As long time readers know, one of ComNavOps overarching themes is that all things military flow from a national geopolitical strategy. Military actions and acquisitions should follow this simplified chain of actions:
1) Geopolitical Strategy – sets the nation’s goals and defines our desired relationship with the rest of the world
2) Military Strategy – defines how to achieve our geopolitical goals via military means
3) CONOPS – defines the role and use of specific, individual military assets and lays out the tactics that the asset will employ within the context of the military strategy
4) Acquisition – having defined the needs and characteristics of specific, individual assets, we can now acquire them with assurance that they will prove useful
has not had a valid national
geopolitical strategy for many years.
Because of this, the U.S. military has been adrift, having no
guidance as to what it should do. The
lack of guidance has resulted in haphazard acquisitions where the military has
been focused on acquiring technology rather than assets that would actually be
useful in a specific region and against a specific enemy. Thus, we get the LCS which has no useful
purpose, the Zumwalt which has no mission, the Marine’s expansion into aviation
which duplicates and conflicts with existing national aviation forces, the F-35
which is an international jobs program with dubious combat value, etc. U.S.
The lack of a geopolitical strategy has also paralyzed the military’s actions regarding potential enemies. Having no guidance, the military has defaulted to appeasement. This has given us the Iranian seizure of our boats and crews with no repercussions, the uncontested seizure of the entire South and East China Seas by China using largely illegal measures, our passive acceptance of the unremitting and unsafe harassment of our military units by Russia, and an unhindered build up of NKorea’s nuclear ballistic missile program.
In short, due to the lack of a geopolitical strategy, the
has been drifting aimlessly on the
world stage for many years and has accomplished little and, likely, worsened
many situations. U.S.
Now, for the first time in many years, the government, in the form of President Trump, has put forth a National Security Strategy (1). Let’s examine it.
Note: I don’t care whether you support President Trump or not. We’re going to examine the National Security Strategy (NSS) document as it relates to the military. We’re going to determine whether or not it provides the guidance necessary for the military to regain a sense of purpose and direction.
The NSS begins on a positive note by laying out an underlying foundation:
first is the duty of our government and the foundation America
leadership in the
Aside from being one of President Trump’s campaign slogans, this also provides a clear basis for all subsequent strategic considerations. Agree or disagree but it’s quite clear.
The document then goes on to list four “pillars” of the strategy:
I. Protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life
II. Promote American prosperity
III. Preserve peace through strength
IV. Advance American influence
Clearly, these pillars are based on the “America First” principle as stated in the introduction to the strategy. This is a geopolitical strategy that approaches international relations and events from a very specific perspective – an American perspective. This provides ample guidance to the government and the military as to what path to follow, what shape our international relations should take, and what rationale our actions should be based on.
If the document contained only those few words and no others, this would almost be sufficient. However, the strategy also enumerates specific enemies, threats, and actions that further define the pillars. Here are some of the noteworthy items:
1. Protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life
a. Deploy a layered missile defense aimed at
and NKorea Iran
b. Control weapons of mass destruction
c. Strengthen border control and immigration policy
d. Eliminate terrorist safe havens
e. Dismantle transnational criminal organizations
f. Defend against cyber attacks
2. Promote American prosperity
a. Put an end to unequal and unfair international trading practices
b. Promote domestic economic prosperity via regulatory and tax relief
c. Pursue energy dominance
3. Preserve peace through strength
a. Recognizes that war is a spectrum of actions, most of which are non-violent but still threatening
b. Reestablish military overmatch
c. Improve readiness
d. Reverse the decline in size of our military forces
e. Protect and promote the domestic manufacturing and defense industrial base
f. Use diplomacy to advance American interests
g. Maintain our position as the preeminent economic force in the world
h. Modernize the military
4. Advance American influence
a. Encourage partnerships that advance American interests
b. Exercise leadership
c. Champion American values
The strategy concludes by addressing specific regional concerns.
must tailor our approaches to different regions of the world to protect
United States national interests. We require integrated regional strategies that
appreciate the nature and magnitude of threats, the intensity of competitions,
and the promise of available opportunities, all in the context of local
political, economic, social, and historical realities.” U.S.
This very wisely recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to geopolitics and it recognizes that individual regions and enemies have specific characteristics that the government and military need to be aware of and account for.
The regions addressed are:
- enumerates the threat posed by
and NKorea China
- stresses the need for regional partnerships
- espouses military forward presence and regional missile defense
- maintain strong ties with
while recognizing the “One China” policy and the “Taiwan Relations Act” Taiwan Europe
’s subversive activities and intimidation Russia
- calls on European countries to increase defense spending
- recognizes the threats posed
and terrorists Iran
- deny Iranian nuclear progress
- South and
- strengthen ties with
to increase its counter-terrorism activities Pakistan Western Hemisphere
- combat international crime
- strengthen economic ties and trade
- encourage governmental reform and sanction repressive governments
- strengthen trade partnerships
- counter terrorist encroachments
There you have it – the gist of the National Security Strategy.
Unlike “strategies” put forth by previous administrations, this one is has a central theme (
first), names enemies and details
their threats, and offers a surprising amount of specific actions to be
taken. In short, this explicitly defines
our view of other countries and the nature and basis for our relationships with
Here are few specific thoughts on the strategy.
- The willingness to name enemies
and specifically describe their threats and negative actions is realistic
and refreshing. For example, no
longer will we be forced to try describe a “Pacific Pivot” but deny that it
is aimed at
. You can’t fight an enemy if you won’t even speak their name (Obama’s refusal to say “radical Islamic terrorism”). The level of detail about the illegal, immoral, unethical, and unfair actions of unfriendly countries is stunning in comparison to all previous Administrations and strategies. China
- The strategy specifically recognizes
the return of great power competition and the impact that has on
, our military, and the world. This recognition provides the basis for addressing our own military issues of force sizing, readiness, procurement, budget, and modernization. America
- Refreshingly, after several years of retreat from the world stage, the strategy emphasizes the need for American leadership and the value and benefit of that leadership for the world.
- The strategy recognizes that
is the standard for the world and the hope for the future of the world. This is a complete reversal from the previous Administration’s policy of constant apologies for American existence. America
- In one of the notably ambiguous
issues, the strategy is still trying to walk the tightrope on the
Taiwan-China issue by expressing strong support for
while acknowledging the One China Policy. This ambiguity will not assist the military in formulating actions and operations. Taiwan
- The strategy is notably weak on
African specifics and defaults to generic statements about trade,
economics, and politics. Given that
Africais a rapidly growing host for terrorism and is one of ’s focal points for expansion, this region should have been addressed in much more detail and specifics. China
- The strategy stops short of
defining exactly how far we are willing to allow
, China , and, to a lesser extent, Russia and NKorea to go in their endeavors. For example, it does not say whether we will allow Iran to expand globally, try to contain them regionally, contest their existing expansion, or something else. Similarly, it does not describe how far we are willing to allow China to go. Will we allow Russia to complete a takeover of Russia and expand into other countries? The strategy’s consistent theme is “ Ukraine first”. Does that mean we’ll allow America to continue invading countries as long as American interests are not adversely impacted? Russia
While not perfect, this strategy is a vast improvement over anything that has come before it and even considered in isolation is quite adequate. It defines our enemies and their threats and details specific actions we need to take. Just as importantly, it provides a consistent basis and rationale for our relationships and actions. This is exactly what the military needs to formulate military strategies. Given this document, the military should be able to develop clear and specific strategies for each region and each enemy that we face.
The Administration has set a viable geopolitical strategy and it is now up to the military to support that with specific and effective military strategies. There is no longer any excuse for the aimless drifting that has characterized American military behavior for the last few decades.
You can agree or disagree with this National Security Strategy but it must be acknowledged that this is a clear, consistent, and fairly specific strategy. This is the geopolitical strategy that ComNavOps has been calling for. The ball is in the Pentagon’s court now. The President has provided the military with the guidance it needs. The challenge for the military is to now pick from the range of potential capabilities and actions those that will best support the NSS and assemble coherent strategies for each region and country. This is exactly what a professional warrior should be able to do. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that we do not have professional warriors leading our military. If the military does not quickly provide the President with the required military strategies then he should initiate wholesale firings of military leadership.
One last time: the point of this post is not to agree or disagree with the geopolitical strategy presented but to evaluate whether it is a viable, effective guidance for the military. In that respect, it absolutely is.