Shaping U.S. Strategy to Meet America's Real-World Needs

By Anthony H. Cordesman

It is all too easy to talk about strategy in broad conceptual terms, but strategy does not consist of what people say, it consists of what they actually do. The is not a minor issue as the United States shifts back from the period in which the Cold War ended and it had no serious peer competitors, and ideas like "the end of history" and "Globalism" seemed to promise a steady march towards development, peace, and democracy.

It is all too clear that the U.S. must now a focus on major competitors like China and Russia, deal with more limited regional threats like Iran and North Korea, and deal with broad areas of global instability due to threats from extremists and terrorists. These challenges are further compounded by ongoing U.S. wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the challenge of meeting defense costs that total $750 billion in the President's defense budget request for FY2020.

So far, however, the U.S. government has done far more by way of talk and stating broad goals than providing practical analysis and net assessments that shape and justify a given course of action. It has failed to develop well-defined strategic goals and effective plans, programs, and budgets to implement them. U.S. strategy documents lack a clear focus on specific key issues, regions, threat countries, and strategic partners.

This analysis does not challenge the focus on existing national strategy documents on very real threats. It does review the major weakness in current U.S. national security strategy, the failures in the FY2020 budget request, and broader failures in the ways the U.S now shapes and justifies its strategy, and its planning, programming, and budgeting activities.

It suggests that major changes are required in each of these areas, that the U.S. needs a far more functional mix of strategies that address the key challenges to each of the major U.S. combat commands, and that these need to be justified by detailed net assessments. It also calls for reforms that would tie such strategies to a well-defined mix of plans, programs and budgets to implement them, and a focus on a functional Future Year Defense Plan that would consider their future year implications, rather than focus on the coming fiscal year.

It stresses the need to look beyond deterrence and war fighting, and to develop strategies that place at least an equal emphasis on hybrid form of civil-military competition. It focuses on the grand strategic need to consider how to achieve stability, conflict, termination, and lasting forms of peace as part of a broader focus on civil-military and hybrid operations. It also stresses the need to see strategic partners as partners, rather than sources of resources and burden sharing, and to avoid seeing competitors and potential threats as opponents in zero-sum games.

Strategic Regression Instead of Progress

The new strategy documents and budgets issued by the Trump Administration reflect long standing failures in U.S. efforts to form and implement effective strategies. If anything, they are better focuses than the previous national strategy documents and Quadrennial Defense Reviews, and seek more adequate levels of defense budgets and resources. There has been a decades long period of regression in U.S. efforts to create functional links between strategy, the assessments and analysis that shape it, and its actual implementation through planning, programing, and budgeting.

The Slow Collapse of Functional Planning, Programing, and Budget Reforms

The efforts to shape an effective PPB process that grew out of the work of Hitch and McKean during the Eisenhower Administration, and which was then institutionalized by Secretary McNamara, gradually collapsed after the Johnson Administration because of Congressional and military service resistance to reshaping service oriented-input budgets, the failure to define meaningful program categories in the PPB system, and the politics of the Vietnam War. The last truly serious effort to justify U.S. strategy, and link it to major program categories and a future year defense plan, occurred when Harold Brown was Secretary of Defense in 1981 – nearly four decades ago.

The basic structure of the U.S. defense budget retained a largely 19th Century character, shaped by a focus on each military service. The budget was not linked to strategy and key mission areas, but rather to line item input categories. It was divided into service-wide mixes of personnel, O&M, and procurement/RDT&E efforts that were not tied to any clear strategic objectives.

Moreover, efforts to serious plan beyond the coming fiscal year steadily deteriorated over time, and effectively collapsed after the passage of the Budget Control Act. What initially was a serious annual effort to create a five year, and then Future Year Defense Plan (FYDP) became a largely pro forma extension of the annual budget request with no clear links to strategy.

The Failure to Properly Integrate Net Assessment and Develop a Meaningful Whole of Government Approach

Pioneering work by Andrew Marshall to tie strategy to net assessment did continue to make progress but largely in the form of a separate studies and analysis that shaped policy, rather than national strategy and plans, programs, and budgets. Strong internal resistance within the NSC and the Pentagon prevented efforts to tie net assessment to strategic planning and the PPB process. Efforts by Senator John McCain to legislate an annual net assessment by the Joint Staff in the late 1980s were resisted to the point where they were never meaningfully implemented.

More broadly, the U.S. talked about a "whole of government" civil-military approach to strategy but never really implemented one. It also never linked a growing focus on joint warfare, and the creation of major combat commands, to a clear and major role in the planning, programing, and budgeting process.

The Loss of America's Strategic Focus

The U.S. also lost strategic focus as a result of the end of the Cold War, the rundown in U.S. forces after 1991, its narrow reaction to terrorism and 9/11, its miscalculations in invading Iraq, the impact of the "great recession" in 2008, and the broader impact of the need to deal with the fiscal ceilings and restrictions in the Budget Control Act. The seeming lack of lack of a serous peer competitor sharply reduced the pressure to develop clear strategic priorities, which is compounded the failure to reshape U.S. strategy to focus on joint warfare, net assessment, and functional planning, programming, and budgeting systems.

Strategy documents like the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) because vague and often unfocused looks at the future. The QDRs in particular produced little more than broad policy goals, many of which were so badly defined – or so focused on the future – that they little practical operational meaning. In many cases, it was unclear what actions they called for, what levels of activity were needed, and what resources were involved.

It is now all too clear that this approach to strategy, planning, programming, and budgeting does not meet America's current needs. The Russian invasion of Georgia and the Ukraine, its seizure of the Crimea, its nuclear programs, and its other actions in Europe and the Middle East have revived U.S. concerns about both Russia and NATO. While Russia is scarcely kind of global peer competitor that it was as the Soviet Union, it has taken on much of the character of such a competitor in Europe and the near abroad.

The rise of China is an even more serious challenge. China's growing military pressure on Taiwan and in the Pacific, and its rise as a major global economic power, have all have shown the U.S. that it now faces an emerging peer competitor – although it will still remain a largely regional military power for some years to come. It must now be a central focus of U.S. strategic planning, although there are many options for cooperation as well as competition and conflict.

