For decades, the Pentagon, abetted by Congress, has behaved like a parent raiding a child’s college fund to pay monthly bills, rather than tightening its belt. Myopically robbing from critical long-term investments to pay for urgent needs resulted in the core problem addressed by the 2018 National Defense Strategy: America’s eroding military advantage against China and Russia.
The NDS, released under the leadership of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Deputy Secretary Patrick Shanahan, strives to put a stop to this by emphasizing long-term competition with those major powers by prioritizing modern forces over larger, less capable forces.
But Shanahan’s response to news that the Department of Defense’s budget for fiscal 2020 would decline unexpectedly from a planned $733 billion to $700 billion — namely, that the smaller budget would rob funding from future modernization to build a bigger force for today’s problems — was enormously disheartening to those of us who helped create the strategy.
To be fair to Pentagon planners, a sudden drop in the budget this late in the process throw plans into disarray. However, the choice to prioritize near-term investments is flawed and unnecessary — even under a smaller budget. The NDS is a flexible strategy for 21st century great power competition. At its core is a prioritization framework that was designed to accommodate a broad range of uncertainty, including budget shifts.
Put bluntly, this shortfall shouldn’t invalidate the priorities of the NDS; rather, it should force the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military services to prioritize more ruthlessly. Instead, it appears the OSD is abandoning the core principles of its strategy to fall back on the same approach that got us into our current predicament.
Read the full article in Defense News.
More from CNAS
VideoWinning the Next War
Chinese and Russian capabilities to exploit vulnerabilities in America's current way of war have grown. Without major changes to how it fights its wars, does the United States...
By Robert O. Work & Chris Dougherty
PodcastWorking National Security on John McCain’s Presidential Campaign
Richard Fontaine spent years advising leading figures in American foreign policy, but working for the late Sen. John McCain was unlike anything he had experienced before. Now ...
By Richard Fontaine & Ilan Goldenberg
CommentaryInterservice rivalries: A force for good
It’s no secret that the military services fight hard to protect their shares of the defense budget. Just last week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday made his case...
By Susanna V. Blume & Molly Parrish
PodcastStories from the Backchannel: Season Two Trailer
Now more than ever, Americans are interested in the people working behind the scenes on consequential national security decisions. In Season Two of Stories from the Backchanne...
By Ilan Goldenberg, Richard Fontaine, Susanna V. Blume, Kayla M. Williams, Price B. Floyd, Kurt Campbell & Kara Frederick