Framing Competition and Deterrence in US Strategy

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Senior US academic and strategist Paul Bernstein presents his latest research on the United States' deterrence strategy.

Senior US defence leaders have in recent years increasingly referred to the return of great power competition and the need to adapt defence strategy to this increasingly salient feature of geopolitics, with the publication of 2018 National Defense Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review merely recent manifestations of a deeper and longer-term trend in the discourse. This articulation has sought to preserve the foundational role of deterrence and align it with other imperatives – such as to compete with or dominate adversaries or domains – outlined in core strategy documents and leadership statements, but little systematic thinking has been done to understand the relationships among these multiple imperatives and the practical implications that might follow.

At this roundtable discussion, US National Defense University Distinguished Research Fellow Paul Bernstein will present his latest research into this issue. He will address the conceptual relationship of competition and deterrence in past and present US strategy documents, drawing on past experience with the competitive strategies framework, and will consider three specific areas of great power competition to examine the use of competition and deterrence as organizing principles: nuclear, cyber, and political warfare.


Paul Bernstein is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University in Washington, DC, and a member of the university’s Research Faculty. He leads the Center’s practice in strategic security analysis, and is engaged in a range of policy support, research, and professional military education activities related to WMD, nuclear policy, deterrence, missile defense, threat reduction, and regional security. He works in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, combatant commands and defense agencies. Mr. Bernstein has been an adviser to the Defense Science Board and the DoD Threat Reduction Advisory Committee, and is a contributing author of the Department of Defense Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is a regular guest instructor in the CAPSTONE program, senior war colleges, and other professional military education venues, has developed multiple curricula for nuclear and WMD instruction, and serves on the Board of Advisors of the Deterrence and Assurance Academic Alliance. He is author most recently of “Exploring the Requirements of Integrated Strategic Deterrence,” “Countering Russia’s Strategy for Regional Coercion and War,” “Making Russia Think Twice About Nuclear Threats,” and “Deterrence in Professional Military Education.”

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