raise objections from many quarters, it was a sustained strategic competition of power creation between ideological opponents with global ramifications. That much is true today regardless of differences in the shape and contours of the competition. The theoretical framework of mobilization and power creation strategies that formed much of the intellectual effort behind Cold War policy making remains useful. Many of the vulnerabilities identified in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s are even more pronounced today. On July 21, 2017, the President signed Executive Order 13806, directing an assessment of the defense industrial base and supply chain resiliency. The report, Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United State, was issued in September of the following year. The study identified major macro forces threatening the defense industrial base, to include funding uncertainty, a decline in U.S. manufacturing capability and capacity, ineffective and sometimes harmful U.S. government business practices, the industrial policies of competitor nations, and finally the decline in the American technology and science skilled workforce. This is little different from the 1999 National Research Council report, Defense Manufacturing in 2010 and Beyond, or the 1988 report Lifeline in Danger: An Assessment of the United States Defense Industrial Base, or Harold J. Clem’s book, Mobilization Preparedness, published in 1983. Reports issued by the Defense Science Board in the mid-1970’s identified the same factors adversely impacting mobilization and war sustainment.

Fundamentally, nothing has changed in the past forty years.

As Mahnken articulates, many of the tools used by the United States during the Cold War still apply today as they are enduring sources of national statecraft and power. Alliance management, defense policy, arms control and competition, economic relations, political warfare and internal security remain central concerns. He notes that the range of instruments of power the U.S. used was broad, and that today’s debate over competition seems to lack the scope of the Cold War. He writes “there has been much less debate over the role that arms control, industrial policy, industrial mobilization and internal security may play” compared to the Cold War.[75]

Cold War history does suggest a long process of adaptation. Some institutions were founded early in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, while others did not appear until the Nixon administration or later. Naturally, many of these adaptations were controversial, such as internal security measuring targeting communist political groups or the grain embargoes of the late 1970’s.[76]

Certainly, things are different now. The American government is no longer the central innovation driver in science and technology. The United States has a high level of economic interdependence, especially with its chief competitor, China. Russia and China have become embedded into the American cultural fabric in ways that the former Soviets never were. The American people are only now coming to acknowledge the threat that China and Russia pose, but consensus remains elusive. The early “system shocks” like the Berlin airlift (1948-1949), the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) helped solidify the Cold War in the American social psychology. While it is possible that Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and Chinese cyber-attacks and theft of intellectual property may create a similar dynamic, it is not yet certain. The growing alarm captured in the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy have yet to truly permeate into large parts of American industry, finance, entertainment, media and the general public.[77]

There are other significant factors that will affect the competition and potential conflict with peer competitors such as China and Russia. There is a growing strategic influence of non-state actors, from violent extremist groups (international and domestic), global corporations, wealthy individuals, separatist movements, and large “mega-cities.” This has only heightened the ambiguity between what is “civilian” and what is “military.”

The rate of military-technical change in compounding, and major state actors such as the U.S., China, and Russia, are investing heavily in “dual use” technologies and capabilities. This may create interoperability challenges between the U.S. and the Allies and partners it will need in a strategic competition and conflict. At the same time, the risk to being outflanked is growing as adversaries can employ non-kinetic means of coercion and influence globally and on the American people directly.

The significant growth of the use of Chinese and Russian communications technology, social media, surveillance, and networking technologies throughout the world will enable adversaries to enjoy information spectrum superiority, and perhaps dominance, on a global scale. Even in the United States, the continued use of Chinese telecommunications networks – especially in rural areas – gives the PRC not only leverage over the U.S., but also potential means of conducting intelligence collection and reconnaissance.[78] Throughout the 21st Century, the ability of the U.S. to mobilize, marshal forces, and conduct operations without detection will be challenged, if not impossible.

Additional challenges will face mobilization and preparedness for the foreseeable future. The below list is not all-inclusive, but it meant to provide additional insights into the multi-faceted problems the nation will face when engaging in strategic competition and conflict. As previously mentioned, these social and domestic tensions will only grow more acute during a crisis:

  • The declining participation of men in the American labor force is perhaps a result of “job polarization,” or the decline in demand for “middle skill” workers (workers in manufacturing for example). Regardless of the reason, declining participation has only accelerated in recent years.[79] In a crisis or conflict scenario, millions of military-age men may be “off the board” for potential service. While many of the roles can be filled by women, and continuing to open up service opportunities to women is critical to national security, having such a large percentage of men who are at risk of being unemployable in industry or not eligible for service is a critical vulnerability.
  • As job prospects for men have declined, so have marriage prospects and male fertility. Increased idleness has led to deteriorating health conditions, and premature death. This is having generational consequences.[80]
  • Growing income disparity and slower wage growth for middle income families has persisted, while the actual share of the population in the middle-income class has declined. Concurrently, the share of the population in the upper and lower classes has risen, suggesting a worrying bifurcation of income strata.[81] In a competition or wartime scenario, this can lead to even greater class friction.
  • The nation is going through an opioid epidemic that will also have significant, long term consequences. This epidemic is largely fueled by exponential increases in the use of synthetic opioids, principally fentanyl. The main source of fentanyl into the U.S. comes from China, and efforts on the part of the Chinese government to curtail it have been largely unsuccessful thus far.[82] Given the adversarial nature of the relationship between the U.S. and China, there may be little incentive for China to intervene. Since its principle competitor, the U.S., is the victim, there may be tacit support among the PRC leadership to continue to let fentanyl flow into the U.S., creating social, health and economic distress.
  • While the opioid epidemic may be supported (directly or indirectly) by the Chinese government, the growing move to legalize the use of marijuana is homegrown. Legalization laws have been adopted in nearly all the states and territories, though some are more liberal than others. However, the push to legalize has outpaced the scientific understanding of the long-term effects of marijuana use. Long-term use is currently associated with adverse brain development, impaired memory and cognitive functions, breathing problems, accelerated heart rates, and mental health problems.[83] As the long-term us of marijuana increases among a greater percentage of the population, the social, economic and health consequences will become more profound.
  • The digital age carries its own health cost, as recent studies suggest between 5 and 10 percent of the American population has a “social media addiction,” a behavioral condition characterized by being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas. This is largely attributed to the dopamine-inducing social environments that social networking sites provide, sharing similar characteristics to gambling addiction and recreational drug use.[84] Increased use among teenagers is linked to increased depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, and other mental health problems.[85]
  • In general, the state of mental health among college students might be approaching crisis levels. There is an alarming increase in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal ideation and suicide.[86]
  • The U.S. continues to face a structural mismatch between the amount of revenues and federal spending. The three principle drivers of federal spending have changed little over the past decade: increasing costs of health care, changing demographics, and the growing debt-service burden.[87]

The 21st Century is characterized by these challenges (and numerous others not identified). In the background to everything is the fact that the American people remain is a near-persistent state of cognitive manipulation. Some of this manipulation is largely benign, such as companies using algorithms and neuroscience to target advertising and behavior on social media platforms. However, much of this manipulation is coming from foreign powers, homegrown radicals, non-state actors, and criminals. Coupled with the addictive properties that the use of social media potentially brings; social bonds may continue to fray.

