Towards a Strategic Value Proposition: Redefining 21st Century Defense Priority Assessments

Estimated Time to Read: 30 minutes
By Ryan Burke and Olivia Cretella

U.S. strategic priorities are flawed, at least by way of determination. Determinants of ‘strategic value’ are often superficial and lack analytical depth. Asking academics, practitioners, and policymakers “What is the most strategically valuable region in the world?” we get clusters of convergent and divergent answers. Then asking “How did you determine this value?” the answers diverge further. For instance, the 2015 Obama administration National Security Strategy (NSS) charge to ‘rebalance to Asia and the Pacific’ as a strategic priority – a decision that has informed U.S. power projection priorities for years since – was based, in part, on the fact that “half of the earth’s population, one-third of global gross domestic product (GDP), and some of the world’s most capable militaries” reside in this region. No doubt these are significant indicators of general geostrategic importance, but are they the only indicators of relevance in determining the strategic value of one region relative to another? Surely the U.S. can and does put more into their analysis of determining strategic value and conveying such to the public…or do we?

There is more to this conversation than the use of GDP as a questionably reliable indicator of a state’s economic power and the resulting extension of military rebalance on the basis of the same. Population and military capabilities are also no doubt important, but even these exclude other potentially relevant factors in informing the perception of strategic value. Despite omitting the myriad other elements that could be strategically informative, the Obama administration in 2015 referred to the Asia-Pacific region as the “world’s political and economic center of gravity.” Building from this, the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) claims that “Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities” for the Department of Defense (DoD) and that the Indo-Pacific region is among three key regions for DoD focus. DoD further labels U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) as a “priority for 21st century security interests,” again noting the region’s population and economic significance as key factors for this determination. But some things do not add up. If DoD’s priority is strategic competition with Russia and China, why is USINDOPACOM the center of the strategic rebalance when its area of responsibility (AOR) excludes half of the strategic equation? As the U.S. persists with its Central Command (CENTCOM) drawdown after nearly twenty years of combat operations, defense hawks and policy wonks double down on the ‘strategic rebalance’ to the Asia-Pacific theater. The U.S. posture shift to rebalance to USINDOPACOM coupled with its emphasis on the reemergence of long-term strategic competition with Russia and China means that CENTCOM is no longer the strategic priority. But these decisions raise more questions than they do answers. What metrics factor into these rebalancing decisions? Are there other regions that, considering equal metrics, are more strategically valuable than USINDOPACOM? How do we determine strategic priority?

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Why Asia and the Pacific?

To start, the 2015 NSS broadly annotates four foundational pillars of pursuit: Security, Prosperity, Values, and International Order. Similarly, the Trump administration’s 2017 NSS shares a similar foundation to those of its predecessor. While there are some deviations and differences, as we should expect given different political party affiliations, the foundation of the Obama and Trump NSSs is generally consistent. The enduring national interests represented in each fundamentally focus on promoting partnerships in the interest of a favorable international order and protecting the American people.

The 2015 Obama Administration NSS outlines Asia-Pacific rebalance goals including advancing security, development, and democracy in the region. It discusses welcoming the rise of a “stable, peaceful, and prosperous China,” emphasizes treaties and alliances, and notes the importance of strengthening institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit. Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice described economic significance of the region and its productive potential as the chief reasons for U.S. reorientation. Continuous transformation with fast growing markets means that more than 25% of the global GDP resides in the Asia-Pacific. The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would have accounted for 40% of the world’s GDP alone, an important factor for the Obama administration’s emphasis on strengthening development in the region at the time. As well, geopolitical partners have the capability to shape the political and military environment in the world’s most populated region; and such influence can have pronounced effects on the regional and even global balance of power. The Obama administration pushed for economic cooperation between the U.S. and influential Asia-Pacific countries as imperative for U.S. presence in the global market and its place as a world power. To this end, the administration branded the 2015 rebalance as an opportunity to strengthen the U.S. global leadership position through enhanced allied and partner relations.

This all sounds good, in theory. But what evidence do we have that the rebalance achieved these goals? In analyzing the observed effects of the rebalance, the Obama administration’s assessment lacked supporting data and instead provided nebulous statements about how the rebalance helped the United States. Example statements emphasized the perceived positive outcomes of the rebalance including: strengthening treaties, alliances, and partnerships in the region; strengthening the region’s institutional architecture; and promoting stronger trade and investment links. But how did the administration determine these effects?

