The rise of a multipolar world order has changed the nature of both competition and conflict – that is, how nations show and assert dominance in their relationships. Nations such as the US have struggled to deal with gray-zone tactics and “full spectrum” aggression, such as that exhibited by China. New frameworks to address these challenges are needed, and in particular, ones that can align with the shift in geo-political order.

Framing the Challenge

There are a few key facets to the challenges facing the US:

  • aggression across domains, below the level of kinetic engagements
  • which are focused through the lens of systems destruction warfare
  • and exacerbated by poor decisions and arrogance among the US political class
  • which must find their solution in compeition and dominance, not conflict

This poses a significant challenge to the US, which has both destroyed its key assets through generational mismanagement and which has overly relied on military confrontation during that period – primarily in the bullying of smaller nations. Unfortunately, that behavior has only exacertbated the collapse of US influence and power on the world stage.


We’ll briefly cover examples from modern politics of gray-zone actions and tactics to assert dominances.

Examples of Gray-Zone Acts

First, we’ll highlight several actions in the abstract – to make understanding the specific examples easier.

  • building on or claiming land in disputed areas
  • violating exclusive economic zones
  • physically aggressive non-violent acts, such as dangerous maneuvers by ships or aircraft
  • targeted economic investments
  • lawfare, such as through externally funded civic organizations
  • propaganda and astroturfed movements, such as those which aggrevate racial tensions

Examples By the US

While the US struggles to address these tactics, it also engaged in them abroad. Here is a brief example of such instances.

  • “aid”, “democracy”, and “civil rights” organizations which interfere in the elections of other nations or which lead (violent) protests on its streets
  • usage of banks, NGO funding, and other financial mechanisms to coerce policy in other nations
  • so-called “rules based international order”, in which the US and allies set the rules they demand others follow (or else!)
  • “color revolutions” and other acts of civil unrest fomented via US agencies (eg, CIA) and companies (eg, Facebook and Twitter)

Examples Against the US

There are similarly examples of these tactics being employed against the US.

  • smuggling drugs into the US, killing significant population
  • funding dissident groups, similar to those used by “color revolutions” and other US destabilization efforts
  • subverting US universities with malnarratives to damage the US clerical class
  • subverting US corporations with investments to damage US interests

Other Examples

There are at least two more major examples, which don’t involve the US as either party.

  • development on contested islands in the South China sea
  • Chinese fishing in the exclusive economic zone of South American nations

Exposure of Open Societies

We can see from these examples that open societies are fundamentally more vulnerable to these tactics than closed or managed societies. Particularly to acts of institutional subversion, such as those which exploit corporations, universities, and dissident movements. There’s an inherent trade-off in the nature of open socieities: collaboration and progress versus infiltration and subversion. Of course this is not a binary but a spectrum, so accordingly we should discuss where on that dynamic is optimal than wholly embrace or reject a particular view. Further, we must be cognizant in addressing such concerns not to undermine the nature of our society, which (akin to terrorism) may be the very goal of employing those tactics in the first place.

Failed Approach

We must emphasize that these tactics, while damaging, are frequently self-defeating:

  • Russia’s killing of their brethern in Ukraine traces (in part) to the subversion of the US during the Cold War, when many of the politicians presiding over the US today were infected with malnarratives by the USSR; a classic case of blowback in international politics
  • the G7 having a harrumph about China employing similar tactics to their own network of NGOs, influence peddling, targeted investment is comical; and serves to futher delegitimize them on the world stage for their obvious hypocrisy
  • instability in the world order which has brought the entire planet dangerously close to a third world war and possible nuclear exchange owes in large part to these (and other) instances of the tactics mentioned above destabilizing global politics

In short, while these techniques can be hugely damaging, they rarely stay contained and tend to outwardly radiate within a few generations – damaging the perpetrator as well as the intended target.

Dominance in the Multipolar World Order

We therefore need new techniques to establish, demonstrate, and assert dominance in the world. This will require re-interpreting dominance between nations and developing new approaches to achieving that. We propose three key ideas.


Humans are hardwired to reciprocate behavior – which is a dominant strategy in the absense of trust. So much so that most research showing “humans are irrational” is in fact an exhibition that humans reciprocate, even when psychologists attempt to isolate their behavior from the broader context of society. This behavior is basic game theory, which we have learned in our very genetics.

The key idea behind reciprocity is simple: meet in friendship and mirror the behavior of the other party.

This change in international relations, and a strict adherence to it, allows for relationships to eventually settle into a stable friendship. While occasional forgiveness may be needed, as we can see in US-China relations, the tendency to “forgive and move on” or inability to forgive past crimes both are destabilizing habits – the US too forgiving and the Chinese angry about events before the CCP even rose to power. Neither has led to mutual prosperity. This is a canonical failure of reciprocity.

Open Collaborations

Trust is a key mediator to relationships driven by reciprocity: trust allows for a margin of error and a delay in escalation; and the potential to right greivances before entering a cycle of retaliation. However, how do you establish trust in a primarily reciprocal relationship?

We suggest two main mechanisms: collaborating on increasingly large projects; collaborating on scientific ventures.

There is a long history of nations in an adversarial relationship doing both – and indeed, even today the US and Chinese collaborate on disaster relief missions (together with third parties, such as ASEAN nations). By having areas which you don’t cosign to purely reciprocal behavior, but which are not core concerns, you allow for the possibility of reconciliation by starting anew in those domains and rebuilding damaged trust. Eg, by sharing scientific results or by collaborating on economic projects in a third, mutually friendly nation.

Lead Not Manage the World

There is a lesson in leadership that you can pull a chain, but not push it.

This lesson applies not only in the interpersonal business contexts, but in the domain of international relations. Dominance in the multipolar world order must fundamentally stem from being so successful that other nations wish to emulate your way of operating, with the desire to be similarly successful. Further, your own wealth and success means that your friendship leads to success.

To dominate the multipolar world order, you must dominate building the future.