The U.S. also faces serious lesser challenges that it cannot ignore, and its strategy and national security efforts must address. These include threats from Proliferation and aggression by nations like Iran and North Korea. They also include the broad rise of extremism and instability in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia which are shaped in part by failed states and serious demographic pressures that will last for at least the next three decades. Critical as Russia and China are, the U.S. must continue to deal with lesser threats and military actions in every major regional command.

Failed U.S. National Security Documents

So far, however, the U.S. has produced more strategic rhetoric than real changes in strategy. U.S. military budget requests still focus largely on line-item input budgets for given military services and defense agencies for one coming fiscal year. Key aspects of the actual formulation and implementation of key aspects of U.S. strategy vary from day-to-day, tweet-to-tweet, and sanction-to-sanction. The U.S. continues to fail to effectively integrate civil and military strategy and operation, and is deeply involved in long wars for which it seems to have no clear strategy or end game.

National and Defense Strategy Documents that Do Not Meet a Meaningful Definition of Strategy

The latest public strategy documents issued by the NSC, Department of Defense, and Department of State do raise valid concerns about the changes in the threat. They set many valid broad priorities for U.S. policy, and they broadly recognize the importance of America's strategic partners. These are real strengths and they need to be recognized as such. At the same time, they still show that the U.S. "strategy" has lost much of its practical focus and meaning at even the most basic definitional level.

There are many dictionary definitions of "strategy, but Webster's main definition of strategy is a functional one and is the definition the U.S. should be using. Webster defines strategy as "the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war." In practice, such a definition means the U.S government should develop a mix of civil-military strategies that are fully justified by analysis and net assessment. They should be strategies that involve specific actions, and whose implementation is supported by plans, programs, and budget that can actually implement them.

A Failed Mix of National Strategy Documents and Budget Requests

Key U.S. strategy documents are still filled with broad statements of goals and vague desired end states. And, this is as close to a real strategy as the open source versions of the three main White House and Department of Defense strategy documents – and a FY2020 budget submission that supposedly reflected the new U.S. national security strategy – actually come to presenting the kind of analysis, functional strategy, and PPB efforts that are actually needed

  • The first such document is the National, Security Strategy of the United States issued in December 2017. It provided a long list of civil and military goals focused on four general areas: Protect the homeland, the American people, and the American way of life, Promote American prosperity, Preserve peace through strength, and Advance American influence.

 It sets out a long series of sub-goals in each category – some well-defined and many that are so vague as to be nearly meaningless. It only makes a marginal effort to justify them. It makes no serious effort to show how they can be achieved. Its wording is relatively conservative – and makes an awkward use of the term "America first." but it does recognize the importance of America's strategic partners, and few Americans would challenge its broad goals and objectives.

  • The second document is the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States; Sharpening America's Competitive Edge, which was issued in early 2018. It sets out eleven major goals for improving U.S. capabilities, but again provides only minimal indications of how to achieve them. It does call for 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." However, much of its content consists of little more than slogans, and it describes many implementation goals in terms that so broad that there are no practical priorities or plans.

Its most practical priorities address the need to focus U.S. defense planning around the threat post by Russia and China: "The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers. It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.

At the same time, it focuses vaguely on "Rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran (that) are destabilizing regions through their pursuit of nuclear weapons or sponsorship of terrorism," and "non-state actors (that) also threaten the security environment with increasingly sophisticated capabilities. Terrorists, trans-national criminal organizations, cyber hackers and other malicious non-state actors have transformed global affairs with increased capabilities of mass disruption."

It provides remarkably little guidance as what the U.S. should actually do, and where it should actually do it.

  • The third document is the Secretary of Defense's rather strange version of Providing for the Common Defense, A Promise Kept to the American Taxpayer, which was issued in September 2018. This short document claims to be based on the report of a Congressionally-mandated, bi-partisan National Defense Strategy Commission. In practice, it does little more that provide a summary set of priorities for added defense spending. It has little strategic content and provides no real details as to actual plans, programs, and budgets. It is essentially a wish list, rather than a well-defined shopping list, for the FY2020
  • The fourth document is the group of FY2020 budget defense budget request documents presented by OSD and the military services in early 2019, and that are now available on the OSD Comptroller web page. These documents should implement the previous new national strategies. In fact, the summary Budget Overview document issued by OSD does call the FY2020 budget request a "strategy-driven budget." However, almost all of the content of the FY2020 budget request consists of requests for more spending on the line item inputs to the budgets of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

Some 1,100 pages of input budget data lay out line-item costs for individual military services or defense agencies broken down in to major categories like personnel, O&M, procurement, and RDT&E. These requests cannot be clearly tied to any key element of strategy or mission capability and are totally disconnected from efforts to describe and shape the role of America's strategic partners. There are little or no actual regional strategy data. The future year budget data seem to be place-holder figures rather than real efforts at shaping a future year program. There are little or no actual plan, program, or budget (PPB) data that actually reflect major changes resulting from the National Security Strategy or National Defense Strategy as distinguished from increasing the funding of existing efforts.

Even allowing for the fact that the classified versions of these documents may have considerably more detail, there is little evidence that these classified versions present a clearer picture of what the strategy is or how it can be implemented in any detail. It is brutally clear from the details of the FY2020 budget submission that the classified versions had little or no additional broad impact on actual plans, programs, and budgets.

As for NSC and State Department strategy documents, there are no meaningful NSC civil-military strategy documents. The State Department budget justification does little more that set broad strategic goals in near-cliché terms, while issuing what may well be the most strategically incoherent single U.S. government budget document.

Critical Failures in Addressing Key Grand Strategic Issues and Aspects of U.S. Strategy

Both the three strategy documents, and the FY2020 budget request also have critical failure lures in shaping U.S. strategy, and the need to develop adequate forms of strategic competition:

  • The Failure to Address U.S. Resources Constraints and Impacts on Federal Spending. Any real-world U.S. strategy must address the issue of how much the U.S. can and should spend on national security, and how to use those resources most effectively. The current set of strategy and budget request documents totally ignore these issues.

They also ignore a long-standing crisis in the trends in federal spending that is creating steadily greater federal budget deficits, and that has deeply divided the U.S. politically over federal efforts to create entitlement programs like Social Security, national medical care, welfare, and education. This crisis helped to cut the percentage of total federal spending on defense from 52% in 1960 to 15%, and it was compounded in 2018 by a major set of tax cuts that increase projected debt in 2029 FY to levels that the Congressional Budget Office projected ibn May 2019 as reaching $11 trillion dollars.

The CBO states that in its projections, "the federal budget deficit reaches $896 billion in 2019 and exceeds $1 trillion each year beginning in 2022. Relative to the size of the economy, the deficits that CBO projects would average 4.3 percent of gross domestic product over the 2020–2029 period, well above the 2.9 percent average over the past 50 years. CBO’s estimate of the deficit for 2019 is about the same as it was in January 2019, and projected deficits over the 2020–2029 period are about 2 percent less than CBO projected in January....Federal debt held by the public is projected to grow from 78 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2019 to 92 percent in 2029—the largest share since 1947 and more than twice the 50-year average." The key cause has been a rise in Social Security, medical and other mandatory budget spending from 5.5% of the GDP in FY1969, to 12.7% in FY1919, and one the CBO projects will lead to a further projected rise to 14.9% in FY2029.

Figure One shows that these May 2019 budget projections not only project a major increase in the deficit and national debt, but a rise in the annual cost of interest on the debt from 1.8% of the GDP in 2019 to 3.0% in FY2029. They do so in spite of assumptions that FY2020-FY2029 budgets require no future major contingency spending, that the total impact of defense spending can drop from 3.1% of the GDP in FY2019 to only 2.5% in 2029, and that the debate over education entitlements will be resolved in ways that allow major cuts in other discretionary spending.

The real defense burden imposed by the new National Strategy is far more likely to be at least 3.5% to 4% of the GDP, new military contingency spending seems a near certainty, and the real deficit and debt would then be far higher.

  • The strategy documents and budget request are not linked to any well-defined supporting analyses and net assessments, or to meaningful planning, programing and budgeting (PPB) efforts. As is described in detail later in this analysis, the new national strategy and FY20202 budget request lack clear analytic justification, do not provide meaningful guidance to the combat commands, and are not linked to meaningful implementation plans and resource requirements.
  • The assumption that global instability, terrorism, extremism, and the threat from other powers and non-state actors will not impose the same costs and burden on defense as the burden from a lesser superpower like Russia. The national strategy assumes that the direct challenge from superpowers can dominate U.S. defense efforts. It seems to have done without analyzing the impact of the overall trends in global instability caused by failed states, extremist challenges, internal divisions and conflicts, local and regional challenges like those posed by Iran and North Korea, and conflicts, acute population pressures and migration issues, and the more speculative effects of factors like climate change and the impact of automation and artificial intelligence.

These events are occurring at a time when global demographics are creating a massive projected increase in the number of young men and women entering the labor force in developing nations, and pressures for population migration as well as internal conflicts. These issues are documented in detail by U.S intelligence, the World Bank, the International Monetary Funded, and UN development reports.

Moreover, they create a high probability that Russia and China will seek to exploit these trends in competition with the U.S. The end result is that every U.S. regional combatant command is likely to have to commit forces and resources to deal with these challenges for at least the next decade at force and cost levels equivalent to competing directly with a superpower.

  • A failure to properly address the nature of Russian strategic competition, and the scale of Russia’s potential success in exploiting tensions and divisions within Europe and NATO, and elsewhere in the world. As is noted later in this commentary, Russia is a relatively minor economic power compared to the former Soviet Union, and is estimated to only be spending around $62 billion annually on military forces. This is only a little over 25% of the total military spending by of European NATO, excluding Canada and the U.S.

At present, however, Russia is able to exploit key fault lines in the alliance and a divided Europe, take advantage of U.S. posturing over burden sharing and threat to cut its role in NATO, and exploit the lack of any coherent European approach to deterrence and force planning. Russia has also developed some elements of a strategic partnership with China, and shown it can use hybrid mixes of diplomacy and low-level military action to exert pressure against the U.S. in areas as different as Croatia, the Ukraine, the Baltic states, Kaliningrad, Turkey, Syria, and Venezuela.

As is the case with China, the U.S. cannot ignore the need to deter worst case military options like a major conventional conflict or nuclear exchange with Russia. The fact remains, however, that these are contingencies where it is unclear that either power can "win" in any grand strategic sense, while Russia has many far safer and more productive options for hybrid forms of competition.

  • A tacit focus on Chinese military challenges rather than a complex mix of challenges dominated by economics, politics, and diplomatic forms of hybrid competition and l w-level military action. China too gains most from exploiting competing at lower levels, and particularly at the level of economics and business and through its "road and belt" initiatives. China can also gain from successful low-level military efforts, using other states and non-state actors, and from showing that it can achieve parity with US., and neither China nor the U.S. can "win" a major conventional conflict or nuclear exchange.

So far, however, the U.S. has focused more on China's future warfighting options than it civil, diplomatic, economic, and hybrid options. It also has tended to deal separately with China's efforts to achieve parity/superiority in its military technology and industrial base from its equally massive efforts to restructure its civil base, and every aspect of its education, labor force, and levels of automation. While the authors of the new strategy documents may not have intended this, there has been little practical U.S. response to the National Security Strategy’s emphasis on the need to ensure America’s overall lead in both civil and military technology and manufacturing. Instead, some major federal R&D programs have been cut.

At a civil level, the U.S. has also effectively transferred leadership of the Trans Pacific Partnership to China, engaged in unilateral trade wars, cut its conventional efforts in Korea to focus on an uncertain effort to cut North Korea’s potential nuclear threat to the U.S., and made no clear effort to analyze and deal with the strategic impact of the growth in China’s civil economy and technology and industrial base.

At a military level, the U.S. has tended to focus on reshaping U.S. forces to fight major conventional wars and focused on modernizing nuclear forces to deal largely with Russia. It has failed to address the fact that Chinese strategy focuses as much on civil and hybrid options as warfighting, Chinese competition in technology an industry is driven as much by state-sponsored civil programs as military ones. They also seem to have led U.S. national strategy –as distinguished from combatant command strategy – to undervalue critical opportunities at a regional level like America's strategic partners – particularly Australia, Japan, and South Korea, China’s dependence on the flow of maritime exports of petroleum from the Gulf, and China's tensions with India.