As a rule, it is generally accepted that democratic systems are inherently reactive, fractured, disorganized and limited in their capacity to conduct long-range strategic planning. This appears to be one of the trade-offs for a system in which political and economic liberties are protected and maximized in favor of individual rights.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. has largely converted its military forces into a highly professional and technical Joint force built around power projection and precision strike capabilities. Until recently, this force design excelled at the tactical and operational tasks it was given. However, it has thankfully never been tested in a peer conflict where national mobilization, supply and logistics, and the defense industrial base would truly be tested. War games and simulations since the late Cold War to today suggest significant challenges, even potentially catastrophic losses in personnel and billions of dollars of equipment and platforms, unable to be replaced. Today, as the American military is currently configured, it is a force which policy makers would be loathed to employ in a conventional war scenario against a peer adversary such as China.[88]

The U.S. is therefore left with two basic choices: play the existing game better or play a new game. This demands a new competitive mindset, one which evaluates the competition relative to these two choices. Sorin Lungu[89] frames these choices as follows:


Play the Existing Game Better Start a New Game
Product Innovation New Products
Improve Quality New Concepts
Focus on Efficiency Focus on Services & Solutions
Benchmarking Exploit Technological Shifts
Best Practices Next Practices


The existing game would require the U.S. to address the systemic issues that have plagued mobilization and war planning since the Cold War. While some small steps are being taken in addressing issues of preparedness and policy, the likelihood of systemic reorganization and programmatic acquisition change is remote based on historical experience. It is unclear even if reforms are made that they will be sustained through successive administrations and Congresses. Only a profound crisis is likely to result in a move to reconfigure American society to put it on a “war footing.” The character of modern warfare suggests that waiting to react to a crisis such as a “Pearl Harbor” type event would risk the U.S. being put in the position of having lost the war before it started. China and Russia are in the process of reconfiguring the global order and economy as well as the global information environment such that they are achieving strategic effects largely through non-kinetic means. At the same time, China has embarked on a military modernization and enlargement program over the past twenty years, enabling it to deliver the “killing blow” against the United States. The risk to the United States in trying to “play the existing game better” is that it will be preparing to meet the challenge of the Chinese military (as the pacing threat more so than the Russian military) when the Chinese objective may be to employ the military only after the geostrategic conditions of victory have been met. It would be like waiting until the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter of a football game to start playing after the opponent has already run up the score uncontested.

It is also unclear if the U.S. defense industrial base could even be expanded enough to meet force expansion as well as replace losses. Modern combat systems, platforms, and weapons are extraordinarily complex and not readily produced in the quantity that could permit them to be mass produced at scale. Nor is the American industrial base or workforce postured for such an expansion. Even with an additional infusion of resources, the problem would take years to overcome.[90]

Starting a new game also entails risks and danger, not the least of which is that one starts the wrong game. It is rather common today for analysts and scholars to boil down the competitive strategies and thinking of the U.S. and its allies against China as, the U.S. plays chess while the Chinese play Go.[91] Unfortunately, this may lead to the conclusion that the U.S. must play Go as well. There are rather obvious problems with trying to distill the strategies being employed by the leadership in either country to board games, and to make sweeping judgements about the strategic mindset and capabilities of either.

In many respects, the U.S. did decide to “play a new game” during the late Cold War when it altered its military force design to leverage its competitive advantages over the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact forces. It shifted from a principally conscript force to a professional military force. Conscript forces are designed for mass and attrition warfare. Professional military forces are trained to operate advanced weapons systems and perform complex tactics designed for maneuver warfare. The adoption of a “new game” was driven by the fact that the Soviets had achieved parity in nuclear forces while enjoying significant advantages in conventional forces by the 1970’s.

The 21st century is being shaped by three main forces: advances in understanding of neuroscience, emerging dual-use technologies, and new financial business models. These forces are converging together to create disruptions on a mass scale. Aspects of this convergence are being driven by Chinese and Russian operations, policies, and investment decisions, along with market forces and changing consumer preferences. This change in the strategic environment threatens the efficacy of American assumptions in strategic competition, war preparation, prosecution and sustainment. This requires rethinking of how the U.S. considers strategic warning and intelligence during peacetime, the transition from competition to conflict, the resiliency and capacity of current forces to “weather the storm” of initial combat, and whether the country is postured to transition to other means of using force during a global war with a great power. Perhaps most important will be the means by which the U.S. is able to sustain economic power and the political will to fight. Right now, adversaries are conducting systemic attacks on U.S. and Allied sources of economic power, reducing and eliminating what was once considered the principle advantage of industrialized democracies, while at the same time using non-kinetic means to deliver mass cognitive attacks destabilizing political societies.

Considering these developments, the U.S. mobilization efforts should take the following steps:

  1. Shift the focus of strategic warning to identifying emerging disruptions and strategic latency.
  2. Develop a strategic intelligence capability to monitor and evaluate sources of U.S. power and identify areas of potential comparative advantage.
  3. Institutionalize a “whole of society” approach to peacetime preparedness.
  4. Reframe warfighting posture toward preparing to survive the initial blow, then transition to alternative capabilities that can achieve desired effects.
  5. Integrate Allied and U.S. preparedness efforts, to include research and development, technology sharing, coordinated production, and political resiliency.
  6. Understand and educate the American people on the realities of a long-term, sustain competition and conflict.

Emerging Trends in Neuroscience: The Brain as the Battlefield

Over the past forty years, significant advancements have been made in the study of the human brain. James Giordano and others point to immense potential for neuroscience and neurotechnology to “study, predict and influence” human ecologies. It has the potential to affect human activities on individual, group and population levels, and to affect human relations on a local, regional and global scale. These understandings will permit the U.S. and its competitors to develop capabilities to assess, access and affect the human brain. It will come to influence, and perhaps dominate, the posture and conduct of national security and the defense agenda.[92]

The growth in understanding of the human brain, from evaluating its components and functions, to gain access to it and influencing it, will be a central focus of the strategic competition, not unlike the space program of the Cold War, but with perhaps even more profound implications. This understanding is leading to the weaponization of brain sciences. It can be leveraged as a soft weapon to create economic leverages, intelligence capabilities, and advanced psychological influence operations such as narrative networks. More concerning is how neuroscience can be used to develop hard weapons which can have physical effects using chemicals, biologicals, toxins, and devices.[93]

Neuroscientific advancement also has significant neuro-enablement application potential to enhance the performance military operators and intelligence officers. More broadly, these understandings can also be used to understand and shape the behavior of the American public.

Strategic competitors have invested considerable resources in research, development, and fielding of neuroscience and biotechnology. China has announced initiatives to position itself as the leading power in brain science and is openly exploring the application of brain sciences to hard and soft power. Military writers and researchers in China argue that future battlefield success will depend on “biological dominance,” “mental/cognitive dominance,” and “intelligence dominance,” and are applying their own insights from neuroscience to exploit vulnerabilities in human cognition, to include the development of “brain control weaponry.”[94]

Dual Use, Radical Leveling, and Emerging Technologies

A key driver of strategic competition is the explosive growth in globally powerful “dual use” or “dual purpose” technologies. These include mobile internet, cloud computing, the exploitation of “big data,” the “internet of things,” ubiquitous sensors, nano-materials, additive manufacturing, self-navigating vehicles, autonomous industrial and civilian robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced energy storage, renewable energy, and “do it yourself” genomics. Since the end of the Cold War, the emergence of these technologies has had significant impact on military technology and operational concepts.[95] These technologies are maturing military capabilities in space and cyberspace operations, biological weapons development, the proliferation of precision guided munitions (PGM), the realization of transoceanic-range precision strike regimes, autonomous unmanned combat systems and platforms (to include swarms), directed energy combat systems, and enhanced and protected infantry.[96]

More profoundly perhaps is how existing and emerging developments in science and technology are being used to leverage power in non-kinetic engagements, creating mass disruptive “weapons” that “incur rippling effects in and across targeted individuals, societies and nations.” These actions “can adversely impact, if not defeat, an opponent …” without meeting the current legally accepted criteria of an explicit act of war. These engagements may cause immediate-to-long-term damage to popular stability. Because the perpetrator of these engagements might remain ambiguous, it makes it politically problematic for the victim of the engagement to respond. These types of operations are exceptionally difficult to surveil, may not be defined initially as a threat, or can evoke effects which “may not be easily recognizable or attributable to the technology or the actor(s).”[97]

Adversaries are pursing these dual-use technologies as means to deliver effects on the brain, and even the genetic code, of populations. This can be done by leveraging the electromagnetic spectrum via radio frequency or directed energy.[98] The growth in the use of Chinese telecommunications hardware, platforms and infrastructure is perhaps an entre for the PRC to be postured to not only conduct surveillance, collect intelligence, and conduct malign influence operations. It is also a means to use the frequency spectrum to deliver effects at the neurological and even genetic level.[99] This would likely be done using mundane and ubiquitous technology, such as 5G networks, cell phone applications, even music or video streams.[100]

