The United States’ Dangerous Lead Nation Obsession | 2021 | Events

The United States’ Dangerous Lead Nation Obsession
Ryan Grauer
Ryan Grauer
University of Pittsburgh
September 22, 2021


As the United States reorients its security posture from combating terrorists and insurgents toward confronting, among others, great power challengers in the coming years, what is the most effective way for it to fight battles with partners? In fighting with partners in 78 major battles waged during interstate wars since 1900, including 19 since the end of the Cold War, and preparing for similar engagements in the future, the United States has developed and institutionalized a preference for a particular hierarchic form of battlefield coalition organization, often referred to a lead-nation structure. Drawing on insights from organization theory and newly collected data on battlefield coalition performance in combat since 1900, we argue that this doctrinal preference contains hidden assumptions about the relative predominance of American forces in future battlefield coalitions that are unlikely to hold in many possible future contingencies and, as a result, is likely to often inhibit rather than facilitate military efficiency and effectiveness. We then develop a new typology of battlefield coalition organization and effectiveness, emphasizing partners’ relative preponderance in troops and warfighting materiel, resolve, and intelligence. Examination of current and likely future American security challenges through the lens of the new typology indicates the United States must become more flexible its approach to fighting battles with partners to avoid taking on unnecessary risk and maximize the likelihood of military success.


Ryan Grauer is an Associate Professor of International Affairs in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. His research examines the sources and use of military power in the international arena. He is the author of Commanding Military Power (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and his work has been published in World Politics, the European Journal of International Relations, Security Studies, and the Journal of Global Security Studies, among other outlets. At present, he is working on projects examining the creation, organization, and operation of coalitions in battle; the causes and consequences of soldier surrender in war; and the scope and intensity of uses of force by democracies. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and his BA from the University of Chicago. He is a non-resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at the United States Military Academy and has previously been an Academic Visitor in Nuffield College at the University of Oxford.