The United States faces a strategic landscape unlike anything it has encountered in its recent history. It faces a rising great power in China, a diminished but still dangerous Russian military threat, and myriad “lesser threats” in the form of Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist organizations. Moving forward, the United States will need to deter aggression by two nuclear armed great-power adversaries while also keeping other threats at bay to protect the U.S. homeland and its global interests. But Washington finds itself in a precarious position where it may not have sufficient capacity, capability, nor readiness to contend with multiple advanced threats and crises. The Pentagon, therefore, needs allies and partners to help it deter Chinese and Russian aggression and manage the lesser but persistent threats that could grow if ignored.
To overcome these challenges, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has advanced the concept of integrated deterrence in the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS). Integrated deterrence seeks to integrate all tools of national power across domains, geography, and spectrum of conflict, while working with allies and partners. But what integrated deterrence entails in practical terms remains unclear, particularly to the very allies and partners Washington wants more from. This ambiguity raises the risk that integrated deterrence may find itself dead on arrival—and along with it, the ally and partner line of effort in the NDS. This risk is particularly high since the unclassified version of the NDS, which is the only one that is available to most allies and partners, was long delayed and finally released in late October 2022.
To enable the DoD’s NDS implementation efforts and turn integrated deterrence from rhetoric to reality, the authors developed a framework to help the department think about and implement its strategy of integrated deterrence with allies and partners. This framework highlights three levels of integration between the United States and its allies and partners: tactical, institutional, and strategic.
Integrated deterrence seeks to integrate all tools of national power across domains, geography, and spectrum of conflict, while working with allies and partners. But what integrated deterrence entails in practical terms remains unclear, particularly to the very allies and partners Washington wants more from.
Tactical integration is the most visible form of multilateral defense cooperation and the most common. It emphasizes interoperability between America and its allies and partners through common or compatible equipment and shared tactics. Institutional integration is a deeper form of cooperation that requires higher levels of trust, as it involves incorporating allies and partners into DoD decision-making processes. Institutional integration tends to center around a few areas, including information sharing; research and development; and capability development, acquisition, and production. The pinnacle of integration is strategic integration, which is arguably the hardest to achieve as strategic and policy differences have long been a significant barrier to deepening integration with allies and partners. Strategic integration entails the DoD and allies and partners developing a common understanding and prioritization among threats and agreeing on a division of labor for how to counter them. In theory, tactical and institutional cooperation should flow from discussions and decisions made in the strategic integration process.
Integrated deterrence requires cooperation at all three levels highlighted in this report. But the one area most pivotal to the integrated deterrence concept is where deeper collaboration is most sorely and urgently needed: strategic integration. Strategic integration should serve as the backbone of integrated deterrence and help focus American military cooperation. The U.S. government must work with allies and partners to develop a shared strategic vision to overcome the barriers to deeper institutional and tactical integration. Strategic integration has been the missing link in collective deterrence efforts.
Washington and its allies and partners need to deepen integration in peacetime, rather than waiting for a crisis or conflict to serve as a forcing function. In a conflict with China or Russia, they likely will not have the time to resolve these important issues. Moreover, enhancing institutional and tactical integration does not happen overnight as acquisition, research and development, and coproduction all have long lead times, pushing Washington to make decisions about these now to have the capabilities required to deter and, if needed, defeat future threats from China and Russia. But in the meantime, all these activities—peacetime strategic and operational planning, improving and demonstrating tactical interoperability, and making smart collective choices about future capabilities—provide signals of credibility and resolve that enhance deterrence and have the potential to keep China and Russia from aggression while these efforts bear fruit.
As the “center of gravity” of the 2022 NDS, allies and partners need to be on board with the concept of integrated deterrence for the strategy to be a success. The delayed release of the unclassified strategy limited the time available for allies and partners to ponder the NDS, consider their role in it, develop their nation’s response, and get their bureaucracies aligned to support and implement the integrated deterrence concept. As such, the DoD has a long way to go in realizing integrated deterrence with allies and partners. With only two years left in the administration, time is not on the department’s side, and it must take immediate steps to actualize integrated deterrence.
To deepen strategic integration, the U.S. Department of Defense should:
- Use this framework to develop a roadmap for bilateral integration, starting with an assessment of strategic alignment—especially prioritization of threats—and develop plans for further integration that conform with overlapping U.S. and ally and partner priorities.
- Specify what the United States is asking of democratic European and Indo-Pacific allies and partners, including a division of labor.
- Deepen strategic and operational planning with highly capable allies and partners to improve multilateral responsiveness to Chinese and Russian aggression.
To deepen institutional integration with allies and partners, the U.S. Department of Defense should:
- Improve information sharing with allies and partners to enhance integration and to incentivize this behavior throughout its bureaucracy.
- Extend International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) exemptions to all National Technology and Industrial Base (NTIB) members to promote integration and resiliency.
- Pursue codevelopment and coproduction of key capabilities to strengthen the combined defense industrial base capacity and improve resiliency.
- Consider how to create a network and data architecture for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) that can include allies and partners.
To deepen tactical integration with allies and partners, the U.S. Department of Defense should:
- Work with Congress, the National Security Council, and the State Department to reform the arms sales process to accelerate the provision of weapons that could be used to deter China or Russia either through direct commercial sales or foreign military sales to allies and partners.
- Adopt a multilateral exercise schedule that demonstrates interoperability and strengthens ally and partner capabilities in a high-end conflict.
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