Economic War Matters More

Investment decisions may telegraph human behavior[101] and intent and identify future asymmetric disruptions in superior ways to traditional strategic intelligence tradecraft. These investments can have multiplier effects that can move entire commercial sectors globally. This can have profound implications in a strategic competition where understanding future business models is more important than understanding future technology.  For example, Chinese telecommunication firms can now exert considerable influence because they enjoy approximately 78% of the leverage in the $3.5 trillion global communications industry.[102] These firms should not be confused with traditionally understood commercial firms in the democracies, however. The Chinese Community Party has put in to place a legal and political regime such that it now effectively guides and controls their operations. This influence began with a concerted, state-directed strategy when a Chinese state-owned enterprise made the initial investment in Huawei, telegraphing Chinese intent to control the global telecommunications industry.[103] This control is now being translated into geoeconomic effects that create debt obligations among developing countries (“debt-trap diplomacy”) as well as giving entre to Chinese “techno-authoritarian” influence and control of communities and nations outside of China.[104]

National security planners must now consider how to transition to build sources of economic power and sustain that power in a time of strategic competition and conflict, when the strategic competitors are exercising significant leverage over American, allied and global industries. The capture and control of key industries such as telecommunications or space systems will circumscribe U.S. power and force policy makers into more difficult trade-offs to sustain a conflict. Information is a strategic resource and should be treated as such.[105]

Strategic Latency, Warning, and Disruption Futures

Since the Second World War, “warning” has largely been linked to surprise military attack. Pearly Harbor, the invasion of South Korea by North Korea, and September 11, stand out as hallmark examples of the types of surprise attacks that policy makers (usually the President) are most concerned with. During the Cold War, this included not only a nuclear first strike, but also a surprise Soviet attack into Europe and the Fulda Gap or a resumption of hostilities on the Korean peninsula. Other warning concerns would be events which might have dramatic impact on the geopolitical landscape, such as coups and revolutions, the outbreak of civil war, the assassination of a world leader, or the outbreak of a war involving a U.S. ally.

The nature of surprise assumes a level of unpreparedness – catching your adversary unprepared is why surprise is usually sought after. The American intelligence community, while it has many roles and functions, exists foremost to prevent surprise and provide strategic warning.

Cynthia Grabo describes warning as “an intangible, an abstraction, a theory, a deduction, a perception, a belief. It is the product of reasoning or of logic, a hypothesis whose validity can neither be confirmed nor refuted until it is too late [emphasis added].”[106] It should not be confused with current intelligence, nor does it necessarily flow from a mere “compilation of facts” or the result of “majority consensus.” Rather it depends on exhaustive research, and usually the kind of holistic approach that the American intelligence community was not originally designed for.[107] There are currently 17 federal agencies and military service components devoted to different collection and analysis emphases, each working independently under a broad umbrella agency, the Office of National Intelligence. The Office of National Intelligence was established after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, largely in response to the significant failures of the separate intelligence agencies to work together and share information and analytic expertise.

While anticipating a military surprise attack will remain an enduring requirement for the intelligence community, emerging global trends and adversary campaigns that are reshaping the strategic environment will likely matter more in the coming decades. However, the current analytic techniques used by intelligence analysts are inadequate to identifying these trends and are likely to result in a strategic warning crisis.[108] Strategic latency refers to the potential for technologies to fundamentally shift the military and economic balance of power.[109] China (and Russia to a lesser extent) are able to use leverage dual-use technologies, commercial and supply chain vulnerabilities that enable it to control critical information and economic “choke points.” Dominance of supply chains enable dominance of the spectrum of telecommunications equipment, from undersea cables to satellites, which is the underlying currency of the 21st century economy. Through spectrum dominance, and control over supporting supply chains such as media, advertising, entertainment, legal regimes, political lobbying, and public opinion management, China is approaching the point to where it can achieve global information superiority, if not dominance. Information control enables population control.

The inability of the intelligence community to detect and anticipate latent disruptions is a result of the organizational structure of the community, the charges of its component organizations, and its analytic tradecraft. Seventeen different agencies and service departments are organized under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The agencies are aligned under either intelligence disciplines, such as communication intelligence or geospatial intelligence, service warfighting domains (air, land, sea, space), or domestic security and law enforcement functions. One of the core responsibilities of the ODNI is to fuse these different disciplines into larger strategic intelligence to support the President and National Security Council. The organization of the intelligence community today is a result of two major events of the early 21st century: the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C., and the erroneous assessment by the intelligence community on the status of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. The first represents a failure to detect an impending attack. The second represents a failure to accurately assess the state of an adversary’s capabilities. In both cases, it was the cognitive limitations that are inherent when dealing with incomplete or ambiguous information that led to intelligence and warning failure. Analysts do not approach their trade with a “blank slate,” but start with certain assumptions about foreign capabilities and intentions that have been developed through education, training and experience. These assumptions form a mindset that influences what the analyst judges to be reliable and relevant. While this is often a strength, it is not error-free.[110]

However, the intelligence community’s ability to forecast latent disruptions is questionable at best. This places American national security at a severe risk since it directly impacts peacetime strategic competition and mobilization execution in the event of conflict. Yet understanding anticipatory behavior is central to asset management firms, and seven of the top ten firms reside in the United States.[111] Before these firms make multi-billion dollar decisions, they perform deep research and analysis, evaluating an immense, diverse array of data sets, from predicting sea level rises to mobile communication use in India. These firms specialize in evaluating risk and capital investment. Data sets are available almost instantaneously from a growing “Internet of Things” (IoT) and ubiquitous sensors that constantly monitor human activity. These data sets are used to build and refine predictive algorithms that drive risk management and investment. This form of “Techno-Financial” intelligence capability[112] is a critical requirement to better anticipate emerging disruptions. This methodological approach suggests human behavior is telegraphed through technology and investment decisions. It is a multidisciplinary approach integrating behavioral economics, neuroscience, demographics, regulatory, legal and other sectors. Interconnected technologies and complex networks are treated as living organisms, while investment is the fueling force that can predict future organism behavior.[113]

Along with a techno-financial intelligence capability, the intelligence community lacks a comprehensive methodology to “understand the ways individuals perceive and respond to various types of information.” It requires a knowledge of how humans communicate with others in groups, and “orient and respond to economic, social and political environments.” To detect these changing patterns in human group behavior, the intelligence community will need massive sets of diverse and cross domain data sets, along with the ability to process this data to yield understanding and prediction.[114] Many of these data sets will overlap with techno-financial intelligence, and the two disciplines complement one another.

Strategic Intelligence and Capability Investment for the Home Front

Underlying disruptions in the global economy, changing consumer behaviors, and advanced non-kinetic mass disruption attacks have left the American home front vulnerable. In many respects, war in the 21st century will be characterized not only by a lack of “front lines” but also the absence of any sanctuary. Traditional offensive and defensive operations may not apply, and the “battlefield” may be located in far off corners of the globe while simultaneously being fought in corporate boardrooms, small town hall meetings, and even family gatherings.

