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Competing with Great Powers Through Competitive Strategy and Unconventional Warfare


As US attention shifts from counterterrorism to great power competition (GPC), the US government (USG) can no longer afford to substitute material resources for sound strategy. The USG cannot hope to outspend these state competitors by orders of magnitude. Instead, the USG must reembrace competitive strategy, which seeks to impose asymmetric costs on competitors. This approach proved successful during the Cold War, and can work in today’s more complex, multipolar operating environment. To this end, unconventional warfare (UW) offers a particularly promising approach as the relative cost to the USG versus the targets of UW activities is exceptionally low. That said, effectively employing UW in the current era of GPC requires refining the US conception of UW and developing a suitable UW operating concept. Moreover, UW is not without its risks. Indeed, there is the potential for severe, negative externalities when employing UW. This article therefore explores the potential for employing UW during GPC, with particular emphasis devoted to redefining UW for the current era, elaborating key considerations for developing a UW for GPC operating concept, and exploring both short- and long-term risks, as well as risk mitigation strategies.

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Full Citation:

Koven, Barnett S. 2021. "Competing with Great Powers Through Competitive Strategy and Unconventional Warfare." Special Operations Journal 7 (April): 68-86. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23296151.2021.1905227

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