Crafting Defense Strategy from an Astrategic Security Strategy

The last of my four pieces analyzing the revised National Security Strategy has posted at RealClearDefense.

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The last of my four pieces analyzing the revised National Security Strategy, “National Security Strategy to National Defense Strategy,” has posted at RealClearDefense.

President Obama released the first National Security Strategy in five years last Friday. As I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s more a wish list than a strategy. That’s a shame because Obama has articulated a much more nuanced view of national security in various speeches and interviews and this was a missed opportunity to put that vision down on paper. Given that it serves as the basis for crafting our National Defense Strategy and dozens of other policy documents across the interagency, that’s a problem.

The setup is rather wonkish, laying out the NSS requirements set out in the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 and how it in turn leads to a National Defense Strategy, a National Military Strategy, and other follow-on reports. This is important because,

All of these documents are part of the planning phase of the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) System that determines which programs are developed to meet military strategy requirements and how much funding they receive.

Naturally, if the foundational document – the NSS – is flawed, it will create ripple effects throughout this chain and either misinform or fail to inform the programming, budgeting and execution phases.

The upshot:

While there’s room for quibbling here and there, most of that agenda is sufficiently aspirational that it enjoys widespread support on both sides of the aisle. The problem, however, is that it’s all but useless as guidance. If everything is a priority, nothing is.

What, precisely, isn’t the U.S. military going to be prepared to do? The watchword in DoD planning documents in recent years has been “risk.” Given substantial budget cuts, there will simply be less military capability to bring to bear in achieving the perfectly desirable goals laid out in the NSS. Which ones are urgent and which will be put off for another day? Where can we risk a shortfall in capability, and where is it absolutely vital that we be able to answer the call to respond?

Alas, I conclude, it may not matter all that much:

It’s possible that these issues will be rendered less pressing by the late release of the document. DoD is less able to avoid complying with the law than the White House, so the QDR was released last March and won’t be revised again until the next presidential administration—and quite probably the next NSS. The National Military Strategy was last revised in February 2011. There’s certainly enough time to issue an update between now and the end of the administration’s term. Perhaps, given the lack of useful guidance, the Pentagon will simply punt until 2017. Given that real decisions need to be made on personnel structure and weapons systems, that would be a bad outcome, indeed.

Much more, naturally, at the link.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    Naturally, if the foundational document – the NSS – is flawed, it will create ripple effects throughout this chain and either misinform or fail to inform the programming, budgeting and execution phases.

    Ah, if only.

    The good news is that a bad NSS cannot corrupt the PPBES because the PPBES is driven entirely by the hidden agendas of the military Components, whether they align with the national strategy du jour or not.

    The bad news is that a good NSS cannot inform the PPBES, because [see above].

    The real heavy lifting is done by getting the Component leadership on board with the real strategy. I have absolutely no idea how well the President has done or will do in the future at that behind-the-scenes negotiation.

    Keep in mind just how long a major defense acquisition can take. The F-35, which might someday be the cornerstone of US tactical air operations, started as a couple of advanced development projects in 1992-93. 20+ years later, we have no fully operational aircraft. How many zigs and zags has the National Security Strategy taken in the meantime? None of those were going to provide enough delta-V to divert a program that large, and there’s no conceivable NSS content that would have made the Air Force reconsider whether a next-generation fighter was really what they wanted to buy…

  2. C. Clavin says:

    @DrDaveT:
    This.

  3. Turgid Jacobian says:

    Weaponize and export the PPBES. Confusion to the enemy!

  4. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: @C. Clavin: It’s certainly true that the procurement cycle can outlast presidential administrations—in the case of the Joint Strike Fighter boondoggle, several of them—and that the National Security Strategy is far from the only input into the process. Yes, parochial service interests matter greatly. Indeed, I wrote my dissertation on the degree to which they do almost two decades ago.

    That doesn’t mean that procurement, force structure, and the like aren’t shaped significantly by the NSS and the priorities handed down from POTUS and SECDEF. The Army, in particular, has lost procurement program after procurement program over the last fifteen years because of changing priorities.

  5. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    The Army, in particular, has lost procurement program after procurement program over the last fifteen years because of changing priorities.

    If you’re thinking of the programs I think you’re thinking of, they weren’t killed by changing priorities.

    Killed because it turned out they were impossible:

    JTRS GMR
    JTRS HMS
    Land Warrior
    WIN-T Increment 3


    Killed by cost:

    Comanche
    Future Combat Systems (which was also impossible, but I’m not sure the Army has yet realized that)
    Crusader
    Ground Combat Vehicle

    I can’t think of any that were killed by irrelevance, thought that was sometimes used as an ex post facto face-saving excuse for programs that were unaffordable and weren’t going to work anyway.

  6. Anonymouse says:

    GCV was also impossible