The 2018 US defence strategy is titled ‘Sharpening the American Military’s competitive edge’ and is based on the premise that inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.
The strategy reads like a war cry—a cry emanating from a presumed threat to America’s global hegemony which in fact has been more than halved because of its own outdated concept of the world that has far outgrown the days immediately following the cold war.
To start with China is seen in Washington as a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea.
Russia is seen violating the borders of nearby nations and pursuing veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors.
As well, North Korea’s actions and rhetoric are being seen continuing to pose a threat despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions.
And Iran is seen continuing to sow violence and posing the most significant challenge to Middle East stability.
Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threat to stability is seen to continue as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.
This self- constructed security environment which the US has manufactured in its imagination is said to have been defined by rapid technological change, challenges from adversaries in every operating domain, and the impact on current readiness from the longest continuous stretch of armed conflict in the US history.
The US believes that a Joint Force structured to match what Washington calls “the reemergence of long-term strategic competition, rapid dispersion of technologies, and new concepts of warfare and competition that span the entire spectrum of conflict” is needed urgently.
A more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force, combined with a robust constellation of allies and partners, it is believed, would sustain American influence and ensure favorable balances of power that would safeguard what in the eyes of US is ‘the free and open international order’.
Both China and Russia which the US believes are revisionist powers are being seen by Washington wanting to shape a world “consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.”
The US believes China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage.
And as it sees China continuing “its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy”, the US expects Beijing to continue to pursue a military modernization program that would, in its opinion seek ‘Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future’.
Concurrently, Russia is seen seeking veto authority over nations on its periphery in terms of their governmental, economic, and diplomatic decisions, to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor.
“The use of emerging technologies to discredit and subvert democratic processes in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is concern enough, but when coupled with its expanding and modernizing nuclear arsenal the challenge is clear”, opine the US strategists.
Another change to the strategic environment as seen by these US strategists is a’ resilient, but weakening, post-WWII international order’.
China and Russia are being seen undermining the international order from within the system by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously undercutting its principles and “rules of the road.”
Meanwhile, ‘rogue’ regimes such as North Korea and Iran are being seen destabilizing regions through ‘their pursuit of nuclear weapons or sponsorship of terrorism’.
According to the US strategists North Korea is seeking to guarantee regime survival and increased leverage by seeking a mixture of nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional, and unconventional weapons and a growing ballistic missile capability to gain coercive influence over South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
In the Middle East, Iran is being seen competing with its neighbors, ‘asserting an arc of influence and instability while vying for regional hegemony, using state-sponsored terrorist activities, a growing network of proxies, and its missile program to achieve its objectives.’
Both ‘revisionist powers’ and ‘rogue regimes’ are being seen competing across all dimensions of power.
“They have increased efforts short of armed conflict by expanding coercion to new fronts, violating principles of sovereignty, exploiting ambiguity, and deliberately blurring the lines between civil and military goals,” believe the US strategists.
They further believe that today, every domain —air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace— is contested by forces challenging the military predominance of the US since the end of the Cold War.
According to these US strategists some of the competitors and adversaries are seeking to optimize their targeting of American battle networks and operational concepts, while also using other areas of competition short of open warfare to achieve their ends (e.g., information warfare, ambiguous or denied proxy operations, and subversion).
The global security environment is seen also being affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war.
The fact that many technological developments will come from the commercial sector is taken to mean that state competitors and non-state actors will also have access to them, a fact that the US strategists see as risking erosion of the conventional overmatch to which the American nation has grown accustomed.
Maintaining the US Defense Department’s technological advantage will require, it is believed by the US strategists, changes to industry culture, investment sources, and protection across the US National Security Innovation Base.
Terrorism is being seen as a persistent condition driven by ideology and unstable political and economic structures, despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate.
America is being seen as a target, ‘whether from terrorists seeking to attack our citizens; malicious cyber activity against personal, commercial, or government infrastructure; or political and information subversion’.
New threats to commercial and military uses of space are also seen emerging, while increasing digital connectivity of all aspects of life, business, government, and military is creating significant vulnerabilities.
Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are seen as the principal priorities for the Department, and seen to require both increased and sustained investment, because of the magnitude of the threats they pose to U.S. security and prosperity today, and the potential for those threats to increase in the future.
Concurrently, the Department is expected to sustain its efforts to deter and counter rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, defeat terrorist threats to the United States, and consolidate gains in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource-sustainable approach.
US Defense objectives, therefore, include:
Defending the homeland from attack;
Sustaining Joint Force military advantages, both globally and in key regions;
Deterring adversaries from aggression against vital US interests;
Enabling U.S. interagency counterparts to advance U.S. influence and interests;
Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere;
Defending allies from military aggression and bolstering partners against coercion, and fairly sharing responsibilities for common defense;
Dissuading, preventing, or deterring state adversaries and non-state actors from acquiring, proliferating, or using weapons of mass destruction;
Preventing terrorists from directing or supporting external operations against the United States homeland and our citizens, allies, and partners overseas;
Ensuring common domains remain open and free;
Continuously delivering performance with affordability and speed as we change Departmental mindset, culture, and management systems; and
Establishing an unmatched twenty-first century National Security Innovation Base that effectively supports Department operations and sustains security and solvency.
The US strategy proposes to challenge competitors with allies and partners, by maneuvering them into unfavorable positions, ‘frustrating their efforts, precluding their options while expanding own, and forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions.’
To meet these self-created challenges the US proposes to expand the competitive space while pursuing three distinct lines of effort:
First, rebuilding military readiness as we build a more lethal Joint Force;
Second, strengthening alliances as we attract new partners; and
Third, reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance and affordability.
The surest way to prevent war, it is believed, is to be prepared to win one. Doing so requires a competitive approach to force development and a consistent, multiyear investment to restore war-fighting readiness and field a lethal force.
The size of our force matters, insist the US strategists. Therefore, the Nation must field sufficient, capable forces to defeat enemies and achieve sustainable outcomes that protect the American people and our vital interests.
Achieving peace through strength is said to require the Joint Force to deter conflict through preparedness for war. During normal day-to-day operations, the Joint Force is expected to sustainably compete to: deter aggression in three key regions—the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and Middle East; degrade terrorist and WMD threats; and defend U.S. interests from challenges below the level of armed conflict. In wartime, the fully mobilized Joint Force is expected to be capable of defeating aggression by a major power; deterring opportunistic aggression elsewhere; and disrupting imminent terrorist and WMD threats. During peace or in war, the Joint Force is expected to deter nuclear and non-nuclear strategic attacks and defend the homeland.
To support these missions, the Joint Force is expected to gain and maintain information superiority; and develop, strengthen, and sustain U.S. security relationships.