May 05, 2019

How to Win America's Next War

By Elbridge Colby

The era of untrammeled U.S. military superiority is over. If the United States delays implementing a new approach, it risks losing a war to China or Russia—or backing down in a crisis because it fears it would—with devastating consequences for America’s interests.

The U.S. Defense Department’s 2018 National Defense Strategy initiated a needed course correction to address this challenge. As then-Defense Secretary James Mattis put it in January that year, great-power competition—not terrorism—is now the Pentagon’s priority. But while the strategy’s summary provides a clear vision, it leaves much to be fleshed out. What should this shift toward great-power competition entail for the U.S. military?

To answer, we must first understand the current geopolitical landscape. As ever, the foremost concern of the United States is to maintain adequate levels of military power; without it, there would be nothing to protect Washington from the worst forms of coercion and every incentive for ambitious opponents to exploit the ensuing leverage. Largely for that reason, the United States has an enduring interest in open access to the world’s key regions—primarily Asia and Europe—to ensure their latent power is not turned against it. The United States does so by maintaining favorable balances of power in these regions through a network of alliances. These partnerships are not ends in themselves but rather the way the United States makes sure that no state dominates these critical areas.

Russia and especially China are the only countries that could plausibly take over and hold the territory of Washington’s allies and partners in the face of U.S. resistance. If they did so—or even if they merely convinced their neighbors that they could and then used that fear to suborn them—they could unravel U.S. alliances and shift in their favor the balances of power in Europe and Asia. If China did so in the Western Pacific, it could dominate the world’s largest and most economically dynamic region. If Russia did so, it could fracture NATO and open Eastern Europe to Russian dominance.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

  • Commentary
    • July 13, 2020
    Sharpening the U.S. Military’s Edge: Critical Steps for the Next Administration

    The Bottom Line The United States is losing its military technological advantage vis-à-vis great power competitors such as China. Reversing this trend must be DoD leadership’...

    By Michèle Flournoy & Gabrielle Chefitz

  • Reports
    • July 9, 2020
    Investing in Great-Power Competition

    Executive Summary This report asks whether the 2021 U.S. defense budget request is aligned with the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) in selecting priority capability inves...

    By Susanna V. Blume & Molly Parrish

  • Video
    • July 8, 2020
    Thomas Harker performing duties of DoD Comptroller

    Bob Hale, Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, discusses how Thomas Harker will continue as Navy Comptroller while performing duties of the Under S...

    By Robert F. Hale

  • Video
    • June 24, 2020
    The Pitch: A Competition of New Ideas

    On June 17, 2020, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) hosted its premier event to elevate emerging and diverse voices in national security. Sixteen applicants made t...

    By Richard Fontaine, Michèle Flournoy, Michael J. Zak, Loren DeJonge Schulman, Shai Korman, Carrie Cordero, Kristine Lee, David Zikusoka & Cole Stevens

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia