Global Insights: Not Much New in New Defense Strategic Guidance

Global Insights: Not Much New in New Defense Strategic Guidance

Both the Obama administration and its opponents have exaggerated the significance of the Pentagon’s new Defense Strategic Guidance (.pdf) that was issued last week. The administration wants to take pride in its new creation and demonstrate to potential congressional budget-cutters that the Defense Department has already made all the financial sacrifices that the Pentagon can prudently afford. Meanwhile, the administration’s domestic opponents attack it from both the left, which calls for more radical cuts, and the right, which accuses the administration of deliberately trying to reduce U.S. military power in order to discourage future U.S. military operations.

The truth is that the Strategic Guidance and the thinking behind it represent not revolutionary change but a retrospective doctrinal blessing of Pentagon policies that have been guiding the U.S. military’s evolution for several years already, under both the current administration and its predecessor.

A combination of “push” factors (budgetary pressures) and “pull” factors (the changing strategic environment) have forced the Pentagon to transform its strategy, tactics and procedures. Barring a major war or other national security emergency, the Defense Department will have to accept fairly constant budgets for the next few years. Given that the costs of new weapons systems and other defense items typically rise faster than inflation, this requires some retrenchment. And the department is wise to get ahead of the process now, using the Strategic Guidance as justification to cancel some legacy programs and scale back others, before Congress imposes more arbitrary cuts.

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