The experience of the United States in conventional wars over the past 30 years has been characterized by brevity and overmatch. The effects of nuclear weapons on interstate conflict were believed to prevent long wars, and the focus moved to the “gray zone” and “hybrid conflict.” A fait accompli of rapid territorial seizure was viewed as the only viable strategy for high-intensity conflict.
One year of a horrific industrial war of attrition in Ukraine has upended the conventional wisdom. This session considers lessons from Ukraine, the future of protracted war, and a potential U.S.-China conflict. It incorporates insights from the Defense Program’s Bad Blood tabletop exercise with the House Committee on Strategic Competition with the CCP and discusses findings from a forthcoming CNAS study, Rolling the Iron Dice: The Inescapable Reality of Protraction. This study argues that political, technological, and operational elements create powerful drivers for protraction in the context of a hypothetical conflict between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.