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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 forthcoming The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict (Yale University Press, 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 Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest as well as in international outlets such as Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nikkei Asia, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Figaro, Survival, Internationale Politik, Die Zeit, The Taipei Times, Hankook Ilbo, Limes, 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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Column: A new military alliance, a summit meeting: The U.S.-China face-off is looking like the Cold War
Deutschland am Scheidepunkt – eine aktive Verteidigungs- und Bündnispolitik ist überfällig (Germany at the crossroads – an active defense and alliance policy is overdue)
“Neutrality between the US and China is on the side of China” … US former official warns of Korean tightrope
Former senior US official “If Korea takes neutrality between the US and China, it will be interpreted as being energized by China”
European Energy Security: U.S. Interests and Coercive Russian Diplomacy, Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation
- “Eine Landnahme durch Moskau verhindern” (“Respond to INF Collapse with Blunt Layer, Not Repeat of Euromissiles”), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 3, 2019 (with Walter Slocombe). https://fazarchiv.faz.net/document/FAZ__FD1201904035676752?offset=&all=
- “Nuclear Weapons Aren’t Just For the Worst Case Scenario,” Foreign Policy (online), August 4, 2016. https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/04/nuclear-weapons-arent-just-worst-case-scenario-first-use-china-obama-trump/
- “The Future of Alliance,” The National Interest, July/August 2016 (with Jim Thomas). https://nationalinterest.org/feature/dont-scrap-americas-alliances-fix-them-16788
- “Avoiding Becoming a Paper Tiger: Presence in a Warfighting Defense Strategy,” Joint Forces Quarterly, July 2016 (with Jonathan Solomon). https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/793233/avoiding-becoming-a-paper-tiger-presence-in-a-warfighting-defense-strategy/
- “U.S. ‘Ambiguity’ on Taiwan is Dangerous,” The Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2016 (with Walter Slocombe). https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-ambiguity-on-taiwan-is-dangerous-1464022837#:~:text=Thus%2C%20sooner%20or%20later%2C%20China,strength%20becomes%20more%20evenly%20balanced.
- “Facing Russia: Conventional Defense and Deterrence in Europe,” Survival, December 2015/January 2016 (with Jonathan Solomon). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00396338.2015.1116146
- “Preparing for Limited War,” The National Interest, November/December 2015. https://nationalinterest.org/feature/america-must-prepare-limited-war-14104
- “Terrible But Justified,” Global Asia, September 26, 2015. https://www.globalasia.org/v10no3/debate/terrible-but-justified_elbridge-colby
- “Changing Tides in South China Sea,” The Wall Street Journal (Asia), August 26, 2015 (with Evan Montgomery). https://www.wsj.com/articles/changing-tides-in-south-china-sea-1440523898
- “Step Up to Step Down: The United States, NATO, and Dissuading Russian Aggression,” Foreign Affairs (online), August 13, 2015. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/poland/2015-08-13/step-stand-down
- “NATO Needs a Nuclear Strategy Update,” The Wall Street Journal (Europe), May 27, 2015. https://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-needs-a-nuclear-strategy-update-1432751143
- “Asia Goes Nuclear,” The National Interest, January/February 2015. https://nationalinterest.org/feature/welcome-china-americas-nuclear-nightmare-11891
- “America Must Not Neglect Its Nukes,” The New York Times, November 25, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/opinion/america-musnt-neglect-its-nukes.html
- “Smart Hawks,” National Review (online), November 20, 2014 (with Eric Sayers). https://www.nationalreview.com/2014/11/smart-hawks-elbridge-colby-eric-sayers/
- “Realism Returns,” National Review (cover story), November 17, 2014. https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2014/11/17/realism-returns/
- “Have We Hit Peak America: The Sources of U.S. Power and the Path to National Renaissance,” Foreign Policy (cover story), July/August 2014 (with Paul Lettow). https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/07/03/have-we-hit-peak-america/
- “The Real Trouble with Russia,” Foreign Affairs (online), April 7, 2014. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2014-04-07/real-trouble-russia
- “We’re Losing Our Military Edge Over China. Here’s How to Get It Back.” The National Interest (online), March 27, 2014 (with Congressman Randy Forbes). https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/were-losing-our-military-edge-over-china-heres-how-get-it-ba-10134
- “Choose Geopolitics Over Nonproliferation,” The National Interest (online), February 28, 2014. https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/choose-geopolitics-over-nonproliferation-9969
- “Pushing Back on China: A Rational Approach,” ASPI Strategist, February 13, 2014. https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/pushing-back-on-china-a-rational-approach/
- “It’s Not About Trust,” Foreign Policy (online), January 30, 2014. https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/30/its-not-about-trust/
- “Roiling the Waters,” Foreign Policy, January 2014 (with Ely Ratner). https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/21/roiling-the-waters/
- “Why We Must Spy on Our Allies,” The National Interest (online), December 4, 2013. https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/why-we-must-spy-our-allies-9493
- “Can We Save Taiwan?” The National Interest (online), October 2013. https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/can-we-save-taiwan-9257
- “Don’t Sweat AirSea Battle” and “The War Over the War With China,” The National Interest (online), July 31 and August 15, 2013 (debate with T.X. Hammes). https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/dont-sweat-airsea-battle-8804 and https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/the-war-over-war-china-8896
- “Why Not to Attack Iran,” The National Interest (online), January 11, 2012 (with Austin Long). https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/why-not-attack-iran-6352
- “Keeping the Peace,” First Things, January 2011. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/01/keeping-the-peace
- “Hey AEI, Here’s How Real Conservatives Should Think About Defense Spending,” Foreign Policy (online), September 30, 2010. https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/09/30/hey-aei-heres-how-real-conservatives-should-think-about-defense-spending/
- “Evaluate World Engagement on Interest, Fairness,” The Washington Times, December 2008. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/2/colby-on-solutions-evaluate-world-engagement-on-in/
- “Nuclear Abolition: A Dangerous Illusion,” Orbis, Summer 2008. https://www.fpri.org/article/2008/07/nuclear-abolition-dangerous-illusion/
- “Expanded Deterrence,” Policy Review, June 2008. https://www.hoover.org/research/expanded-deterrence
- “Why We Need to Get Osama,” The Washington Times, February 2008. https://www.rand.org/blog/2008/02/why-we-need-to-nail-osama.html
- “Making Intelligence Smart,” Policy Review, August 2007. https://www.hoover.org/research/making-intelligence-smart
- “Restoring Deterrence,” Orbis, Summer 2007. https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/images/issues/200707u/Restoring%20Deterrence.pdf
- Testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, September 22, 2016, on “Diplomacy and Security in the South China Sea: After the Tribunal.” Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcKtSTiD51M.
- Testified before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, November 3, 2015, on “Future Options for the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent: Views from Project Atom.” Available at https://www.cnas.org/press/in-the-news/video-elbridge-colby-before-hasc-on-future-options-for-the-u-s-nuclear-deterrent.
- Testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, April 1, 2015, on “Understanding and Dealing with China’s Growing Military Power: Recommendations for U.S. Defense Posture and Policy.” Prepared statement available at https://www.uscc.gov/.
- “U.S. Needs ‘Denial Defense’ to Thwart Chinese Action in Taiwan,” Asahi Shimbun, December 27, 2019 (interview). http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201912270044.html
- “The Role of Nuclear Weapons in the U.S.-Russian Relationship,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace White Paper, February 26, 2016. https://carnegieendowment.org/2016/02/26/role-of-nuclear-weapons-in-u.s.-russian-relationship-pub-62901
- From Sanctuary to Battlefield: A Framework for a U.S. Defense and Deterrence Strategy for Space. CNAS, January 2016. https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/from-sanctuary-to-battlefield-a-framework-for-a-us-defense-and-deterrence-strategy-for-space
- “Russia’s Evolving Nuclear Doctrine and its Implications,” Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique, January 2016. https://www.frstrategie.org/.
