Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971


Capstone on Combined Effects Thinking

By: Dr. Thomas A. Drohan
Dean of the National Defense College 

This article completes the series on combined effects strategy. First, the foundation. My first two articles of 2018 related the legacy of Dr. John Ballard’s thought as National Defense College Dean in terms of four core competencies for the security strategist. In the next article, I emphasised the need to blend theory with practice to inspire action with vision, and to question assumptions, logic, and evidence. The fourth article also discussed fundamentals of out-thinking one’s competitors. This can be done through flexible strategies that re-arrange ends, ways and means rather than replicate them. 

On the basis of understanding strategy as a creative process, the fifth article explained how using confrontation and cooperation at the same time can create powerful effects. The effects may be causative and preventive, and psychological and physical. Such a holistic approach influences the enemy’s will and capability in ways that hierarchical organisations, and either cooperation or confrontation, do not. The next article described North Korean plans to win with superior combined effects, and attendant campaigns designed to set conditions to achieve those effects. Last month’s article detailed the language and logic of how to craft diplomatic, informational, military, economic and social (DIMES) lines of effect.

This article caps all of the preceding by highlighting an historically useful combined effect — inducing a dilemma. Let’s consider two of many Chinese examples. 

In the Spratly Islands during the 1980s, China used diplomatic and economic inducement, and military coercion, to impose a dilemma on Vietnam that strengthened China’s sovereignty over claimed territory. How? First, China used internationally contracted drilling companies to conduct surveys in Vietnam-claimed maritime territory. These operations induced Vietnam to conduct counter-surveys in the area. The dilemma for Vietnam was, watch China manipulate a proxy to occupy disputed territory, or confront peaceful maritime operations protected by Chinese naval forces. Vietnam chose to conduct counter-surveys as a way to avoid the extremes of either doing nothing or confronting directly. Vietnam’s decision effectively took China’s bait, which led to a military conflict in which Vietnamese forces were defeated. The combined effect was one of induced coercion, and it worked to China’s advantage.

Another Chinese example of inducing a dilemma is the ongoing strategy in which China persuades Taiwan to unify with China, while at the same time deters Taiwan from declaring independence. This persuasive–deterrent combination presents a dilemma for Taiwan because it polarises a key political issue in democratic Taiwan. That is whether to unify with, or declare independence from, China. Trust of China’s intent to preserve Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty is a central concern. China induces this domestic dilemma for Taiwan from time to time with demonstrations of force: missile firings in 1995-1996 that landed just north of Taiwan; routine military exercises that simulate invasions of Taiwan; and other live-fire exercises and military movements around Taiwan. The combined effect is one of induced persuasion and deterrence.

Combined effects strategy is about how to create superior combinations of effects. Enlightened leadership at multiple levels is needed to orchestrate the dynamic coordination of all relevant instruments of power. Best-practices education is key. At the National Defense College, a curriculum of continuous improvement is key to unleashing the human spirit of critical thinking and empowered decision-making required to prevail against such distributed threats, opportunities and challenges.

Add Comment

Your comment was successfully added!

Visitors Comments

No Comments

Related Topics

“Military Training and Education” Building Capacity for Modernization and Uncertainty

Read More

UAE’s indigenous defense industry climbs new heights

Read More

Implementing Strategy: Cross-cutting National Efforts

Read More

Message of H.E. Saif Mohamed Al Hajeri, Chief Executive Officer of Tawazun Economic Council & Tawazun Holding on the 45th National day anniversary

Read More

Strategic Issues: Geography and Power

Read More

Evolving Strategic Issues: The Knowledge Economy

Read More

2019-11-11 Current issue
Pervious issues


?What about new design for our website

  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
Voting Number 1647