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Elbridge Colby

Co-Founder and Principal


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Elbridge Colby is co-founder and principal of The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. He is the author of The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict (Yale University Press), which The Wall Street Journal selected as one of the top ten books of 2021.

Previously, Colby was from 2018-2019 the Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, where he led the Center’s work on defense issues.

Before that, he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2017-2018. In that role, he served as the lead official in the development and rollout of the Department’s preeminent strategic planning guidance, the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). The NDS shifted the Department of Defense’s focus to the challenges to U.S. military superiority and interests posed by China in particular followed by Russia, prioritizing restoring the Joint Force’s warfighting edge against these major power competitors. He also served as the primary Defense Department representative in the development of the 2017 National Security Strategy.

Prior to this, Colby was from 2014 to 2017 the Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. From 2010 to 2013 he was principal analyst and division lead for global strategic affairs at CNA. Earlier in his career he served for over five years in the U.S. Government working on a range of strategic forces, arms control, WMD, and intelligence reform matters, including service with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003 and with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during its stand-up in 2005-2006. Colby has also served on the staff of a number of government commissions, including the 2014 National Defense Panel, the 2008-2009 Strategic Posture Commission, and the 2004-2005 President’s WMD Commission.

Colby’s work has appeared in outlets such as The Wall Street JournalForeign Affairs, The Washington PostThe New York Times, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest as well as in international outlets such as Asahi ShimbunYomiuri ShimbunNikkei Asia, The Hindustan TimesThe Australian, Frankfurter Allgemeine ZeitungLe FigaroThe Spectator, Survival, Internationale Politik, Die ZeitThe Taipei TimesHankook IlboLimes, The New Straits Times, and The Manila Standard. He is also the author of many book chapters, reports, and articles on defense and foreign policy issues. He has testified a number of times before Congress and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Colby is a recipient of the Distinguished and Exceptional Public Service Awards from the Department of Defense and of the Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards from the Department of State. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Colby is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.


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The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict

by Elbridge Colby

Elbridge A. Colby was the lead architect of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the most significant revision of U.S. defense strategy in a generation. Here he lays out how America’s defense must change to address China’s growing power and ambition. Based firmly in the realist tradition but deeply engaged in current policy, this book offers a clear framework for what America’s goals in confronting China must be, how its military strategy must change, and how it must prioritize these goals over its lesser interests.

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Work

Building a ‘strategy of denial’ to thwart China

Hindustan Times | After many decades of hoping to avoid a rivalrous relationship with China, both the United States (US) and India now recognise China as their top security threat. sensus that China is one of — if not the — major threats to US stability and prosperity. But concerted action from the Pentagon that matches the gravity of this threat is lacking. .....

China: Strategy of Denial

Council on Geostrategy | The rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the surrounding Indo-Pacific region has altered the global balance of power.....

Interview: Providing for America’s Defense

City Journal | Elbridge A. Colby is cofounder and principal of The Marathon Initiative and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development for the Defense Department, where he served as the lead official in the development and rollout of the 2018 National Defense Strategy.....

A Coalition Will Blunt Beijing’s Ambition

The Australian | Beijing’s goals appear to be regional hegemony over Asia, the world’s largest market, as a start, and global pre-eminence from there. Some argue that Australia should accommodate Beijing and hope for the best; but that would result in the compromise of the freedoms and prosperity that make Australia the envy of the world.....

History Ago Go: Elbridge Colby & The Strategy of Denial

History Ago Go | Interviewed by Rob Mellon, Elbridge A. Colby was the lead architect of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the most significant revision of U.S. defense strategy in a generation. Here they discuss out how America’s defense must change to address China’s growing power and ambition....

Colby: “US Defence Strategy and Alliances in the Indo-Pacific Elbridge Colby” from Alliances, Nuclear Weapons and Escalation: Managing Deterrence in the 21st Century

Alliances, Nuclear Weapons and Escalation: Managing Deterrence in the 21st Century (Australian National University Press) | This text is taken from Alliances, Nuclear Weapons and Escalation: Managing Deterrence in the 21st Century, edited by Stephan Frühling and Andrew O’Neil, published 2021 by ANU Press, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia......

WSJ: The 10 Best Books of 2021

The Wall Street Journal | China cannot be contained. It cannot be appeased. It must instead be denied its immediate geopolitical goals and its long-term plans for economic, military and ideological domination in what many pundits call “the coming Chinese century.” .....

After Hegemony

The John Batchelor Show | Peter Berkowitz interviewed on Elbridge Colby's defense of Taiwan on The John Batchelor Show......

The U.S. Military and the Coming Great-Power Challenge

Foreign Affairs | In describing this dangerous new world, The Strategy of Denial touches on a range of topics, including the challenge posed to NATO from a resurgent Russia, rival nuclear arsenal growth, an unstable Middle East, and global terrorism.....

