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Todd Johnson / December 19, 2017

Better Preparing the U.S. Military

A recent study on lack of readiness shines a light on the needed changes Trump can bring.

Monday’s unveiling by President Donald Trump of his congressionally mandated national security strategy is a significant milestone for many reasons. Primarily, it serves as a blueprint for his administration’s approach to security concerns around the world and the timing of its release couldn’t be better.

It serves as a bookend to his actions of last week where he signed a massive $700 billion defense bill, which is focused on trying to restore America’s competitive advantage. Trump’s signature on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a critical step as Congress continues to wrestle with how to fund their vision for a more robust defense capability in the broader context of budget reform.

More importantly, Trump’s decisive action comes at a major inflection point for the U.S. military as the nation’s uniformed leadership finds itself grappling with on-going, low intensity combat operations around the world while simultaneously trying to modernize force structures and doctrine. Just last month the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, stated that the U.S. military advantage against near-peer competitors is eroding. His assessment is in line with a recent think tank report that stated America’s military forces need to retool immediately for future conflicts.

Last week, the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, released a study highlighting the fact that the United States military is not properly configured to meet the conventional threats of peer competitors like China or Russia in the next war. According to the report, “Put more starkly, assessments in this report will show that U.S. forces could, under plausible assumptions, lose the next war they are called upon to fight, despite the United States outspending China on military forces by a ratio of 2.7 to 1 and Russia by 6 to 1.”

This is the main reason why Trump, his surrogates and congressional Republicans have been advocating for increased military spending for the foreseeable future. This reinvigorated approach for defending the homeland and its worldwide interests are needed, but care must be given to avoid wasteful spending. Also, Trump and his team need to continue working on reaching out to traditional allies as those relationships often serve as the foundations for America’s ability to project power around the globe.

This approach allows the United States to share the burden of deterring aggressive actions emanating from Russia and China, which is critical in an era where threats can range from conventional troop movements to economic coercion to cyber incursions. This “adversarial competition” from Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and others is the new paradigm for future conflict and America and her allies must continue to be vigilant if they expect to win.

Trump’s national security strategy is a great initial step but it is only the first of many on a journey to setting the conditions for peace and security around the world. Only time will tell if he and his administration are able to fully achieve the nation’s goals while our partners achieve theirs.

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