MCU Journal

vol. 10, no. 2
Great Power Competition



Innovation and Historical Continuity in Great Power Competition

Christopher C. Harmon, PhD


Abstract: Even in this age of remarkable changes, the character of warfare and the continuities of geography and politics are weighty and instructive. Politicians and strategists often relearn the most fundamental lessons about these continuities. It is thus no surprise that the current security establishment in China is infatuated with the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the American naval power theorist who died in 1914.

Keywords: patterns, strategy, geography, nature of warfare, character of warfare, naval, China

Christopher C. Harmon holds the Bren Chair of Great Power Competition with the Marine Corps University and its foundation. He taught strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College, worked for a member of the House Armed Services Committee, served as lead author or editor of six books, and has written for the geopolitics journal Orbis. For reviews of the manuscript, the author is grateful to Charles Robert Harmon and to Sara Wood and Ian Brown of Marine Corps University’s Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity.

The Amphibious Imperative of the French and Indian War

T. J. Linzy, PhD


Abstract: In the French and Indian War, Britain’s arrogance in land warfare in North America resulted in two years of near constant defeat and devastation to its forces and colonial residents. However, through an open-minded analysis of the situation, Britain improved its planning, logistics, diplomacy, tactics, operations, and strategy to make the most of its naval superiority. In a war where agile, irregular, and amphibious warfare were required to win, Britain adapted and won. Their processes and actions provide a classic study for modern-day joint operations leaders to examine.

Keywords: amphibious operations, Roger’s Rangers, light infantry, British Royal Navy, French and Indian War, Seven Years’ War

T. J. Linzy is a former cavalry scout with the U.S. 2d Cavalry, business owner, and U.S. Air Force historian. Linzy holds a master’s in the history of warfare and a doctorate in war studies. His opinions are his own and do not represent the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. Army’s 2d Cavalry Regiment.

The Ottomans, Britain, Sectarianism, and the Sudanese Army, 1899–2019

Jack Vahram Kalpakian, PhD


Abstract: Using a historical and a partially institutional approach, this article examines the relationships between religious politics and imperialism in the formation of organized military forces in Sudan. It examines the policy of using paramilitary forces, as well as its ideological sources. The article argues that the Popular Defence Forces and other paramilitaries are a threat to the regular Sudanese Army. The article also addresses some of the human rights issues in (North) Sudan and concludes with thoughts concerning its ongoing revolution.

Keywords: Sudan, Egypt, Sudanese Armed Forces, Popular Defence Forces, British Empire, Ottoman Empire, religious politics

Jack Vahram Kalpakian holds a doctorate in international studies from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA. He specializes in security issues, water, and the Middle East/North Africa as well as East Africa. Since August 2001, Kalpakian has been teaching at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, a Moroccan university following the American tertiary education pattern. Originally from Sudan, Kalpakian is a native speaker of Arabic.

The Expeditionary Implications of a Populist Grand Strategy

Bruce I. Gudmundsson, PhD


Abstract: The rise of a new form of populism challenges the assumptions underlying the grand strategy of the United States and thus the types of activities that the operating forces of the United States Marine Corps may be called on to perform.

Keywords: populism, grand strategy, clash of civilizations, migration

Bruce I. Gudmundsson, who retired from the Marine Corps Reserve in 1997, currently serves as an advisor to the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group (MCTOG). In his free time, he maintains The Military Instructor (, a family of websites devoted to the use of decision games, podcasts, and other innovative methods in military education and training.

The American Polar Pivot:
Gaining a Comparative Advantage in Great Power Competition

Ryan Burke, PhD; and Major Jahara Matisek, U.S. Air Force, PhD


Abstract: This article demonstrates the rationale for the U.S. military to pivot its concentration toward defending the global commons in the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctic. By defining the geopolitical significance of the polar regions, this article identifies actions the United States must take to strengthen current alliances and create new ones, while emphasizing investments in robust military assets to operate in the harsh polar environment conditions with extremely cold and long winters. This article concludes with recommendations on how U.S. military forces and basing should be integrated into a grand strategy to ensure that China and Russia cannot exert their control and influence over the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Keywords: great power competition, polar warfare, Arctic alliances, Antarctic alliances, cold-weather military operations, Marine expeditionary units (MEUs)

Dr. Ryan Burke is an associate professor in the Department of Military and Strategic Studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy and a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. He previously served as a Marine Corps officer and as a private consultant to the DOD in the Pentagon and with the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Maj Jahara Matisek, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Military and Strategic Studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy and a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. Maj Matisek is a mobility pilot with more than 3,000 hours of flight time and will be deploying to Afghanistan to fly the E-11 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node or BACN.

Defense and Deterrence on NATO’s Northern Flank:
Strengthening the U.S. Marine Corps’ Role in Europe

Zsofia Budai


Abstract: Current North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) efforts to address security threats in the alliance’s northern flank are insufficient in light of Russia’s aggressive actions and military buildup near the European border. The U.S. Marine Corps is uniquely suited to deterrence and defense in this region due to its doctrine, capabilities, and strong historical relationship with Norway. To strengthen the security situation in this key geostrategic area, the Marine Corps should expand its rotational presence in Norway, deploy a rotational force to Iceland, increase its participation in European training and exercises, and maintain high standards of cold weather preparedness.

Keywords: Norway, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, Russia, High North, Arctic, rotational forces, prepositioning program, Marine Rotational Force-Europe, MRF-E, Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, MCPP-N

Zsofia Budai joined the Foreign Service, U.S. Department of State, in 2010 after completing a BS in foreign service and an MA in Russian and East European studies at Georgetown University. She has served at the U.S. Embassy Moscow, Russia (2010–12); the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan (2013–14); and the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels, Belgium (2015–18), before returning to Moscow for her current assignment. This article was part of the requirements for her master of military studies program at Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College, from which she graduated in June 2019. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Department of State.

A Case for Sino-American Cooperation Against Climate Change

Kevin Johnston


Abstract: The United States and China’s continued aggressive actions in the South China Sea threaten to spark a war between two of the world’s largest military and economic powers. Meanwhile, Climate Change continues to harm people and infrastructure in both countries. To overcome the threat posed by Climate Change, the United States and China must work together toward a mutually beneficial goal.

Keywords: climate change, global warming, Sino-American cooperation, power projection, Belt and Road Initiative

Kevin Johnston is an Army veteran who currently works as a DOD contractor. From 2011 to 2015, he served as a logistics officer in the 4th Sustainment Brigade. He completed his bachelor’s degree from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, in 2011 and his master’s degree from Saint Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX, in 2015. He would like to thank the following individuals who lent their time to help him edit this article: LtCol Jeannette G. Haynie, PhD; Maj Jason Bogden, PhD; 2dLt Amelia Snyder; and Daniel Gagliano, master’s student at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Russia’s Information Warfare:
Exploring the Cognitive Dimension

Blagovest Tashev, PhD; Lieutenant Colonel Michael Purcell (Ret); and Major Brian McLaughlin (Ret)


Abstract: The U.S. military increasingly invests in capabilities to meet challenges from the growth of strategic competition in the information environment, which is aimed at influencing and disrupting adversaries and other groups. By analyzing Russia’s approach to information warfare, this article adds to the current understanding of the Russian modus operandi in the information environment. The article argues that the success of competitive strategies in this domain requires not only investment in its technical and informational dimensions but also deep knowledge of its most important one—the cognitive dimension. The article concludes with recommendations to incorporate cognitive dimension considerations in Marine Corps operations in the information environment.

Keywords: information warfare, Russia, cognitive dimension, deputy commandant for information, culture, Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) information operations, operations in the information environment

Blagovest Tashev has expertise in Eastern Europe and Eurasia and currently works in the Translational Research Group at Marine Corps University’s Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). LtCol Michael Purcell is a former armor officer and Eurasian foreign area officer with extensive operational experience in the former Soviet space. Maj Brian McLaughlin is a former infantry officer, Eastern European foreign area officer, and crypto-linguist, who is focused on Ukrainian security and politics and developing curriculum at CAOCL to ensure deploying forces are better prepared to operate among foreign populations. The views presented in this work are the authors’ own.

Prescribing an American Grand Strategy for the Era of Renewed Great Power Competition

Kashish Parpiani


Abstract: Donald J. Trump’s declaration of the reemergence of “great power competition” comes at a pivotal juncture in American history. The Trump administration has borne traits of activist grand strategies toward preserving American primacy with the announced great power competition against China and Russia. This article prescribes a tempered approach for America to pursue its primacy while also addressing the pitfalls of the current system, which counterintuitively accentuate Russian and Chinese insecurity to feed their revisionist approach to the liberal order. The United States must sustain its military edge and challenge Chinese and Russian transgressions, but it must also reform institutions, recalibrate partnerships, and reinstate credibility of the liberal order.

Keywords: United States, China, Russia, great power competition, liberal internationalism, grand strategy

Kashish Parpiani is a research fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in Mumbai, India. His research interests include U.S. grand strategy, U.S. civil-military relations, and U.S. foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific. Parpani holds postgraduate degrees in international relations from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, and in U.S. foreign policy from the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK. He has published with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel; the Centre on Asia and Globalization in Singapore; the Times of Israel; and the Rising Powers in Global Governance project in Istanbul, Turkey. He has presented papers at international conferences organized by Shanghai University and the International Studies Association.

Competing through Cooperation:
Leveraging Security Cooperation to Counter Chinese and Russian Influence in Africa

Captain Daniel De Wit, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve


Abstract: The National Defense Strategy and U.S. strategy for Africa have reprioritized great power competition over the threat of terrorism and other nonstate actors. However, U.S. security cooperation initiatives in Africa have yet to adjust to this change and continue to focus on developing partner forces capable of defeating terrorist groups and other destabilizing nonstate threats. To leverage security cooperation initiatives to counter Chinese and Russian influence activities, planners at U.S. Africa Command must design them primarily for the message they will send, rather than the capability to be imparted to the partner force. Minor changes to security cooperation programs, including a revised and expanded Ministry of Defense Advisors (MODA) program, increased leveraging of psychological operations capabilities, and engaging more directly with African societies will support this effort.

Keywords: Africa, influence, security cooperation, great power competition, China, Russia, U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM

Daniel De Wit is an operations support officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency and a PhD candidate in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Marine Corps, or the Department of Defense.

U.S. Strategic Interests in the Arctic:
A Proposed Department of Defense Approach

Major Timothy W. Chess, U.S. Army


Abstract: In the wake of climate change, the Arctic is witnessing a level of transportation and access to resources unprecedented in modern history. Since the end of the Cold War, the Arctic has been a region of cooperation among both Arctic and non-Arctic nations. However, as the region witnesses an increased level of activity and race for resources, so too will the level of stress increase the strain on cooperation and diplomatic relationships, especially those between Russia and the West. The United States has been slowly preparing for an increased presence in the Arctic region, publishing its first strategic security document earlier this decade. The progress of the Department of Defense (DOD) still pales in comparison to current competitors’ efforts in the Arctic. To protect national interests in the Arctic, the DOD requires a new plan of action focused on increased levels of cooperation, force, equipment, and infrastructure improvements, as well as revising the department’s Unified Command Plan. This plan should provide a strategic message to allies, partners, and adversaries alike that the United States is prepared to operate in the Arctic.

Keywords: Arctic, Department of Defense, DOD, Russia, China, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, cooperation, Unified Command Plan, U.S. European Command

Timothy W. Chess is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and holds a master’s of engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He most recently served as a U.S. Army fellow at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany.

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