On Friday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis outlined a new national defense strategy. Moving beyond the rambling, soft-power utopianism of the Obama administration's defense strategies, Mattis declared that "we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy" and must "pursue urgent change at significant scale."
The new strategy is an excellent one: precise, intellectually robust and centered in the single-minded pursuit of greater lethality. Yet Mattis' was no warmonger's speech.
Pentagon officials must always "work with our diplomats" to ensure that "our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength," Mattis says. In his speech at John Hopkins University, Mattis referenced his daily conversations with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and their constant effort to establish unity of purpose before any meetings at the White House.
As an extension, Mattis seeks closer alliances with foreign partners.
Referencing the importance of foreign intelligence relationships and ensuring NATO capability gaps are filled in place of unnecessary overlaps, Mattis described alliances as absolutely "critical." But his strategy is also clear that "We expect European allies to fulfill their commitments to increase defense and modernization spending to bolster the alliance in face of our shared security concerns." To this end, Mattis wants U.S. allies to embrace greater defense spending and modernization commitments (the modernization reference refers to the U.S. concern that foreign allies don't simply inflate their defense budgets with wasteful spending on ever-more personnel).
That said, this new strategy also puts meat on the bones of warfighting preparedness.
Recognizing a rising China's 1930s style imperialism in the South and East China Seas, Mattis called for strengthening U.S. capability sharing with Indo-Pacific partners (think Australia, India, and Japan as the three keys here). And linking Russia to China's threat complexion; describing the two nations as "revisionist powers", the strategy describes the revisionists' intent to gain "veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions." That is unacceptable, Mattis says, because it fundamentally undercuts the foundation of U.S.-led democratic order. Recognizing these and other threats, alongside its conventional posture, the Pentagon will do more to "counter coercion and subversion" (the decision to retain ground forces in Syria is a good example of this intent being rendered into action).
To win wars, however, Mattis wants to dramatically improve the military's readiness to fight on short notice. His strategy outlines a greater focus on forward deployed logistics nodes (think ammunition supplies and spare parts) and new efforts to ensure survivable command and control capabilities (including in the nuclear dimension).
All of this is good stuff.
Nevertheless, Mattis' greatest challenge will be in getting the Pentagon to operate with greater value for taxpayer money and procurement adaptability. While the secretary noted that "results and accountability matter" in this area, overcoming longstanding vested interests, bureaucratic inertia and budget-busting procurement programs will be a major challenge.
Ultimately, however, this is a great strategy. It gives new credibility to the U.S. military's longstanding mission: that, "should deterrence fail, the joint force is prepared to win."