Episode 5, Season 1 of the Social Science of War podcast examines the role of military power, and the Army specifically, in shaping a favorable security environment in the context of great power competition.

Our guests begin by introducing the significance of shaping, when military power is used not only to fight wars but also to attract and influence partners and allies. Shaping includes multiple activities such as multinational training exercises with foreign militaries, establishing US military presence in bases around the world, security force assistance and military aid, and other uses of military power that allow the Army to attract, socialize, delegate to, and assure allies and partners to align with US national security interests. Given the National Defense Strategy places a high priority on the US alliance and partner network, shaping is an essential concept to understand how the United States leverages the US Army to strengthen its relationships.

Topics discussed in detail include the tradeoff between deterrence and shaping, whether the Army needs to invest in unique capabilities to support shaping efforts, what the social science literature finds about the effectiveness of shaping operations (to include a discussion on the impact of US basing posture on reassurance of allies), and the risks involved in shaping activities (to include a discussion on the importance of understanding the security dilemma when making decisions about the employment of US forces). The conversation closes with a discussion on the implications of shaping for tactical- and operational-level Army leaders.

Dr. Brian Blankenship is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Miami. He has published extensively on alliance burden-sharing and reassurance, to include on the effectiveness of US basing posture, joint military exercises, defense spending, and more. He was previously a Stanton nuclear security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a US foreign policy and international security fellow at Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. He holds a PhD in political science from Columbia University. His forthcoming book, discussed in this episode, is titled The Burden-Sharing Dilemma: U.S. Coercive Diplomacy and Alliance Politics.

Retired Army Brigadier General Kim Field is currently the director of strategy, plans, and policy at US Special Operations Command. She has previously held multiple senior positions both in the Army and in the Department of State, to include serving as the deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Academically, General Field served as the executive director of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from 2019 to 2021 and is also a previous assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point.

Major Kyle Wolfley is a US Army strategist at US Army Cyber Command and recent assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. Kyle’s 2021 award-winning book, Military Statecraft and the Rise of Shaping in the World, is based on his PhD research at Cornell University, and serves as the motivation for today’s conversation.

The Social Science of War podcast is produced by the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. Visit our website if you would like to be a student or teach in the department, or if you would like to connect with any of our instructors based on their expertise.

Kyle Atwell created and is the host of the Social Science of War. Please reach out to Kyle with any questions about this episode or the Social Science of War podcast in general.

Image credit: Sgt. 1st Class Walter E. van Ochten, US Army