Former US STRATCOM, Pacific Fleet commander details challenges of Great Power competition


By: Stephen Kuper

US Navy Admiral (Ret’d) Cecil Haney, then commander of the US Pacific Fleet during a port visit March 11, 2013, at Joint Base Pearl Harbour (Source Wikicommons)KEY ENABLERS|04 FEBRUARY 2021By: Stephen Kuper

Retired US Navy Admiral Cecil Haney, the former Commander, US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) and former Commander, US Pacific Fleet, has presented a lecture to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) on the topic of “Great Power Competition (GPC) in the Cognitive Age” during the latest edition of the Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture (SGL) series.

Haney explored the strategic objectives of both China and Russia – peer competitors to the post-Second World War economic, political and strategic global order, with specific emphasis on continued strategic deterrence in the face of traditional and emerging ‘grey zone’ peer competitor threats.

This builds on the recently published Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, which aligns the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard to achieve an ‘advantage at sea’ over China and Russia, Haney’s guest lecture is another example of NPS fostering cognitive and intellectual advantage by discussing the strategies, problem sets and potential solutions associated with GPC.

Haney explained, “The global security environment today is more complex, dynamic and volatile than at any other time in our history. We must take advantage of the Naval Postgraduate School environment to expand your knowledge of the competitor nations, their culture, their perspective, their ideology, and their objectives, holistically.

“The dangers presented by this unpredictable security environment are compounded by the continued propagation of asymmetric methods, unprecedented proliferation of advancing technologies, and the dual use nature of the acceleration of technical development outside normal national security channels in the commercial and academic circles.”

Deterrence particularly across the increasingly multi-domain battlespace has formed the basis of the US strategic posture and counter strategy to great power competitors since the Cold War and this remains a continued focus for Haney, with the retired Admiral suggesting that the US and by extension its broader global allies can master deterrence to ensure no great power competitor can secure an advantage, minimising the escalation paths in the event of hostilities. 

“Deterrence is fundamentally a human endeavour, firmly rooted in psychology and social behaviour. The first is an aggressor’s recognition that unacceptable costs may be imposed for taking an action, and recognition that foregoing this action may result in lesser costs. The second is an aggressor’s belief that the contemplated action will not produce its perceived benefit, or that not acting will produce a greater benefit,” Haney explained. 

Expanding on these points, ADM Haney explained the growing importance of multi-domain, force multipliers across both the conventional and deterrence focused aspects of the US Armed Forces, with intelligence, command and control capabilities combining sensor synthesis, missile defence, cyber architecture empowering conventional and nuclear forces to back stop policy making, treaties and plans in the future battlespace. 

“Taken together this deterrent capability must ensure that even in crisis, strategic stability will remain intact and ensure that any adversary understands they will not get the benefits they seek and the cost will be too much to bear if they employ nuclear weapons,” Haney said. 

As part of this shifting focus toward developing a coherent response to mounting great power tensions, the US Naval Postgraduate School, has also launched a number of GPC-focused educational initiatives, including a seminar course and multiple graduate certificate programs, with more planned offerings in development.