Over-promising and under-delivering? Ambitions and risks in US defence strategy

Authors

  • TRAVIS SHARP

    1. Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a US national security policy think tank in Washington DC.
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    • The author thanks his colleagues Nora Bensahel, Joel Smith and Jake Stokes for their superb feedback on an earlier draft of this article.


Abstract

Recent changes to US defence strategy, plans and forces have placed the United States at greater risk of over-promising and under-delivering on its global security ambitions. In 2012, the Obama administration released a new defence strategic guidance document to adapt to a shifting security environment and defence budget cuts. The guidance upholds the two long-standing American goals of global pre-eminence and global reach, but seeks to apply this military power by using new planning and regional concepts. It revises the Department of Defense's force planning construct, an important tool used to size US military forces, and identifies the Asia–Pacific and the greater Middle East as the two regions where the US military should focus its attention and resources. There are three major risks facing this revised US strategy: emerging security threats, the role of US allies and partners, and domestic constraints in the United States. Included in these risks are the proliferation of advanced military technologies, the US response to the rise of China, the continued prevalence of state instability and failure, the capability and commitment of NATO and other US allies, additional US budget cuts, political polarization in the United States, and interservice competition within the US military. In light of these risks, the United States faces a future in which it will continue to struggle to direct its military power towards its most important geopolitical priorities, such as rebalancing towards the Asia–Pacific, as opposed simply to respond to the many security surprises that are certain to arise. If the past is any guide, American political leaders will respond to the aforementioned risks in the worst way possible: by maintaining the current US defence strategy while slashing the resources to support it.

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