By: Arun Iyer

What is the kernel of the issue?

The Pentagon’s informally adopted “2+3” framework for Great-Power Competition (GPC)—which grades China and Russia as primary threats while framing North Korea, Iran, and terrorism as secondary threats—has the potential to over-simplify the most complex challenges faced by the United States.

Why is the issue important?

The 2018 NDS, which included the “2+3” framework, was portrayed as a necessary pivot away from nearly two decades of counterinsurgency and toward high-end, country-on-country conflict. While the “2+3” framework was simply meant to rebrand and refine the “4+1” concept (which placed four countries—China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran—on equal footing, with terrorism as “+1”), it has instead reinforced a two-tiered system, implying that China and Russia are similar threats while the others are lower in priority. While arguably valid as a long-term framework, the “2+3” approach has left the United States less prepared in the short and intermediate terms to address its most relevant challenges.

What is the recommendation?

The Biden administration should recalculate DoD’s GPC framework to address the threats that the country is most likely to confront, while improving the United States’ preparedness for the most dangerous threats. It should replace the single “2+3” concept with three multilayered and interactive frameworks—a precision framework, a multiplicative and relational framework, and a counterbalancing framework—nested upon one another. While more complex than the current framework, this approach reflects the equally complex nature of the challenges faced by the United States.

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