Use of Military Power: Flexibility and Scope of non-kinetic capabilities

This article has been initially published in the Security and Land Power Journal
Vol. 2 N.° 3 (2022): April – June


The complexity of threats to the security and defense of States merits the use of military power in a resolute, gradual, flexible and wide-ranging manner to control the escalation of the conflict, while maintaining its high coercive potential. In that sense, non-kinetic capabilities, beyond contributing to the development of conventional military operations, provide a wide range of options for applying military power below the threshold of armed conflict, since they provide flexibility and greater scope to the design and execution of a military response.

Keywords: Threat, Security and Defense, Military Power, Coercive Potential, Non-Kinetic Capabilities, Military Response.


In the context of competition between the great powers, the dynamics of defense is marked by a game of coercive actions that aim to obtain a strategic advantage over the adversary to impose interests and strengthen positions of power without reaching a warlike conflict. Therefore, military and non-military means are used to control their advance.

In this regard, non-kinetic capabilities allow the execution of actions aimed at causing a lethal effect or not on the adversary, without the direct use of physical force or energy generated. On the contrary, kinetic capabilities generate and direct force towards the adversary to achieve physical damage, alteration and destruction, causing lethal and non-lethal effects.[1] Therefore, non-kinetic capabilities offer the possibility of graduating the use of military power in the broad spectrum of conflict escalation control, since they provide flexibility and greater scope for a possible response.

The Peruvian Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas del Perú (FF.AA.) operate in an extremely complex and ambiguous operational environment. A gradual and flexible response is required to neutralize the internal and external threats they face, respecting international law, human rights and the stability of international relations in the region.

In this way, this article will analyze the advantages offered by non-kinetic capabilities in the design of a military response to threats, which generates options that enable the use of military power without the need to cross the threshold of armed conflict or precipitate an uncontrolled escalation of violence.

Gradual and Flexible Response

According to the operational design model of the Armed Forces of the United States (USA) , the elements that influence the planning of military operations are time, space and available forces.[2] Likewise, the interrelation of these allows to articulate an adequate response to a possible threat, when they are connected in a systemic dynamic. On the one hand, space is the physical expression of the desired final state, through objectives on the ground, areas of responsibility where forces are deployed, location and projection of sustainment capabilities, communication routes and aspects of the non-physical operational environment, such as the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. On the other hand, time is connected to space and available forces when establishing phases for the achievement of strategic objectives at the operational and tactical levels, influencing the organization and preparation of the dimensions of the force that will carry out the operation.

Therefore, there is a direct relationship between the aforementioned elements, which are manifested in the amount of resources made available to the deployed forces, directly proportional to the space required to occupy to achieve the objectives set, in a given time. Non-kinetic capabilities are considered as part of the deployed force,[3] integrating the intangible factors that complement the use of military power to achieve a quick victory.

In contrast, according to the strategy of protracted war, put forward by former Chinese President Mao Zedong, the theory of a quick victory is defined by the correlation of opposing forces.[4] In July 1937, Japan invaded China with the application of superior military power, occupying much of the northern territory of the Asian country, which was used as a base to extend over the other regions. Mao Zedong, aware of the superiority of the Japanese forces, designs a military response contrary to the idea of a victory based on speed. In this sense, to prolong the war was to adopt a defensive strategy combined with the offensive use of unconventional forces, at the tactical level, that degrade the capabilities of the adversary until it has exhausted its resources.[5]

Subsequently, this balance of forces is consolidated with the increase in the use of conventional and unconventional units, depending on the areas where the correlation of forces is more favorable and the adversary is overcome, achieving the breaking of its will to fight. Therefore, non-kinetic capacities are grouped in a complementary organization called by Mao Zedong as the “United Front”.

On the one hand, operational design recognizes the importance of achieving targets on time to avoid increased use of resources and premature attrition. Their own forces must be concentrated before the adversary can renew theirs to avoid losing the initiative and achieve a quick victory.[6]

On the other hand, in the strategy of protracted war, time plays against the superior forces, whose degradation is accelerated by the offensive actions of the defender, who avoids decisive combat until a more favorable correlation of forces is achieved. In both cases, the influence of time and space factors in the design of a military response is recognized, according to the demands of the operational environment and the characteristics of the threat to be faced.

Below the threshold of armed conflict, non-kinetic capabilities gain greater relevance, due to their intangible nature and their effects on the adversary. The rigidity of the elements of space and time are diluted in the spectrum of control of the escalation of the conflict, leaving open the possibility of using them without being exposed to the wear and tear of a conventional deployment.

Normally, the aforementioned capabilities are complementary when they are developed in an armed conflict, under the approach of multi-domain operations. However, when used independently it can have decisive results. For example, in 2010, Iran’s nuclear weapons program was advanced and favorably projected, directly affecting the stability of the West, particularly Israel. Suddenly, centrifuges that served to enrich uranium began to fail, causing catastrophic delays in the development of Iran’s nuclear program.[7] Later, it was detected that the damage of the centrifuges had been generated by the computer virus “Stuxnet”,[8] the same one that affected the Iranian nuclear program through a cyber-attack. In this way, the non-kinetic cyberwarfare capability provided an effective and flexible solution that put the West in an advantageous position in the face of Iran’s increased nuclear threat, without the need to cross the threshold of armed conflict.

Greater Scope in the Application of Military Power

The U.S. military took the initiative to develop multi-domain doctrine in order to modernize the use of military power in the complex dynamics of competition with the other global powers. The purpose was for the Armed Forces to prevail over adversaries permanently, defeating them through military power during an armed conflict.[9] In this regard, military capabilities are integrated to achieve a convergent effect on the decisive points that lead to the conquest of their objectives, obtaining a quick victory.

However, the multi-domain approach also contemplates the use of military power in conflict scenarios, through the use of capabilities that contribute to the coercion of the adversary, avoiding the generation of deadlocks that allow it to exploit political ambiguities and strategic positions predictable by the Armed Forces of the North American country.[10]

In addition, non-kinetic capabilities become relevant in the application of military power in ambiguous situations, offering greater options to configure a military response without the need for a deployment of conventional forces that generates an uncontrolled escalation of the conflict and greater use of resources. In this context, the breadth of possibilities in the application of military power makes it possible to identify and exploit the vulnerabilities of the adversary, while forcing it to respond to multiple threats, which has a dislocating effect on its command and control elements.[11]

In contrast, Russia and China, considered by the US as potential enemies, developed non-kinetic capabilities within the dynamics of military power employment. Both countries employed the following ambiguous methods: (1) diplomatic and economic coercion, (2) unconventional warfare, (3) information warfare, (4) sharpening ethnic, religious, and ideological conflicts, and (5) covert use of conventional forces to a limited extent.[12]

For example, the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation was carried out under the characteristics of gray zone warfare,[13] whose main feature was the leading role of non-kinetic capabilities in five known modalities: (1) covert attacks, (2) information operations, (3) use of proxy forces, (4) economic coercion and (5) invasion of territory.[14] The Russians began their operation with the deployment of ambiguous military units without order of battle badges (Little Green Men),[15] under the pretext of fulfilling peacekeeping missions; however, their real objective was the control of the Ukrainian population. This situation was integrated by an international policy of support for countries with Russian influence, coercive economic measures, development of intelligence and propaganda operations, as well as a well-developed and permanent information campaign. Consequently, the Russian Federation deployed a strategy of war in the grey zone, based on its non-kinetic capabilities and integrated into its non-military means of coercion to achieve the annexation of Crimea.

The ambiguous nature of non-kinetic capacities offers a window of opportunity for strategic leaders to access the process of formulating strategies at the political level, in order to articulate the instruments of national power.[16] Thus, a military response can be more easily aligned with the non-military means that are part of the national defense system. In addition, they contribute to the preparation of the operational environment to be able to face threats from a favorable cognitive position that leads to the defeat of the adversary.[17] Finally, they enhance the development of operations, facilitating the configuration of an advantageous situation for the fulfillment of the mission in a conventional deployment.

Non-Kinetic Capabilities in the Peruvian Armed Forces

Latin America is no stranger to the complexity of the operational environment, due to the constant action of state and non-state actors that erode political, defense, and security stability.[18] As a result, emerging threats encounter an unstable security environment that favors the increase of their activities against the constitutional order of the countries of the region.

Peru, in its recent history, used military power to defend itself from external aggression, as well as to confront internal armed groups bent on subverting the constitutional order for their benefit. Therefore, the Armed Forces must be able to attend to national defense, designing an effective military response that can repel the threats that arise in this complex operational environment, marked by the actions of transnational criminal organizations that threaten not only the sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also the stability and security of the country.

Therefore, the use of military power in this complex operational environment (in which internal and external threats are combined) must maintain a rationality, in order to achieve the desired objectives. Territorial control, articulated with the selection of high-value objectives, constitutes a criterion for the efficient use of military power that allows the use of resources to be dosed in the fulfillment of the role of the Armed Forces. Likewise, it is necessary to sustain a deterrent effort on state and non-state actors that materialize the threats in the complexity of the regional operational environment, requiring a flexible and far-reaching military response that offers a wide variety of possibilities based on the diversity of its capabilities. In this sense, non-kinetic capabilities make a valuable contribution to the use of military power.

In this regard, the Armed Forces must take advantage of the advantages offered by non-kinetic capabilities to dominate the field of security and defense, through a joint effort that allows: (1) the optimization of personnel administration, organizational structure and acquisition of material; (2) review, monitoring, and updating of doctrine, training, and education; (3) infrastructure improvement; and (4) strengthening leadership.[19]


A military response that considers non-kinetic capabilities offers two significant advantages. The first consists in the flexibility of the design of a gradual military response, due to its minimal dependence on the factors of space and time, facilitating the control of the escalation of the conflict through deterrence and low-intensity military actions. Thus, non-kinetic capabilities such as intelligence, information, psychological operations and civil affairs are permanently developed and not subjected to the pressure of a quick victory. Also, the second advantage is its greater scope, since it offers various options for the use of military power in the face of ambiguous threats; Thus, a military response, based on non-kinetic capabilities, has a broader spectrum, from non-war military operations to a low-intensity application of military power (below the threshold of armed conflict).[20]

Undoubtedly, these capabilities facilitate the formulation of a gradual military response that controls the escalation of violence, exerts coercion and avoids crossing the threshold of armed conflict. In this sense, the Joint Command of the Armed Forces must develop, strengthen and integrate non-kinetic capabilities, working directly on the factors of capacity and exploiting the strengths of the armed institutions to achieve a synergistic relationship that allows dominating the operational environment and, in this way, facing ambiguous threats.


  1. U.S. Air Force Curtis E. Lemay Center for Doctrine and Education, “The Coercion Continuum”, Operations and Planning, AFDP 3-0 (Alabama: November 4, 2016), 53, (Accessed January 18, 2023).
  2. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Chapter IV: Design Operational”, Joint Planning, Joint Publication 5-0 (Washington, DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, December 1, 2020), 19.
  3. Ibid., 20.
  4. Mao Tse Tung, “Sobre la Guerra prolongada”, Obras Escogidas de Mao Tse Tung, (Pekin: Ediciones en lenguas extranjeras, 1976), 135, (Accessed November 3, 2022).
  5. Ibid., 141.
  6. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Planning, 30.
  7. Anthony H. Cordesman and Grace Hwang, “The Other Sides of Renegotiating the JCPOA Iran Nuclear Agreement,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (April 15, 2021), (Accessed November 3, 2022).
  8. BBC, “El Virus que Tomó Control de Mil Máquinas y Les Ordenó Autodestruirse”, British Broadcasting Corporation BBC News Mundo (October 11, 2015), (Accessed November 6, 2022).
  9. U.S.. Army TRADOC, “The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028”, TRADOC Center Pamphlet 525-3-1, (December 6, 2018), v, (Accessed November 6, 2022).
  10. Ibid., 15.
  11. Ibid., 21.
  12. Ibid., 7.
  13. Jack Watling, “We Need To Relearn How To Do Deterrence”, RUSI (December 5, 2019) (Accessed November 9, 2022).
  14. “The Gray Zone Warfare”, Qinetiq, (Accessed November 9, 2022).
  15. Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Gray Zone Tools: Use of Ambiguous Forces”, YouTube (Video 3:15) (December 7, 2018), (Minute 1:23, Accessed November 9, 2022).
  16. U.S. Army TRADOC, TRADOC Center Pamphlet 525-3-1, 24.
  17. Ibid., 47.
  18. Evan Ellis, “Latin America America’s Perfect Storm”, Global Americans (August 31, 2022) (Accessed November 6, 2022).
  19. U.S. Department of Defense, “DoD Architecture Framework Version 2.02”, Chief Information Officer, DoDAF (2022), (Accessed January 18, 2023).
  20. Robert Worley, “Chapter 7: Instruments of Power,” Orchestrating The Instruments of Power: A Critical Examination of The U.S. National Security System, (Lulu Press, 2012), 277.


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

The ideas contained in this analysis are the sole responsibility of the author, without necessarily reflecting the thoughts of the CEEEP or the Peruvian Army.

Image: CEEEP