Document: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission

November 14, 2018 4:30 PM

The following is a Nov. 14, 2018, document, “Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission.”

Executive Summary

The security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades. America’s military superiority—the hard-power backbone of its global influence and national security—has eroded to a dangerous degree. Rivals and adversaries are challenging the United States on many fronts and in many domains. America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt. If the nation does not act promptly to remedy these circumstances, the consequences will be grave and lasting.

Since World War II, the United States has led in building a world of unusual prosperity, freedom, and security—an achievement that has benefitted America enormously. That achievement has been enabled by unmatched U.S. military power. Investments made in our military and the competence and sacrifice of those who serve have provided for the defense and security of America, its citizens overseas, and its allies and partners. America has deterred or defeated aggression and preserved stability in key regions around the globe. It has ensured the freedom of the global commons on which American and international prosperity depends, and given America unrivaled access and influence. Not least, America’s military strengths have prevented America from being coerced or intimidated, and helped avert a recurrence of the devastating global wars of the early 20th century, which required repeated interventions at a cost of hundreds of thousands of U.S. lives. Put simply, U.S. military power has been indispensable to global peace and stability—and to America’s own security, prosperity, and global leadership.

Today, changes at home and abroad are diminishing U.S. military advantages and threatening vital U.S. interests. Authoritarian competitors—especially China and Russia—are seeking regional hegemony and the means to project power globally. They are pursuing determined
military buildups aimed at neutralizing U.S. strengths. Threats posed by Iran and North Korea have worsened as those countries have developed more advanced weapons and creatively employed asymmetric tactics. In multiple regions, gray-zone aggression—intimidation and coercion in the space between war and peace—has become the tool of choice for many. The dangers posed by transnational threat organizations, particularly radical jihadist groups, have also evolved and intensified. Around the world, the proliferation of advanced technology is allowing more actors to contest U.S. military power in more threatening ways. The United States thus is in competition and conflict with an array of challengers and adversaries. Finally, due to political dysfunction and decisions made by both major political parties—and particularly due to the effects of the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and years of failing to enact timely
appropriations—America has significantly weakened its own defense. Defense spending was cut substantially under the BCA, with pronounced detrimental effects on the size, modernization, and readiness of the military.

The convergence of these trends has created a crisis of national security for the United States—what some leading voices in the U.S. national security community have termed an emergency. Across Eurasia, grayzone aggression is steadily undermining the security of U.S. allies and
partners and eroding American influence. Regional military balances in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Pacific have shifted in decidedly adverse ways. These trends are undermining deterrence of U.S. adversaries and the confidence of American allies, thus increasing the likelihood of military conflict. The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously. Additionally, it would be unwise and irresponsible not to expect adversaries to attempt debilitating kinetic, cyber, or other types of attacks against Americans at home while they seek to defeat our military abroad. U.S. military superiority is no longer assured and the implications for American interests and American security are severe.


Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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