Mattis on defense. Gregory Copley, Defense & Foreign Affairs

Jan 21, 2018, 04:21 AM

(Photo: Pentagon)

"Key take-aways from the new National Defense Strategy included: 1. The US Defense establishment would return, after almost two decades, to a recognizable military mission, and would rebuild its forces, its defense-related R&D, its doctrine, and its capabilities in line with the trajectory it had been on until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US, but taking into account the decline in its force structure caused by the 18-year diversion to the CT mission, and taking into account the totally transformed geopolitical and technological context; 2. To emphasize the geopolitical shift in the “competition” spectrum, the US had downgraded NATO to the second tier of its strategic alliance structures and raised to the first tier its existing and emerging alliances in the Indo-Pacific. This, by default, means the ANZUS Alliance (with Australia and New Zealand), its Japan and Republic of Korea alliances, and the emerging "Quadripartite" alliance structure linking the US with Japan, Australia, and India. Unspoken, but critical within this approach, would be — as Pres. Trump had already made clear — improved security relations with key ASEAN states and the Republic of China (ROC: Taiwan). The fact that the US has now moved to the “Indo-Pacific” contextual view, as opposed to the “Asia-Pacific” view was confirmed and important; it signals a shift in thinking1; 3. The Defense Dept. would substantially reorganize to improve flexibility, efficiency, and innovation, including improved relationship with private sector contractors. Indeed, private sector enthusiasm for working with Defense had essentially evaporated in recent years, with the exception of committed major contractors, because of the bias, difficulty, and bureaucratic morass which caused defense contracting to become something for most firms — particularly small-to-medium businesses — to avoid; 4. The document, apart from a few, non-substantive jingoistic comments, was low key and professional and, if anything, played down the fact that it represented a total transformation of the US defense capability. Sec. Mattis presumably did not want the document to inspire concern among “competitors”, or for allies to think that the new strategic posture was anything other than a return to historical continuity; 5. The Strategy highlighted that Defense would act more frequently within an inter-agency context — a “whole-of-government” framework — rather than as a purely military instrument. This was particularly evident in the one brief paragraph devoted to the Western Hemisphere. “Supporting the US interagency lead, the Department will deepen its relations with regional countries that contribute military capabilities to shared regional and global security challenges,” it said, leaving open and ambiguous how the US would deal with the substantial growth of PRC strategic (but non-military) projection into the Caribbean and much of South and Central America; 6. With regard to Africa, the message was subtle, but clear: the Defense Dept would work to counter, among other things, “trans-national criminal activity, and illegal arms trade with limited outside assistance; and limit the malign influence of non-African powers”. This phrasing clearly — but without naming names — emphasized the PRC’s “malign influence”, but also that of Turkey, which has emerged as a key driver of the illegal arms trade. But the Africa remarks indicated that the US would work with local partners and the European Union (EU), presumably including the United Kingdom; 7. The document did not seek to raise any undue expectations that the US would re-surge into the Middle East, but, rather, would build in its small bases and successes there to, among other things, “counterbalance” Iran, without mentioning the other competitive forces operating in the area: the PRC, Russia, and Turkey; 8. The Strategy was notably more gracious and accommodating about US alliances than earlier adminis...