Military Strategy in the 21st Century: People, Connectivity, and Competition

  • Published

Military Strategy in the 21st Century: People, Connectivity, and Competition by Charles Cleveland, Benjamin Jensen, Susan Bryant, and Arnel David. Cambria Press, 2018, 238 pp. 

Military Strategy in the 21st Century: People, Connectivity, and Competition advocates a strategy focusing on the development of the human domain and information warfare in relation to national and theater-level policy making. The text draws upon retired Army lieutenant general Charles Cleveland’s distinguished Special Forces career and the careers of Benjamin Jenson, Susan Bryant, and Arnel David, all of whom are active or retired US Army officers with strategic planning backgrounds.

The central thesis for the book “outlines a new approach to thinking about military art rooted in increasing connectivity and defines a new domain of competition, the human domain” (p. 4). Like similar strategy texts, this book looks at the evolving character of war and competition in the new century while accepting that the nature of war remains the same. The book is admittedly biased toward ground operations but is well researched, drawing from lessons learned documents from the US’s recent conflicts across the Middle East. The authors bring forward some salient points about conflicts that have evolved greatly, but which the US is still fighting.

In the chapter “Rusting Sword,” the authors explore the decline of decisive conflict in the post–Cold War area. Drawing from empirical data, they argue that armed conflict has progressed more to nonvictory and less to decisive outcomes than previous epochs. From the rise of the dispersion of information (away from the state to the broader populace) to the growth of intrastate conflict, there has been investment in blood and treasure with a limited return, resulting in a shift that “highlights both misalignment of strategic objectives and military objectives and a new character of war” (p. 89).

The chapter on information warfare is especially insightful. It starts with a concise history of US information warfare efforts following World War II and into the Cold War. The authors outline the shift in thinking away from human-based information warfare toward the network warfare concepts that developed in the 1990s. Additionally, the chapter pays heed to the United States’ twenty-first-century peer competitors, China and Russia—both their thinking and approach to the subject.

The authors continue with further discussions on the human domain and the global security network. Topics range from the United States’ penchant for attrition-based strategies post–Civil War to networks and strategy. This is a wide-ranging discussion that would benefit from further in-depth analysis and details to further tease out key points to the importance of humans to human conflict.

While this reviewer does not see the “human domain” rise to the level of the conventionally accepted domains of land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, this book most certainly drives home the point that conflict is about the humans in competition, not just the weapons used to fight. For those planning and strategizing for the burgeoning great power competition, Military Strategy in the 21st Century would be a worthy read to ensure that hard-fought lessons learned since World War II are not forgotten for the future. 

Lt Col Benjamin L. Carroll, USAF



"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."