Mobilization and peacetime preparedness are best informed through a comprehensive program that identifies the sources of American power creation, evaluates changes and coming discontinuities, and conducts predictive analysis. The Department of Defense has been conducting this type of work through agencies such as the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) and the Defense Science Board (DSB), yet for obvious reasons their efforts are mostly confined to understanding the military balance. Other agencies do track data and trends and make reports within their purview, such as the Department of Labor or Health and Human Services. However, no agency or interagency network or research institute is tasked with crafting a framework to evaluate sources of American power, anticipate opportunities to develop comparative advantages or to mitigate vulnerabilities, and be used as the basis for policy formation and strategic decision-making. There is no framework that provides the understanding of complex network relationships and evaluates it as an organic whole.[115]

This is not to say that approaches have not been put forward. One such approach, Strategic Advantage by Bruce Berkowitz, argued that in order to for the U.S. to remain the global leader in the 21st century, it must achieve organizational agility, optimally manage risk, better navigate the crosscurrents of economic development and democratic institutions, and use our comparative advantages effectively. This requires a constant evaluation process of macro-trends in demographics, economics, commercial use, technology, health and other factors, and how those factors shape national power and create opportunities and vulnerabilities. Importantly, there is a pacing element to power creation and sustainment which is based around economic constraints and political realities of what the American public is willing to support. In a complex threat environment with competing – and sometimes conflicting – interests, the challenge will be developing, selecting, and combining various capabilities (military, economic, diplomatic, etc.), and then recombining them as conditions change, while avoiding becoming so overcommitted in addressing one threat that we are unable to address others.[116]

Six principles guide this framework. This first is to understand the potential scenarios for world events, and the important variables (demographic, economic, technology, etc.) that underlie each scenario. Identify the mileposts that might signal how these scenarios would play out. The second principle is to recognize the unique strengths the United States enjoys that provide it outsized advantages and identify how these strengths might be cultivated and exploited. Next, planning must anticipate that changes in the environment occur rapidly, and assumptions will likely not remain valid for more than three to five years, at best. Planning must also understand both resource constraints and those imposed by public opinion. Success will require an organizational approach that accommodates more risk and is agile enough to respond to changes in the environment. Finally, maintaining strategic advantage will depend on the availability of resources, which emphasizes the centrality of economic growth toward national security, preparedness, and mobilization.[117]

Whole of Government to Whole of Society

For a whole-of-society approach to be truly meaningful, it must reach beyond the federal, state and local governments as well as traditional social institutions such as chambers of commerce and trade unions. A few lessons from the mobilization during the Second World War still apply, but none more so than organizing industrial mobilization around industry, rather than government, was central to the explosive growth in American capacity to provide the bulk of war material for all Allies. This was only possible because the approach was largely led by industry and labor. While government stepped in to regulate consumption through the rationing of certain goods and services, production always remained voluntary and driven by incentive. As early as 1938, the industrial mobilization planning was built around getting ahead of the problem to determine what was needed, and when, rather than what American industry had the capacity to produce and when. This drove a requirements-based process while helped build production momentum.[118] A major war in the 21st century will certainly look much different in what war material is produced and how it is employed, but what might matter more is how the United States organizes its preparedness and mobilization planning to leverage its comparative advantages.

While it is important for the federal government to organize and sustain the effort, state and local governments must have a role in decision-making on national-level priorities. Key economic sectors in finance, logistics, transportation, health care, manufacturing, retail, telecommunications and others represent a large source of national power. No less so are public education and institutes of higher education, training and certification bodies, as well as community organizations such as Red Cross and United Way. Important in the 21st Century is the growing role of social media “influencers,” You-Tube stars, as well as bottom-up capital generation like Kick-Starter, as well as community activism tools such as Non-traditional platforms and organizations can bring innovative ways of thinking as well as alternative approaches to mobilization and preparedness planning.

Some states are approaching preparedness in novel ways. The Ohio National Guard has created the Ohio Cyber Reserve, teams of trained civilians available for the governor to assist municipalities with cybersecurity vulnerabilities and provide recommendations to reduce threats. They provide workforce development training and education services in local schools.[119] This approach can be expanded with government support to create citizen volunteer organizations modeled on the Civil Air Patrol could better utilize the large population of Americans who may not be interested in government or military service but have unique skill sets to perform on-net operations, conduct resiliency testing, perform critical infrastructure protection roles, and provide youth mentorship in science, technology, engineering and the liberal arts..[120]

Reframing the Preparedness Posture to “Survive, then transition”

As previously discussed, the stages of mobilization are generally crisis mobilization, tactical mobilization, and strategic mobilization. However, the character of warfare in the information age suggests that adversaries will likely engage in non-kinetic disruption attacks, potentially on a mass scale, to achieve strategic effects well before initiating open hostilities. Preparation activities and material production will likely find themselves under disruptive attacks to thwart or slow the ability of the U.S. to mobilize, marshal forces, and project power. These attacks may be ongoing for months or years, seeking to achieve a long-term weakening effect by conducting efforts to delegitimize democratic institutions, sow social discord, or increase the use of addictive opioids among the population, thereby rendering them unfit not only for military service, but unemployable in most industries. It might be wise to assume that the U.S. is under attack right now for the express purpose of rendering its mobilization and preparedness capability impossible.

Above, it was discussed that strategic warning regime be tailored to detect these types of mass disruptive attacks, and the need for intelligence collection capabilities and analytic techniques to support strategic warning. Still, the ability of an adversary to initiate a surprise attack on a global scale, along with the complexity and high tempo of modern combat suggests that against a peer adversary like China, the United States and allies could quickly find itself overwhelmed in one or more theaters. Maintaining credible, forward deployed combat power is challenging now, and growing more so each day.

This suggests that the United States would have to develop deep enough stocks and magazines to sustain combat forces in the early stages of a conflict (The “staying power” that the Reagan Administration attempted to address). However, the current mix of highly exquisite and expensive weapons systems has left the resources available for war reserve stocks nearly non-existent. Therefore, once military forces and the homeland have survived the initial onslaught, the U.S. will be left with two choices: try to reconstitute and replace forces or begin a transition to new capabilities that can be fielded rapidly and inexpensively while achieving required operational and strategic results. The fact that the force design and its supporting defense industrial base cannot be meaningfully expanded to keep up with anticipated attrition levels suggests that new means of rapid capability employment will be required.

The Defense Department has expanded its efforts to go outside of the traditional defense industry base and encourage companies to do business with the Pentagon, giving the military access to unique products and services as well as alternative approaches to design, production and sustainment. Through initiatives like the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and legislative action to expand the use of Other Transaction Authorities (OTA), the Defense Department has been able to adapt many commercially available products to military use, from personal communication devices to unmanned systems. Large companies are making significant investments in autonomy, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality to create new products as well as improve business logistics and administration and meet changing consumer demands.[121] Lessons from employing non-traditional defense companies should be identified and improved upon in order to create opportunities to transition to innovative and sustainable ways to deliver kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities. For example, there is a growing hobby in using a 3d printer to create drones, leading to innovation in drone design, applications, time to develop, and reduced costs.[122] In a strategic competition, new and novel uses of information technology can be applied to dynamically impact global economies, public diplomacy and influence campaigns to achieve strategic effects.

Integrating Allies into U.S. Preparedness

American security ultimately depends upon collective security, a fact that is often overlooked in preparedness planning. While the U.S. military and State Department have a long history on working with allies, friends and partners to advance security interests, these efforts may not have the efficacy they once did as China has aggressively sought to bond itself economically to allies. Commercial and industrial interests are a strategic vulnerability to the democracies, unlike the Cold War where they were an asset. This has raised several friction points between the U.S. and allies, especially concerning the use of Chinese companies to build critical infrastructure or operate maritime ports and transportation networks.

At present, only limited efforts exist to evaluate the state and capabilities of allied and partner nation industrial capacity, defense capabilities, research and development programs, dual-use technology development and applications, sustainment and political resiliency. There is growing concern that as the gap between U.S. and allied military technology expands, interoperability between allied and coalition forces will become far more difficult. The inability to share resource, sustainment, and logistical burdens would place both U.S. and allied security at risk. The past success the U.S. has had in allied and coalition warfighting has largely been because of early agreement and understanding not only of the strategic objectives but also partner burden sharing and mutual support. The U.S., given its size, will likely have the largest share of the burden, and allies and partners must be able to receive and use American support.

Coordination of cross-domain operations, including space, cyber, and the electromagnetic domains, will be central to coalition warfighting as well as strategic competition campaigns that fall below the warfighting threshold. The U.S. will have allies of varying levels of sophistication, capabilities, and resources. Even allied and partner nations that operate technology comparable to the U.S., such as Japan, South Korea, Israel, and the U.K., may have structural challenges that make coordination with the U.S. or with each other difficult.

