October 07, 2020

Sharper: America's Next Defense Strategy

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy.

The 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) will provide an essential blueprint for civilian and military leaders to answer America’s greatest defense challenges, including threats posed by China, Russia, and longstanding rogue actors like Iran and North Korea. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation surrounding the future of America’s defense priorities. To serve as an intellectual resource for the drafters of the 2022 NDS, this edition of Sharper curates expertise and recommendations from leading voices in defense policy, including Michèle Flournoy, Susanna V. Blume, Christopher Dougherty, and others.


Investing in Great-Power Competition

In a CNAS report, experts Susanna V. Blume and Molly Parrish examine whether the FY 2021 defense budget request aligned with the priorities outlined in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The report finds that while the Department of Defense (DoD) has recognized its need to develop a joint command and control approach, especially toward China and Russia, its joint training, posture, and logistics need improvement. In order to confront the challenges posed by Russia and China, DoD cannot pursue siloed in-service or domain-based strategies, but instead needs to implement a fully joint and highly efficient command and control system.

Sharpening the U.S. Military’s Edge: Critical Steps for the Next Administration

Since the first Gulf War, the People’s Liberation Army has studied, analyzed, and essentially mastered the American way of war in order to develop strategies to counter it. In the inaugural issue of the CNAS Next Defense Strategy series, authors Michèle Flournoy and Gabrielle Chefitz argue that bolder and more efficient investment in military technology should be DoD and Congress’ top defense priority. As a start, the authors recommend that DoD increase investments in science and technology, as well as research and development, to align spending with its priorities.

Why America Needs a New Way of War

The American way of war that defined U.S. military strategy in the aftermath of the Cold War has become dangerously irrelevant. Chinese and Russian capabilities to exploit the vulnerabilities in this way of war have grown. In a CNAS report, expert Christopher Dougherty called for an alternative intellectual framework to guide American military power in the face of unfamiliar challenges from Russia and China. In the report, Dougherty underscored the pressing need for the U.S. government to adopt what he calls “A New American Way of War” in order to effectively confront these challenges.


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...


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’...


Why America Needs a New Way of War

For the first time in decades, it is possible to imagine the United States fighting—and possibly losing—a large-scale war with a great power....


  • Although lawmakers and the public frequently debate the size of the U.S. defense budget, a fundamental question usually receives less attention: What does U.S. military spending say about America's national security priorities? Expert Susanna V. Blume explains how U.S. strategic principles should drive key decisions in defense spending.
  • "The United States has always been a maritime nation," ADM John Richardson, USN (Ret.) writes in the Next Defense Strategy series. "The sea has always been integral to its security and prosperity, and the emerging century will be no exception."

The Bottom Line

Although lawmakers and the public frequently debate the size of the U.S. defense budget, a fundamental question usually receives less attention: What does U.S. military spendi...


Navy Force Structure in the Next National Defense Strategy

The discussion of Navy force structure is both timely and urgent....

  • Expert Christopher Dougherty argues in a CNAS policy brief, "New operational concepts, backed by independent analysis, are vital for DoD to meet its goal of deterring and, if necessary, defeating Chinese and Russian aggression should competition lead to conflict."
  • In an issue of the Next Defense Strategy series, authors Ilan Goldenberg and Kaleigh Thomas argue: "A sustainable Middle East strategy that allows the United States to pull back militarily while focusing on realistic diplomacy and a smarter assistance strategy is a central building block for shifting resources to other priorities."

Implementing the National Defense Strategy Demands Operational Concepts for Defeating Chinese and Russian Aggression

Summary The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) shifted the Department of Defense (DoD) away from a strategy focused on counterterrorism and deterring regional threats like I...


Demilitarizing U.S. Policy in the Middle East

The next NDS must detail a new approach to the Middle East....

  • "To get the defense budget right," expert Susanna V. Blume argues in Foreign Policy, "we need to stop arguing about numbers in the abstract and start having a serious conversation about what the United States wants its military to be able to do.
  • Expert Sarah Mineiro warns in an issue of the Next Defense Strategy series, "Without significant changes in defense policy, programs, and staffing, U.S. strategic competitors will transform the nation’s asymmetric advantage into an asymmetric vulnerability."

Dear Pentagon: It’s Not How Big Your Budget Is. It’s How You Use It.

Over the past two months, unusually public negotiations between the White House and the U.S. Department of Defense on the 2020 defense budget request have bounced from $733 bi...


Next Generation Defense Strategy: Space

Without significant changes in defense policy, programs, and staffing, U.S. strategic competitors will transform the nation’s asymmetric advantage into an asymmetric vulnerabi...

  • "The over-militarization of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts has had pernicious consequences both for these efforts and the U.S. military," expert Stephen Tankel argues in War on the Rocks.
  • In an issue of the Next Defense Strategy series, expert Nathalie Grogan writes, "The next NDS must tackle the personnel fissures that threaten both the strength of the force and the integrity of U.S. military decisions."

Making the U.S. Military’s Counter-Terrorism Mission Sustainable

Focusing on interstate strategic competition requires investing the mental energy necessary to develop a more sustainable approach to counter-terrorism....


The All-Volunteer Force: Civil-Military Relations Hit Home—and Abroad

Tensions in the civil-military relationship threaten national security from conflicts abroad to cities across the United States....

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Susanna V. Blume, Chris Dougherty, Becca Wasser, Dr. ED McGrady, and Martijn Rasser.


US military poised for post-pandemic shift

The novel coronavirus pandemic may soon lead to big changes in the U.S. military. COVID-19 has torn apart U.S. society so much that it is redefining national security, defens...


Slaughter in the East China Sea

The year is 2030. Chinese troops seize a Japanese island in the South China Sea. Japan dispatches an amphibious task force to retake the island. Soon, U.S. warships and aircra...

Technology & National Security

New Pentagon Initiative Aims to Help Allies, Contractors Work Together on AI

To better compete with China and Russia in developing artificial intelligence, the Defense Department will launch a new partnership with defense organizations from more than 1...


America's Current War Plans for China, Russia Will Not Work, New Report Says

The Pentagon's plans to develop weapons and strategies to penetrate Russian or Chinese complex defense networks are a waste of time and could lead to the defeat of U.S. milita...

Across the Center

America Competes 2020

This January, CNAS launched “America Competes 2020,” a Center-wide initiative to renew American competitiveness at home and abroad. Amid increasingly fractured and partisan policy debates, CNAS will produce specific, actionable policy recommendations for how the United States can compete more effectively across a range of vital national security arenas.

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.


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