October 06, 2011

New CNAS Report - Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in an Age of Austerity

Tomorrow, CNAS will formally launch Hard Choices: Responsible
Defense in an Age of Austerity
at an event at the Newseum beginning at 8:30
. If you’re in downtown Washington, I strongly recommend stopping by.
Along with the authors LTG David Barno, USA (Ret.), Dr. Nora Bensahel and
Travis Sharp, Thomas Donnelly (of AEI) and Gordon Adams (of the Stimson Center)
will discuss the critical question facing policymakers on Capitol Hill today:
How can the United States responsibly and effectively maximize its security in
this era of growing fiscal austerity?

Hard Choices does yeoman’s
work in highlighting the implications of tough budget cuts on America's
military capabilities and is a must-read for anyone who truly wants to
understand the debate that is playing out on the Hill and across the river at
the Pentagon. The report outlines four scenarios for defense budget reductions,
with each scenario reflecting more defense cuts, and analyzes the strategic
implications for the U.S. military under each example.

For me, one of the hallmarks of the report is the emphasis
on the need to rethink U.S. defense strategy as it currently stands and the
careful articulation of where U.S. priorities should be. “The United States has
pursued a remarkably consistent military strategy over the past 65 years, although
different American leaders have adopted varying approaches to national
security,” the report states.

“This strategy, which we refer to as ‘global
engagement,’ has involved security cooperation with allies, the maintenance of
a military presence in key regions, selective engagement in armed conflicts and
the pursuit of American military and economic primacy to protect U.S.
interests.” According to Barno, Bensahel and Sharp, this strategy has generally
served to promote several key objectives, including:

  • Guard the U.S. homeland against territorial
    invasion or attack by another country.
  • Deter potential adversaries from attacking the United
    States and its allies.
  • Protect trade routes and access to global energy
    supplies on which the U.S. and allied economies depend.
  • Help secure the global commons of sea, air,
    space and cyberspace, on which the U.S. and global economic systems rely.
  • Defend the United States against transnational security
    threats, such as nuclear proliferation and international terrorism.
  • Support international laws and norms which help
    bolster peace and security.

“Given today’s fiscal constraints, we believe that the
United States should continue to pursue the ends of its long-running global
engagement strategy, but should do so using different ways and means,” the
authors write. “Constrained resources require U.S. civilian and military
decision makers to prioritize key geographic regions more effectively. The U.S.
military should focus on the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and broaden
engagements along the Pacific Rim, largely through a stronger maritime and air
presence as well as the strategic use of ground forces to support key allies.”

The report says that while the Middle East and Mediterranean
remain an area of vital interest, East Asia should be America’s priority. Africa and South America being the lowest areas of priority, with the United
States being prepared to address specific challenges to U.S. vital interests in
those regions. Indeed, the need to “pivot” from the greater Middle East to East
Asia is likely to gain some major traction across the U.S. government in the
weeks and months ahead, as the Obama administration attempts to provide
reassurance to our East and Southeast Asian allies who have been concerned
about U.S. commitments to the region after a decade of conflict in the Middle

This new defense strategy, as outlined by Barno, Bensahel
and Sharp, helps inform our work on natural security. Indeed, given the range
of resource challenges around the world, the U.S. government should focus its
efforts and develop priorities where the Defense Department and the broader
national security community can engage on these important issues. East Asia is
an area ripe for better understanding where natural resource challenges and
U.S. national security and foreign policy interests converge. Competition over
fish, mineral and hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea will shape
geopolitical relations in the region for the foreseeable future. Serious U.S.
government commitments on climate change, including climate adaptation, could
be the key to unlocking and bolstering emerging partnerships in the region,
including with Vietnam. Military-to-military cooperation around biofuel
research, development, standards testing and deployment could help improve
interoperability with allies like the Japanese and the Singaporeans. These are
just a few areas where the Department of Defense could be poised to maximize
defense dollars in a region of the world that is strategically important.

In all, Hard Choices asks
the hard questions and gives, in my humble opinion, the serious analysis this
country needs to make the difficult choices that policymakers on the Hill and
at the Pentagon are faced with. Don’t take my word for it though. Give it a
read. In 26 pages, it’s the best primer on the defense budget that’s out there.