Released 8 April 2022.
In this podcast, strategist David Katz argues American military strategists must incorporate multidimensional power projection into their planning processes to counter adversarial actions by gray-zone actors. By developing a more complete concept of power projection, the United States can apply its resources more effectively
Click here to read the article.
Episode Transcript: Multidimensionality: Rethinking Power Projection for the 21st Century
Stephanie Crider (Host)
Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs.
The guests in speaking order on this episode are:
(Guest 1 David Katz)
Decisive Point welcomes David Katz, author of “MultiDimensionality: Rethinking Power Projection for the 21st Century,” featured in Parameters’ Winter 2018–2019 issue. Katz works as a senior analyst at US Special Operations Command, J35 Transnational Threats Division, Counterthreat Finance. A West Point graduate, he served in the US Army as an infantry officer and Green Beret captain. He also worked as an institutional investor and advisor before founding his own firm that provided advanced analytics on more than $3 billion dollars of clients’ private equity investments.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, the US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.
Your 2018 Parameters article argues that American military strategists must incorporate multidimensional power projection into their planning processes to counter adversarial actions by gray-zone actors. Let’s start there. Please briefly walk us through the basic concept of your article.
Well, when you stand on the shoulders of giants—in this case, two senior (People’s Liberation Army Air Force or) PLA Air Force political officers who wrote Unrestricted Warfare: (Two Air Force Senior Colonels on Scenarios for War and the Operational Art in an Era of Globalization), I think we should start with that, which was published in 1999.
I think it opened up an entire, new range of military operations. In this case, it was unrestricted—hence the title, Unrestricted Warfare. So that’s where I start from in order to develop multidimensionality. I think that as a critique, the US strategy community has tended to gravitate from unrestricted warfare into what they call “informationalized warfare,” where it’s really the principal child, as they see it, of unrestricted warfare.
But philosophically, I think there’s a profound question to consider. And that is, “What is warfare if it’s unrestricted?” What isn’t warfare? In fact, let me restate that. If warfare is unrestricted, as the PLA Air Force political officers, Colonel Qiao Liang (pronounced “Crow”) and Colonel Wang (Wang Xiangsui) wrote in 1999, if warfare is unrestricted, what isn’t warfare? We need to consider that, which led me down a path to multidimensionality.
Now, two questions I typically get are: “What’s the difference between multidimensionality and multiple-domain operations, or MDO?” And, “What’s the difference between multidimensionality and concepts like (diplomatic, information, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement or) DIMEFIL?” And we’ll get there. But I think let’s just go down sort of the nuts and bolts of multidimensionality.
Multidimensionality is really just a strategic framework where we, as US strategists, consider every available dimension of power projection or engagement, and we pick those from that available universe where we possess a usable advantage, whether it’s strategic or tactical, whether it’s persistent or transitory.
For example, a single instance of power projection can range from a scaled, macro power projection, like multiple nuclear strikes, to the most micro and granular, which could be a single instance of a single person conducting a single credit card transaction or making a single phone call. That counts as power projection as well.
So, the instance of power projection that we’re looking at, through the dimension we select, may be bilateral, that source to target, which is the way we typically consider power projection. But it can also be indirect, or perhaps even intermediated: intermediated projection, like his power projection traversing through a network with multiple intermediate entities.
So, the bottom line is that we must expand our concept of power projection and campaign planning to both encompass all of the operational advantages that we possess and to integrate them coherently and comprehensively into the actions that we take. So that’s kind of the nuts and bolts of multidimensionality.
The next question I typically get is, “How do you do it? What are the mechanics of multidimensionality?” Well, so the obvious question is: “Why do we even have mechanics in multidimensionality?” And so, the question then becomes when warfare is unrestricted.
In the 19th century, definitions become unmoored. Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security—we need a precise means to describe what we intend to do and how we intend to do it.
Let’s get down to the brass tacks. Power is something that you apply to a target in order to bring about a desired change in its state. Power is described, I think, by its behavior against the target, and it could be grouped into classes. In other words, class defines the behavior of power against the target state. For instance, “kinetic” is a class of behavior with multiple subclasses that can range from lobbing artillery rounds to tackling somebody.
So power has a behavior. That behavior is classified. And power must come from someplace, so, consequently, it must have a source, and it must deliver something that acts against the target. So, you have a payload. Power projection is really the process of delivering an instance or instances of power within a single dimension. And the means of delivery, the path of delivery, is called a vector. So, at its bottom, the mechanics of multidimensionality is projecting power is really described through four essential elements: the class or behavior; the source where it comes from; the payload that it delivers; and the vector or path that it utilizes to deliver that payload, from where it came from to where it’s going. And that, in a nutshell, are the mechanics of multidimensionality.
So, your piece addresses multidimensionality in the South China Sea and in the Middle East. Let’s apply it to Russia in the Ukraine.