- “Countering Russian Nuclear Strategy in Central Europe,” in Frontline Allies: War and Change in Central Europe. Center for European Analysis, November 2015, 87-101. (chapter author)
- Solving Long Division: The Geopolitical Implications of Korean Unification. CNAS, December 2015. (co-author)
- “A Nuclear Strategy and Posture for 2030” in Project Atom: A Competitive Strategies Approach to Defining U.S. Nuclear Strategy and Posture for 2025-2050. CSIS, May 2015. (author of chapter on future nuclear strategy and posture in CSIS competitive nuclear strategy study) https://www.csis.org/
- More Willing and Able: Charting China’s International Security Activism. CNAS, May 2015. (co-author)
- Nuclear Weapons in the Third Offset Strategy. CNAS, January 2015. https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/nuclear-weapons-in-the-third-offset-strategy-avoiding-a-nuclear-blind-spot-in-the-pentagons-new-initiative
- Tailored Coercion: Competition and Risk in Maritime Asia. CNAS, March 2014. (co-author)
- The Israeli “Nuclear Alert” of 1973: Deterrence and Signaling in Crisis. CNA, April 2013. (co-author) https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/DRM-2013-U-004480-Final.pdf
- Nuclear Weapons and U.S.-China Relations: A Way Forward. CSIS, March 2013. (lead co-author) https://www.csis.org/.
- Grand Strategy: Contending Contemporary Analyst Views and Implications for the U.S. Navy. CNA, November 2011.
- Fighting a Nuclear-Armed Regional Opponent: Is Victory Possible? CSBA for DOD/Office of Net Assessments, December 2007. (co-author)
- “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
- “U.S. Defense and Deterrence Strategy for Space,” July 14, 2016, Air Force Association Space Series, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3X_1XBuMl4.
- “Military Innovation,” CNAS, December 14, 2015, available at https://www.c-span.org/video/?401990-5/discussion-military-innovation.
- “Stimson Debate on Nuclear Weapons and International Stability, November 12, 2015, available at https://www.cnas.org/press/in-the-news/video-stimson-debate-nuclear-weapons-and-international-stability.
- “A Resurgent Russia and its Implications for the U.S. and NATO,” with MG William Chambers, USAF, Ret., Air Force Association Breakfast Series.
- “Report Release: Project Atom,” CSIS, June 22, 2015, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzndHOO0qBU.
- “Conventional and Nuclear Weapons in Future U.S. Security Strategy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace podcast, March 3, 2015, available at http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/03/03/conventional-and-nuclear-weapons-in-future-u.s.-security-strategy-pub-59244.
- “The Future of Deterrence in Asia and its Implications for U.S. Force Structure,” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, January 5, 2015, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMi9ofpiOao.
- “Asia Goes Nuclear,” interview with The National Interest, December 18, 2014, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuQyM_hSiGM.
- “ISIS, AirSea Battle, and the Pivot,” interview with The National Interest, October 19, 2014, available at http://nationalinterest.org/feature/isis-air-sea-battle-the-pivot-11495.
- “Panel 2: Deterrence Symposium,” U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium, August 19, 2014, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6mjw4kfMMs.
- “Beyond AirSea Battle: The Debate Over U.S. Military Strategy in Asia,” IISS, July 21, 2014, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIDB2Q_r-Nc.
- “Strategic Issues in the Western Pacific,” with MG William Chambers, USAF, Ret., June 3, 2014, Air Force Association Breakfast Series.
- “America’s International Leadership,” CFTNI, April 9, 2014, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHbe9r10KqY.
- “Contemporary Nuclear Strategy,” War on the Rocks podcast, February 17, 2014, available at http://warontherocks.com/2014/02/podcast-contemporary-nuclear-strategy/.
- “PONI Live Debate: Triad Modernization,” CSIS, January 29, 2014, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwNkdlZSFf4.
- “The End of Overkill?” Cato Institute debate, December 26, 2013, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_zcj9cv6Og.
- “Strategic Stability: The Solution, the Problem, or the Cause of Confusion?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace panel, March 14, 2013, available at http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/03/14/strategic-stability-solution-problem-or-cause-of-confusion-event-3984.
- “Arms Control 2.0 in Obama 2.0,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace panel, January 23, 2013, available at http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/01/23/arms-control-2.0-in-obama-2.0-event-3923.
- Time to Attack Iran?” FPI, March 9, 2012, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKMzztollxY.