Recommendations for a Future National Defense Strategy
Thank you, Chairman McCain, Ranking Member Reed, and distinguished members of the Committee on Armed Services for the opportunity to evaluate how the Department of Defense should effectively develop and implement a new National Defense Strategy.
Stop Repeating Past Mistakes
It’s long past time for a new National Defense Strategy that seeks to break the mold in honesty, clarity, conciseness, and fresh thinking. Since the end of the Cold War, these documents have repeatedly served as opportunities to redefine American force structure and interests globally. Unfortunately, the most recent generation of strategies has become increasingly unmoored from the strategic reality the country faces. Since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon’s force-sizing construct has gradually became muddled and watered down at each iteration—from the aspirational objective of fighting two wars at once to the declinist “defeat-and-deny” approach—without enough substantive debate over the wisdom of the progressive abandonment of the two-war standard.
Even before debt reduction became a Washington priority in 2011, defense planning became increasingly divorced from global strategic realities. American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed the limited utility of a force-sizing construct based on wars. The challenge in prosecuting two large stabilization and counterinsurgency campaigns during the past decade-and-a-half laid bare the discrepancy between our stated defense capabilities and our actual strength. The wars that planners envisioned were not the ones the military was called upon to fight.
A lack of definitional clarity and policy consensus about terms like “war,” “defeat,” “deny” and even now “deter” is far from the only problem with previous strategies. A combination of shrinking global posture, force reductions, overly optimistic predictions about the future, and a deteriorating security environment have led to a crisis of confidence in defense strategy making. The Budget Control Act further compounded the difficulty of aligning resources with strategy through clear and thoughtful prioritization and adjudication between tradeoffs. The need to build a defense program to fit declining spending caps accelerated the reduction in relevance and scope of Pentagon strategy documents.
Meanwhile various missions and efforts are being shortchanged, ignored or dropped altogether as the supply of American military power is consistently outstripped by its demand. Some uniformed leaders would argue that the challenge is broader, and that the real issue is a military endstate-policy outcome incongruity that exists where policymakers expect military power to achieve outcomes beyond its scope. Both interpretations are correct, and each contributes to the lack of credibility in new strategic guidance in the minds of its consumers. This lack of faith in defense strategy making and planning has contributed to America’s global retreat and the worsening international security situation.
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This article appeared originally at AEI.