Considerations for a Future National Defense Strategy

The 2008 National Defense Strategy outlined five key objectives to ensure the safety and security of the United States. Those key objectives were 1) defend the homeland, 2) win the long war, 3) promote security, 4) deter conflict, and 5) win our nation’s wars.[i] While these objectives are still applicable today, our approach to meeting them must move beyond the concepts of deterrence and containment as prescribed by the National Security Act of 1947. A future National Defense Strategy must be built upon the model of sustainable strength and influence and credible action worldwide.[ii]

The future National Defense Strategy should be a document that broadly outlines how the tenants of the DoD will accomplish the strategies outlined by the President in the National Security Strategy. While historically, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has released his National Military Strategy as the “ways and means” of military power to accomplish the “ends” identified by the President, the Secretary of Defense must be able to draw a correlation between these two documents thereupon acting as a “bridge” between the two. In today’s inter-connected, rapidly-changing, and uncertain world, it is not enough to view “defense” as just our military ways and means to accomplish our goals. Our concept of defense must reach beyond what we think of as conventional warfare. The country’s future “defense” must also include responses to the growing myriad of international catalysts that can threaten the safety and security of the United States.

In order to sufficiently meet our objectives, we must be able to identify the threats to national defense. Gone are the days when the major threat to national defense is a nation-state waging war where the battle lines are clearly drawn. Current threats that the DoD must be able to combat in the near-term are violent extremism, shifting state power, dwindling opinion of the US, and the rising national deficit. In light of these near-term threats we must balance them with potential future challenges. Future wars will be fought because of conflicting interests that threaten our security[iii]. Long-term solutions to future threats like cyber-warfare, anti-access and area denial, resource scarcity, and rapid urbanization cannot be ignored today.[iv] Also, internal reform of Department of Defense practices in terms of resource allocation, inter-agency co-operation, and joint service operations will further enhance the department’s ability to meet future challenges.

One of these current threats that will continue to be a future menace is violent extremism. Violent extremism causes festering instability worldwide. Not only have actions by radical non-state players taxed our troops and military resources over the past 10 years, they have also forced the American public to ask why our military must serve as the world’s police force. It is not for this department to reason why but it is our responsibility to carry out the orders of the President in the most efficient and logical manner. To carry the department into the future, other non-military options must always be on the table. These types of options can range from humanitarian assistance by non-government organizations to expert civilian assistance by a growing expeditionary force both within DoD and other government agencies. By resorting to other non-military options or at least supplementing military capacity, we can begin to rebuild the country’s world image with increased credibility of action.

The Department of Defense is in a unique position to address these current and future threats because of its global reach. While the DoD encompasses the Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force it also houses the resources of its own departments of Intelligence, Operational Test & Evaluation, Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, and Personnel & Readiness.[v] These departments must work together to accomplish our goals and must do so in a way that is credible and sustainable. Historically, the sheer size and complexity of the Department of Defense has forced it to operate as a mechanistic organization. Unfortunately, “mechanistic organizations tend to be both deterministic and generally unresponsive to change.”[vi] The decision-making process throughout the DoD cannot operate on a linear model. Perhaps it is time for the department to adopt a blend of mechanism and organic structure where “authority is taken by [the office which] proves to be the most informed and capable.”[vii] The entire department must work together to become more jointly flexible where it hedges the strengths of one department with the needs of another. This sort of dynamism is what is needed if the DoD wishes to sustain its actions on such a large scale while still capturing new capabilities and opportunities for innovation.

This department, which commands 70% of the national procurement budget, has a great responsibility to actively and fervently streamline its spending by reducing waste and eliminating over-lapping capabilities across the services.[viii] The growing national deficit causes international and domestic instability. Our ability to develop and maintain our necessary defenses should not be a cause in itself that triggers insecurity. It will remain of paramount importance for the military to be able to respond to the call to arms and protect the homeland in a rapidly changing world. The military must maintain its position at the cutting edge of technology so that it is able to respond to a wide range of missions. This department must foster a new acquisition and allocation culture that is able to respond to near-term threats as well as advancing desired future capabilities. To balance the economic constraints with our capability desires, the department must strive to improve four key areas. First, set new system requirements within the range of current technology. Second, recruit new talent to fill the acquisition oversight billets that have had service-wide vacancies ranging from 13-43%. Third, produce realistic, not optimistic cost estimates for developing defense capabilities. Finally, ensure that new capabilities meet the changing requirements of the operators before they get to the frontlines.[ix] Greater reliance on private industry innovation and cross-service coordination of vital capabilities can aid this reformed acquisition process. Over-spending on unnecessary or superfluous defense capabilities is a major reason for the rising deficit and that trend must stop now for both the current and future security of the United States and the health of its defenses.

It is not enough to tackle these problems with a “whole of department” approach as described above. The DoD must change its modus operandi to incorporate a “whole of government” or even “whole of world” approach. The department must be willing to admit to itself that there are other government and non-government agencies more capable and better suited to meet future challenges like urbanization and resource scarcity. Instead of requesting more money and growing the DoD bureaucracy it should foster a culture of interagency co-operation and admit to itself that it cannot and does not have to tackle every challenge alone. Many of the United States’ and world’s future challenges will require the assistance of DoD but not at the expense of other U.S. and international partner’s ability to carry a heavier load. Empowering other organizations and requiring the assistance of the international community is ultimately what re-builds the U.S. world image as well as allowing a more sustainable response to situations.

Because the military services are physically at the forefront to the rest of the world, they must project an image that reinforces the credibility of U.S. actions worldwide. The individual services must be cognizant of this fact and play to their individual strengths. All of the services must admit to themselves that their role is no longer just to fight and win the country’s wars. That capability will remain a top priority but the forces must be flexible enough to react to complex situations that require more than just a strong fist. More importantly, when the services are called to action, they must always behave in a manner that supports the United States in repairing its damaged image.

Speaking more specifically to each of the individual services, they all have unique characteristics that will aid them in re-building America’s overall image and accomplishing the future vision of the DoD. Joint operations must no longer mean just service-to-service co-operation. Joint operations must mean that service members clearly understand the strengths of their own service and how those strengths can assist and enhance the capabilities of other organizations.[x]

The U.S. Navy’s recruiting slogan is “A Global Force for Good”;[xi] The Air Force- “Aim High… Fly, Win, Fight”;[xii] and the Army- “Army Strong”.[xiii] While each of these service slogans might not accurately reflect the views of all of their members, they are a good reminder of some of the fundamental strengths possessed by each service. These are the strengths that allow them to excel during joint operations and can be carried forward into operations with a wide range of government and non-government agencies.

The Navy can project power worldwide and has been doing so since 1775.[xiv] Following World War II and during the closed system of international politics, this approach was acceptable because it was a good form of deterrence. Today’s open-system requires much more out of the Navy and the Department of Defense. Being “A Global Force for Good” is a step in the right direction because this global force can react quickly to crisis either in the form of humanitarian assistance, deterring piracy, or when necessary, security for other joint operations. The Navy must always remember that as the military first-responders, it shoulders a greater responsibility to ensure that its actions, when viewed from a variety of perspectives, are credible.

The U.S. Army has faced and will continue to encounter a variety of challenges as the world landscape changes. America’s land force has been stretched thin and challenged in unimaginable ways over the past 10 years while engaged in wars on two fronts. “Army Strong” embodies the current and future métier of this force. It must remain strong in its international endeavors but must also look ahead to its future challenges. One of those major challenges will be to re-build its force sustainability and be prepared, trained and equipped to defend the country either at home or abroad when called upon.[xv]

The U.S. Air Force prides itself on its position at the leading edge of technology. It uses this position to “Aim High” in order to “Fly-Win-Fight”. Technological advancements allow the Department of Defense to react expeditiously to changing conditions over vast distances. Fewer resources required to carry out a decision certainly make actions more sustainable but sometimes at the expense of credibility. Many defense decisions require timely action, but the DoD must ensure that it is making credible decisions after they have been analyzed from the international perspective.

The National Defense Strategy must strike a balance between past defense objectives and current evolving trends. The future national defense strategy should be an evolution of ideas that possesses characteristics of past generations but embodies adaptations to new challenges posed by the open international system. The Department of Defense is a large and complex organization. It embodies the tools that keep the United States secure at home and abroad as well as the instruments that keep it at the forefront of a rapidly changing world. All of these resources are difficult to manage. It is not enough for these vast resources to just be strong, they must be sustainable. Furthermore, defense actions are viewed differently today than they were just 10 years ago. Nearly every action taken by the department must be credible on the national and international scale. By adopting this balanced approach, the DoD can begin to combat near-term challenges like the growing national deficit and extremism while simultaneously focusing on longer-range goals like rebuilding the U.S. image and ensuring prolong

[i] “National Defense Strategy,” Department of Defense (Washington D.C., June 2008), 6.

[ii] Wayne Porter and Mark Mykleby, “A National Security Narrative,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington D.C., April 2011), 5.

[iii] Porter and Mikleby, “A National Security Narrative,” 8.

[iv] Mike Mullen, “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations Version 3.0,” Department of Defense (Washington D.C. January 2009), 4.

[v] Department of Defense Official Website, “Office of the Secretary of Defense,” last modified June 2008,

[vi] Richard Norton, “Organizational Behavior: Structure and Process,” United States Naval War College (Newport R.I. April 2007), 7.

[vii] Norton, “Organizational Behavior: Structure and Process,” 7-8.

[viii] Office of Management and Budget, “The Budget for the Fiscal Year 2012: Department of Defense”, last accessed August 10, 2011, 59-64,

[ix] “Quadrennial Defense Review,” Department of Defense (Washington D.C., February 2010), 76.

[x] Mullen, “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations Version 3.0”, v.

[xi] U.S. Navy Official Website, “A Global Force for Good,” last accessed August 8, 2011,

[xii] U.S. Air Force Facebook page last accessed August 9, 2011.

[xiii] U.S. Army Official Website last accessed August 8, 2011,

[xiv] Naval History and Heritage Command, “Navy Birthday Information,” last accessed August 9, 2011, .

[xv] Department of the Army Official Website, “2010 Army Posture Statement,” last accessed August 9, 2011, .












Department of Defense Official Website. “Office of the Secretary of Defense.” Last modified June 2008.


Department of Defense, “National Defense Strategy,” Washington D.C., 2008.


Department of Defense, “Quadrennial Defense Review,” Washington D.C., 2010.


Department of the Army Official Website. “2010 Army Posture Statement.” Last accessed August 9, 2011.


Mullen, Mike, “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations Version 3.0,” Washington D.C.: Department of Defense 2009.


Mykleby, Mark and Wayne Porter, “A National Security Narrative,” Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2011.


Naval History and Heritage Command. “Navy Birthday Information.” Last accessed August 9, 2011.


Norton, Richard, “Organizational Behavior: Structure and Process,” Newport, R.I.: United States Naval War College 2007.


Office of Management and Budget. “The Budget for the Fiscal Year 2012: Department of Defense.” Last accessed August 10, 2011.


U.S. Air Force Facebook page. Last accessed August 9, 2011.


U.S. Army Official Website. Last accessed August 8, 2011.


U.S. Navy Official Website. “A Global Force for Good.” Last accessed August 8, 2011.




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