They seemed to justify their assessment through stressing the development of organizations and cooperation in the region, such as the TPP, ASEAN, and the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. Since the 2015 NSS stated that U.S. goals in Asia and the Pacific were to advance security, development, and democracy, it seems the only objectively observable effect supporting these goals was in development. Security and democracy have no notable evidence to support that these two goals were achieved, especially with China and the evolving instability in the East and South China Seas at the time and since. Given the lacking evidence to support the net positive effects of the Asia-Pacific rebalance as the strategic priority, the logical question becomes whether the Asia-Pacific rebalance is, in fact, still warranted and whether other regions of equal or greater importance compel consideration of an alternative focus.  

Alternative Priorities?

The Trump administration’s 2017 NSS outlines four pillars of U.S. focus: Protect the Homeland; Promote American Prosperity; Preserve Peace through Strength; Advance American Influence. In predicting the Biden administration NSS priorities, we can assume a return to similar Obama administration foci. With the continued CENTCOM drawdown, the Biden administration’s strategic rebalancing efforts need to be based on more than the lofty rhetoric of the Obama administration’s Asia-Pacific justification. Even today, we are still left with evidence questioning the logic of the USINDOPACOM focus relative to stated NDS priorities. For instance, in his February 2020 speech outlining ‘U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific,’ Admiral Phil Davidson, Commander, USINDOPACOM, mentioned China 21 times; not surprising given China is within the USINDOPACOM AOR. However, ADM Davidson did not mention Russia, Moscow, or related terms in any context; not surprising either given Russia is not in the USINDOPACOM AOR, as the commander would focus the argument on those challenges within his scope. Yet, the U.S.  national defense priority – at least for now – is strategic competition with China and Russia; the U.S. priority region for rebalancing is USINDOPACOM, but the USINDOPACOM commander makes no mention of Russia in his interests due to a somewhat arbitrary map line drawing exercise. There is a logical disconnect that cannot (or should not) hide behind the blanket of Unified Command Plan (UCP) AOR border bifurcation bureaucracy. We need a better, more transparent method of understanding the nuance of strategic prioritization decisions, especially with the obvious transcendence issues presented by strategic competition beyond AOR boundaries.

The Strategic Value Proposition

The U.S. cannot afford a trivially justified rebalance to the Indo-Pacific on the basis of big, but somewhat hollow, facts like GPD and population without first considering its strategic value relative to other regions of evolving significance. The Indo-Pacific region is strategically valuable; we do not question that; but is it the most valuable relative to other regions? How do we know? We need a clearer and more robust system to determine measurable and relative strategic value to analyze and inform U.S. rebalancing decisions. This system should be based in part on what we refer as the Strategic Value Proposition (SVP): a region’s weighted score combining the aggregate value of national instruments of power sub-categories; each with four parameters; totaling 16 indicators of analysis to reach an aggregate value proposition for comparison. The proposed strategic value proposition is an idea that can reshape our conceptualization of what the United States deems strategically valuable, and why. Considering past NSS pillars of the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations collectively, 21st century U.S. national security trends broadly emphasize improved diplomatic relations; enhanced international image; a strong military; and economic prosperity for the U.S. In this way, the obvious and consistent national security contours converge on the known instruments of national power: diplomatic; information; military; economic – DIME.

Using DIME as our framework, we developed a new way to evaluate regional strategic value relative to future rebalancing decisions. Using each element of DIME as the basis for analysis and comparison, the SVP establishes four sub-value propositions for each DIME element: Diplomatic Value Proposition (DVP); Information Value Proposition (IVP); Military Value Proposition (MVP); and the Economic Value Proposition (EVP)). Each contains four categories of analysis with quantitative metrics serving as the basis for the aggregate sub-value score. The aggregate score for each sub-value (DVP, IVP, MVP, EVP) becomes the overall SVP. We can thus use the SVP as a quantifiable metric of analysis informing future decisions on the basis of relative strategic value.

The SVP in Context

The following description of the SVP can be applied as a means of comparing two or more regions’ strategic values relative to the other. The proposed SVP uses only open-source, publicly available data and can be applied to any region of the world for quantifiable comparison. By way of design, the SVP is intended to be used as a tool comparing the relative values of countries in a chosen geographic region. For instance, a user can search for and input the below parameters for countries located in the CENTCOM AOR to determine the CENTCOM SVP. The user would then repeat the process for countries in the USINDOPACOM AOR to determine the USINDOPACOM SVP. The SVP for each AOR can then serve as a point of comparison for determining – or at least more deliberately considering – which region is more strategically valuable on the basis of the SVP.

The logic behind the SVP stems from the notion that the region’s strategic value is largely informed by the relative strength and stability of the countries within. By using the SVP for consideration, the United States has a quantifiable baseline for its foreign regional priorities. Unlike the Obama Administration’s generalities as the basis for the Asia-Pacific rebalance, and the resulting ambiguously determined effects of the same, the SVP considers data as the basis of measure for both initial importance and resulting outcomes of strategic reorientation. It also promotes documentation and justification of what is strategically important to the United States based on the NSS through a legitimate representation of different factors within DIME and can inform the Biden administration’s development of its own NSS in the coming months.

The SVP in Theory

In building the SVP, we selected four parameters for each DIME element and collected values for each parameter. In total there are 16 parameters (four in each of D,I,M,E) forming the aggregate SVP. The countries in a combatant command’s (COCOM) AOR form the basis for analysis.

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Figure 1

Diplomatic Value Proposition (DVP)

For the DVP, the parameters for analysis are: the Democracy Index of each country; the number of Alliances in the COCOM, Embassies and Consulates within the AOR, and the Fragility Index of each country in the region.

The Democracy Index links to the need to correlate government ideology and compatibility with the United States. The motivation for this parameter stems from the notion of Democratic Peace Theory; that governments with democratic ideology are less likely to go to war with each other and will also serve as likely strategic partners or allies for the U.S. The Democracy Index is a publicly available database rating countries on their electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture. It assigns an index value for each ranging from 0-1, then totals the answers aligned with each category.

The number of Alliances in the AOR symbolizes the current diplomatic efforts in the region. Alliances are assessed on a binary basis (does it exist?) absent consideration of additional factors (numbers of countries, types of agreements, commitments, etc.). Alliances in the region indicate the level of formal U.S. interaction in the AOR and give a sight picture as to how viable relationships in that AOR are. We determine alliance presence via reviewing publicly available alliance data, noting the number of alliances a state is part of within each region. We assign one point for each instance of a country’s alliance membership within a COCOM.

The number of embassies and consulates within the AOR indicates diplomatic commitment to a country and region. Diplomatic infrastructure requires monetary investment, personnel, and a general commitment to maintaining some degree of stable relations with the host country. We reviewed the One World Nations website for U.S. embassy and consulate information and assigned a value of 2 for each embassy and a 1 for each consulate. We totaled the infrastructure scores for each country and aggregated for each COCOM AOR to determine the infrastructure score.

The Fragility Index presents an objective standard to pinpoint “What should we be focusing on now, and how many resources can we afford to put towards a more fragile AOR?” The index uses indicators of cohesion, economic, political, social, and external influence. Each country is ranked on a scale of 0-115; higher numbers indicating greater fragility; lower numbers indicating greater stability. The Fragility Index is considered a reliable predictor of state corruption, which is a major factor in assessing a state’s diplomatic value. The SVP values countries with greater stability, which contradicts the longstanding U.S. tradition to focus on weak states as hotbeds for corruption and instability leading to security threats. While acknowledging that more fragile states do indeed raise concerns as breeding grounds for violent extremist organizations, transnational crime, and even the spread of infectious disease, the SVP’s emphasis on prioritizing engagement with more stable countries makes the assumption that such engagements may lead to more effective weak state engagement by stable states with proximal advantage and interest in weak state stability. This is not to dismiss fragile and/or weak states as invaluable or unimportant to the U.S. Rather, the intent is to offer more scrutiny to U.S. diplomatic engagements informed by a relative value assessment of how each state’s perceived fragility aligns to U.S. strategic priorities. Save for the spread of infectious disease (which to date has not been weaponized and is thus an enemy to us all), violent extremist and transnational criminal organizations do not pose a regular and compelling existential threat to U.S. national security sufficient to justify U.S. prioritization of fragile state engagement over engagement with more stable and potentially prosperous partners, many of whom may – on the basis of their proximity – be willing to engage with neighboring weak states on behalf of the U.S. and others. Owing to the likely debate on this logic and the inevitable rejection by some for departing from long-held engagement paradigms, the Fragility Index value is the least significant weighted value among the four DVP parameters, which we discuss in later sections.

