In last week’s column, I assessed the threat from America’s “big five” adversaries: Russia, Iran, China, North Korea and the self-styled Islamic State. Some or all of these five, I believe, will test the incoming Trump administration as it gets its feet wet and redesigns U.S. strategy to reflect the new president’s unorthodox ideas and style.
I suggested that challenges from the big five will stay below the line of provocation that might drive the United States to respond forcefully. Instead they will rely on the ambiguous, camouflaged, multidimensional aggression and pinprick applications of force that security experts call “hybrid” warfare. Their goal will be to vex the United States without triggering outright war.
While challenges from the “big five” are the easiest to predict, they may not be the only security problems the Trump administration faces. If history holds, the United States will be drawn into conflict somewhere that was never mentioned during the 2016 presidential campaign. During the 2000 election, for instance, no one dreamed that counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan would dominate George W. Bush’s security policy as president. But in strategy, unexpected threats are the norm, and there is no reason to believe this will not continue to be the case.