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Dr. James Holmes: The Naval Diplomat - 19FortyFive

Joint Concept for Competing: The Best Way for the Pentagon to ‘Compete’ with China?

U.S. Navy
BALTIC SEA (June 6, 2022) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) sails in formation in the Baltic Sea, June 6, 2022, during exercise BALTOPS22. BALTOPS 22 is the premier maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic Region. The exercise, led by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and executed by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen combined response capabilities critical to preserving freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea. (U.S. Navy photo) 220606-N-NO901-3008

The framework seems sound; now let’s see what substance the Pentagon and Biden administration hang on it. Last month the Joint Chiefs of Staff published a directive entitled Joint Concept for Competing, aimed at defining strategic competition and explaining how the U.S. armed forces will go about it. But because the concept’s framers define it as “adversary agnostic,” it’s hard to judge how commanders and their political masters will put it into effect at particular places and times.

Presumably a family of documents tailored to specific competitors and theaters will follow. One hopes so. By itself the Joint Concept for Competing is on the abstract and vague side. Strategy accomplishes little if ripped out of its geographic, political, and social context. And of course there’s the opponent. The opponent is not a potted plant. It is a living, thinking, impassioned competitor with its own interests, methods, and desire to win. Competition is a collision of living forces.

With those preliminaries aside, there is much goodness here. Strategic competition seems to be a curious beast. Competitors play for high stakes. Sometimes a competitor even hopes to bring about its opponent’s downfall, meaning it entertains what strategists call “unlimited” aims. For the most part, though, rivals seem to see averting hot war between them as the paramount goal. So they keep the competition beneath the threshold of armed conflict, consciously limiting the means they apply to a struggle for strategic advantage.

This is warlike strategy without the war.

Capping the means put into competing means settling for a drawn-out struggle. The Joint Concept for Competing explicitly avows that it will take fifteen to twenty years to shift the competitive balance with major antagonists. That’s doubly true in the case of the U.S.-China strategic competition. After all, America is playing from behind vis-à-vis Communist China. China resolved to make itself Asia’s dominant power back during the 1990s, when the United States was partially disarming following the Cold War and Americans were telling one another geopolitics was no more.

Beijing was a first mover in the competition; Washington is a late joiner. 

Admiral J. C. Wylie would nod knowingly. In his parlance there are no “sequential” campaigns in peacetime that rumble step by step toward decisive victory. Strategic competition is what Wylie calls a “cumulative” mode of international interaction. It’s a scattershot mode of competition in which adversaries constantly take individual actions that may not be connected in time or space, in hopes of amassing a competitive advantage. Small gains add up. Competitors strive to make themselves strong at home and rally others to their cause, all while enfeebling their rival and loosening its alliances.

Cumulative undertakings are characteristically long, they seldom yield decisive or clear-cut results, and thus they’re often frustrating. In a sense strategic competition is virtual war. The contestant that convinces its opponent and third parties it would prevail should open war break out “wins” in peacetime competition. After all, people love a winner. But since there are no battles or engagements in peacetime, it’s possible for a perceived loser to change its fortunes for the better, over time, in the war for perceptions.

The Joint Concept for Competing is worth your time, but it leaves one huge question open and underwhelms in some respects. The open question is this: the concept’s drafters repeatedly—almost incessantly—remind readers that the Pentagon will usually be the “supporting” rather than the “supported” agency in U.S. strategic competition. That means the armed forces will be an enabler rather than the main policy implement for Washington.

That being the case, one wonders whether there’s a parallel effort underway within the administration—say, at the White House’s National Security Council (NSC)—to compile a parent, whole-of-government concept for competing. During the early Cold War the council formulated such a concept to govern competitive efforts against the Soviet Union and its allies. Is there an an NSC-68 in the making for competition with China, Russia, and other denizens of the hive of scum and villainy? If not, it’s unclear who will be orchestrating the use of the policy implements available to the administration.

One underwhelming aspect of the concept could prove critical. The directive vows to “expand the competitive mindset,” and that is essential. But as it turns out, the regards expanding the competitive mindset as “strategic assessment of the competitive environment.” In other words, it means fathoming the setting where the competition will play out. Broadening our perspective on the competitive space is necessary but insufficient.

Strategic assessment sounds rather sterile and bureaucratic. Officialdom needs to go beyond it and instill a competitive culture in the armed services. Everything lies downstream of culture. Get that right and the rest will follow. Every soldier, sailor, aviator, and marine is an implement of U.S. foreign policy, especially in a cumulative endeavor like strategic competition. Service folk need to grok that reality. Once they embrace the new normal an enterprising culture will take hold, and efforts to achieve competitive advantage will prosper.

Expanding the competitive mindset, then, is about more than knowledge. It’s about drive and determination, and thus about attitude. Carl von Clausewitz proclaims that an excellent military leader is possessed of an “inward eye” able to peer through the fog of human competition and discern what to do, and the “inward fire” to inspire others to see a martial undertaking through to its conclusion under often-frightful circumstances.

Yep. Let’s get our game face on.

A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and a Nonresident Fellow at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation & Future Warfare, Marine Corps University. The views voiced here are his alone.

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”



  1. Commentar

    March 19, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    DoD ‘competing’ for offense.

    China ‘competing’ for defense.

    The difference is like between night and day.

    DoD has its military right on china’s doorstep and today, washington is determined to make taiwan another US client state or (more accurately) unsinkable aircraft carrier like what japan & south korea have become now.

    Naturally, that has riled beijing, as America’s commodore perry once had proposed to annex taiwan as american possession during his second trip to japan in the 1850s at a time when china was heavily under siege by the east india company and royal navy.

    Thus DoD’s planning for war (in 2025 ? ? ?) to realize perry’s 1850s dream and to grab taiwan under its wing.

    How. By using the Navy’s super duper Ford aircraft carriers plus f-35 stealth jets and virginia subs backed by newly introduced hypersonic rockets. Could well happen in 2025 or a bit later.

    On the other side of the coin, the chinese could ward off the impending assault by following or taking a leaf out of ancient defense playbook.

    In ancient times, desperate defenders often sent marauders packing by hurling a rain of arrows or javelins or spears or even animal dung at them.

    Today, you can’t hurl arrows or manure at your enemy, but instead you hurl explosive rockets at him. Tons and tons of rockets. So many, the sun even gets blocked by the rockets. The invader will then flee for home beyond the distant ocean.

  2. David Chang

    March 20, 2023 at 4:34 am

    God bless people in the world.

    From U.S. President Trump quoting other people to say great power competition, hegemony competition or strategic competition, to the joint competition mentioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all is  atheism, so the U.S. Navy is also promoting atheism, such as the Center of International Maritime Security.

    According to the “America’s Strategic blunder” published by the CIA, the strategic competition of CIA refers to MAD and SALT. This is different from the strategic competition announced by U.S. President Trump. The strategic competition announced by Trump is to oppose socialism, keep the market economy and free trade by moral regulations, but is not defending nuclear weapons attack to the United States and allies. So the CIA’s strategic thought is atheism, they only talk about war, but not about Ten Commandments. This is the political thought of Europe and the strategy of Democratic Party. So the CSIS promote atheism. But judging by the game theory, CSIS confuses zero-sum theory with win-win theory, so Democratic Party always have wrong strategy.

    For example, Democratic Party talk about nuclear war with climate change, and believe that the United States should cooperate with the CCP to avoid nuclear war and global warming. But, preventing nuclear war is military policy, preventing global warming is about science and commerce cooperation policy. The nuclear weapons alliance of Iran, China, North Korea and Russia show that the military cooperation of  nuclear weapons advocated by Democratic Party is wrong. However, the science and commerce cooperation of nuclear energy, solar energy, wind power generation, and genetic engineering research show that the cooperation of Democratic Party and CCP is wrong, so they cause SARS-CoV-2.

    General Eisenhower say
    “Daily as progressed, there grew within me the conviction that as never before in war between many nations the forces that stood for human good and men’s rights were this time confronted by a completely evil conspiracy with which no compromise could be tolerated. Because only by the utter destruction of the Axis was a decent world possible, the war became for me a crusade in the traditional sense of that often misused word.”

    Therefore, we do not need competition strategy, strategy competition, mixed strategy, or hybrid warfare. People should decide the constitutional policy to against atheism by Ten Commandments, and the nuclear war policy by the zero-sum theory of original game theory. Even as Joint Competing or Competing Joint, if we don’t obey Ten Commandments, we will be friends of Communist-Socialism-Democratic Party, just like the U.S. Army in Bosnia War.

    God bless America.

  3. Jim

    March 20, 2023 at 10:42 am

    Considering China as a “strategic competitor” is a reasonable start to the discussion.

    Other words to describe China are “adversary” and “rival.”

    The one word to not describe China as is “enemy.”

    Why, because it starts a self-fulling prophecy and a mind-set which grinds toward kinetic war.

    Fact, China and the United States have many economic relations with each other… constantly talking up, “China is the enemy” is a mistake, diplomatic language is a foreshadowing of future conduct.

    Does China exercise undue influence in the United States? Yes, through penetration & infiltration via boatloads of money.

    Undue influence for China within the U. S. is the first thing to take on… the United States has absolute control over our own soil via our Sovereignty. Time to exercise our Sovereignty… but doesn’t end up in kinetic war.

    While Taiwan isn’t mentioned in the article… the “Taiwan Question” is the most important geopolitical issue facing the China, U. S. direct relationship.

    And the most likely to cause what might initially be a regional war… but would soon ramp up to a full blown war between the U. S. and China.

    Taiwan is not a Vital National Security Interest which merits a regional war… which could easily slip into full war… with substantial risk of nuclear war.

    There is a faction in China who wants to go to war against the United States. And, there is a faction in the United States who wants to go to war against China.

    Taiwan is the powder keg ready to ignite war between the two Great Powers.

    A mirror image of each other.

    Keeping those two factions from forcing a war is the most important item U. S. foreign policy faces, today.

  4. Gary Jacobs

    March 20, 2023 at 11:52 am


    You almost had written your first decent post, and then you claimed Taiwan isnt a vital interest.

    Besides the implications for 40 million free people as to what China would do to them on a humanitarian level…Taiwan, and more specifically TSMC, produce the most advanced microchips in the world.

    We know from your screeds on Ukraine that you will make all manner of excuses for human rights abuses, so it’s no surprise you are willing to ignore all that relative to Taiwan.

    However, all the major companies use TSMC to make their chips, except Intel. And I think even that changed. Apple, Nvidia, Qualcomm, etc… they just design chips. TSMC makes many of them.

    And it isnt just chips for phones and PCs. TSMC also makes data center chips, and AI chips for supercomputers. No one wants China to get their hands on the capability TSMC has.

    Time Magazine recently did an article titled:

    “The Chips That Make Taiwan the Center of the World”

    You can rinse and repeat that theme over and over.

    To be fair, the only other thing I fully agree with Biden on in his entire presidency besides support for Ukraine is his cutting China off from the most advanced chip making tools. AND providing subsidies for companies to build chip fab facilities in the US.

    Between Intel and TSMC alone, close to $100 Billion is about to be spent to build chip making capacity in the US. However, the most advanced chips TSMC makes will still be made in Taiwan.

    Bottom line: microchips are in just about everything in the 21st century from computers and cars to military machines.

    Either you are simply blind to the importance of Taiwan in the 21st century, or you are making deliberate excuses for the other major tyranny in the world to commit human rights abuses.

    Either way your faux notion of smarts is still an epic fail.

  5. Jim

    March 20, 2023 at 2:42 pm

    Taiwan is not a Vital National Security Interest.

    The best point is the chip technology, or at least many people say.

    But NO! Sophisticated Sand is no reason to pitch the United States into a War against China.

    Taiwan as a self-governing Island, recognized as such by both parties is the best resolution of this long-running ambiguity.

    And, in return China vacates it’s South China Sea built-up rocky shoal military airstrips.

    A negotiation of all parties with economic interest zones (based on the recognized U. N. 250 mile principle) and other interested parties in stability.

    Want to test China on their recent high rhetoric of Peace? See how they react to the coupling of Taiwan & the South China Sea Dispute (military incursion on those shoals… a clear resource grab… oil & gas).

    And, so, how about all that supposed high-minded Peace Talk?

    The KMT wants Peace… they did well in the last Taiwan regional elections… on the next Presidential Election, they could take control of the island.

    That would make most of pundit jabbery moot.

    The ONE CHINA POLICY keeps us out of War.

    It’s official policy now.

    Let’s keep & honor it.

  6. David Chang

    March 20, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    God bless people in the world.

    Republican Party should think about the constitution issue and strategy issue of One China Policy and Taiwan Relations Act. Although Bush Senior think the Republic of China as the friend of the United States, Bush Junior never agree with the one China policy of Bush Senior in public. However, Democratic Party and Communist Party promote atheism and undermine the defense plan of the US military with One China Policy.

    A strategy of game is the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Gambit, which is a rational behavior of the zero-sum theory, set the ICBM as the initial combat mission, while other troops are responsible for diversion enemies to complete the ICBM Strike operation.

    It’s the real question of one China policy. Even if people in China are not the enemies of people in America.

    God bless America.

  7. David Chang

    March 20, 2023 at 3:58 pm

    God bless people in the world.

    Thank you Jim.

    As you say, China is not an enemy of the United States, but the socialism party in one-China are enemies of the United States.

    U.S. President Trump once announced this peaceful policy, but the virus research cooperation of the Democratic Party and the Communist Party destroy this peaceful policy.

    If we want to prevent nuclear war in the future, the just way is that the China people living in the United States understand the socialism thought of Democratic Party and Communist Party, and make the Republican Party obey Ten Commandments permanently, so the people from Asia will vote for Republican Party. It is also the future political dispute in Texas and Florida. After Asia atheist and Democratic Party destroy life in the West coast, Asia people move to live in the East Coast, and there will be religious disputes.

    God bless America.

  8. Gary Jacobs

    March 20, 2023 at 5:27 pm


    As usual, human rights is never an issue for you when it means making excuses for tyrants.

    No one wants a war with China. But we should take lessons from the weakness shown after decades of appeasing Russia in Crimea, Georgia, Donbas, Moldova, etc… The tyrant never stops where you want them to.

    China’s 9 dash line is a problem for all its neighbors, and it has made lame excuses to have territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, The Philippines, and others.

    The Vietnamese hate China so much that they are one of our best partners against China in the area.

    As for the One China Policy, that was a decision made during the cold war to pry China away from Russia as Russia was seen as a bigger threat. That decision turns out to have been a massive mistake. We should have never allowed China access to our manufacturing industries nor any intellectual property to make anything high tech.

    We gutted our middle class and gave China a massive boost to compete with us on many levels…only to see them drift back towards alliance with Russia anyway.

    We should have been looking to peel away India in the 70s instead of China. India is at least democracy, and they have drifted west quite nicely over the years.

    There is the potential for a US led alliance in the Indo-Pacific that should be able to keep China in check far short of war.

    Bottom line: your posts on this subject show the same short sighted, small thinking, excuses-for-appeasing- tyrants, and faux notions of smarts that all your other posts reveal.

    As usual, I could go on for days like this, but for now I digress.

  9. David Chang

    March 20, 2023 at 5:31 pm

    God bless people in the world.

    Thank you Jim.

    As you say, The Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu is not a Vital National Security Interest. Because of the domino hypothesis that Dean Acheson say is not true and violates Ten Commandments.

    After the Vietnam war, we know the wrong of domino hypothesis, because people don’t obey Ten Commandments, Communist Party occupy Asia easily. Then we know that war is not the just solution to resolve political disputes. We could defend people with weapons, but political disputes still exist. So we should trust God, not trust democracy and science.

    But the battle of Taiwan Strait is a trap, socialism parties in one-China make Taiwan province to be a lure. The U.S. Pacific Fleet should not take major risks, and it is also to prevent people in the Western Pacific from radiation contamination or exposure.

    God bless America.

  10. Jacksonian Libertarian

    March 20, 2023 at 9:20 pm

    The Best Strategy is one that an enemy can’t prevent you from using, and that the enemy can’t replicate without imitating you.

    There is only one Strategy, and all other Strategies are based on it. It is this Strategy which is responsible for the 1st World being the 1st World. And it is this Strategy which keeps the 1st World on top.

    What is that Strategy you ask?

    You tell me.

    Hint: What does the rule of 72 measure?

  11. David Chang

    March 21, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    God bless people in the world.

    Thanks to Doctor for this policy document.

    This document is not only about the military, but more about politics,  because soldier must understand politics, and people must understand the political thought of soldier. Allegiance to the country or to the constitution is a slogan of unknown meaning, but allegiance to God is just. So people should pay attention to the political ideology of soldiers, because all people should obey moral laws.

    The Chief tells the difference of two philosophy thoughts in the foreword with Dr. Kissinger’s comment on China. Many people think that Chess is the symbol of the West and Go is the symbol of the East, but it’s not true. By rules of these two models of game, we understand that Chess is military, but Go is politics.

    But there are somethings wrong in this policy document. First, “win without fighting” is about politics, so it’s the duty of the President, not the duty of soldier. The duty of soldier is to engage the enemy by Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex. After atheism scholars teach people to believe the civilian control, atheism scholars and the president should tell people what the rule by politics is.

    Next, the cause of war is politics, not strategy or tactic. So the risk is not about wrong strategy, it is about wrong policy. Because of sin, the President should confess the wrong of policy, such as native people is murder by foreign people or native people murder  foreign people.

    Then, “lose without fighting” is not about the military, it’s about politics, police, and judge. Because it is the socialism warfare, as Go, after people encircle the place without fighting, the place belongs to people. If the Chief believes that the platoon commander should also serve as judge, the Army lawyer should be the platoon commander. Assuming that encirclement is the battle, then the outer line is still in combat. Suppose the encirclement is not battle, but protest, when  the soldier is surrounded by unarmed people, the soldier should surrender or not.

    So this policy document is about socialism warfare, and it’s the obligation of President. President should confess and repent to God, then tell people to oppose enemy by Ten Commandments, not by atheism.

    God bless America.

  12. GhostTomahawk

    March 22, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    1st of all China’s bathwater navy is not a competitor of the US.

    2nd to defeat China all the US has to do is embargo and blockade their ports. Strangling an economy completely dependent upon import/export for food fuel energy and economic stability is easy.

    3rd China can never invade nor poses a threat to US soil. Moving their military exceeds their logistic capabilities. They can’t even invade Taiwan which is only 100 miles off shore.

    So take a breath and calm down

  13. David Chang

    March 23, 2023 at 10:27 am

    God bless people in the world.

    However, there is something important in this document.

    “Strategic competition is a persistent and long-term struggle requiring continuous assessment to adapt U.S. Joint Force strategy and campaigning as conditions change and trends become apparent. The theater strategic security environment is a composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences that affect the employment of joint forces and bear on the decisions of the chain of command at the national and theater levels. Joint Force commanders and staffs continuously evaluate information and intelligence regarding the general operational situation and the effectiveness of the theater strategy, campaigning, and operations. As part of this evaluation, joint force commanders must decide whether current strategies, plans, or orders need to be changed in response to change in the security environment.

    Discussion: 1. The Joint Force lacks the mechanism and capability to develop an integrated competitive strategy to succeed in enduring strategic competition, not just warfighting. 2. Integrated competitive strategies are distinguished by a time horizon well beyond the FYDP; a focus on a specific adversary rather than generic capabilities; a thorough understanding of U.S. and adversary interests and threats to those interests; a clear statement of U.S. competitive outcomes and objectives; and an explicit evaluation of objectives and actions in terms of U.S. adversary strengths and vulnerabilities, current competitive advantages, and competitive position.”

    So I edit it:
    “Religion competition is a forever confess requiring keeps repent to God and confess as socialism warfare conditions. The religion competition situation is a composite of the conditions and influences that affect the family of soldiers and bear on the decisions of currency policy. Joint Force commanders and staffs and chaplain keep evaluate information and intelligence regarding the total war of faith and morality. As part of this evaluation, joint force commanders must keep faith and morality in any security environment.

    Discussion: 1. The Joint Force lacks the regulation and education to keep faith and morality to succeed in enduring Religion competition, not just warfighting. 2. Integrated religion competition is forever beyond the FYDP; the focus on God rather than a specific adversary; the understanding of U.S. constitution and adversary constitution; a clear statement of religion competition faith and morality; and an explicit evaluation of faith and morality in terms of U.S. policy and ordonnance, confess and repent to God.”

    God bless America.

  14. David Chang

    March 24, 2023 at 3:29 am

    God bless people in the world.

    In the South China Morning Post on March 20, International relations scholar, Mark J. Valencia, publish his thought, accusing the United States of explaining international law for their interest, and encouraging the CCP to explain international law for CCP’s interest.

    He says:
    “China has been unmercifully bashed by the West for its transgressions while other states seem to have all but buried theirs. The US has been particularly adept at manipulating international law, especially the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), to which it is not even a party.

    During the Cold War, when some developing countries wanted to restrict the entry of foreign navies to their territorial seas, the US and Soviet Union issued a joint statement clarifying and cementing their interpretation of Unclos that they could not do that.

    China now recognises the value of “lawfare”, or the strategic use of legal proceedings to intimidate, hinder, damage or delegitimise an opponent.

    In doing so, China is merely following the examples of the West, particularly the US. America even transgresses the UN Charter’s prohibitions on threat or use of force and its duty to respect other states’ sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.”

    His thought is the wrong thought promoted by international relations scholars and many lawyers. They believe that international law is law, not morality, not to obey Ten Commandments. Therefore, they believe that law is a political tool for taking over power or profit, and Communist Party and Democratic Party say that behavior is “weaponization”.

    God bless America.

  15. Joe Comment

    March 24, 2023 at 10:52 pm

    David Chang: China’s position on control of the seas is not well founded in law or tradition, is not accepted by the other countries with the most powerful navies, and is fundamentally unenforceable. By all means pray to God as much as possible, but in this case China is violating the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not waste thy political capital trying to defend an indefensible position.”

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