U.S. policy continues to emphasize self-sufficiency and autarky for its defense industrial base. This policy needs to be re-evaluated considering the increasing use of commercial and dual-use technology, much of which is actually developed in allied and partner countries.

Fortunately, the U.S. and its allies have a long history of alliance management, cooperation on mutual interests, and integrated command structures. This is especially true for NATO, Five-Eye partners, Japan, and South Korea. NATO established the Partnership Interoperability Initiative in 2014, which was also broadened to include Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden. NATO experience in the Balkans and Afghanistan highlighted many of the challenges forces had in standards, doctrine, logistics and sustainment.[123] The U.S. also maintained Combined Forces commands in Japan and South Korea, to include coalition war planning, exercises, basing, and sustainment.

Therefore, expanding integration and interoperability is one area of mobilization preparedness that holds a great deal of promise. These efforts should be deepened to include joint development of research, development and dual-use technology goals, combined command, control (C2) systems, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities (ISR) and domain awareness capabilities. This may necessitate expanding and improving the ability of U.S. and allies to share a common operating picture, but also can share tactical tracking to find, fix and finish targets across coalition platforms.

Coordinated industrial base expansion, sustainment, tooling, and logistics support will be critical to maximizing comparative advantages that the alliance system provides. Further weapons system and platform development capabilities, to include non-traditional and dual use civilian-military capabilities, between the U.S. and allies should be undertaken. Due to constraints, this may mean accepting the tradeoff between high-end, exquisite systems and moderately less capable, but still effective combat and non-kinetic systems that all parties can operate. In a strategic competition or conflict with China, and the immense industrial capacity it can harness, this could be the best option. It frees up a portion of the U.S. information technology and industrial base to develop and produce future high-end systems while spreading out the production of moderately capable systems that can be brought into the competition or conflict more rapidly.

Such an expansion will require a dedicated effort at the regular, systematic evaluation of allied and partner capabilities, more frequent combined and coalition exercises, and deeper coordination of planning and planning assumptions. Early and often allied wargaming, to include frank discussions on potential strategic and political goals, will greatly improve planning assumptions and further guide research, development, production and operational concepts that are tailored to better meet alliance goals.

Understand and educate the American people on the nature of a long-term competition and conflict

To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. will compete with the population it has, not the one it wants. This should be taken to mean that policy makers must realistically assess the willingness and desire of the American population to support and sustain another indefinite competition and conflict with a major power. The fiscal burden of creating and sustaining American power is likely to grow. This burden will come at a time when it will be incumbent on decision makers to address the entire scope of national taxation and spending. Hard trade-offs will be required.

Yet fiscal constraints are only one piece of the puzzle. Even if the resources were readily available, it is not entirely clear that the population of 2020 is particularly interested in competing. The Cold War was born out of the Second World War, and early system shocks caused a reappraisal of U.S. efforts to rebuild the world order while being confronted with a global Communist movement that had other designs.

Part of this is due to the nature of how the Cold War ended and the brief, unipolar moment the United States and its Allies enjoyed. Little effort was given to recapitalizing the institutions necessary to meet a new, peer challenger. Even anti-communist stalwarts argued that it was time for America to become a “normal nation,” and shed the burden of global leadership.[124] The lack of an existential threat made such calls even more appealing.

Recent polling suggests that a smaller portion of younger generations – Generation “Z” and Millennials – view the United States as “better” than all other countries, which one might define as “American exceptionalism.”[125] At the same time, significant gaps exist between the younger and older generations on perceived threats to America, with Millennials pointing to “climate change” (62%) as a bigger threat than “the development of China as a world power” (35%), “North Korea’s nuclear program,” (55%) or the “rise of authoritarianism around the world” (42%).[126]

To be sure, as one ages and experiences the world, the perception of threats will likely change over time. Generations do not hold monolithic views that remain etched in stone. Evidence suggests that the public is growing far more wary of China as a threat,[127] and the recent global COVID-19 pandemic and the Chinese leadership’s complicity in covering up the danger may further incur the American public’s anger. The vast majority of Americans still believe that a future with U.S. leadership is far better than a world led by Beijing.[128]

Yet it would be the most profound failure of policy for the United States to execute a grand strategy designed to compete with, and if necessary, fight Communist China if popular consensus is not there. Indeed, it would be disastrous. This is more important for younger generations as it is they who will largely face most of the sacrifice. The underlying assumption behind competing with China is that the American people are invested in the cause. If that assumption is misplaced, then no strategy can succeed, and the U.S. is likely to suffer a catastrophic loss.

This will require not only public debate, but also public accountability, and the willingness to craft policy and strategy around the constraints of public opinion. While public opinion can be moved, the case must be made.[129] This must be central to American grand strategy, strategic competition, mobilization and preparedness planning. The current complacency regarding the public’s declining trust in institutions and America’s role in the world is dangerous. Foreign powers are actively engaged in strategies to undermine political legitimacy and resiliency, but they need only accentuate the trends that are already present.

Preparedness and mobilization planning remain central to America’s ability to defend its interests and the cause of freedom. This is worth fighting for. But it cannot be defended without the support of the people. It is a political case that must be made at all levels of government and society. It will require a renewed effort toward public education, and frank, honest debate about the sacrifice required. To best make the case, policy makers have to meet the American public where they are, using terms that convey the gravity of the situation and the stakes involved. 


The future security environment will be driven by the strategic competition between the United States, China, and Russia, and how each attempt to create and wield power on a global scale. There are two broad competing visions of international order: a techno-authoritarian model of Chinese Communist Party and Russian control and a liberal model of broadly supported international rules. The chance of this strategic competition erupting into outright conflict is very real.

The fact that both China and the United States – and important powers such as Russia, Great Britain, India, France, Pakistan, and others – are nuclear powers shape the competition in similar ways as the Cold War. Each side will seek to achieve strategic effects while attempting to limit the likelihood of a nuclear exchange. However, as the balance between conventional and non-kinetic powers of each side fluctuate, the other risks becoming trapped into responses to global power shifts being “go nuclear or surrender,” as former President Kennedy famously suggested.

This competition, like the one with the Soviets, will require a national effort toward sustained power creation, and planning toward the sustained conversion of power into wartime, crisis, and peacetime capabilities. The United States is in the early stages of evaluating its current level of preparedness. There are also important distinctions between the modern Information Age and how future technologies are reshaping human behavior, and our understanding of it, and what that means for power creation, sustainment, and rapid conversion. Theoretical frameworks drawn from the Cold War provide some broad insights, but new approaches will be required.

Ultimately, strategic competition, mobilization and preparedness are still acts of political will, and no effort will be sustainable that does not have the broad buy-in from the American people. It will require not only engagement from senior leaders and elected officials, but also their bipartisan leadership in explaining, gaining, and keeping political support. 

Appendix: China’s Approach Towards Comprehensive National Power

While Comprehensive National Power (CNP) is not a reflection of China’s mobilization and war planning, it is directly related. It is an attempt to scientifically quantify the future security environment, and guide long-term strategic decision making on the part of the Chinese Communist Party.[130] This concept is unique to China and does have its roots in ancient Chinese strategic thought. However, it bears some similarity to the Soviet (and now Russian) analysis, Correlation of Forces – though the Soviet method was devoted almost entirely to the military balance of power.

There is no one formula or analytic methodology China uses to evaluate comprehensive national power. According to Pillsbury, they are the CASS Index Framework, the AMS Index System, the CASS Weighted Index Plan, and the AMS Dynamic Equation. Wuttikorn Chuwattananurak, a Lecturer of the Political Science and Public Administration department at Naresuan University in Thailand[131] analyzed several of these and other methodologies. His compilation of the indices showed the following factors were found in most or all CNP methodologies:

  1. Population (size, life expectancy, workforce size)
  2. Land area (total, arable, forest)
  3. Mineral resources (iron, copper, aluminum, etc.)
  4. Energy resources (coal, oil, natural gas, hydropower)
  5. Economic wealth (GDP per capita, PPP, consumption capability, production capability)
  6. Foreign economic activity (total imports and exports, international reserves, gold reserves, FDI)
  7. Science and Technology (number of scientists and engineers, spending on R&D)
  8. Military might (military manpower, military spending, number of nuclear weapons, etc.)
  9. Education and culture (expenditure on education per capita, literacy rate, etc.)
  10. Health care (expenditure on health care per capita, number of physicians per 1000 people, etc.)
  11. Government capacity (government spending)
  12. Political power (political stability, national leadership)
  13. Diplomatic power (status and role in international affairs)
  14. Environmental (international environment, pollution, air quality, water quality)

Pillsbury’s evaluation of the CASS Index Framework, developed in 1996, identified the following factors, broken up into natural resources, economic activities capability, foreign economic activities capability, science and technology capability, social development, military capability, government regulation and control capability, and finally foreign affairs capability.

