Mackinder Forum Virtual Seminar #71: Captain Samuel Canter (U.S., Ret.), “The Department of Defense and the Prioritization of Great Power Threats: Reframing the 2014-2018 Pivot to Great Power Competition.” 

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Captain Samuel Canter spoke with the Mackinder Forum Seminar on Sunday, January 22, 2023, 1:30-3:00 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Time) on the topic “The Department of Defense and the Prioritization of Great Power Threats.”

Abstract:  Why did the Department of Defense begin to prioritize Great Power Competition (GPC) during the 2014 – 2018 timeframe?  A meta-narrative promulgated in documents like the 2017 National Security Strategy offered a now familiar answer: 25 years of focusing on terrorism, counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and rogue states coupled with a decline in DoD resources and the rise of Russia and China as military powers finally awakened the U.S. defense establishment to its tenuous position, and prompted a policy pivot to ensure American military supremacy.  However, a close analysis of this narrative gives reason to seriously question these factors as proximate causes for the timing of the DoD’s embrace of GPC. Indeed, the shift of 2014 – 2018 continues to be misunderstood and misconceptualized in ways that have ongoing defense policy implications. Turning to the history of the DoD itself offers one possible course correction.  Identifying and exploring previous periods analogous to the 2014 – 2018 shift can serve to frame the most recent GPC pivot in a new light, and effectively challenge the existing meta-narrative. Moreover, comparatively analyzing these historical case studies suggests that there may be intellectual value for policymakers and scholars in framing great-power threat prioritization within the DoD as an observable, discrete, and recurring phenomenon. 

Readings:

Secretary of DefenseChuck Hagel’s “Third Offset” Speech, November 2014. Reagan National Defense Forum Keynote > U.S. Department of Defense > Speech

Introduction to the 2017 National Security Strategy (pages 1 – 4 and 24 – 28). NSS_BookLayout_FIN_121917.indd (archives.gov)

Biography:  Sam Canter is a PhD Candidate in Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester, where his dissertation focuses on the Department of Defense, Offset Strategies, and great-power threat prioritization. Previously, he served as an infantry and intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, and as a federal civil servant in the Executive Office of the President. Canter currently works in the private sector as a policy and strategy analyst, where he directly supports and advises U.S. government executive leaders on issues related to defense, intelligence, and international affairs. He also continues to serve as an officer in the Army Reserve, providing strategic intelligence support to the Department of Defense.