Friday, January 19, 2018

National Defense Strategy Summary Review

The military’s 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) summary has been released. (1)  This is the document that flows from the recently released National Security Strategy (NSS) and describes how the military will support the NSS.  Let’s take a closer look.

The NDS starts with a promising premise – that we conduct our international affairs from a position of strength.

“…the Department provides military options to ensure the President and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.”

This is a time-proven and common sense maxim that, unfortunately, previous administrations forgot and abandoned.  Our attempts to conduct our affairs from a weak position have proven to be abject failures.

The NDS next highlights an important observation and truth about today’s world – that lawlessness is on the rise.

“We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the
long-standing rules-based international order …”

China is flouting international norms, laws, and treaties with unbridled glee.  Terrorism knows no behavioral bounds and recognizes no system or morals or ethics.  Russia is engaged in militaristic expansionism.  Iran consistently flouts international law.  NKorea ignores international law by launching missiles into Japanese territory.  And so on.

Why is it important that we recognize this movement away from the rule of law?  It’s important because it provides a moral and ethical justification for more aggressive action on our part.  When a person commits a criminal act, they forfeit any ethical considerations we would otherwise extend to them.  A burglar breaking into your home forfeits any expectation of a polite reception and accepts the fact they are subject to being killed with no discussion, notice, consideration, or trial.

So, too, with nations and terrorists.  When a country flouts international law, it forfeits the protections that those same laws would otherwise provide.  This is the basis for pre-emptive strikes, territorial incursions, clandestine military strikes, or any other action we deem necessary to ensure our national security.  Recognizing this concept opens many more military options.

As the NDS puts it,

China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors. As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.

There it is – all the justification that is needed to pursue more aggressive military actions.

Moving on, the NDS recognizes that we have become complacent.

America’s military has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield.”

The consequences are also laid out.

“Failure to meet our defense objectives will result in decreasing U.S. global influence, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, and reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living.”

And, the ultimate risk is bluntly stated, as well.

“It is now undeniable that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary.”

So much for the introduction to the strategy.  To this point, it is an excellent document.  Now, to the meat of the strategy – the specific goals and actions that the military will take.     ………….   And, now it all falls flat on its face.

The rest of the document, the heart of the document, is a collection of vague generalities along the lines of, “we will become more lethal”, with no specifics about how that will occur or, “we will be more agile”, with no specifics or definition.  The document consists of nothing but this type of vague, generalized, useless PowerPoint babble.

Honestly, this concludes my review of the document since there is nothing of any substance to review.  What a disappointment, especially after the fairly good NSS and the excellent introductory portion of the NDS.  This document was not worth the time it took for the military to write it and not worth the time it took for me to read it.

Absolute garbage.  I could not be more disappointed in our professional military.

Note:  This is the public summary.  One can only hope that the classified version has much more in the way of useful specifics but, somehow, I doubt it and, if it does, the military is making a huge mistake by failing to offer a better public description of the strategy.  I’m not advocating giving away secrets but a basic description is necessary if the public is to buy in to the military and provide financial support.  Further, there is a benefit in letting other countries know that we are preparing for them and, to an extent, how.  This is called deterrence.


(1)National Defense Strategy Summary, 2018,


  1. "... basic description is necessary if the public is to buy in to the military and provide financial support."

    Clearly, the DoD office that produces this document doesn't think that's worth the effort, or (more likely) is unable to provide it without making it obvious that the means are not available.

    So what you have is a statement of ideals, an essentially political document. That befits the role of the military in modern US politics, which is essentially as a method of spending tax money for selective political benefit. Political support for this is maintained by feeding a very small part of the money back to politicians as campaign contributions.

    I don't see a way out of this situation in today's hyper-partisan environment, especially since China has given itself political cover by making itself vital to so many American businesses. They won't support action that cuts into their profits, which paralyses political action in the US.

    1. That's a pretty perceptive analysis! You couldn't be more right that the strategy is just a list of idealistic attributes of a military rather than an actual strategy. My very faint hope is that the classified strategy is something worthwhile and that the publicly released summary is just a poorly done marketing brochure. I doubt it, though.

      Regarding China's political cover, again, that's an astute observation. The situation can, however, be reversed. China has made itself indispensable to us by providing low cost manufacturing in China, buying up our debt, buying ownership of U.S. companies, and so on. We can bring the manufacturing back to the U.S. by restructuring our tax and trade laws and regulations. We can encourage the reacquisition of our own debt, again, with favorable tax laws. We can ban Chinese students from our universities. And so on. We can get out from under China's control. Trump is doing this to an extent. His policies are aimed at bringing back American jobs and manufacturing from China. Whether he recognizes the other actions that are needed or not, I don't know. I've seen no signs of it but, to be fair, it's still early in his term. Like him or not, Trump is moving the country in the right direction regarding bringing jobs and manufacturing back to the U.S.

      Once we get out from under China's influence, then we can begin acting in our own best interests and begin more aggressively confronting them.

      I would pass a law that makes Chinese ownership, even partial, of U.S. companies illegal. China believes that all actions are part of war and we should be doing the same. This would be an excellent strike against their economic system and would strengthen ours. We are at war and need to begin fighting back.

      What other actions do you see that can lesson or reverse China's influence over us?

      Great comment!

  2. Rolling back Chinese influence in the US will require quite a bit of time and subtlety. It's certain that the US ideal of "free trade" will be vigorously deployed in defence of outsourcing. You also need to make a significant proportion of the changes things that are hard for China to object to.

    Getting the votes in Congress to make changes in taxation aimed at China will be hard, given the amount of money that American businesses make from using Chinese labour. It will be necessary to make manufacturing in the USA more profitable than in China, which either forces down American wages, or requires large investments in modernised manufacturing. An important detail is that large numbers of American factories had their production machinery moved to China, and you can bet that moving it back will encounter "bureaucratic difficulties."

    Essentially, the US needs to make economic nationalism something that the wealthy want, as opposed to the people whose jobs have gone to China. I don't understand the subtleties of US politics well enough to suggest how that might be done; the broad strokes are sometime more obvious from outside the country.

    1. You're on a roll. Another excellent comment!

      "require quite a bit of time and subtlety"

      Some things can be done as obvious and impactful events but, yes, you're right that many will require time and subtlety. Just as the anti-gun faction can't simply repeal the 2A but they chip away at it continually with magazine limits, onerous permit requirements, etc., so too can we chip away at the laws and regulations that make China an attractive location for manufacturing. China takes the long and subtle view of war and we need to adopt that same philosophy.

      "necessary to make manufacturing in the USA more profitable than in China"

      You've nailed it again. It will be far better and easier to make the U.S. the preferred location for manufacturing and investment than it will be to make China unattractive and forbidden. If we can make the U.S. overwhelmingly attractive then the business owners will flock back to America on their own, without having to be forced to do it by law.

      Keep this up and I may have to turn the blog over to you!

    2. "free trade"

      The reality is that free trade does not exist between the US and China. Chinese tariffs, taxes, subsidies, currency exchange rate manipulations, etc. all ensure that our trade relationship is not free and equal. It's extremely one-sided in favor of China. This needs to end and can be done quickly by simply applying the same tariffs, taxes, etc. on Chinese goods that they do on us. The effect would be to dry up the influx of Chinese goods. That, of course, would cause consumers to demand those missing goods and that's the opportunity for American business to come back to America - as long as we make the economic and regulatory environment a friendly one.

      Without getting political, Trump is working to get us out of unfair trade agreements.

  3. "The reality is that free trade does not exist between the US and China."

    Oh, indeed. But that won't keep people who are benefiting from the current situation, who include many Republican Party donors, from claiming it as an principle that is being discarded by the USA.

    The dominant position of money in US politics is being used in the interest of the Chinese, and it's very questionable how much can be done about that, given the number of interests vested in the current situation. All kinds of groups like it the way it is, and are more preoccupied with their own interests than the economic one.

    1. Well, you identified the solution in your previous comment. We need to create conditions that make it more profitable to operate in the US than in China. Business will follow the money. All we have to do is set the conditions and then step back and watch it happen. Of course, it's easier said than done but the way it's done is through tax laws, reduced (or reasonable) regulations, supportive health care laws, tort reform, etc. Set the conditions and the problem will solve itself.

  4. That's true. The political problem is that there's a lot of power and money, within the USA, that will resist any solution, as against its own interests.

  5. "Why is it important that we recognize this movement away from the rule of law? It’s important because it provides a moral and ethical justification for more aggressive action on our part. When a person commits a criminal act, they forfeit any ethical considerations we would otherwise extend to them. A burglar breaking into your home forfeits any expectation of a polite reception and accepts the fact they are subject to being killed with no discussion, notice, consideration, or trial."

    What a joke. It was the US that thought it is strong enough to completely ingore any laws. Remember Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Iraq. What are American justifications for their presence in Syria? The Syrian government did not allow it, neither did the UN. And who gave the US the right to decide which goverments are legitimate and which are not?
    Go forward to today, the US has lost strength, now other great powers do not see themselves bound to international law, because they know it wont protect them from US shenanigans anyway. They know they have to be powerfull to have any rights in the eyes of America. And they have gotten now strong enough themselves to push back the US.

    And now you are saying because other are ignoring law you can too. What a joke, sorry man. The US never respected any law besides the the law of the jungle.

    1. Besides that i respect the work you are doing in this blog. You have interesting posts. Keep up the good work man

    2. Your view of the US is skewed, extreme, and incorrect. In the examples you cite, the US acted to stop dictators and mass killings. For example, the Yugoslav/Serbia/Kosovo episode involved mass killings and possible genocide. The US got involved to prevent that. One can certainly debate the wisdom of that involvement but not the motive.

      Similarly, the US involvement in Syria was the result of mass killings of civilians and the use of chemical warfare against civilians. As I stated in the post, that alone provides the justification. Syria's leader forfeited any "rights" he might have had. Again, one can debate the wisdom of the US involvement but not the justification.

      Without a doubt, the US has been far too quick to jump into Middle East affairs, albeit with justification, without having any viable plan to actually produce a better outcome. Many of our actions, however well intentioned, have made things worse.

      This, by the way, is why I generally avoid opening up political discussions. They invariably wind up being nothing but a series of accusations being flung back and forth. The participants make no attempt to apply data or logic. For example, nothing I've said in this comment is likely to make you even pause momentarily and cooly, calmly, logically examine your beliefs. It's just not human nature. That being the case, what's the point of even attempting a discussion? I'm speaking now in the general sense, not specifically to you. Given the pointlessness of political discussions, I simply avoid them with rare (and almost always regretful) exceptions.

      Thanks for the compliment. I appreciate that. I'm always on the lookout for interesting topics. Is there anything you'd like me to post on?


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