Information Value Proposition (IVP)

The IVP parameters for each country are: the Free Press Index, Literacy Rate, Percentage of Population with Secondary Education, and Percentage of Internet Users.

The Free Press Index measures the freedoms available to journalists throughout the world. This index measures the pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure, and violence against journalists in each country. Each country is given a score from 0-100, with lower scores indicating more freedom of the press. Freedom of the press, or journalistic freedom is widely held to correspond to how informed a society is on the basis of its news reporting. More informed societies tend to be more educated and engaged in shaping state interests. More educated and engaged societies tend to value freedom and democracy. The freer and more democratic a state is, the less likely it is to seek and engage in conflict with Western democratic countries maintaining similar values. This is the essence of Democratic Peace Theory. With that, the SVP places greater weight on those countries within an AOR with a better (lower) score.

The national literacy raterepresents a compatibility measure of sorts. We obtained national literacy rates from Our World in Data. The data measures literacy rates via individual self-reporting, self-reporting declared by head of household, proficiency examinations, and indirect estimation/extrapolation. Though some countries’ reported literacy rates are inaccurate, and some assessments are narrow and limiting, the measure does provide some basis of useful information considered generally accurate in making broad assessments of a given country’s overall literacy. If this were the only estimator within the IVP, it would not be sufficient; but when considered in concert with the other IVP indicators, it does offer a useful baseline of value. In general, states with lower literacy rates are less valuable, according to the SVP, as there is a greater barrier to generating influence, especially by way of information campaigns now common and effective in today’s security environment.

The percentage of population with secondary education aligns with literacy rate measures to provide a more comprehensive picture of a society’s capacity for general information literacy. There is enormous variation in this measure worldwide, but using this as an informative baseline offers a useful relative value indicator for understanding one state’s educational system and its effectiveness compared with another. A more educated population will be more information literate and hold a greater capacity to serve as a valuable strategic partner or ally for the U.S.

The percentage of internet users continues to grow worldwide. In today’s globalized and interconnected world in the information age, the percentage of internet users within a country indicates both accessibility of modern infrastructure and state capacity for information absorption and production. From information warfare campaigns to the ability to have access to widespread information, knowing how many internet users a country has is important. This can also be telling of access to and advancement of technology in the AOR. The CIA provides this particular statistic on their website, for each country.

Military Value Proposition (MVP)

The MVP parameters for each country in the chosen region are: Nuclear Capability; U.S. military personnel overseas in that country, the Global Peace Index, and a country’s Proximity to the United States (miles from center).

Nuclear capability correlates to relative state strength and the resulting global influence it wields on the basis of possessing nuclear weapons or not. Nuclear Weapons States are undeniably the most militarily influential states in the international security landscape and must remain the principal strategic focus of the U.S., especially in the era of renewed great power competition with Russia and China, both nuclear weapons states. For this parameter, we allocate one point to countries active in nuclear proliferation but yet to possess viable nuclear weapons. We allocate two points to nuclear capable countries, inclusive of both recognized Nuclear Weapons States via the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) (U.S., United Kingdom, France, Russia, China) and those states deemed Non-NPT nuclear weapons possessors (India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea).

The U.S. military personnel overseas in the AOR indicator helps us understand where current U.S. troop commitments are and is a useful relative value measure in assessing strategic interests and values on the basis of military presence among regions. For this parameter, we determined relative values on a 0-100 scale by dividing each country’s reported U.S. troop levels by value of the highest U.S. troop presence (Japan, at the time of publishing) and then multiplying that value by 100 to determine the country score on a normalized scale, which we discuss in more detail in later sections.

