Alternative Future Defense Strategies for the USA

The Alternative Defense Strategies in a Cost-Capped Environment study identified five alternative strategies and used CSIS’s Force Cost Calculator to build the cost-capped force structure, modernization, and readiness profile optimized for each strategy. In addition to assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each defense strategy, this study stress-tested each strategy against four sets of simultaneous scenarios in an unclassified tabletop exercise. The study explored potential ways that the fiscal pressure forcing strategic tradeoffs might be mitigated. The study concluded by making recommendations for the FY2017 defense budget and the next Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

The first task was to identify the current (or baseline) strategy, which the CSIS study team called Global Engagement. This was defined as the 2014 QDR strategy, as implicitly modified by DoD to adapt to events unforeseen when the strategy was established in early 2014. These events were primarily Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the collapse of Yemen as the sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shias worsened significantly. After several iterations, including two sessions with its working group of governmental, CSIS, and external experts, the study team settled on the roster of alternative defense strategies presented below, along with their underlying rationales.

Global Engagement
• This is a cost-capped version of the current strategy. Like the strategies of previous administrations, particularly President Clinton’s, this strategy seeks to shape the security environment and to provide order and stability by relying on U.S. global presence and engagement.

Asia-Pacific Engagement
• The rise of China is the most significant geopolitical challenge today, which U.S. strategy seeks to manage and counter through regional partnerships, robust forward presence (particularly maritime), and targeted capabilities development. At the same time, the threat from North Korea must be contained.

Europe Engagement
• Russia poses the greatest near- to medium-term threat, and its anti-American belligerence must be countered by U.S. presence, engagement, and deterrence in Europe.

Combating Islamic Extremists
• The regional threat posed by the newly established Islamic caliphate and the continuing threat of mass casualty attacks on the U.S. homeland necessitate a strategy focused on rolling back ISIL, eliminating terrorist sanctuaries in the region, and attacking terrorist leadership structures globally.

Great Power Competition
• Intensified rivalries with China and Russia are the centers of gravity for the United States. This requires the United States to pull back from its global engagement posture and rely on limited forward presence to prevent “easy wins” on these adversaries’ peripheries, on rapid surge capability to counter regional adventurism, on the pursuit of high-tech capabilities to sustain the U.S. qualitative edge against peer competitors, and on nuclear deterrence forces.

Using the CSIS Force Cost Calculator, first developed for the 2013 CSIS study Building the 2021 Affordable Military, the CSIS study team converted the missions and functions of each strategy into a force structure, modernization program, and readiness level that was capped at the BCA/sequestration level.

To understand demand, the CSIS study team began by analyzing the 2023 security environment and identifying both the threats (that is, specific actors such as China and Islamic extremists) and changes in the character of warfare (from precisions munitions to game-changing technologies) that would affect the kinds of military capabilities needed to cope with 2023 challenges. Based on this analysis, the CSIS team developed a list of scenarios, some of which the national security community has considered in the past but others of which were new, reflecting the rapidly changing security environment. This is the list of scenarios:
• Korea Major Combat Operation (MCO) (North attacks)
• North Korea (nuclear crisis)
• Iran MCO (closes Strait of Hormuz)
• Iran MCO (denuclearization)
• China MCO (Taiwan Strait)
• Russia MCO (strike at Riga)
• China (seizes Spratly/other islands)
• Russia Lesser Conflict (hybrid warfare)
• Islamic Extremists (ISIL breakout)
• Stabilization campaigns, long and short
• Homeland Security: Terrorist Conventional Attack (9/11 2.0)
• Homeland Security: Extreme Natural Disaster
• Homeland Security: Terrorist Nuclear Attack

The TTX discussion was quite sobering. No strategy did everything well, since fewer and weaker defense dollars caused capacity shortfalls across the spectrum of conflict. Moreover, it is not just capacity shortfalls caused by a growing strategy-resources gap; changes in the nature of warfare caused significant capability gaps as well. While it might have been possible in 2014 that DoD could “do more with less,” the challenges of “doing considerably more with considerably less” in 2015 are insurmountable. In a cost-capped environment, the United States simply “can’t do it all” and must make tough strategic choices about what it can do and cannot do.

The summary matrix was very useful for comparing strategies, but several participants expressed reservations about using “green” as a metric. It seemed to imply that the strategy and forces evaluated as green could actually meet the demands of the scenario. What green actually meant was that the alternative strategy could meet the requirements of the scenario as well as the current strategy and did not make a judgment about what the current strategy could actually do. For example, the Department believes that it can defend Korea “with some risk” under the current strategy, which has the Army shrinking to 450,000 soldiers. Therefore, alternative cost-capped strategies that maintained the Army at 450,000 soldiers were rated “green” because they could defend Korea as well as the current strategy. A rating of “green” did not make a judgment whether the current strategy could actually defend South Korea. The CSIS team agreed to change the way the results were displayed.

Recommendations for Preparation of the FY 2017 Budget

With a budget agreement for FY 2016 and FY 2017 concluded, the department is operating under less uncertainty than most analysts had feared. Although long-term uncertainty persists, about both budget levels and a strategy-resources gap, the nearterm resources are close enough to the department’s plan that there is no immediate crisis that requires a strategic review. Going forward, however, this study can help in two ways.

• First, this study demonstrates the need for further strategic analysis prior to the next QDR/DSR (described below). These QDR studies need to begin soon if they are to be ready when a new administration takes office in January 2017. Although the fiscal future may not be as severe as BCA/sequestration, the nature of the last two budget agreements and the fact of internal cost growth indicate that resources will not rise above the president’s budget (PB) level and may be considerably below. That requires strategic choices.

• Second, the study shows the harsh tradeoffs needed to get to the BCA/sequestration funding level. The study results can therefore reinforce the department’s argument that such tradeoffs would be unacceptable—a view widely held not just in the administration but in the Congress and in the broader national security community as well. The tradeoffs would require unacceptable curtailment of long-standing policies and commitments that the United States has made to its partners and allies. The study’s analysis might add impetus for a longterm budget deal.

Recommendations for Preparing for the Next QDR

The next QDRxiii provides the best opportunity for implementing the insights from this study because
(1) the fiscal environment will be clearer, and
(2) the broad tradeoffs involved require considerable assessment and consideration beyond what the annual budget review can provide. The following recommendations, therefore, would be particularly suitable for consideration in the next QDR/DSR.