The Rise and Fall of the China Question

The Critic | Despite some such unanswered questions, The Strategy of Denial is a terrific new contribution to the literature. Colby is right to point out that there are limitations on what the US can do, and that it is time for threat prioritisation and trade-offs: this is a vital injection of realism to an American strategic debate sorely in need of it....

The John Batchelor Show: The Strategy of Denial

The John Batchelor Show | Why and how America’s defense strategy must change in light of China’s power and ambition. Elbridge A. Colby was the lead architect of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the most significant revision of U.S. defense strategy in a generation...

Analysis: Pentagon has a Pacific posture predicament

Nikkei Asia | The administration of former President Donald Trump made a clear tilt toward the "denial" camp. One of the chief advocates for that shift was Elbridge Colby, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development and the principal author of Trump's 2018 National Defense Strategy. "....

Horns of a Dilemma: A Strategy of Denial

War on the Rocks | In this episode of Horns of a Dilemma, we hear from Elbridge Colby, co-founder of the Marathon Initiative, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, and author of The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Competition......

Hot Wash: China and the Strategy of Denial with Elbridge Colby

RealClear Politics | In this episode of the RealClearDefense podcast "Hot Wash", host John Sorensen and RCD Editor David Craig speak with Elbridge Colby, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development under President Trump, and the lead official in the development of the 2018 National Defense Strategy......

We Should Arm Taiwan to the Teeth

National Review | It should be our objective to keep China at bay, toward the goal of keeping it from establishing its dominance over Asia, as former Trump defense official Elbridge Colby argues in his compelling new book The Strategy of Denial.....

The Collapse of Kamala Harris, Plus: Rising to the China Challenge

Spectator World | This evening, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will meet virtually in a bid to reduce rising tensions between the US and China. The remote tête-à-tête comes at an important time, after a Chinese Communist Party declaration that marks Xi as among the greatest figures in its history, with the outlines of the Biden administration’s China policy now visible, and with no shortage of contentious issues for the two leaders to discuss......

How do Westminster and Washington justify AUKUS?

ABC - Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Will our new security alliance with the US and the UK just provoke China? Foreign-policy experts in both Washington and Westminster say that it is, rather, the rising threat of China that has made the collaboration so necessary for Australia.......

The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict Book Discussion

The Reagan Institute | The Reagan Institute invites you to join Elbridge Colby and Mike Gallagher for a conversation on Mr. Colby’s newest book, The Strategy of Denial. This virtual event brings together two defense experts to discuss the pressing issues addressed in Mr. Colby’s book such as the evolving global threat environment, the challenge of a rising China, and recommendations for strengthening American national security through “deterrence by denial.”......

Grounded with Jim Banks – Elbridge Colby

Grounded with Jim Banks | Author Elbridge Colby joins “Grounded with Jim Banks” this week to discuss his newly released book “The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict,” which lays out a military strategy to prevent Chinese hegemony in Asia. .....

Senator Marco Rubio: How to Use America’s New Peace Dividend

The American Conservative | While the Chinese Communist Party has been on a shipbuilding spree, the United States is stagnant. We cannot successfully refocus on the Indo-Pacific region, protect our critical trade routes, and discourage Beijing’s aggression if our Navy cannot project power or maintain order in critical areas......

Former U.S. Defense Official on the AUUKUS Pact

CNBC | “If it had to be this way, it had to be this way, with all due respect to our French allies” Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development Elbridge Colby tells CNBC on the AUUKUS Pact....

How to stop worrying and prevent Chinese hegemony

The Washington Examiner | "Physical force, especially the ability to kill, is the ultimate form of coercive leverage. While there are other sources of influence, such as wealth, persuasiveness, and charisma, they are all dominated by the power to kill,” Elbridge A. Colby writes in The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict.....

The Strategy of Denial

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Join us for a conversation on Elbridge A. Colby's new book The Strategy of Denial which offers a detailed examination of how America's defense strategy must change in order to checkmate China's growing power and ambition and deter war....

What Comes After the 9/11 Era?

The New York Times | A consensus can change slowly and then, under the right pressure, all at once, and for Republicans that pressure came from Donald Trump. No dove or systematizer, he still made realism and anti-interventionism respectable again — with immediate consequences for my friend...

Defending the Next American Century

Law & Liberty | The story is familiar: two great powers lurching toward blows more and more with each passing day, but neither will yield an inch. Geopolitics, national interests, and escalatory rhetoric bring both to an inflection point too dangerous to ignore, but too distant for some to foresee until it is too late....

Deutschland am Scheidepunkt – eine aktive Verteidigungs- und Bündnispolitik ist überfällig (Germany at the crossroads – an active defense and alliance policy is overdue)

SIRIUS – Zeitschrift für Strategische Analysen | If European allies, especially Germany, continue to refuse to increase their defense efforts, the United States is unlikely to fill the security vacuum in Europe, but will rather accept the risks that such a refusal poses to European security.....

