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Rapporteur: Elizabeth Yang
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Discussion Points Summary

On April 30, 2020, CNA’s Strategy and Policy Analysis (SPA) program hosted a virtual event to analyze great power competition (GPC), exploring theoretical assumptions within GPC, what it means to be a great power, and the role of cooperation in US policy. The discussion took particular aim at how these issues converge in the arena of day-to-day competition, including how they factor into concepts of gray zone activities. The event featured CNA analysts Dr. Joshua Tallis and Dr. David Knoll and the director of CNA’s SPA program, Ms. Nilanthi Samaranayake. Approximately 50 people attended the virtual event from across government, think tanks, and other organizations. This report summarizes key points from the discussion, including:

  • Understanding the assumptions and theories behind the headlines of GPC empowers policy-makers to craft more specific supporting policies.
  • Questions such as what makes a power great, and how do great powers relate to the international system, are important for formulating theories of change and competition.
  • Several concepts underlying the GPC framework require greater clarity, including how to incorporate non-great powers into GPC policies and the role of day-to-day competition.
  • Great power relations is a useful framing that underscores the persistence of opportunities for cooperation with great powers rivals, and potential competition with allies or partners.
  • Narrative is an important component of executing strategy. As the US engages in GPC, it must also set a proactive narrative that maintains support from allies and partners.
  • Policy-makers should embed gray zone policies within concepts of GPC, using such activities to support clear and consistent narratives about the nature of the competition.
  • Middle powers can serve as spoilers or allies in GPC, either undermining or validating the norms and institutions of the US-led international order.
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DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release: distribution unlimited.
Cleared for public release.


  • Pages: 10
  • Document Number: DCP-2020-U-027193-Final
  • Publication Date: 5/1/2020
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