On January 20, the U.S. Department of Defense released the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy, followed nearly a month later by the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2019. Happily, the two are reasonably well aligned, an outcome that is never assured given how disconnected the processes of strategy formulation and budget building can be. Both documents clearly prioritize strategic competition with China and Russia. But good strategy involves decisions not only about what to prioritize but what not to. Unfortunately, neither document makes clear what missions the Department of Defense is going to end or deemphasize in order to shift focus to this new and very resource-intensive top priority of “expanding the competitive space” against countries investing heavily in high-end capabilities designed to limit U.S. freedom of action (known as “anti-access/area-denial” capabilities). This omission is a problem. As large as the expected increase for defense spending is in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, it is still not enough to cover everything.
In his remarks rolling out the request for the increase, David L. Norquist, the chief financial officer and controller at the Department of Defense, emphasized that this new budget was shaped by the new strategy, despite its concurrent construction. How large the defense budget needs to be depends on what the body politic wants the force to be able to do, which is the subject of the strategy. Budgets are not strategic documents, but when done correctly they are a necessary component of making a strategy real.
And this strategy wants the armed forces to do a lot. Day to day, they must “deter aggression in ... the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East; degrade terrorists and WMD threats; and defend U.S. interests from challenges below the level of armed conflict.” In times of war, the mobilized force must “be capable of: defeating aggression by a major power; deterring an opportunistic aggression elsewhere; and disrupting imminent terrorist attacks and WMD threats.” In addition, the force must always defend
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