That is a great question. One of the things we should consider regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is to nonkinetically extend the tactical, kinetic Ukrainian battlespace into strategic areas where we hold structural advantages. We have structural advantages in strategic maneuver. We have a blue-water navy, we have a blue-water coast guard. We have a permanent presence along Russia’s perimeter. We also have structural advantages in the political economy. As the world’s largest developed economy, we exert a geo-economic gravity that skews the world political economies into our orbit. We are the largest and most lucrative market for anyone to sell into. The US shepherds the global maritime commons, which is a globally scaled, integrated system of shipborne freight distribution, economic trade, and financial risk management whose physical passage is guaranteed under US stewardship.
But the US shepherds other systems of international diplomacy and commerce and law that arose from the wreckage World War II that have facilitated worldwide economic growth. In short, the USA currently is the world sysadmin or systems administrator.
Now the interesting thing about systems is that, once created, they tend towards stability as a means of preserving the benefits that they deliver to their participants or constituents. And they can react against changes that pose a risk to their purpose in their transformative processes, just like an immune system reacts to a viral infection.
So, consequently, the US, I believe, can harness systems of international commerce, diplomacy, and law and their tendency to maintain a present state for our advantage. So, specifically: How about a nonkinetic, maritime exclusion zone exercise in the Bering Straits (Bering Strait) as an example? It would integrate law enforcement through the Coast Guard with United States and Canadian special operation forces, perhaps, and perhaps US Navy assets. It would demonstrate capability, capacity, and strategic depth by extending the Ukrainian battlespace thousands of miles and beyond Russia’s capability and capacity to respond quickly. It would demonstrate localized US escalatory dominance.
But most importantly, nonkinetically, it threatens core Russian and Chinese economic interests because it threatens the Northern Sea Route. For folks that are not familiar with the Northern Sea Route, it goes from Murmansk all the way over into the Arctic Oceans (Arctic Ocean), down the Bering Straits (Bering Strait), and goes from there to Dalian and Shanghai and all of the factories on China’s coast. So by threatening the North Sea route (Northern Sea Route), just demonstrating the capability to conduct a chokepoint operation in the Bering Straits (Bering Strait), we could force Russia to use alternative routes like a land route and the use of the Suez Canal, which could add 10 or more days to transit to whatever it is they want to move to market. This threatens Russia’s commercialization of its vast mineral and oil wealth in its far north. It threatens Russian and Chinese energy and commodity trading shipping routes. To right now, Russia wants to develop the billions of dollars of mineral wealth stuck in their Murmansk peninsula (Kola Peninsula) and sell it and ship it to Chinese factories on the Chinese eastern seaboard. And in order for that to happen, it has to transit the Bering Straits (Bering Strait). So that’s a quick and dirty example of how you would use multidimensionality to extend a battlespace and to force your adversaries to respond in dimensions where they are not expecting it.
Here’s a quote from your conclusion in 2018: “In an era of coercive gradualism, nuclear provocation, and gray zone competition that purposefully occupies the space between war and peace, dimensionality might offer a better, more innovative, and imaginative way to respond to some of the world’s worst actors, while reducing risk and promoting peace.” Final thoughts?
The rule in warfare is to never telegraph your moves. Never come where your enemy or adversary is expecting you. By expanding the dimensions through which we project power, we can come at our adversaries in ways and with means that they are not expecting at all. So when you face the salami slicing that China is doing in the South China Sea, they set it up specifically so that if you engage them, and it did mention that they want you to engage them, which is physical kinetic action, they already have an escalatory dominance against whatever you can do. It’s a lose-lose proposition for the United States. But we can bypass all of China’s missiles and fleets and submarines by phoning in a purchase order to the headwaters of a supply chain inside China. Buying out an entire production cycle worth of a critical component. Warehousing it. The next company on that supply chain would have to scramble for parts at higher prices and a latency that would cascade down that supply chain, growing like a snowball going downhill into an avalanche. And then you wait for the next production cycle and dump those same critical components into the supply chain at below cost. So you’re creating a bullwhip effect where everyone on the supply chain doesn’t know what price it is, they don’t know what the supply is, and they don’t know what the duration of what they’re doing. Eventually, that supply chain falls apart. You can do that all nonkinetically. And that’s just a one-dimensional approach that could augment the 7th Fleet going into the South China Sea or could be done to the exception of the 7th Fleet driving their boats around the South China Sea. So, we need to be a lot more inventive on what we’re doing. And as both a strategist, a campaign designer, and an operator, I get to practice some of these tools and techniques. So, it’s like Yogi Berra’s old quote that in theory, theory works in practice, and practice, not so much. I get to do both. So I may have an unfair advantage against other strategists and can campaign designers on it. But we cannot fight a twenty-first-century war with nineteenth-century definitions. We need to expand what we consider to be warfare. The Chinese brought it up first. It’s unrestricted. We need to play in that ball game.
Thank you, David, for sharing your insight on this topic.