The Global Peace Index measures exactly what it implies: the peacefulness of a country. The Global Peace Index assesses country safety and security, ongoing conflict, and militarization within the state. Each country is ranked on a scale of 1-4, with lower scores indicating a more stable and peaceful dynamic, and higher scores indicating greater instability. The index scores offer a quantitative measure of a country’s probability to go to war or support a war, their willingness to use military force at or below the conflict threshold, and their stability relative to active conflict. We chose this parameter because it produces a sight picture of which countries are most likely to engage in cooperative relationships, maintain partnerships, and even enter into military or security alliances. Like the Fragility Index, the Global Peace Index is also somewhat representative of state stability.

The proximity to the United States (from center) presents the geostrategic relevance and significance of an AOR as a security threat to the United States. It is an imperfect measure but is still a useful indicator demonstrating relative proximal value. For this parameter to be an effective relative value assessment, we elected to measure distance from a given country’s geographic center to the geographic center of the United States. The geographic center of the United States happens to be about a mile northwest of Lebanon, Kansas – which is admittedly not among the most strategically relevant location in the country. Regardless, measuring from one geographic center to another provides at least a measure of useful comparison. As with other parameters, we normalized these measures by dividing the distance by the smallest value (Canadian center to US center) and multiplying by 100.

Economic Value Proposition (EVP)

 EVP parameters are: GDP, Economic Freedom Index, Total Natural Resource Rents (% of GDP), and the Total Labor Force for each country in the region.

Gross Domestic Product indicates a country’s economic productivity. Acknowledging GDP as a gross indicator that does not account for consumption rates relative to production (which renders countries like China far less ‘powerful’ on the basis of such a comparison), it is still widely recognized and most often cited as the leading indicator of relative economic strength. Moreover, the SVP is intended as a useful tool to generate brief comparisons to inform strategic discussions. Seeking more data to account for consumption vs. production rates and net resources, while it may be more accurate, extends beyond the intended utility of the SVP as a generalized tool for broad applicability. In this way, GDP is a useful measure of strategic value for inclusion in the EVP.

The Economic Freedom Index depicts a relationship between economic freedom and a country’s progress. The parameters used to assess economic freedom within the index are rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and open markets. The Economic Freedom Index ranks countries relative to these categories on a 0-100 scale, with the higher number indicating a more stable and open state economic system. For the U.S., relative particularly to the EVP and SVP more broadly, this index signals at a country’s capacity and willingness to engage in economic partnerships and also indicates the effectiveness of their economy relative to these aims.  

The total natural resource rents as percentage of GDP is a measure indicating a country’s reliance on nature resources for economic vitality. Typically, the natural resource rent assesses the cost of producing a resource commodity (coal, minerals, oil, natural gas) relative to its market price. This value shows the percent by which a country is reliant on its ability to produce and sell a given commodity, say oil, as a means of economic stability. In general, countries with a greater portion of their GDP linked to resource rents tend to be more economically unstable (Iraq, Venezuela, etc.). Again, to normalize this data, we divided country resource rents percentage by the highest country percentage and multiplied that value by 100 to place the country values on a 0-100 scale. Countries with higher values are weighted as less valuable for this parameter.

The total labor force is the objective measure (estimate) of a country’s capable working population. Data from The World Bank provides estimates of a country’s labor force indicating the country’s total productive capacity, but not productivity. Labor force is only a measure of work potential; it is not a measure of actual production. However, the labor force measure is a significant economic indicator in that it predicts a country’s capacity for production, which can be strategically advantageous in the event of a conflict or need for mass mobilization of national production resources to meet a given need. We applied the same normalization procedure described above for this measure as with others.

The SVP in Application

To determine the SVP, one must first choose the COCOMs to compare and identify the respective country lists for each. Data collection for each parameter takes time, but is accessible via publicly available databases or common online search engines and tools as described above. After collecting and recording parameter data for each sub-value proposition within the SVP DIME framework, users normalize the variables to an equal scale from 0-100. To do this, users convert the minimums and maximums of each parameter to a scale out of 100. For example, a parameter for analysis as part of the IVP calculation is percentage of internet users in a country.

In this parameter, a given value, say 20.8%, is divided by the maximum value in that data lot, say 98.2%, and then multiplied by 100 to determine its relative value on a 0-100 scale. Repeat the process for each parameter to normalize the data for relative value assessment, with the need to adjust the process slightly for parameters with inverted scales.