Elbridge Colby & The True Purpose Of The American Government

The Ben Domenech Podcast | This week, Ben Domenech is joined by Co-Founder and Principal of The Marathon Initiative Elbridge Colby to discuss America’s involvement in the Afghanistan crisis. Elbridge shares his take on President Joe Biden’s responses in a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos. He also shares his thoughts on American policy and the true purpose of our government....

The China Threat and US Defense Strategies

Global Demons with Robert D. Kaplan | Why should the average American care about the China Threat? In this episode of the Global Demons Podcast, Host Robert D. Kaplan is joined by Elbridge Colby to discuss Chinese military and defense strategies and how the U.S. and its allies should engage with China in the future....

Deter China’s military invasion of Taiwan

47 News | As the conflict between the United States and China deepens and tensions in the Taiwan Strait are worried, Elbridge Colby, who participated in the formulation of the strategy for China as Assistant Secretary of Defense under the former US administration of Trump,....

Pentagon to Speed Up Efforts to Counter China

The Wall Street Journal | At this point, the say-do gap is the problem,” said Elbridge Colby, a former Pentagon official who played a key role in developing the national defense strategy during the Trump administration....

The New Transatlantic Security Agenda

Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique | FRS and U.S. Embassy & Consulates in France are pleased to invite you to a webinar entitled "The New Transatlantic Security Agenda", which will be held online on Wednesday, March 10, from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm (CET)...

Sources of Chinese Conduct: A Debate

CFTNI | More than a half-century ago, George Kennan published an analysis of the sources of Soviet conduct that helped to shape US policy toward Moscow throughout the Cold War. More recently, the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff...

Defending Taiwan is growing costlier and deadlier

The Economist | Rousing music accompanies the h-6k, a hulking Chinese bomber, as it sweeps up into a pink sky. Moments later, its pilot presses a red button, with the panache and fortitude that only a People’s Liberation Army (pla) officer could muster, and a missile streaks towards the island of Guam...

A New Bargain

Internationale Politik | The rapid rise of China is inevitably forcing a major shift in the US-European relationship. It is time for both sides to root the transatlantic bond in shared interests, rather than often ill-defined values. Fortunately, such a basis exists.....

America’s New Defense Strategy

Center for a New American Security | On May 17, 2019, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and Foreign Policy (FP) welcomed visitors for an on-the-record discussion....

The Indo-Pacific After INF

The Heritage Foundation | After six years of failed attempts to get Russia to return to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty obligations, the U.S. ...

Great Power Escalation

Georgetown University, Walsh School of Foreign Service | The Inaugural Theory and Practice of Security Conference: Nuclear Weapons and International Security Tuesday, March 19, 9:00 – 4:30, Lohrfink Auditorium, Georgetown University...

Take India’s Side, America

WSJ Opinion | The moment of maximum danger in the latest India-Pakistan conflict appears to have passed. But after a major attack by Pakistani militants on an Indian military base...

Do Nuclear Weapons Matter?

Foreign Affairs | Every year, world powers spend vast sums to upgrade and maintain nuclear arsenals and to prevent their spread to other nations—notably, to North Korea...

Additional Articles

Testimony

Media Commentary

Studies

Book Chapters

  • “A World Order Critique of Nuclear Abolition,” in Global Nuclear Disarmament: Strategic, Political, and Regional Perspectives. N. Hynek and M. Smetana, Eds., Routledge, 2016.
  • “The Need for Limited Nuclear Options,” in Challenges in U.S. National Security Policy. D. Ochmanek and M. Sulmeyer, Eds., RAND Corporation, 2014. https://www.rand.org/pubs/corporate_pubs/CP765.html
  • “The United States and Discriminate Nuclear Options in the Cold War,” in On Limited Nuclear War in the 21st Century. J. Larsen and K. Kartchner, Eds. Stanford University Press, 2014.
  • “Defining Strategic Stability: Reconciling Stability and Deterrence,” in Strategic Stability: Contending Interpretations. E. Colby and M. Gerson., Eds. Strategic Studies Institute, 2013. (Also volume co-editor.) https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/2216.pdf
  • “Why Nuclear Deterrence is Still Relevant” in Deterrence: Rising Powers, Rogue Regimes, and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. A. Lowther Ed., Palgrave MacMillan, 2012. https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/
  • “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy and Policymaking: The Asian Experience,” in Nuclear Weapons and NATO. J. McCausland et al, Eds., Strategic Studies Institute, 2012. https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep12088.7?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  • “U.S.-Central European Relations After the ‘Pivot,’” in Navigating Uncertainty: U.S.-Central European Relations, Center for European Policy Analysis, 2012.
  • Chapters on the U.S. nuclear force, U.S. alliances, deterring WMD terrorism, and ways to address the challenge of a nuclear Iran in In the Eyes of the Experts: Analysis and Comments on America’s Strategic Posture. Bolz, Ed., U.S. Institute of Peace, 2009. (Compendium of memoranda drafted for the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States.) https://www.usip.org/

Select video panel appearances and interviews