About Great Power
A new age of great power competition has dawned, eclipsing the post-9/11 era of counter-terrorism — and unwittingly enlisting us all in battle. Great Power is your guide to the emerging interstate rivalries which are less about brute force than asymmetric forms of conflict like cyber, information, and economic warfare. Great Power builds a community that understands what the exercise of great power means for all of us; explains how it targets us as a nation and as individuals; and develops new ideas on how the free world can outpace illiberal and authoritarian competitors abroad — and at home.
The battlefield of these new conflicts is all around us, and yet largely opaque. I have served in the trenches of these complex, fascinating frontline confrontations alongside the brave and innovative people who fight these battles every day. I’ll bring you their perspectives and tell you their stories. Some are soldiers and fighters — but more often, they are not. These tactile experiences with victory and loss, with devastation and surviving to fight another day, can tell you a hell of lot about why we are winning and losing, why it matters so damn much, and how we can permanently alter that equation in our favor. Great Power will also host outside contributors who bring unique perspectives from intelligence, military, resistance, and other storytelling to this space: we will tell unconventional stories on unconventional wars. Great Power will unapologetically explore failure, and unashamedly herald success.
The forging, honing, and wielding of great power in this century will be significantly different from what we experienced in the past. Sure, we still have nuclear weapons and lot of other things that fly fast and go boom. But what about when things don’t go boom? The arsenal of so-called “below-threshold” capabilities — activities that can be conducted below the threshold of full-scale conflict, often without triggering our systems of defenses — are now vital in the acquisition and execution of great power. These capabilities aren’t limited to traditional great power competitors. Often, we are in their crosshairs and don’t even know it.
The texture of the conflict is growing, and the scale is vast: hacking and cyberattacks, malign online influence campaigns, psychological operations, the expanding and evolving use of both formal and informal forms of espionage, the infiltration of target groups with money and access agents, the compromise of strategic industries, the use of proxy forces and organizations to carry out attacks or launder money or narrative. The ability of individual, private, commercial, or non-state actors to use such capabilities to influence the balance of power within and between nations is significant. Too often, we don’t want to see it.
Authoritarian powers have been more innovative in embracing technology and hybrid tactics to advance a worldview that favors data-driven systems of oppression at home while projecting these capabilities as ideologies abroad — to weaken competitors and identify potential recruits alike. They make the case that central control is “better” in this time of fracture for addressing transformative challenges like climate change — and too many people agree and think this makes a lot of sense.
Defenders of democracy seem to be on the back-foot, as is the entire notion of the free world. Only with renewed national focus on understanding this landscape of competitors and allies will the United States and liberal democracies be able to defend and enhance the might and durability of the free world. Great Power adds new perspective to this vital debate.
What can subscribers expect?
To begin, Great Power will post one original long-read every week, digging into a topic on the realities and costs of great power competition in depth. You can expect a broad range of topics, many connecting to current headlines, many anchored in history and sharp analysis of how we got here, and many from a personal perspective.
But we’re also going to have fun, and constantly challenge assumptions: expect to see content connecting to science fiction, movies, books, sports, and other storytelling that shows us visions of the world that was and the world to come; contributions from freedom fighters old and new on finding the tactics and strategic clarity to operate in gray spaces; candid retellings of historical events and intelligence operations and information operations that will help you feel the texture of decision-making in these conflicts; and overall, we’ll keep talking about how the idea of great power connects to us all.
Great Power will also publish pieces by guest authors, approximately one per month to start (but more as the community grows!), to bring the experience and perspective of a group of experts with great frontline stories into the community. Great Power contributors will be encouraged to write of personal experiences and from a personal perspective so that our readers can understand how we learned all this crazy stuff, and why we think it matters. Over the next few months, look forward to pieces by democracy and human rights advocate Garry Kasparov; Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling (ret.), former commanding general of US Army Europe and Seventh Army; former members of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service John Sipher, Steve Hall, and Marc Polymeropoulos; sports writer TJ Quinn; and more.
You can also expect a few shorter posts per week, highlighting current events and developments in the context of different types of great power competition. Subscribers will receive these as a newsletter when they are published and community members have priority access to all content. When research is based on travel and interviews, community members will get access to bonus content.
We’ll also have interviews with people whose insights I value on events that are hard to unpack.
A connected podcast is coming soon! Community members will have access to discussions and additional content, and will be able to submit questions to guests.
It’s a work in progress — but it will provide unique content that is not available outside of this project.
About the lead author
Molly K. McKew is a writer and lecturer on Russian influence and information warfare. Her insights are informed by years spent working in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, including as an advisor to the Georgian President and National Security Council (2009-2013), as an advisor to the former Moldovan prime minister (2014-15), and as the strategic director of a project to strengthen independent Russian language news and media in the Baltic states (2016-17). Her articles have appeared in Politico, the Washington Post, Wired, Lawfare, and other publications. She comments on Russian strategy and disinformation for TV/radio, and frequently briefs military staff and political officials on Russian doctrine and hybrid warfare. She is also currently a senior advisor on disinformation to Stand Up Republic Foundation, where she is the lead author of the Defusing Disinfo blog.
About the Great Power logo
The Great Power logo is an homage to the classic insignias of the US Civil Defense Corps. With the world wars of the 20th century came the concept of civil defense — the idea that communities and individuals played a critical role in national preparedness and defense, and that structuring, organizing, and training civilian cadres in different specialties helped build resilience and readiness from the ground up. Air raid wardens, auxiliary police/firemen, rescue squads, a medical corps, drivers, messengers, emergency food and housing, and more — civil defense volunteers understood that if a crisis came, it fell to them, and they were ready. Essentially, it was the kind of architecture that would be really useful during, say, a global pandemic that locks down a country. The movement toward opaque, national-level structures of emergency management and homeland security have eroded the concept of civil defense in America — to our detriment, I would argue. Because if the new tools of warfare can target each of us, then we had better understand what the hell to do about it. So our Great Power logo is based on those historic civil defense designs. The lightning bolt references the old messenger corps symbol — a tribute to idea that Great Power contributors believe we have important stories to tell. The whiskey glass references the lead author’s belief that the lowest-level fabric of resilience — the kind that is built over a shared cup, for example — is where we will renew our understanding of great power. Join us.
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