At the same time, the U.S. has not attempted to tie its public strategy to some estimate of clear China’s future nuclear forces and nuclear weapons holdings, has not publicly integrated China into its nuclear arms control efforts, and has not publicly addressed how the U.S. could successfully “win” a high level of conventional conflict with China or some form of nuclear exchange, or why China would engage in competition of this kind given the advantages offered by its civil, hybrid, and other options.

 This is not a casual issue at a point where the afford ability of any serious strategic defense remains so uncertain, where China is projected to be deploying SLBMs and MIRVed ICBMs, and when China is estimated to only have some 280 nuclear warheads compared to 1,350 deployed and 4,000 stockpiled nuclear weapons for the U.S. and 1,444 deployed and 4,350 stockpiled nuclear weapons for Russia.

Mixed Signals: The Full National Defense Strategy Commission Report on Providing for the Common Defense

All of these factors – and weaknesses in the strategy documents and budget request issued by the Executive Branch –also need to be considered in the light of a fifth national strategy document. This document is entitled Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission. It is the full 111-page report that provides the actual assessments and recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission.

It lacks the official White House and Department of Defense status of strategy documents cited earlier, but it has far more in-depth than the hollow shell laid out in the Secretary of Defense’s odd non-summary of the same report in Providing for the Common Defense: A Promise Kept to the American Taxpayer. It is also far more constructive in addressing the need for an effective strategy based on serious analysis. It is also one that addresses the key planning, programming, and budgeting aspects of actually implementing such a strategy.

Limits as Well as Strengths

This praise does need qualification. The full report does have serious limits. It only makes a limited attempt to assess how the strategy and force developments in China and Russia, and the impact of regional and extremist threats, should reshape U.S. strategy and forces. It is not clearly linked to the planning, programming, and budgeting process.

It focuses on hybrid warfare and understates the importance of political and economic competition. It does not really address the roles of America's key strategic partners, and it does not tie its strategic recommendations to clearly defined changes in the roles and capabilities of most major U.S. commands. It also does not address the strategic issues raised by America's wars in Afghanistan and Syria-Iraq, or the threats and U.S. military actions in a wide range of smaller extremist and local conflicts.

The report's focus on raising the defense budget also sometimes has a strange “Oliver Twist” character. It comes close to dealing with every strategic challenge by asking for more resources in every possible area. It also does not attempt address how U.S. defense efforts compare with those of potential threats. This is not minor issue when the U.S. defense budget request for FY2020 is for $750 billion, and DIA estimates that China only spent some $200 billion-plus in 2018 (the IISS estimates $168 billion), and the IISS estimate that Russia only spending some $62.4 billion.

This failure to compare relative defense spending efforts illustrates the dangers in shaping strategy without valid net assessments. It is particularly striking, considering that China and Russia have no major strategic partners while just two key U.S. partners in Asia like Japan ($47.3B) and South Korea ($39.2B) spent another $86.5 billion, and NATO reports that NATO European countries spent $249.7 billion (four times the Russian total). If nothing else, such figures show why U.S. strategy should explicitly consider the role of strategic partners, and not focus exclusively on U.S. forces.

But, a Valid Focus on the Problems in Formulating and Executing an Effective U.S. Strategy

At the same time, the full report does provide far more by way of assessments, funding rationales, and analytic detail than the Secretary's summary of the report, or any of the so-called "strategy" documents issued by the Executive Branch. It provides a clear definition and analysis of why China and Russia are emerging as serious competitors and potential threats, and discusses illustrative contingencies. It discusses Iran, North Korea, and extremist threats in some detail, sets out some clear priorities in given regions and key areas technology and global operations, and does create a credible case for spending in some key areas.

Most importantly, the full report flags the lack of depth and strategic details that characterize the previous strategy documents, the FY2020 budget request, and the overall character of American strategic planning. It addresses the need to improve U.S. planning, programming, and budgeting; and key problems in civil-military relations and the ability to carry out a real world "whole of government" approach. Further, the report makes it clear that these problems exist at the classified as well as the unclassified level.

These reservations are made in a number of key portions of the report, but they are scattered among its broader focus on key strategic issues – and arguments for more spending – in ways that can distract from their importance. If ne examines it closely, its key points include the following quotations:

The NDS rightly stresses competition with China and Russia as the central dynamic in sizing, shaping, and employing U.S. forces, but it does not articulate clear approaches to succeeding in peacetime competition or wartime conflict against those rivals...As America confronts five major security challengers across at least three important geographic regions, and as unforeseen challenges are also likely to arise, this is a serious weakness...

Proposed fixes to existing vulnerabilities—concepts such as “expanding the competitive space,” “accepting risk” in lower-priority theaters, increasing the salience of nuclear weapons, or relying on “Dynamic Force Employment”—are imprecise and unpersuasive. Furthermore, America’s rivals are mounting comprehensive challenges using military means and consequential economic, diplomatic, political, and informational tools. Absent a more integrated, whole-of-government strategy than has been evident to date, the United States is unlikely to reverse its rivals’ momentum across an evolving, complex spectrum of competition. (pp. vi-viii)

The United States needs more than just new capabilities; it urgently requires new operational concepts that expand U.S. options and constrain those of China, Russia, and other actors. Operational concepts constitute an essential link between strategic objectives and the capability and budgetary priorities needed to advance them. The unconventional approaches on which others rely, such as hybrid warfare (warfare combining conventional and unconventional elements), gray-zone aggression (coercion in the space between peace and war), and rapid nuclear escalation demand equally creative responses. In other words, maintaining or reestablishing America’s competitive edge is not simply a matter of generating more resources and capabilities; it is a matter of using those resources and capabilities creatively and focusing them on the right things. Unfortunately, the innovative operational concepts we need do not currently appear to exist. The United States must begin responding more effectively to the operational challenges posed by our competitors and force those competitors to respond to challenges of our making. (p. viii)

In the Western Pacific, deterring Chinese aggression requires a forward deployed, defense-in-depth posture, buttressed by investments in capabilities ranging from undersea warfare to strategic airlift. In Europe, dealing with a revanchist Russia will entail rebuilding conventional NATO force capacity and capability on the alliance’s eastern flank and the Baltics, while also preparing to deter and if necessary defeat the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. security commitments and operations in the Middle East cannot be wished away. (ix)

In the course of our work, we found that DOD struggled to link objectives to operational concepts to capabilities to programs and resources. This deficit in analytical capability, expertise, and processes is intolerable in an organization responsible for such complex, expensive, and important tasks, and it must be remedied. Specifically, DOD needs a rigorous force development plan that connects its investment strategy with its key priorities of winning in conflict and competing effectively with China and Russia. Repairing DOD’s analytical capability is essential to meeting the challenges the NDS identifies and giving Congress confidence that DOD’s budget requests reflect its stated priorities. (p. x)

Constructive approaches to any of the foregoing issues must be rooted in healthy civil-military relations. Yet civilian voices have been relatively muted on issues at the center of U.S. defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control. (p.xi)

The Commission is nonetheless skeptical that DOD has the attendant plans, concepts, and resources needed to meet the defense objectives established in the NDS, and we are concerned that there is not a coherent approach for implementing the NDS across the entire DOD enterprise. In assessing this issue, the commissioners reviewed numerous classified documents, received briefings, and interviewed many DOD leaders. We came away troubled by the lack of unity among senior civilian and military leaders in their descriptions of how the objectives described in the NDS are supported by the Department’s readiness, force structure, and modernization priorities, as described in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) and other documents. The absence of well-crafted analytic products supporting the Department’s force sizing and shaping plans was equally notable. (pp. 18-19)

The Department has not clearly explained how it will implement the NDS with the resources available; in fact, many of the additional resources made available so far have been distributed uniformly across the defense bureaucracy so that “everybody wins,” rather than being strategically prioritized to build key future capabilities. Above all, none of the dramatic changes needed to effectively execute the strategy will be possible without substantial cultural change paired with in-depth. (p. 19)

Indeed, given the presence of five serious adversaries, three with nuclear weapons, the United States must prepare—and resource—for multiple, near-simultaneous contingencies. Today, however, DOD is neither prepared nor resourced for such a scenario. (p. 20)

We also recommend that DOD establish cross-functional teams to integrate strategies and operational concepts. Congress mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 that DOD use cross-functional teams (CFTs) to take on some of its toughest challenges. The multi-dimensional challenges presented by competition from China and Russia are well suited to this approach. The Secretary should consider creating CFTs, which should be led by a civilian with a military deputy, to advise him on the global challenges posed by China and Russia and to integrate plans and solutions for advancing U.S. interests in the face of them. (p. 27)

Making informed decisions about strategic, operational, and force development issues requires a foundation of state-of-the-art analytical capabilities. If DOD is to make such decisions with appropriate rigor, it will be critical to revitalize analytical support for the Secretary of Defense. Throughout our work, we found that DOD struggled to link objectives to operational concepts to capabilities to programs and resources. This inability is simply intolerable in an organization with responsibility for tasks as complex, expensive, and important as the Department of Defense. It hampers the Secretary’s ability to design, assess, and implement the NDS, and it makes it difficult for Congress to have faith that the administration’s budget request supports its strategy.

This deficit in analytical capability, expertise, and processes must be addressed. OSD-Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) and the Joint Staff—working closely with OSD-Policy—must rebuild their decision support capability to ensure that the Secretary and Deputy Secretary can make hard decisions grounded in expert analysis, particularly as they consider the warfighting return on investments.

Specifically, the Department needs a rigorous force development plan that connects its investment strategy with its key priorities of winning in conflict and competing effectively with China and Russia. That plan must have a clear force sizing construct to illuminate the strategy’s ambition and risks. Such a force development architecture should provide answers to the following questions:

- What are our objectives?

- What operational concepts will animate how we plan to deter and fight?

- How might operational concepts, force posture, and attendant capabilities be tailored to specific regional and functional contexts?

- What assumptions is DOD making about multi-theater demands in timing, scale, and other key aspects? How is DOD hedging against the possibility that these assumptions may not prove out?

- If the United States finds itself in conflict in a first theater, what constitutes “deterrence” in the second theater and how does it change the force requirements projected prior to the NDS’s release (i.e., under the previous defense strategy)?

- How do component program priorities reflect these assessments?

- What role do strategic nuclear forces and allies and partners play in meeting the strategy’s objectives?

Addressing these issues will be essential to meeting the key challenges the NDS identifies... (pp. 42-43)

...the Commission was struck by the relative imbalance of civilian and military voices on critical issues of strategy development and implementation. We came away with a troubling sense that civilian voices were relatively muted on issues at the center of U.S. defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control... Put simply, allocating priority—and forces—across theaters of warfare is not solely a military matter. It is an inherently political-military task, decision authority for which is the proper competency and responsibility of America’s civilian leaders, informed by the counsel they receive from military leadership. (p. 47)

Resourcing a strategy is not only an issue of providing reliable, adequate, and timely funding. It also entails ensuring that the available dollars are spent as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is more than a matter of treating taxpayer dollars with respect, as vitally important as that is. It is equally a matter of sharpening the U.S. military’s ability to compete with its rivals by wringing maximum value out of the resources at hand. This being the case, the NDS is correct to argue that the Pentagon’s culture and way of doing business must change. Sustained reforms, implemented across every aspect of the Department’s activities, are sorely need to bring one of the world’s largest bureaucracies into line with 21st century business practices. This will be critical to fostering innovation, improving responsiveness and agility, enhancing the speed at which capabilities are developed and fielded, and improving the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability with which the Department expends limited funds. Every recent Secretary of Defense has recognized this. (p. 59)

America’s two most powerful competitors—China and Russia—have developed national strategies for enhancing their influence and undermining key U.S. interests that extend far beyond military competition. Encompassing economic, diplomatic, covert, political, and other initiatives, those strategies draw on the full array of foreign policy tools; they include many actions that fall short of war but nonetheless alter the status quo in dangerous ways. As noted, comprehensive solutions to these comprehensive challenges will require whole-of-government and even whole-of-nation cooperation extending far beyond DOD. Trade policy; science, technology, engineering, and math education; diplomatic statecraft; and other non-military tools will be critical—so will adequate support and funding for those elements of American power. Without such a holistic approach, the United States will be at a competitive disadvantage and will remain ill-equipped to preserve its security and its global interests amid intensifying challenges. (p.63)

Formulating the Right Mix of Strategies

At present, U.S. strategy faces two critical challenges. The first is to formulate the right mix of strategies to deal with a changing world. The second is to create the right processes to actually implement such U.S. strategies and make them effective.

The first challenge alone involves a far more complex set of tasks and challenges than the current three U.S. national strategy documents, and the FY2020 budget request acknowledge:

  • S. strategy must acknowledge the complexity of the challenges the U.S. faces, and provide key guidance in every major area where the U.S. must act. The U.S. cannot choose to focus on a few strategic objectives, although it must exercise "strategic triage" in prioritizing its strategic objectives and avoid over commitment. As Figure One shows, the U.S. command system provides a clear way of linking U.S. strategy to such needs, although neither U.S., strategy – nor the U.S. planning, programming, and budget system – now properly focus on this fact.

A global national strategy is necessarily complex. Every U.S. major geographic combatant command – USINDOPACOM, USEUCOM, USCENTCOM, USAFRICOM, USNORTHCOM, USSOUTHCOM – already faces major new security threats and challenges, most of which will endure for at least several decades – and all of which will be compounded by political, diplomatic, and economic challenges that do not involve direct military threats.

The same will be true of the need steadily reshape each functional combatant command – USCYBERCOMMAND, USSOCOM, USSTRATCOM, USTRANSCOM, and USSPACECOM. U.S. strategy must accept this complexity and deal with it on both a joint service (not simply joint warfare), and civil-military basis. Denial of this complexity – and any failure to properly address it – will ensure key future failures and crises.

  • "Conventional" forms of warfare will increasingly be supplemented or replaced by steadily more unconventional mixes of politico-economic-security conflicts, and new mixes of tactics and technology. Even terms like "hybrid warfare" grossly understate the scale of these challenges. Many competitors and threats will seek to achieve their goals by other hybrid mixtures of military threats, civil pressures, and use of proxies and third parties.
  • Only China can prevent China from emerging as a peer competitor to the U.S. in both security and politico-economic terms. Estimates differ sharply as to the pace of Chinese military and economic progress relative to the U.S., and to where each state will be during the period between 2020 and 2040. It is unrealistic, however, for the U.S. to assume that it will not be competing with an increasingly powerful – and eventually an equal or larger – Chinese economy.

The U.S. must act now to shape a strategy to deal with at least a nearly equal Chinese military industrial and technology base. At the same time, the U.S. must not confuse competition with some form of inevitable military threat. China's growing warfighting and deterrent capabilities will present growing challenges, but its primary challenges to the U.S. are likely to be hybrid uses of political influence, economic power, arms transfers, advisory efforts, aid, and relative technological progress mixed with low-level military challenges and support of third countries and non-state actors. This is the country of Sun Tzu, not Clausewitz.

  • Russia will be an enduring source of tension in the near abroad in Europe. As long as Putin is in power, Russia is likely to exploit crises and fault lines in U.S. diplomatic and military activity, and in European politics and defense efforts, whenever this will enhance its status and prestige. There are no indications that Russia alone will have the resources to can emerge as a peer competitor, but it can pose major security and political challenges in Europe and particularly its near abroad. It can greatly complicate or disrupt U.S. actions in other countries and regions, and it can focus its military forces, military aid, and arms transfer activities in Europe and globally in ways require substantial U.S. political, diplomatic, deterrent, and warfighting efforts. It also can join with China to increase its opportunities and leverage.
  • The nuclear dimension of U.S. strategy – in terms of deterrence, warfighting, arms control, and strategic defense – will change radically as China emerges as the lead potential threat. While efforts in U.S. strategy and arms control are publically reported to be changing, open source reports still focus largely a bipolar U.S.-Russian threat.

The emergence of China is already changing this situation. U.S. arms control, deterrence, strategic defense, and war fighting efforts will all have to change as strategic nuclear forces become a three-way mix of U.S., Russian, and Chinese capabilities.

One key issue is whether China will deploy at U.S./Russian force levels or continue its limited deployment of what might be called a "Minimum Assured Destruction" level of weapons. Unclassified studies like DIA's annual report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China do not address Chin a's nuclear weapons holdings, or actual nuclear strategy, but do indicate that China may be deploying MIRVed missiles and SLBMs.

Instability in the MENA region and much of the developing world will remain a major challenge–driven by ideology, economic problems, failed governments, and population pressures that affect both internal stability and migration and feed local conflicts and terrorism and extremism. The U.S. may be able to do a better job of limiting its commitments and role in dealing with such problems, but this is questionable given the number of states with failed and corrupt governments, the growing levels of state and non-state terrorism and extremism, the steadily worsening economic situation in many states, ethnic and sectarian rivalries and ideological tensions, and the scale of a "youth bulge" and need for job creation, that will last for at least the coming decade and possibly two. Almost inevitably, the U.S. will continue to shift from a focus on Europe, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to one on the Pacific, Asia, India, and the Indication Ocean/Gulf.

  • There will always be at least episodic threats that are the equivalents of a hostile Iran and North Korea. The world may someday evolve to some a higher level of stability, but so far, history seems far more likely to repeat itself – whether it is remembered of not. The U.S. can also count on such powers to seek to exploit military technology, regional fault lines, ties to other states and non-state actors, and other elements of countervailing power.
  • Proliferation is evolving radically as conventional precisions strike systems, chemical and biological weapons capabilities, cyber, transfers of arms to weak states and non-state actors, and covert/terrorist/proxy capabilities increase. It will be increasingly dangerous to focus on the largest potential threats when smaller threats may represent an immediate or higher chance of creating a crisis of conflict.
  • The role of America's strategic partners and allies is already critical and will become steadily more important with time. The U.S. cannot base its future political, military, and economic strategy in Europe, Asia, the Middle East or any other part of the world solely on its own capabilities. Key Asian allies like Australia, Japan, and South Korea are critical to dealing with China, North Korea, and other regional threats, and the future role of India as a strategic partner is equally critical. The role of America's strategic partners in NATO, and of states like Sweden, Finland, and Austria is equally critical both in dealing with Russia and in creating a stable Europe. Strategic partners in the Middle East are critical in dealing with extremism, terrorism, Iran, and the stable flow of petroleum to the global economy.

It is also important to note what strategic partnership means. The present careless use of terms like "America first" – and the U.S. emphasis on burdensharing, decoupling nuclear strategic threats to the U.S. from a partner's regional security needs, sudden trade wars, and emphasize arms sales and payments for U.S. deployments – are not stable or effective ways of building strategic partnerships. It is absurd to set spending goals totally unrelated to any strategic value – such NATO goals like 2% of GDP for defense or 20% of the budget for procurement. This example is particularly striking, since there is not a single ally in NATO where meeting such a goal will materially improve its deterrent and warfighting capability without a major change in NATO strategy and national force planning and readiness.

  • Civil-military, conflict termination, peacemaking, and stability operations are critical challenges and must be a key aspect of U.S. strategy. As Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Columbia have demonstrated all too clearly, U.S. strategy cannot succeed even in wartime by ignoring the civil-dimension of a conflict. No meaningful grand strategic outcome can occur without a creating functional level of civil stability and efforts at recovery and nation building. This does not mean, however, that the U.S. must act alone, lead, or attempt to reform and rebuild a given state. Working with international institutions and strategic partners is a key alternative.
  • S. strategy must focus on civil-military competition as much as deterrence and warfighting. U.S. strategy cannot ignore the need have sufficient capability to decisively deter a major conflict, and to “win” even the highest levels of conflict in spite of the potentially pyrrhic and self-destructive nature of major modern nuclear and conventional war.

However, the U.S. should focus as much on successfully competing in achieving global and regional influence, in avoiding political and economic gains and victories by hostile states. It too can focus on the kind of strategies that involve winning without fighting laid out by Sun Tzu. It should also remember Clausewitz's concluding reservations about the proper limits to military action and war. Grand strategic civil objectives should have priority where ever feasible and grand strategic military objectives should have priority over strategic and tactical gains.

  • Threats and risks should be fully recognized, but the U.S. should never exaggerate or “demonize” a real or potential opponent, or fail to seek some form of cooperation or stable coexistence. Conflict termination, and post-conflict outcomes and stability, should receive the same attention as warfighting. The U.S. should publicly offer an alternative to conflict and “win-lose” forms of competition wherever possible. Few strategic problems really are the equivalent of zero-sum games, and avoiding such situation or offering alternatives such be a constant strategic priority,

Creating the Right Form of Strategy and the Processes Necessary to Make It Effective

Meeting the second challenge – creating the right processes to implement U.S. strategy and make it effective – is equally critical. The discussion of the full report of the National Defense Strategy Commission on Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations has already highlighted the need to change the ways in which the U.S approaches defense strategy. The recommendations excerpted earlier deserve close attention, and each should be evaluated to determine what action is necessary. It is equally clear that the State Department and USAID need to create a series of unclassified and classified strategy documents that are the counterpart of those developed by the Department of Defense.

The core of such efforts will be to make a wide range of changes in the way the U.S. deals with strategy, net assessment, and planning, programming, and budgeting - as well as in some key areas of command responsibility. These changes should include:

  • Return to annual Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chief Posture Statements. There will still be a need for functional summaries and overviews of U.S. strategy that justify it, and explain it in summary PPB terms. The annual posture statements issued in the past by the Secretary and the Chairmanthrough the early 1980s had this functional character. They provided a way for the Secretary to issue such an overview on a personal basis and take clear responsibility for doing so. The Chairman's statement ensured that independent military advice and views could be provided as well.
  • Use the areas of responsibility of the Combatant Commands to define key DoD program categories within the planning, programming and budgeting cycle. As has been discussed earlier– and as Figure Two shows – the major combatant commands have evolved into a far more relevant structure for such activity than the military services. It is a structure that does a far better job of reflecting joint military priorities, the impact of key threats, and the role of strategic partners – as well as key emerging areas where technology is reshaping military operations.

One of the key reasons that the previous effort at program budgeting failed was that far too much of its content was tied to a category called General Purpose Forces that covered the entire globe, had no clear tie to any area of actual command responsibility, and could not be related to strategy or functional areas of defense effort and spending. As a result, "General Purpose Forces" became "no purpose forces." The same was true to a lesser extent of several other categories.

  • Develop Combatant Command plans, programs, and budgets with the active participation of each such command. The Combatant Commands, along with OSD, the Joint Staff, and DIA are the logical place for key plans and strategy to be developed rather than with in the military services. Today’s combatant commands are better staffed to provide a coherent and meaningful way to structure U.S. strategy on a joint regional and global basis. Some already issue strategies that are far more relevant than the generalities in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. One such example is the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report that the Department of Defense issue on June 1, 2019.

Serious consideration should be given to making the combatant commands, rather than the service commands, the highest ranks and staffing the commands accordingly. It should also be noted that a command plan, program, and budget does not need the same level of detailed or fiscal control as the actual defense budget. It only needs the level of detail needed to develop an effective strategy and ensure its proper implementation. In fact, limiting the level of detail (and work burden) will make it much easier to properly formulate, review, and administer.

  • Create annual Net Assessments to cover each Combatant Command with the active participation of the command. It is time for net assessment to come out the closet. U.S. strategy, and the plans, program, and budget necessary to implement should be tied to explicit net assessments of U.S. and strategic partner capabilities and the strategy, actions, and probable intentions of major competitors and potential threats.
  • Clearly link an assessment of the resources required to implement a U.S. national security and national defense strategy to the overall level of federal spending, the ability to provide adequate funding of all mandatory and discretionary civil and military programs, and the impact on the deficit and national debt. National security planning and strategy must address cost and resources, not simply requirements. The issues regarding the overall trends in federal spending raised by the Congressional budget Office – and by virtually every independent analysis of Federal spending and the trends in the U.S. economy – must be explicitly address in U.S. national security strategy.
  • Create a Rolling Future Year Defense Plan, and fully update it on an annual basis. The US cannot predict the future, but it must recognize the need to plan for it and the lead times involved. The world constantly changes in unpredicted ways, and past experience warns that even Future Year Defense Plans (FYDPs) that only cover a five-year period must be rolling plans that are reviewed and revised on an annual basis.

U.S. strategy must also consider the many areas where the need for changes takes years to become clear and/or where change takes years to implement. The key problems in shaping a strategy-based defense plan, program, and budget are not simply a matter of how much is spent, but how well-focused spending is, and how consistently spending is allocated to achieve a given effect. Continued commitment to a failure is also rarer than shaping a program around the coming fiscal year rather than an effective longer-term plan – a problems that was one of many key liabilities of the Budget Control Act.

  • Limit the role four military services to creating the detailed annual FYDP version of the budget to be presented to Congress. The present system of line item input budgeting by military service and defense is complex and over detailed but broadly functional. Trying to fix or reform it has uncertain value relative to the problems involved, and leaving it alone during a transition period to a Combatant Command-driven system, seems to be the better option.
  • Evaluate Allies and Security Partners in terms of their actual military capabilities and overall strategic value, and on the basis of their cooperation in setting strategic goals, force planning and the quality of the resources they provide to meet them. U.S. strategy must cease to focus on a transactional efforts to minimize the U.S. level of effort relative to allies on the basis of spending and burden sharing, and to emphasize arms sales as a source of revenue and reduced unit cost rather than the provide strategic value to both the U.S. and strategic partners. Bullying partners and allies for limited short-term financial gains rather than seeking valid mutual strategic objectives and mutual benefits will ultimately be more costly even in financial terms, and critically undermine the real strategic value of alliances and partnerships.
  • Create an annual National Technology Net Assessment: The U.S. cannot count on an enduring lead in any aspect of military and civil technology and its military and civil industrial base. Market forces and America's advanced level of civil-military development will help – as will ties to America's strategic partners. Ideology aside, however, the U.S. must constantly assess its relative level of technology and industrial base in every key area, do so on a long-lead basis, and accept the fact that state-driven systems like those of China and some aspects of Russia can sometimes achieve parity or a lead. Net assessment is critical. As is the case in every aspect of U.S. strategy, ideology is a miserable substitute for reality.
  • Create an Annual Net Assessment of Comparative Trends in National Security Spending. The U.S. should explicitly compare how its strategy and PPB activities compare with those of major threats, look at its own weaknesses and seek to exploit those of its enemies. It should also link U.S. spending efforts to those of it major strategic partner not only in terms of size but comparative effectiveness. There is no point in measuring "how much?" without measuring "how effective?", and strategy and budgets should not be allowed to ask for more – or be cut – without such comparative analysis
  • Focus on properly controlling the human and financial costs of war and military confrontation, not simply on finding strategic solutions. The cumulative cost of the current Afghan and Syria-Iraq Wars are warnings that the U.S. needs to do a far better job of monitoring and managing resources even in limited war, pay more attention to the civil consequences of conflict, and develop far more consistent approaches to strategy, tactics, deployments, and civil-military efforts.

So are the CBO analyses of the trends in the U.S. defense budgets, and the GAO assessments of the trends in force modernization programs and costs. The patterns of continued cost escalation in personnel, military medical/retirement, O&M, and procurement/RDT&E costs show the need for tighter planning, management, and cost control. So do the lasting impact of the implosion of the Army's Future Combat Systems program, the Navy's long standing problems in developing a ship building program it can actually implement, and the fact that the F-35 seems more likely to own the Air Force than owned by it.

It should also be note that the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, and Lead Inspector General for OCU have documented massive swings and turbulence in the funding cycles and major programs in the Afghan and Syria/Iraq Wars, the lack of real-world integration in civil-military programs, in U.S. wars warn how little the U.S. has learned since “every year was the first year in Vietnam.”

  • Report honestly and in depth on the civil-military cost of wars and military operations. The U.S. needs to address other aspects of the failure to link strategy to costing and managing its wars. U.S. reporting in the Cost of War Report, and on Overseas Contingency Outlays, did improve in the FY2020. The U.S. still, however, does not provide fully credible data on the total cost of the Afghan and Syria-Iraq Conflicts, and on the level of efforts involved. It overclassifies some details of its deployments and aid efforts to the level of active dishonesty. The U.S. should never use official reporting to sell or disguise the nature of a conflict and the level of its success. U.S. strategy must include suitable transparency in warfighting.
  • Apply "Strategic Triage" to every aspect of strategy and the initial and continued commitment of resources. Any real-world mix of strategy, plans, programs, and budgets must accept risks and resource limits. The goal should be to frankly admit where such compromises have to be made – along with the estimated risks – and clearly explain the priorities involved. Risk analysis should be built into every major stage of strategic planning and PPB activity.
  • Provide full transparency wherever possible. There are very few aspects of broad national peacetime strategies can be successfully concealed from potential threats and other states. Outside powers will always focus more on U.S. actions that on what it says, and most U.S. actions that shape its real-world strategic capabilities will have sufficient lead times and visibility so other powers will clearly detect them. If anything, the chronic tendency to over-classify does more to limit the quality of the supporting analysis, the clarity and nature of the strategy, and the ability to establish clear links between the strategy and its implementation within the U.S. government.
  • Require an Annual Independent CBO, GAO Review and Regression Analysis. One key way to improve quality, ensure accurate cost and force data, and establish Congressional and media trust is the require an annual independent assessment by a key branch of the Congressional staff, and one that provides a historical analysis of the degree to which the strategy and PPB process has produce real world force levels and force costs.

Facing Complexity and Meeting the Strategic Needs of the Modern World

This is demanding list of reforms. America's current problems, however, are the product of decades of failure to modernize the way the U.S. approaches strategy, and create the proper links to planning, programming, and budgeting. It is also clear that formulating strategy documents that can be reversed with a Tweet, that can be ignored in drafting annual budget requests, and do not address the full range of strategic issues the U.S. needs to address as a global power, are failing to meet critical U.S. needs.

Put simply, the United States does not face the end of history, the triumph of democratic capitalism, or some form of universal globalism that is producing a more stable world. The rise of China, the reassertion of aggressive Russian nationalism, moderate threats like Iran and North Korea, the rise of extremism and terrorism, and the broad and rising levels of instability in key parts of the developing world exemplified by the “Arab spring” are all clear demonstrations of these facts.

The U.S. faces an extraordinarily complicated mix of challenges which now seem certain to grow for the foreseeable future. Its strategy, plans, program, and budgets must evolve according and deal with this complexity accordingly. Decision makers may want simplicity, or to narrow their areas of focus. The strategic and financial cost of over-simplification is all too predictable, and it is clearly unacceptable.

Figure One: The Crisis in Federal Spending - I


Figure One: The Crisis in Federal Spending - II


Source: CBO,, pp. 6, 8, 15; CBO, Long-Term Implications of the 2019 Future Years Defense Program, February 2019,, p. 3.

Figure Two: The U.S. Combatant Commands



Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the United States Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy