Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition – Class 1

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This article first appeared in West Point’s Modern War Institute.

We just had our first week of our new national security class at Stanford – Technology, Innovation and Great Power CompetitionJoe FelterRaj Shah and I designed the class to cover how technology will shape all the elements of national power (our influence and footprint on the world stage).

National power is the combination of a country’s diplomacy (soft power and alliances), information/intelligence and its military and economic strength. The instruments of national power brought to bear in this “whole of government approach” were long known by the acronym DIME (Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic) and in recent years have expanded to include “FIL”- finance, intelligence and law enforcement-or DIME-FIL.

Last year, the class focused exclusively on the impact of new technology on the military. Given the broadened scope this year, we’ve tweaked the course content and title to Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition to better reflect the “whole of government” approach necessary for long-term strategic competition.

The course is cross listed with Stanford’s Masters in International Policy program and the Management Science and Engineering department. The students joining this fight come from a diverse range of disciplines at Stanford including computer science, political science, business, law, public policy, economics, and engineering. If the past is a prologue, they’ll go off to senior roles in defense, foreign policy and to the companies building new disruptive technologies. Our goals are to help them understand the complexity and urgency of the issues, offer them a model to understand the obstacles and path forward, and to inspire them to help lead how the U.S. leverages all instruments of national power to meet 21st century challenges.

In this year’s class, we want to:

Help our students understand how each component of our national security and instruments of national power are now inexorably intertwined with commercial technology. We will explore the complexity and urgency of the impact of the 21st century onslaught of commercial technologies (AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, commercial access to space, et al.) in all parts of the government — from State to the Department of Defense to Treasury and many more.
Give them hands-on experience on how to deeply understand a problem at the intersection of DIME-FIL and dual-use technology. First by developing hypotheses about the problem; next by getting out of the classroom and talking to relevant stakeholders across government, industry, and academia to validate their assumptions; and finally taking what they learned to propose and prototype solutions to these problems.

Class 1 – Required Readings

Overview of Great Power Competition

Thomas F. Lynch III & Frank Hoffman, “Chapter 2 | Past Eras of Great Power Competition: Historical Insights and ImplicationsDepartment of Defense: Strategic Assessment 2020.
Stephen Kotkin, “Realist World: The Players Change, but the Game RemainsForeign Affairs, 2018
Nadia Schadlow, “The End of American Illusion. Trump and the World as It Is.” Foreign Affairs Sept/Oct 2020
Elbridge A. Colby and A. Wess Mitchell, “The Age of Great-Power Competition: How the Trump Administration Refashioned American Strategy,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2020
Great Power Competition Timeline MITRE, 2020
Should U.S. Foreign Policy Focus on Great-Power Competition? Foreign Affairs Asks the ExpertsForeign Affairs, Oct. 13, 2020
Michael J. Mazarr, “This Is Not a Great-Power Competition: Why the Term Doesn’t Capture Today’s Reality
Emma Ashford, “Great Power Competition is a Recipe for DisasterForeign Policy, April 2021.
Matthew Kroenig, The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the U.S. and China

U.S. National Security Strategy

Steven Heffington et al., A National Security Strategy Primer, U.S. National Defense University, 2019
National Security Strategy of the United States of America, Introduction p. 1-4: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf
Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States: https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf
Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Strategy”, Joint Doctrine Note 1-18
“Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” The White House, March 3, 2021.

Class 1 Discussion Questions

Is great power competition an accurate way to describe the U.S. relationship with China? With Russia? Is doing so productive for U.S. interests? Why or why not?
What are the risks of casting the US relationship with China and/or Russia as a whole-of-government competition? What are the risks of not viewing these relations as competitive?

Class 1 – Guest Speaker

Our speaker for our first class was former Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis who gave an inspiring talk about strategy, the Department of Defense’s pivot to great power competition that he led during his tenure as Secretary, and the importance and rewards of service to the nation. General Mattis joined the Marine Corps in 1969, and he has led Marines and then later joint forces at every level from platoon commander as a Lieutenant all the way up to combatant commander of US Central Command as a four-star general. He recently led our entire US Defense Department as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense. We’re fortunate to now have him back here at Stanford at the Hoover Institution.

Lecture 1 –

If you can’t see the slides click here.

After introducing the teaching team and class logistics (slides 1-13) we briefly overviewed the quarter (slide 17)

We set up the class with a discussion of the return of great power competition. This isn’t an issue of which nation comes in first, it’s about what the world-order will look like for the rest of the century and beyond. Will it be a rules-based order where states cooperate to pursue a shared vision for a free and open region and where the sovereignty of all countries large and small is protected under international law? Or will an alternative vision for an autocratic and dystopian future be coerced and imposed by revisionist powers set on disrupting the U.S. led international order – an order that has brought the world unprecedented peace and prosperity since the end of the Second World War? Slide 19.

And then we discussed the pivot in the U.S. National Security Strategy (which outlines the major national security concerns of the United States and how the U.S. plans to deal with them) and 2018 National Defense Strategy (which identifies the priorities and capabilities required by the warfighters to implement the National Security Strategy.)

These documents reoriented the U.S. from its focus on counter terrorism to great power competition with Russia and China (Slides 23-27). Slides 34-38 expanded on the three lines of effort in the National Defense Strategy: 1) Build a Lethal Force, 2) Strengthen Alliances and Build New Partnerships, 3) Reform the Defense Department. Slides 41-42 summarized the competing visions of the U.S. and China. The Biden Administration’s Interim National Security Guidance was introduced which emphasizes continuity in its assessment of the challenges posed by China and Russia and the anticipated enduring era of great power competition. (the White House is now referring to the approach toward China as “strategic competition” rather than Great Power Competition. (The White House is now referring to the approach toward China as “strategic competition” rather than Great Power Competition.)

Slides 45-55 introduced seven instruments of national power and the concept of DIME-FIL. We discussed that the national power of a country (its influence and footprint on the world stage) is more than just its military strength. It’s the combination of a country’s diplomacy (soft power and alliances,) information, and its military, economic, financial, intelligence and law enforcement strength. (This concept is known by its acronym, DIME-FIL.) We pointed out that in many of these areas we’re no longer the leader (the DoD has a polite euphemism for this – “we’re overmatched” – meaning second place.)

Slides 57 and 58 reminded the students that this class is not just about the reading and lectures. 50% of their grade is a group project at the intersection of DIME-FIL and dual-use technologies (AI/ML, quantum, semiconductors, access to space, cyber, biotech, et al.)

Next week – China, China, China

Lessons Learned

The U.S. is engaged in a Great Power Competition – and in many areas we’re not winning
Multiple components, not just military strength make up a nation’s power
Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence, Law
Acronym is DIME-FIL

Dual-use technology, that is technology that has both commercial and military use, has changed the calculus for national power
AI/ML, autonomy, quantum, semiconductors, access to space, cyber, biotech, et al
Advances in these technologies are no longer driven by government directives but by consumer demand.

Students will work on team national security projects, challenges at the intersection of DIME-FIL and dual-use technology
We’re educating the next generation of leaders who will not just discuss policy but will create solutions

Steve Blank

Teaching, Technology Innovation and Modern War and Great Power Competition

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