Those factors include:

Natural Resources

Manpower Resources: total population; life expectancy; the proportion of the economically active population in the total population; the number of university students per 10,000 people

Land Resources: the area of national territory; the area of cultivatable territory; the area in forest

Mineral Resources (reserves): iron; copper; bauxite

Energy Resources (reserves): coal; crude oil; natural gases; water energy

Economic Activities Capability

Actual Economic Strength (total): gross domestic product (GDP); industry production capability (electric energy production, steel output, cement output, logs output); food supply capability (total grain output, degree of self-sufficiency in grain); energy supply capability (volume of energy production, volume of energy consumption, crude oil processing capability); total cotton output

Actual Economic Strength (per person): GDP per person; industry production capability (electric energy production, steel output, cement output, logs output); food supply capability (total grain output, average calories per person); energy supply capability (volume of energy consumption)

Production Efficiency: social labor production rate; industry labor production rate, agriculture labor production rate

Material Consumption Level: volume of energy consumption based on GDP calculations

Structure: the proportion of the tertiary industry in the GDP

Foreign Economic Activities Capability

Total import and export trade: total import trade, total export trade

Total international reserves: international reserves (not including gold); gold reserves

Science and Technology Capability

Proportion of research and development in the GDP: number of scientists and engineers; the number of scientists and engineers per 1,000 people; proportion of machinery and transportation equipment exports in total exports; proportion of high-technology intensive exports in total exports

Social Development Level

Education Level: education expenditures per person; proportion of people studying in higher education; proportion of people studying in secondary school education

Cultural Level: adult literacy rate; number of people per one thousand who get a daily newspaper

Health Care Level: health care expenditures per person; number of people doctors are responsible for; number of people nurses are responsible for

Communications: number of people who have a telephone per 100 people

Urbanization: proportion of the urban population in the total population

Military Capability

Number of military personnel; military expenditures; weapons exports; nuclear weapons (the number of nuclear launchers; the number of nuclear warheads)

Government Regulation and Control Capability

Proportion of final government consumption expenditures in the GDP; proportion of central government expenditures in the GDP.

Foreign Affairs Capability

This capability is evaluated by using ten factors in a “nerve network model” to carry out a broad assessment.

According to Pillsbury’s research, the AMS Index System, developed by Colonel Huan Shuofeng in his book, On Comprehensive National Power, describes CNP as “a large, complex system composed of many levels or subsystems, within which there are numerous interlinked component factors. He divides the CNP index system into four major index subsystems–the material power (hard) index subsystem, the spirit power (soft) index subsystem, the coordinated power index subsystem, and the environmental index subsystem:”

“The material power and spirit power indexes mainly reflect a country’s needed strength for existence and development; the coordinated power index mainly reflects the leadership mechanism’s organization, command, management, and decision-making levels; and the environmental index mainly reflects the restricting conditions of Comprehensive National Power.”

Material power is made up of “hard factors,” such as natural resources, economics, science and technology, and national defense. However, hard factors do contain aspects that “are soft in nature.” For the purpose of Huang’s analytic methodology, they are designated to a “subsystem” based on their “dominant characteristic.” An example might be national defense is a hard factor, but national defense ideology and military theory are not. The “spiritual (including psychological) and intellect power soft factors” that “determine the effectiveness of the material form (hard) national power” include politics, foreign affairs, and culture and education.

The coordinated power index subsystem is important because, for CNP to develop effectively, the factors that constitute material and spirit power “require macro adjustment and control and coordinated development.” These functions are important both at the national level as well as at the lower levels of the specific areas. Although some of the soft power factors are contained both in their own system as well as in the coordinated power index, they operate differently in the capacity of the latter. As “spiritual” factors they influence the material form factors, but within the coordinated power index they regulate the relationship between the hard and soft factors.

Finally, the environment index subsystem comprises three parts, the international environment (the world structure and the different balances of power), the natural environment (a country’s natural resources, as well as its geographic and ecological conditions), and social environment (the political, economic and social systems and their stability). These three areas greatly influence, both negatively and positively, the development of all the other factors.

Each of the components of the major sub-indexes is itself a sub-sub index, and together they all form what Huang refers to as a CNP appraisal index system. For each of these sub-sub-indexes, he provides detailed lists of their contents, but only four of Huang’s lists are seen here for comparison, two from the soft factor side, and two from the hard factor side:

Political Power Subsystem: National strategy goals; political stability; policy level; the nation’s leadership, organization, and decision-making capability; national embodiment power.

Foreign Affairs Power Subsystem: Foreign political relations; foreign economic relations; foreign military relations; diplomatic activities capability; international contribution capability.

Science and Technology Power Subsystem: Science and technology troops (scientists and engineers, technological personnel); investment in science and technology (total, proportion of the GNP); science and technology level (high science and technology, general science and technology); science and technology system; scientific and technological progress speed; scientific and technological progress contribution; scientific and technological results and applications.

National Defense Power Subsystem: Standing army (nuclear, conventional) and reserve forces; national defense investment; national defense science and technology and national defense industry; national defense bases and installations; strategic material reserves and logistics safeguards; national defense education and training; national defense system establishment; the national defense ideology of the people and troop morale; military theory.

After listing the above specific indexes, Huang writes, “The Comprehensive National Power index system is the concrete embodiment of the concept of Comprehensive National Power; it also is the qualitative basis for appraising Comprehensive National Power,” and therefore is the foundation for his “Comprehensive National Power dynamic equation,” which will be discussed later, the AMS Dynamic Equation. Before setting forth this equation, Huang first arranges his index system into a network structure so that it can be more easily quantified. However, in this diagram, “The Structural Network of the Comprehensive National Power System,” Huang outlines national defense power differently. He breaks it down into direct military power and indirect military power. Direct military power includes measures of nuclear forces and conventional forces. The components of the latter are: total armed manpower; soldier quality; weapons effectiveness; military installations and logistics support; organizational quality; strategic reserve capability; and the extent of weapons acquisitions.

AMS Dynamic Equation

Huang views CNP to be a “large multilayered system composed of a number of interlinked subsystems and sub-subsystems.” This is the framework he uses to calculate CNP. It is important to note that CNP continually evolves as events and the environment change. To evaluate this, he uses a “motion equation” included in his analysis of the quantitative relationships. Huang uses different formulations to evaluate the CNP function (the growth and development process of CNP), the CNP Dynamic Equation, and the National Defense Power Sub-equation. He then proposes four different assessment and measurement methods to evaluate the CNP of China and other countries, usually the US, Japan, Australia, India, Russia, and major European powers. He also uses it to project future trends.


CDR (Sel) Robert J. Bebber USN is a Cryptologic Warfare Officer currently assigned to Information Warfare Training Command Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida. His previous assignments have included Carrier Strike Group 12, U.S. Cyber Command, U.S. 7th Fleet and Navy Information Operations Command Maryland. His writing has appeared in Proceedings, Parameters, Orbis, Comparative Strategy, and elsewhere. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Central Florida. He welcomes your comments at [email protected]


[1] An argument can be made that great power competition never left, and that U.S. policy makers ignored or did not seriously consider signs that China and Russia had undertaken asymmetric means to achieve strategic goals of challenging the post-Cold War liberal order.

