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The Race with No Finish Line

Assessing the Strategy of Regional Great Power Competition

Martin Skold, PhD


DOI: 10.56686/9798985340402



The Race with No Finish Line offers a framework for understanding the strategies of states engaged in competition for regional hegemony. Drawing on a variety of strategic literature, this book synthesizes a theoretical approach to analyzing the strategies of these states. Martin Skold argues for an essentially asymmetric understanding of fundamental policy goals for states engaged in competition for control of a region of the globe, with one state attempting to maintain a dominant position and another attempting, by focusing limited resources, to supplant it. This competition is understood metaphorically, based on an anecdote from the end of the Cold War, as a “race with no finish line,” with the reigning hegemon attempting to extend the race beyond the challenger’s endurance and the challenger attempting to create a finish line and cross it. This book lays the groundwork not only for more rigorous inquiry into the strategic decision-making of states in past competitive scenarios but also for analysis of current competitions for influence and control in numerous regions.



Martin Skold, PhD, is a scholar, commentator, and practitioner in policy, politics, and national security based in the Washington, DC, area. He has served in national security roles in the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government, including in the U.S. counterterrorism community and as a legislative assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as on political campaigns. He holds degrees in foreign service and security studies from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and a PhD in international relations from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.



Chapter One: On Competition and Strategy

Chapter Two: Some Principles of Competitive Strategy

Chapter Three: A Framework for Strategic Analysis of Great Power Competition for Regional Hegemony

Chapter Four: The Origins and Aims of the Dreadnought Race

Chapter Five: The Dreadnought Race

Chapter Six: The Dreadnought Race in Strategic Perspective

Conclusion: The Strategy of Regional Great Power Competition

Appendix: A Note on Data Sources and Methodology

Selected Bibliography

6 x 9 paperback
440 pages
PDF download


“As the United States reenters an era of sustained great power competition, it greatly needs serious and rigorous studies of how to succeed in this much more perilous context. Martin Skold’s penetrating and lucid study is an important contribution.”

~Elbridge Colby, co-founder and principal, The Marathon Initiative; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development


“Martin Skold’s study of regional great power competition is a compelling and precise intervention in the debate about how to understand the return of classical geopolitics. Its quality derives not only from the author’s skill but from its origins. It was conceived when great power competition was unfashionable, and when its return to international politics was dismissed by zeitgeist-sniffers for whom counterterrorism and counterinsurgency were the only games in town. Skold synthesises an impressive array of ideas and literature to create a framework for judgements about the contest between today’s great powers. It builds also on a deeply researched and rich study of the Anglo-German antagonism before 1914. In a growing literature on the subject, The Race with No Finish Line is top of the pack. Read it.”

~Patrick Porter, Professor of International Security and Strategy, University of Birmingham


“As the American unipolar moment seems to draw awkwardly to a close, Martin Skold’s account of the Dreadnought Race between Great Britain and Germany a century ago has an unmistakable contemporary relevance to scholars, statesmen, and commanders. More than a history, in this lucid and probing book Skold offers a framework for understanding great power competitive strategies that deserves attentive consideration.”

~David J. Betz, Professor of War in the Modern World, War Studies Department, King’s College London


“Refreshing to see a serious scholar thinking seriously about surviving and winning in the modern world.”

~James Jay Carafano, Vice President, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and E. W. Richardson Fellow, Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, Heritage Foundation


“The practice of national security requires an understanding of the dynamics of strategy. As the United States finds itself competing in critical regions of the world in this era of great power competition, studies of the strategies that are at play in this competition offer important insights. Martin Skold’s book is an excellent—and readable—guide to the intricacies and application of competitive strategies in such an environment.”

~Nadia Schadlow, Senior Fellow, The Hudson Institute; former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy

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