October 19, 2021

Why the Pentagon Should Abandon ‘Strategic Competition’

By Becca Wasser and Stacie Pettyjohn

Nearly every child is taught when making a request to “say the magic word”: please. The U.S. Defense Department has recently been taught it too needs to say the magic word in every force, capability, or resource request. But the magic word isn’t please; it’s the phrase “strategic competition.”

The National Defense Strategy (NDS) sets U.S. military priorities and is produced every four years to align with a new administration. As the Pentagon develops the next NDS, scheduled to be delivered in February 2022, it has an opportunity to right where the last strategy went wrong: the concept of strategic competition.

The Pentagon will need to make sure that one magic word or concept is not substituted for another.

The 2018 NDS ushered in an era in which long-term “inter-state strategic competition” with China and Russia reigned. Further complicating matters, Trump administration officials often interchangeably used the phrase great-power competition to describe this development. The concept became a priority mission without a clear definition of what it meant, the actions that comprised it, or what “winning” the competition looked like. Although this might seem innocuous, the establishment of this broad, undefined mission for the Defense Department has had deleterious effects and undermined the strategy’s original intent.

The Biden administration reportedly favors the strategic competition terminology but is differentiating their idea from the Trump-era concept. Although administration officials maintain that strategic competition conveys a focused and disciplined approach, it is likely to have the reverse effect as competition is not a means nor an end in itself. The Trump administration at least emphasized competition with great powers, which delineated the important threats and deprioritized threats like North Korea, Iran, and terrorism. The Biden administration, therefore, appears to be making the next NDS’s centerpiece a term that is even broader and fuzzier than its predecessor.

Read the full article from Foreign Policy.

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