Mattis’ Defense Strategy: Focus on Lethality, Allies, Business Practices
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s first national defense strategy (NDS) to be set forth in a decade shifts focus toward great power competition and advocates increased lethality, increased cooperation with allies and partners, and adopting better business practices to maximize resources.
Speaking Jan. 19 to an audience at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, Defense Secretary James Mattis rolled out the unclassified summary of the new NDS and set forth a new set of defense priorities.
Mattis said that the United States will “continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists” such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria but noted that “great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.
“This strategy is fit for our time,” Mattis said. “This strategy expands our competitive space, prioritizes preparedness for war, provides clear direction for significant change at the speed of relevance, and builds a more lethal force to compete strategically. … This required some tough choices, and we made them, based upon a fundamental precept, namely, that America can afford survival.”
Mattis called out Russia and China as authoritarian nations “pursuing veto authority over nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions, and rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea that threaten regional and global stability.”
He maintained that “our military is still strong, yet our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare — air, land, sea, space, cyberspace — and it is continuing to erode.”
Mattis attributed that erosion of readiness to “the longest continuous stretch of combat in our nation’s history and defense spending caps, because we have been operating also for nine of the last 10 years under continuing resolutions that have created an overstretched and under-resourced military.”
The new NDS emphasizes three lines of effort to restore a competitive military advantage: building a more lethal force, strengthening traditional alliances and build new partnerships, and reform the Defense Department’s business practices “for performance and affordability.”
Mattis affirmed that U.S. forces must be able to fight “across the spectrum of conflict” and that “the nation must field sufficient and capable forces to deter conflict. If deterrence fails, we must win. Investments in space, cyberspace, nuclear deterrent forces, missile defense, advanced autonomous systems, and resilient and agile logistics systems will provide our high-quality troops what the need to win.
“Our military will be designed and trained to fight alongside allies,” he said. “History proves that nations with allies thrive.”
He took the opportunity to press home the point that allies need to contribute their equitable share of resources, which allows the United States and allies “to amass the greatest possible strength,” noting that the United States has carried a disproportionate share of the defense burden in the post-World War II era.
“The growing economic strength of today’s democracies and partners dictates that they must step up and do more,” he said. “When together we pool our resources and share responsibilities for the common defense, individual nations’ security burdens become lighter.”
He said that the Defense Department’s own “organizations, processes and procedures must be allied-friendly.”
The third line of effort is to reform the department’s business practices “to provide both solvency and security, thereby gaining the full benefit of every dollar spent.”
Mattis said the department “will transition to a culture of performance and affordability that operates at the speed of relevance,” noting that success does not necessarily go to the country that first develops a new technology but to the country that better integrates the technology and “more swiftly adapts its way of fighting.”
He said the department’s “bureaucratic processes were insufficiently responsive to the department’s needs for new equipment. We will prioritize speed of delivery, continuous adaptation and frequent modular upgrades. We must shed outdated management and acquisition practices while adopting American industry’s best practices.”
Mattis also took aim at the congressional budget climate.
“As hard as the last 16 years have been on our military, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact of the Budget Control Act’s defense spending cuts, worsened by us operating in nine of the last 10 years under continuing resolutions wasting copious amounts of precious taxpayer dollars.”