For parameters such as the Fragility Index where the lower number is better, we apply the same normalization process in the inverse manner, normalizing the values by dividing by the minimum value first to achieve a score out of 100. A country’s normalized value relative to the high/low value in the category earns it a weighted score. Upon normalizing the data for all parameters, we then assign relative importance to each parameter to further determine the value score.

The most significant (in our assessment) of the four parameters in each DIME category receives a 40% weight; the second receives 30% weight; the third receives a 20% weight; and the fourth receives a 10% weight (see Figure 2).1 We then total these four parameters to achieve four aggregate value propositions for each factor of DIME. Each value proposition (DVP, IVP, MVP, EVP) is an accumulation of the four factors weighted within it. The sum total of each value proposition forms the combined score that determines the SVP for the chosen region of analysis (SVP = DVP+IVP+MVP+EVP). Whichever region results in a greater sum can be considered, on the basis of this analysis, more strategically valuable than the other.

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The SVP Limitations

There are obvious limitations in the proposed framework, but perhaps none more so than the SVP’s reliance on aggregate data (sum total scores) to produce an overall score indicative of a region’s ‘strategic value.’ Using a data aggregation approach to compare geographic regions would seemingly and logically advantage those regions with more countries, simply on the basis of having more data to aggregate toward a larger sum total. This is an obvious limitation of the SVP in that the number of countries within each COCOM AOR is not equal. Excluding NORTHCOM, the overseas geographic COCOM country totals vary considerably: AFRICOM (53); EUCOM (51); USINDOPACOM (36); SOUTHCOM (31); CENTCOM (20).

The variance potentially skews the aggregate totals – high or low – relative to the total number of countries from which to collect and include SVP data. That said, the SVP logic holds despite this perceived limitation in that the SVP intends to produce an aggregate value for regional comparisons. If EUCOM’s 51 countries results in a greater overall SVP score than, say, CENTCOM with its 20 countries, we can use the SVP logic to support the notion that EUCOM is more strategically valuable than CENTCOM on the basis of our cumulative quantitative analysis and should command greater strategic attention, investment, and commitment toward U.S. interests.

Beyond the limitation that is inconsistent country totals in the COCOMs, we acknowledge that some of our chosen parameters may raise question about relevance or compel readers to argue that another similar parameter would be better placed in lieu of one or more of our chosen measures. We also acknowledge that the collective parameters will produce SVP scores more advantageous to industrialized regions, given the choice of measures. This is intentional and part of the argument motivating the SVP’s creation: the U.S. should prioritize regions with more value by way of capability and capacity to advance the greater good; not continue focusing on those regions of questionable importance to future geopolitical and geostrategic interests. To this point and by way of example, we elected to run the SVP analysis for the CENTCOM region in comparison with evolving domains of geostrategic relevance: the Polar Regions of the Arctic and Antarctica. 

An Example SVP

Given the disparity among the various regions and in both an effort to avoid biasing discussions while also demonstrating the utility of the SVP in modern context, we applied the SVP to the CENTCOM AOR and the Polar Regions in an attempt to demonstrate its applicability beyond the described confines of the COCOM AORs.

With a new method of consideration for comparing the relative strategic value of geographic regions, we can contemplate alternative locations warranting a rebalance. Considering the Trump administration NSS emphasis on homeland defense, American prosperity, peace through strength, and American influence coupled with the NDS emphasis on long-term strategic competition with Russia and China, the Polar Regions of the Arctic and Antarctica are, arguably, just as relevant to safeguarding U.S. interests as current regions of U.S. presence like CENTCOM and USINDOPACOM.

The Arctic is an emerging security issue of strategic importance, but great power competition is extending to Antarctica as well, even despite the Antarctic Treaty’s prohibition on militarizing the continent. Given the continued U.S. drawdown in CENTCOM and the evolving rhetoric arguing for reorientation of capabilities beyond the AOR along with the potential for strategic competition with Russia and China in both Polar Regions, consistent with the NDS priorities of the same, we elected to compare the Polar Regions and CENTCOM to determine the relative SVP of each.

For our analysis and by way of example for using the SVP given the lack of a geographic COCOM boundary for the Polar Regions, we considered the Polar Regions inclusive of the eight Arctic Council member states (as well as China as an Arctic Council observer and relevant geostrategic competitor) and the twelve original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty (18 countries total). CENTCOM has 20 countries in its AOR.

For this exercise, we analyzed the CENTCOM AOR and the Polar Regions using the DVP, IVP, MVP, and EVP to gauge the strategic value of each region. Using our country lists, we analyzed each on the basis of the proposed SVP parameters. Conclusively, the Strategic Value Proposition was greater for the Polar Regions than the CENTCOM AOR. In this way, we have an objective basis of argument – a quantitative starting point at least – advocating for more strategic focus to the Polar Regions in comparison to CENTCOM AOR in future U.S. defense prioritization efforts. This demonstrates the utility of the SVP in that compared to CENTCOM, most would likely say such a comparison is absurd, basing their arguments on the paradigm that is the Global War on Terror that has defined U.S. defense posture for nearly 20 years. But the SVP offers a quantitative comparison for different regions and produces an objective measure of value based on the chosen comparison metrics. Such an exercise may, at least, offer additional information for the skeptics and the naysayers to consider rather than continue encouraging engagement informed solely on the basis of precedent and absent analytical comparative logic. With that, our goal is to offer a practical analysis tool, populated by data, to inform future policy and posture conversations.


The use of an SVP to determine the relative importance of specific regions for relative value to U.S. strategic priorities offers utility for informing sound, data-driven U.S. defense policies and strategic posturing. The SVP provides a tool to determine U.S. posture informed by measured priorities and assessable outcomes. With this in mind, the Obama and Trump administration decisions to prioritize the Asia-Pacific fall short of robust analysis justifying the pivot and instead rely on superficial measures of population and GDP as the basis for the same. This is not to say that USINDOPACOM is unimportant. Rather, we need a better, more data-driven method of assessing and recommending future rebalancing efforts. We cannot simply assume a rebalance is warranted on the basis of GDP, population, and military capabilities without also assessing other relevant indicators of potential regional strategic value. The SVP offers a new way; a more deliberate way; and maybe even a better way.

Our intent is not to produce a model that informs a strategic military pivot to a particular region. The SVP is not sufficiently refined enough to serve this purpose. Rather, our intent with the SVP proposal is to offer a tool for consideration; a new way of thinking about determining what is strategically valuable on the basis of numbers that paints a comprehensive picture rather than relying on superficial determinants solely looking at gross indicators of population and GDP. Our hope is that those reading this will see the value in the proposed framework and maybe even derive value in its application from research to practice.

We have not applied the SVP analysis to compare each COCOM region – this is an opportunity for others and is most welcomed, for curiosity if nothing else. Beyond an academic exercise, our hope is that perhaps those with more resources available to them can expand this concept and formalize it into a refined framework and mechanism to inform future policy and strategy. For now, our intent and hopeful contribution is the SVP idea and our attempt to compel more robust conversation in determining strategic value and resulting defense and security orientations. Until then, the United States is falling behind by not considering the relative strategic value of each region prior to determining its rebalancing, and if we continue to balance on the basis of superficial logic, we will eventually tip in the wrong direction.

Ryan Burke is an associate professor and curriculum director in the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Department of Military & Strategic Studies. He is a two-term (19-20; 20-21) Non-Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point; a veteran Marine Corps officer; and holds a PhD from the University of Delaware’s Joseph R. Biden School of Public Policy and Administration. He writes extensively on defense policy and military affairs. He can be reached at

Olivia Cretella is a cadet first class at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) majoring in Military & Strategic Studies and minoring in Russian. She has served as a Cadet Squadron Commander and as a Cadet Group Commander leading 1,000 cadets. Olivia is a USAFA class of 2021 graduate school program selectee and will pursue a master’s degree in international affairs at the Texas A&M Bush School following her USAFA graduation.Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the United States Government, or any other organization the authors are affiliated with.

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[1] Parameter weighting is as follows: DVP: Democracy Index (40%); Alliances (30%); Embassies and Consulates (20%); Fragility Index (10%). IVP: Free Press Index (40%); Literacy Rate (30%); Secondary Education (20%); Internet Use (10%). MVP: Nuclear Capability (40%); Troops Overseas (30%); Global Peace Index (20%); Proximity to Homeland (10%) EVP: Gross Domestic Product (40%); Economic Freedom Index (30%); Resource Rents (20%); Labor Force (10%).

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