[2] Sydney Freedberg, “Generals Worry US May Lose in Start of Next War: Is Multi-Domain the Answer?,” Breaking Defense (blog), May 14, 2018,

[3] Cheryl Pellerin, “Hagel Announces New Defense Innovation, Reform Efforts,” DOD News (blog), November 15, 2014,

[4] Simon Tisdall, “Barack Obama’s ‘Asia Pivot’ Failed. China Is in the Ascendancy,” The Guardian (blog), September 25, 2016,

[5] Peter Navarro, “America’s Industrial Base Is at Risk,” The New York Times (blog), October 4, 2018,

[6] National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, “Inspired to Serve” (Washington, D.C., March 2020),

[7] Christopher Dougherty, “Why America Needs a New Way of War” (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, June 2019),

[8] Samantha Ravich, “Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge” (Washington, D.C.: Hudson Institute, August 2015),

[9] James Giordano, Joseph DeFranco, and L. R. Bremseth, “Radical Leveling and Emerging Technologies as Tools of Non-Kinetic Mass Disruption,” Invited Perspective Series (Washington, D.C.: Strategic Multilayer Assessment Future of Global Competition & Conflict Effort, February 3, 2019).

[10] Robert Haddick, “Competitive Mobilization: How Would We Fare Against China?,” War on the Rocks (blog), March 15, 2016,

[11] David Lonsdale, The Nature of War in the Information Age: Clausewitzian Future (London: Frank Cass, 2004).

[12] Mark Cancian, “Long Wars and Industrial Mobilization: It Won’t Be World War II Again,” August 8, 2017,

[13] Jerry Hendrix, “Managing America’s Defense Industries in a World of Great Power Competition,” The National Interest (blog), October 5, 2019,

[14] Bill Gertz, “Pentagon: Military Logistics System Not Ready for War with China or Russia,” The Washington Free Beacon (blog), January 9, 2019,

[15] Defense Science Board, “Task Force on Survivable Logistics” (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, November 2018).

[16] Phillip Lohaus, “A New Blueprint for Competing Below the Threshold: The Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning,” War on the Rocks (blog), May 23, 2018,

[17] Aaron Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 3–8.

[18] Friedberg, 64–65.

[19] Richard Rosecrance and Arthur Stein, eds., The Domestic Bases of Grand Strategy (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1993), 5.

[20] Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State, 64–65.

[21] Harold Clem, Mobilization Preparedness (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1983), 3.

[22] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 4-05: Joint Mobilization Planning (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 2018),

[23] This categorization was provided to me by Dr. Sorin Lungu, Joint Staff J7, in a personal conversation on January 14, 2020.

[24] Lungu 2020

[25] Lungu 2020

[26] Lungu 2020

[27] Clem, Mobilization Preparedness, 1–2.

[28] Clem, 3.

[29] Clem, 5.

[30] Arthur Herman, Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II (New York: Random House, 2013), 154.

[31] Clem, Mobilization Preparedness, 6.

[32] Paul A.C. Koistinen, State of War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1945-2011 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012), 2.

[33] Koistinen, 4.

[34] Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 30.

[35] Horowitz, 31.

[36] Horowitz, 31.

[37] Horowitz, 34.

[38] Horowitz, 36.

[39] Emily O. Goldman and Leslie C. Eliason, “Introduction,” in The Diffusion of Military Technology and Ideas (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

[40] Clem, Mobilization Preparedness, 129.

[41] Lawrence J. Korb, “A New Look at U.S. Defense Industrial Preparedness,” in Industrial Capacity and Defense Planning, ed. Lee D. Olvey, Henry A. Leonard, and Bruce E. Arlinghaus (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1983), 30.

[42] Korb, 31.

[43] Michael E. Porter, “The Competitive Advantage of Nations,” Harvard Business Review March-April (1990): 73–91.

[44] Porter, 87.

[45] Lungu 2020

[46] Herman, Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, 265.

[47] Koistinen, State of War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1945-2011, 2.

[48] David S. Alberts, John J. Garstka, and Frederick P. Stein, Network Centric Warfare: Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 1999),

[49] Robert R Tomes, US Defense Strategy from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom: Military Innovation and The New American Way of War, 1973–2003 (London: Rutledge, 2007), 60.

[50] Pew Research Center, “Public Trust in Government: 1958-2019,” Pew Research Center (blog), April 11, 2019,

[51] Seymour Martin Lipset and William Schneider, “The Decline of Confidence in American Institutions,” Political Science Quarterly 98, no. 3 (1983): 379–402,

[52] Norman R. Augustine, “Forward,” in Industrial Capacity and Defense Planning, ed. Lee D. Olvey, Henry A. Leonard, and Bruce E. Arlinghaus (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1983), xi–xv.

[53] Clem, Mobilization Preparedness, 13.

[54] Clem, 21.

[55] Augustine, “Forward,” xii.

[56] Callaghan uses disarmament to denote “the vortex in which the United States and its allies find themselves caught – spending more and more money in producing fewer and fewer weapons, and achieving even less readiness and sustainability.” Structural is used because only by changing the “structure” whereby common defense is provided for can this be addressed.

[57] Thomas A. Callaghan, Jr., “The Structural Disarmament of the West: Our Most Critical Defense Industrial Challenge,” in Industrial Capacity and Defense Planning, ed. Lee D. Olvey, Henry A. Leonard, and Bruce E. Arlinghaus (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1983), 3–22.

[58] James R. Golden, “NATO Industrial Preparedness,” in Industrial Capacity and Defense Planning, ed. Lee D. Olvey, Henry A. Leonard, and Bruce E. Arlinghaus (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1983).

[59] In fact, throughout the Cold War, many opined openly or tacitly that it would be hopeless to reinforce Western forces in Europe in the event of Soviet attack. Instead, they would argue that such forces represented a “tripwire” for the employment of American nuclear responses. (Thomas M. Kane, Military Logistics and Strategic Performance (London: Routledge, 2001).

[60] Callaghan, Jr., “The Structural Disarmament of the West: Our Most Critical Defense Industrial Challenge.”

[61] Korb, “A New Look at U.S. Defense Industrial Preparedness,” 25–31.

[62] Korb, 30.

[63] Tom Bowman, “Reagan Guided Huge Buildup in Arms Race,” The Baltimore Sun (blog), June 8, 2004,

[64] Kane, Military Logistics and Strategic Performance, 124–44.

[65] Thomas G. Mahnken, “The Reagan Administration’s Strategy Toward the Soviet Union,” in Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[66] Kane, Military Logistics and Strategic Performance, 128.

[67] GAO, “Desert Shield and Desert Storm Reports and Testimonies: 1991-1993” (Washington, D.C.: Government Accounting Office, March 1994),

[68] The most famous example is the “$600 hammer” which came to symbolize how industry would absurdly overprice pieces of hardware. In fact, there never was a $600 hammer as it was merely “an accounting artifact” according to Steven Kelman of Harvard University. The infamous hammer was part of a large bulk purchase of spare parts which the contractors allocated their engineering expenses toward. This had no effect on the overall bulk price. So the $15 dollar hammer picked up the same overhead cost – $420 – as all of the other highly technical components such as engines– to bring the total cost to $435. This would later be exaggerated in reporting as $600. Yet the myth of the $600 hammer persists to this day. See:

[69] Air Force Association and USNI Military Database, “Lifeline in Danger. An Assessment of the United States Defense Industrial Base” (Arlington: The Aerospace Education Foundation, September 1988).

[70] I am indebted to Mr. Harold Q. Lucie of FEMA who is the source material for most of the policy and law section of this report. For a more thorough discussion of FEMA’s role in mobilization and preparedness, please see Quinton Lucie, “How FEMA Could Lose America’s Next Great War,” Homeland Security Affairs 15, no. 1 (May 2019): 2–27.

[71] Lucie.

[72] Clem, Mobilization Preparedness, 17.

[73] Robert Bebber, Interview: Mary C. Ott, National Governors Association, January 15, 2020.

[74] Larry M. Hall, “Resource Allocation for Complex Catastrophes Requiring Multi-State Operational Prioritization” (Unpublished, 2019).

[75]Thomas G. Mahnken, “Forging the Tools of the 21st Century Great Power Competition” (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analsysis, March 16, 2020),”

[76] Mahnken, 36.

[77] Mahnken, 36.

[78] Alyza Sebenius and Todd Shields, “Wireless Providers Serving Rural America Have a Huawei Problem,” Bloomberg Businessweek (blog), April 22, 2020,

[79] Douglas Himes, “Men’s Declining Labor Force Participation,” Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (blog), May 2018,

[80] American Economic Association, “Blue-Collar Blues,” Chart of the Week (blog), October 23, 2019,

[81]Katherine Schaeffer, “6 Facts About Income Inequality in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center (blog), February 7, 2020,

[82] Adriana Belmonte, “How China Flooded the U.S. with Lethal Fentanyl, Fueling the Opioid Crisis,” Yahoo Finance (blog), February 15, 2020,

[83] NIDA, “Marijuana Drug Facts,” National Institute on Drug Abuse (blog), June 6, 2020,

[84] Jena Hilliard, “Social Media Addiction,” Addiction Center (blog), April 29, 2020,

[85]Mayo Clinic Staff, “Teens and Social Media Use: What’s the Impact?,” Mayo Clinic (blog), December 21, 2019,,much%20social%20media%20teens%20use..

[86] Best Colleges, “The Top Mental Health Challenges Facing Students,” Best Colleges (blog), 2020,

[87] PGPF, “Key Drivers of the Debt,” Peter G. Peterson Foundation (blog), 2020,

[88] David Ignatius, “The We Have Military Primacy over China? Think Again.,” The Washington Post (blog), May 12, 2020,

[89] Sorin Lungu, “Competitive Mindset: Two Problem Frames in Support of Thinking about Competition, Postures and Space,” September 19, 2019.

[90] Robert Bebber, Interview: Wesley P. Hallman & Christopher Smith, National Defense Industry Association, January 15, 2020.

[91] Nielsen, Christine. “The global chess game… or is it go? Market‐entry strategies for emerging markets.” Thunderbird International Business Review 47.4 (2005): 397-427.

[92] James Giordano, “The Brain Is the Battlefield of the Future” (Lecture, United States Military Academy, October 29, 2019),

[93] Giordano.

[94] Elsa Kania, “Minds at War: China’s Pursuit of Military Advantage through Cognitive Science and Biotechnology,” PRISM 8, no. 3 (2020),

[95] Snow, Jen “Radical Leveling Technologies: What They Are, Why They Matter, and the Challenges to Come” Seminar Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, April 25, 2016

[96] Peter A. Wilson. “Concepts of National Mobilization circa 2036: Implications of Emerging Dual-Purpose and Military Technologies” prepared in support of the “Mobilization in 2030+” tabletop exercise played by the Long-Term Strategy program, (NDU Eisenhower School) March 30, 2016.

[97] James Giordano, Joseph DeFranco & L.R. Bremseth “Radical Leveling and Emerging Technologies as Tools of Non-Kinetic Mass Disruption” Invited Perspective Series: Strategic Multilayer Assessment Future of Global Competition & Conflict Effort, February 3, 2019.

[98] Markov, Marko S. ““Biological windows”: a tribute to W. Ross Adey.” Environmentalist 25.2-4 (2005): 67-74.

[99] Ranzato, M.A., Boureau, Y.L., Chopra, S. and LeCun, Y., March. A unified energy-based framework for unsupervised learning. In Artificial Intelligence and Statistics. 2007. (pp. 371-379).

[100] Adey, W.R., Brain interactions with RF/microwave fields generated by mobile phones. International Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. Third Edition. New York: Elsevier. 2003.

[101] Rhemann, Maureen. Exploring Asymmetry to Detect Disruption 2018.  Journal of Futures Studies 23( 2), pp.85-99.

[102] Rhemann, Maureen. “Disrupted. Space 2030”; Reperi Analysis Center (RAC). December, 2019.

[103] USCC Research Staff, “The National Security Implications of Investments and Products from the People’s Republic of China in the Telecommunications Sector” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission, January 2011).

[104] Valentin Weber, “Examining the Expanding Web of Chinese and Russian Information Controls,” Open Technology Fund (blog), September 17, 2019,

[105] Robert J. Bebber, “Treating Information as a Strategic Resource to Win the ‘Information War,’” Orbis Summer (2017): 394–403.

[106] Cynthia M. Grabo, Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning (Lanham: University Press of America, 2004), 4.

[107] Grabo, 8–10.

[108] Maureen Rhemann, “Intelligence Analysis in a Post-Heuer World: Why We Don’t Recognize New Forms of Warfare and 6 Intelligence Take-Aways From Neuroscience” (Reperi Analysis Center, 2020).

[109] Celeste Chen, Jacob Andriola, and James Giordano, “Biotechnology, Commercial Veiling, and Implications for Strategic Latency: The Exemplar of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Research and Development in China,” in Strategic Latency: Red, White, and Blue, ed. Zachary S. Davis and Michael Nacht (Livermore: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 2018).

[110] Richards J. Heuer, “Limits of Intelligence Analysis,” Orbis Winter (2005): 76–77.

[111] Banks Around the World, “Top Asset Management Firms,” 2017,

[112] Techno-Financial Intelligence was pioneered by the Reperi Analysis Center (RAC) in 1999 to detect future disruption blending leading data sets to detect asymmetric pre-cursors and perfected with advanced algorithms in 2020. It assumes behavior is telegraphed and users 7-S/ADP and other processes.

[113] Maureen Rhemann, “What We’ve Learned from 20 Years of Techno-Financial Intelligence” (Reperi Analysis Center, 2020).

[114] James Giordano and Rachel Wurzman, “Integrative Computational and Neurocognitive Science and Technology for Intelligence Operations: Horizons of Potential Viability, Value and Opportunity,” STEPS 4 (2016): 32–37.

[115] For a brief overview of how China approaches this challenge, see the Appendix on Comprehensive National Power.

[116] Bruce Berkowitz, Strategic Advantage: Challengers, Competitors, and Threats to America’s Future (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2008).

[117] Berkowitz, 231–32.

[118] Herman, Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II.

[119] Ohio National Guard, “Ohio Cyber Reserve,” The Ohio Adjutant General’s Department (blog), 2019,

[120] Robert Bebber, Interview: Dr. Peter W. Singer, January 16, 2020.

[121] Dan Goure, “Non-Traditional Defense Companies Can Provide the Military With Unique Capabilities,” Real Clear Defense (blog), March 28, 2020,

[122] Industry Insights, “From DIY Drones to the New Frontiers of Drone Design With 3D Printing,” FormLabs (blog), May 4, 2020,

[123] NATO, “Partnership Interoperability Initiative,” June 12, 2020,

[124] William S. Smith, “Jeane J. Kirkpatrick: 30 Years Unheeded,” The National Interest (blog), June 13, 2020,

[125] Kim Parker, Nikki Graf, and Ruth Igielnik, “Generation Z Looks a Lot Like Millennials on Key Socal and Political Issues,” Pew Research Center (blog), January 17, 2019,

[126] Brandon Helm and Dina Smeltz, “OK, Boomer: Youth Hesitant to Use Force, Shun US Exceptionalism in Foreign Policy,” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs (blog), February 4, 2020,

[127] Pew Research Center, “Climate Change and Russia Are Partisan Flashpoints in Public’s Views of Global Threats,” Pew Research Center (blog), July 30, 2019,

[128] Devlin, Silver, and Huang, “U.S. Views of China Increasingly Negative Amid Coronavirus Outbreak.”

[129] Tanner Greer, “You Do Not Have The People,” The Scholar Sage (blog), March 3, 2018,

[130] Pillsbury, China Debates the Future Security Environment. (2000)

[131] China’s Comprehensive National Power and Its Implications for the Rise of China: Reassessment and Challenges. Paper presented at the CEEISA-ISA 2016 Joint International Conference during 23-25 June 2016 at Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia.