Preserve Peace Through Strength

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (December 2017)

Pillar III (Page 25-35)





A central continuity in history is the contest for power. The present time period is no different. Three main sets of challengers—the revisionist powers of China and Russia, the rogue states of Iran and North Korea, and transnational threat organizations, particularly jihadist terrorist groups—are actively competing against the United States and our allies and partners. Although differing in nature and magnitude, these rivals compete across political, economic, and military arenas, and use technology and information to accelerate these contests in order to shift regional balances of power in their favor. These are fundamentally political contests between those who favor repressive systems and those who favor free societies. China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor. Russia seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders. The intentions of both nations are not necessarily fixed. ­


The United States stands ready to cooperate across areas of mutual interest with both countries. For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China. Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance. It is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own. Its nuclear arsenal is growing. Part of China’s military modernization and economic expansion is due to its access to the U.S. innovation economy, including America’s world-class universities. Russia aims to weaken U.S. influence in the world and divide us from our allies and partners. Russia views the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union (EU) as threats. Russia is investing in new military capabilities, including nuclear systems that remain the most significant existential threat to the United States, and in destabilizing cyber capabilities. ­ rough modernized forms of subversive tactics, Russia interferes in the domestic political a airs of countries around the world. The combination of Russian ambition and growing military capabilities creates an unstable frontier in Eurasia, where the risk of conflict due to Russian miscalculation is growing. ­ e scourge of the world today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate all principles of free and civilized states. The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism around the world. It is developing more capable ballistic missiles and has the potential to resume its work on nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States and our partners. North Korea is ruled as a ruthless dictatorship without regard for human dignity.


For more than 25 years, it has pursued nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of every commitment it has made. Today, these missiles and weapons threaten the United States and our allies. ­ e longer we ignore threats from countries determined to proliferate and develop weapons of mass destruction, the worse such threats become, and the fewer defensive options we have. The United States continues to wage a long war against jihadist terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida. These groups are linked by a common radical Islamist ideology that encourages violence against the United States and our partners and produces misery for those under their control. Although the United States and our partners have inflicted defeats on ISIS and al-Qa’ida in Syria and Iraq, these organizations maintain global reach with established branches in strategic locations. The threat from jihadist terrorists will persist, even as we intensify efforts to prevent attacks on Americans, our allies, and our partners. Protecting American interests requires that we compete continuously within and across these contests, which are being played out in regions around the world. The outcome of these contests will influence the political, economic, and military strength of the United States and our allies and partners. To prevail, we must integrate all elements of America’s national power—political, economic, and military. Our allies and partners must also contribute the capabilities, and demonstrate the will, to confront shared threats. Experience suggests that the willingness of rivals to abandon or forgo aggression depends on their perception of U.S. strength and the vitality‑ of our alliances.


The United States will seek areas of cooperation with competitors from a position of strength, foremost by ensuring our military power is second to none and fully integrated with our allies and all our instruments of power. A strong military ensures that our diplomats can operate from a position of strength. In this way we can, together with our allies and partners, deter and if necessary, defeat aggression against U.S. interests and increase the likelihood of managing competitions without violent conflict and preserving peace. Renew America’s Competitive Advantages the United States must consider what is enduring about the problems we face, and what is new. The contests over influence are timeless. They have existed in varying degrees and levels of intensity, for millennia. Geopolitics is the interplay of these contests across the globe. But some conditions are new and have changed how these competitions are unfolding. We face simultaneous threats from different actors across multiple arenas—all accelerated by technology. The United States must develop new concepts and capabilities to protect our homeland, advance our prosperity, and preserve peace. Since the 1990s, the United States displayed a great degree of strategic complacency. We assumed that our military superiority‑ was guaranteed and that a democratic peace was inevitable. We believed that liberal-democratic enlargement and inclusion would fundamentally alter the nature of international relations and that competition would give way to peaceful cooperation. Instead of building military capacity, as threats to our national security increased, the United States dramatically cut the size of our military to the lowest levels since 1940.


Instead of developing important capabilities, the Joint Force entered a nearly decade long “procurement holiday” during which the acquisition of new weapon systems was severely limited. The breakdown of the Nation’s annual Federal budgeting process, exemplified by sequestration and repeated continuing resolutions, further contributed to the erosion of America’s military dominance during a time of increasing threats. Despite decades of efforts to reform the way that the United States develops and procures new weapons, our acquisition system remained sclerotic. The Joint Force did not keep pace with emerging threats or technologies. We got less for our defense dollars, shortchanging American taxpayers and warfighters. We also incorrectly believed that technology could compensate for our reduced capacity‑ —for the ability‑ to field enough forces to prevail militarily, consolidate our gains, and achieve our desired political ends. We convinced ourselves that all wars would be fought and won quickly, from stand-off distances and with minimal casualties. In addition, after being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century, great power competition returned. China and Russia began to reassert their influence regionally and globally. Today, they are fielding military capabilities designed to deny America access in times of crisis and to contest our ability to operate freely in critical commercial zones during peacetime. In short, they are contesting our geopolitical advantages and trying to change the international order in their favor. Moreover, deterrence today is significantly more complex to achieve than during the Cold War.


Adversaries studied the American way of war and began investing in capabilities that targeted our strengths and sought to exploit perceived weaknesses. The spread of accurate and inexpensive weapons and the use of cyber tools have allowed state and non-state competitors to harm the United States across various domains. Such capabilities contest what was until recently U.S. dominance across the land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace domains. They also enable adversaries to attempt strategic attacks against the United States—without resorting to nuclear weapons—in ways that could cripple our economy and our ability‑ to deploy our military forces. Deterrence must be extended across all of these domains and must address all possible strategic attacks. In addition, adversaries and competitors became adept at operating below the threshold of open military conflict and at the edges of international law. Repressive, closed states and organizations, although brittle in many ways, are often more agile and faster at integrating economic, military, and especially informational. The United States will seek areas of cooperation with competitors from a position of strength, foremost by ensuring our military power is second to none and fully integrated with our allies and all of our instruments of power. It means to achieve their goals. They are unencumbered by truth, by the rules and protections of privacy inherent in democracies, and by the law of armed conflict.

They employ sophisticated political, economic, and military campaigns that combine discrete actions. They are patient and content to accrue strategic gains over time—making it harder for the United States and our allies to respond. Such actions are calculated to achieve maximum effect without provoking a direct military response from the United States. And as these incremental gains are realized, over time, a new status quo emerges. ­ e United States must prepare for this ‑ type of competition. China, Russia, and other state and non-state actors recognize that the United States often views the world in binary terms, with states being either “at peace” or “at war,” when it is actually an arena of continuous competition. Our adversaries will not fight us on our terms. We will raise our competitive game to meet that challenge, to protect American interests, and to advance our values. Our diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic agencies have not kept pace with the changes in the character of competition. America’s military must be prepared to operate across a full spectrum of conflict, across multiple domains at once. To meet these challenges we must also upgrade our political and economic instruments to operate across these environments. Bureaucratic inertia is powerful. But so is the talent, creativity, and dedication of Americans.


By aligning our public and private sector efforts we can field a Joint Force that is unmatched. New advances in computing, autonomy, and manufacturing are already transforming the way we fight. When coupled with the strength of our allies and partners, this advantage grows. The future that we face is ours to win or lose. History suggests that Americans will rise to the occasion and that we can shift trends back in favor of the United States, our allies, and our partners. Renew Capabilities Given the new features of the geopolitical environment, the United States must renew key capabilities to address the challenges we face. Military U.S. military strength remains a vital component of the competition for influence. The Joint Force demonstrates U.S. resolve and commitment and provides us with the ability to fight and win across any plausible conflict that threatens U.S. vital interests.


The United States must retain over-match— the combination of capabilities in sufficient scale to prevent enemy success and to ensure that America’s sons and daughters will never be in a fair fight. Over-match strengthens our diplomacy and permits us to shape the international environment to protect our interests. To retain military over-match the United States must restore our ability to produce innovative capabilities, restore the readiness of our forces for major war, and grow the size of the force so that it is capable of operating at sufficient scale and for ample duration to win across a range of scenarios. We must convince adversaries that we can and will defeat them—not just punish them if they attack the United States. We must ensure the ability to deter potential enemies by denial, convincing them that they cannot accomplish objectives through the use of force or other forms of aggression. We need our allies to do the same—to modernize, acquire necessary capabilities, improve readiness, expand the size of their forces, and affirm the political will to win.


Priority Actions

MODERNIZATION: Ensuring that the U.S. military can defeat our adversaries requires weapon systems that clearly over-match theirs in lethality. Where possible, we must improve existing systems to maximize returns on prior investments. In other areas we should seek new capabilities that create clear advantages for our military while posing costly dilemmas for our adversaries. We must eliminate bureaucratic impediments to innovation and embrace less expensive and time-intensive commercial off-the-shelf solutions. Departments and agencies must work with industry to experiment, prototype, and rapidly field new capabilities that can be easily upgraded as new technologies come online.


ACQUISITION: The United States will pursue new approaches to acquisition to make better deals on behalf of the American people that avoid cost overruns, eliminate bloated bureaucracies, and stop unnecessary delays so that we can put the right equipment into the hands of our forces. We must harness innovative technologies that are being developed outside of the traditional defense industrial base.


CAPACITY: The size of our force matters. To deter conflict and, if deterrence fails, to win in war, the Nation must be able to field forces capable of operating in sufficient scale and for ample duration to defeat enemies, consolidate military gains, and achieve sustainable outcomes that protect the American people and our vital interests. The United States must reverse recent decisions to reduce the size of the Joint Force and grow the force while modernizing and ensuring readiness.


IMPROVE READINESS: ­ e United States must retain a ready force that is capable of protecting the homeland while defending U.S. interests. Readiness requires a renewed focus on training, logistics, and maintenance. We must be able to get to a theater in time to shape events quickly. This will require a resilient forward posture and agile global mobility forces.


RETAIN A FULL-SPECTRUM FORCE: The Joint Force must remain capable of deterring and defeating the full range of threats to the United States. The Department of Defense must develop new operational concepts and capabilities to win without assured dominance in air, maritime, land, space, and cyberspace domains, including against those operating below the level of conventional military conflict. We must sustain our competence in irregular warfare, which requires planning for a long-term, rather than ad hoc, fight against terrorist networks and other irregular threats. Defense Industrial Base A healthy defense industrial base is a critical element of U.S. power and the National Security Innovation Base. The ability of the military to surge in response to an emergency depends on our Nation’s ability to produce needed parts and systems, healthy and secure supply chains, and a skilled U.S. workforce. The erosion of American manufacturing over the last two decades, however, has had a negative impact on these capabilities and threatens to undermine the ability of U.S. manufacturers to meet national security requirements. Today, we rely on single domestic sources for some products and foreign supply chains for others, and we face the possibility‑ of not being able to produce specialized components for a vibrant domestic manufacturing sector, a solid defense industrial base, and resilient supply chains is a national priority. the military at home. As America’s manufacturing base has weakened, so too have critical workforce skills ranging from industrial welding, to high-technology skills for cyber security‑ and aerospace. Support for a vibrant domestic manufacturing sector, a solid defense industrial base, and resilient supply chains is a national priority.


Priority Actions

UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM: We will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our defense industrial base, including the identification of materials essential to national security, contingencies that could affect supply chains, and technologies that are likely to be critical for the future.


ENCOURAGE HOMELAND INVESTMENT: The United States will promote policies and incentives that return key national security industries to American shores. Where possible, the U.S. Government will work with industry partners to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in key technologies and manufacturing capabilities. In addition, we will reform regulations and processes to facilitate the export of U.S. military equipment.


PROTECT AND GROW CRITICAL SKILLS: The United States must maintain and develop skilled trades and high-technology skills through increased support for technical college and apprenticeship programs. We will support STEM efforts, at the Federal and state levels, and target national security technology areas. Nuclear Forces Nuclear weapons have served a vital purpose in America’s National Security Strategy for the past 70 years. They are the foundation of our strategy to preserve peace and stability by deterring aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners. While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression. In addition, the extension of the U.S. nuclear deterrent to more than 30 allies and partners helps to assure their security, and reduces their need to possess their own nuclear capabilities. Following the Cold War, the United States reduced investments in our nuclear enterprise and reduced the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy. Some parts of America’s strategic nuclear Triad of bombers, sea-based missiles, and land-based missiles are over 30 years old, and much of our nuclear infrastructure dates to the World War II era. At the same time, however, nuclear-armed adversaries have expanded their arsenals and range of delivery systems. The United States must maintain the credible deterrence and assurance capabilities provided by our nuclear Triad and by U.S. theater nuclear capabilities deployed abroad. Significant investment is needed to maintain a U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure that is able to meet national security‑ threats over the coming decades.


Priority Actions

SUSTAIN U.S. NUCLEAR WEAPONS: The United States will sustain a nuclear force structure that meets our current needs and addresses unanticipated risks. The United States does not need to match the nuclear arsenals of other powers, but we must sustain a stockpile that can deter adversaries, assure allies and partners, and achieve U.S. objectives if deterrence fails.


MODERNIZE U.S. NUCLEAR FORCES AND INFRASTRUCTURE: We will modernize our nuclear enterprise to ensure that we have the scientific, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities necessary to retain an effective and safe nuclear Triad and respond to future national security threats. Modernization and sustainment require investing in our aging command and control system and maintaining and growing the highly skilled workforce needed to develop, manufacture, and deploy nuclear weapons.