The new National Defense Strategy, announced Jan. 19, is aimed at restoring America’s competitive military advantage to deter Russia and China from challenging the United States, its allies, or seeking to overturn the international order that has served so well since the end of World War II.
Elbridge A. Colby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, briefed Pentagon reporters about the unclassified summary of the strategy in advance of Defense Secretary James N. Mattis unveiling the policy, saying “this is not a strategy of confrontation, but it is a strategy that recognizes the reality of competition.”
The National Defense Strategy seeks to implement the pillars of the National Security Strategy: peace through strength, the affirmation of America’s international role, the U.S. alliance and partnership structure, and the necessity to build military advantage to maintain key regional balances of power, he said.
The strategy states that the primary challenge facing the Defense Department and the joint force is “the erosion of U.S. military advantage vis-a-vis China and Russia, which, if unaddressed, could ultimately undermine our ability to deter aggression and coercion and imperil the free and open order that we seek to underwrite with our alliance constellation,” Colby said.
The strategy aims at thwarting Chinese and Russian aggression and use of coercion and intimidation to advance their goals and harm U.S. interests, and specifically focuses on three key theaters: Europe, the Indo-Pacific, and the Middle East, Colby said.
While Russia and China are the main U.S. adversaries in this strategy, DoD must address North Korea, Iran, and the threat posed by terrorism, Colby noted, and he said this strategy does that. “The strategy will have significant implications for how the department shapes the force, develops the force, postures the force, uses the force,” he said.
More lethal, agile force
The strategy looks to build a more lethal and agile force, Colby said. It shifts away from the post-Desert Storm model, and DoD seeks to modernize key capabilities and innovate using new technologies and operational concepts to maintain dominance across all domains, he explained.
The strategy will build on America’s unequalled alliance and partnership constellation and seek new partners for the future, he added.
Finally, the strategy seeks to reform DoD to create a culture that “delivers cost-effective performance at the speed of relevance,” Colby said.
The new strategy is needed because China and Russia have “gone to school” studying the American way of war, he said, and the U.S. dominance in the Middle East during Desert Strom was not lost on Russia or China. The two nations have spent the last 25 years studying ways to deny America its greatest military advantage, he said: the ability to deploy forces anywhere in the world and then sustain them.
The anti-access, area-denial methods that both Russia and China have developed need to be countered, and this new strategy sets in place the framework around which to build those capabilities, Colby said.
Joint force should be ready
“The joint force should be ready to compete, to deter and — if necessary — to win against any adversary,” Colby concluded.
Modernization has been the sacrificial lamb in the recent budget wars, and this strategy reemphasizes the importance of modernization, Pentagon officials said. The strategy specifically states the United States must modernize the nuclear triad. It also emphasizes the importance of space and cyberspace as domains of warfare and calls for resilience in both space and cyberspace capabilities and technology and concepts to operate across the full domains.
The strategy also calls for modernized command-and-control assets and for new intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, officials said, adding that missile defense plays a large role in the strategy, as well as the development of advanced autonomous systems.
Officials said the strategy also calls for resilient and agile logistics systems that will continue to operate under multidomain attack.
The Pentagon Library is full of documents that were announced with great fanfare, but ultimately were ignored or discarded. Officials say the National Defense Strategy will not be one of those.
I think if anybody knows Secretary Mattis or looks at his history, he’s not inclined to publish documents or give guidance that he doesn’t actually intend to execute,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a recent interview in Brussels. “I can assure you that one of the things that gives me confidence the National Defense Strategy will affect our behavior is Secretary Mattis’ ownership of the National Defense Strategy, and his commitment to actually lead the U.S. military in a direction that is supportive of that National Defense Strategy.
Leadership will be key to implementing the strategy, Dunford said. “I have a high degree of confidence that the secretary’s going to drive implementation of the NDS,” he said. “And I’m equally committed, as are all the combatant commanders and the service chiefs, to supporting the secretary in execution of the NDS.”