World events have led some observers, starting in late 2013, to conclude that the international security environment has undergone a shift from the familiar post-Cold War era of the past 20 to 25 years, also sometimes known as the unipolar moment (with the United States as the unipolar power), to a new and different situation that features, among other things, renewed great power competition with China and Russia and challenges by these two countries and others to elements of the U.S.-led international order that has operated since World War II.1
A previous change in the international security environment—the shift in the late 1980s and early
1990s from the Cold War to the post-Cold War era—prompted a broad reassessment by the Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress of defense funding levels, strategy, and missions that led to numerous changes in DOD plans and programs. Many of these changes were articulated in the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR), a reassessment of U.S. defense plans and programs whose very name conveyed the fundamental nature of the reexamination that had occurred. A new shift in the international security environment could similarly have a number of significant implications for U.S. defense plans and programs.
The issue for Congress is whether to conduct a broad reassessment of U.S. defense analogous to
the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR), and more generally, how U.S. defense funding levels, strategy, plans, and programs should respond to changes in the international security environment. Congress 's decisions on these issues could have significant implications for U.S. defense capabilities and funding requirements.
This report focuses on defense-related issues and does not discuss potential implications of a shift
in the international security environment for other policy areas, such as foreign policy and diplomacy, trade and finance, energy, and foreign assistance. Future CRS reports may address the potential implications of a shift in the international security environment for these other policy areas or address the U.S. role in the international security environment from other analytical perspectives.
Previous International Security Environments
Cold War Era
The Cold War era, which is generally viewed as lasting from the late 1940s until the late
1980s/early 1990s, was generally viewed as a strongly bipolar situation featuring two superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union—engaged in a political, ideological, and military competition for influence across multiple regions. The military component of that competition was often most acutely visible in Europe, where the U.S.-led NATO alliance and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact alliance faced off against one another with large numbers of conventional forces and theater nuclear weapons, backed by longer-ranged strategic nuclear weapons.
Post-Cold War Era
The post-Cold War era, which is generally viewed as having begun in the early 1990s, tended
toward a unipolar situation, with the United States as the world 's sole superpower. The Warsaw Pact had disbanded, the Soviet Union had dissolved into Russia and the former Soviet republics, and neither Russia, China, nor any other country was viewed as posing a significant challenge to either the United States ' status as the world 's sole superpower or the U.S.-led international order. Compared to the Cold War, the post-Cold War era generally featured reduced levels of overt political, ideological, and military competition among major states. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (aka 9/11), the post-Cold War era was additionally characterized by a strong focus (at least from a U.S. perspective) on countering transnational terrorist organizations that had emerged as significant non-state actors, particularly Al Qaeda.
New International Security Environment
Some Observers Conclude a Shift Has Occurred
World events—including Chinese actions in the East and South China Seas since November
20132 and Russia 's seizure and annexation of Crimea in March 20143—have led some observers, starting in late 2013, to conclude that the international security environment has undergone a shift from the familiar post-Cold War era of the last 20 to 25 years, also sometimes known as the unipolar moment (with the United States as the unipolar power), to a new and different situation that features, among other things, renewed great power competition with China and Russia and challenges by these two countries and others to elements of the U.S.-led international order that has operated since World War II. 4
In remarks on February 2, 2019, previewing DOD's proposed FY2017 budget (which was submitted to Congress a week later, on February 9), Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated:
Let me describe the strategic thinking that drove our budget decisions. First of all, it
's evident that America is still, today, the world 's foremost leader, partner and underwriter of stability and security in every region across the globe—as we have been since the end of World War II.
And as we fulfill this enduring role, it
's also evident that we're entering a new strategic era. Context is important here. A few years ago, following over a decade when we were focused, of necessity, on large scale counter insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD began embarking on a major strategy shift to sustain our lead in full spectrum war fighting.
While the basic elements of our resulting defense strategy remain valid, it has also been
abundantly clear to me over the last year that the world has not stood still since then. The emergence of ISIL and the resurgence of Russia being just a couple of the examples.
This is reflective of a broader strategic transition underway, not unlike those we've seen
in history following the end of other major wars.
Today's security environment is dramatically different than the one we've been engaged in for the last 25 years and it requires new ways of thinking and new ways of acting. 5
A November 22, 2015, press report states:
The United States must come to grips with a new security environment as surging powers
like Russia and China challenge American power, said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.
"Great power competition has returned, " he said Nov. 20 during a panel discussion at the Halifax International Security Forum.
"Russia is now a resurgent great power and I would argue that its long term prospects are unclear. China is a rising great power. Well, that requires us to start thinking more globally and more in terms of competition than we have in the past 25 years, " Work said
During the 1990s and the early 2000s, the United States enjoyed a period of dominance
that gave it an "enormous freedom of action, " Work said. "I would argue that over that period of time … our strategic muscles atrophied. "
Work defined a great power as one that can engage with conventional forces and that has
a nuclear deterrent that can survive a first strike.
Both Russia and China are challenging the order that has been prevalent since the end of World War II, he said. The United States will have to compete and cooperate with them.
"I believe what is happening in the United States is we 're now trying to rebuild up our strategic muscles and to rethink in terms of global competitions and I believe the next 25 years will see a lot of give and take between the great powers, " he said. 6
Some Emerging Features of the New Environment
Observers who conclude that the international security environment has shifted to a new situation
generally view the new period not as a bipolar situation (like the Cold War) or a unipolar situation (like the post-Cold War era), but as a situation characterized in part by renewed competition among three major world powers—the United States, China, and Russia. Other emerging characteristics of the new international security situation as viewed by these observers include the following:
- renewed ideological competition, this time against
21st-century forms of authoritarianism in Russia, China, and other countries; 7
the promotion in China and Russia through their state-controlled media of nationalistic historical narratives emphasizing assertions of prior humiliation or victimization by Western powers, and the use of those narratives to support revanchist or irredentist foreign policy aims;
- the use by Russia and China of new forms of aggressive or assertive military and
paramilitary operations—called hybrid warfare or ambiguous warfare, among other terms, in the case of Russia 's actions, and called salami-slicing tactics or gray-zone warfare, among other terms, in the case of China 's actions—to gain greater degrees of control of areas on their peripheries;
- challenges by Russia and China to key elements of the U.S.-led international
order, including the principle that force or threat of force should not be used as a routine or first-resort measure for settling disputes between countries, and the principle of freedom of the seas (i.e., that the world 's oceans are to be treated as an international commons); and
- additional features alongside those listed above, including:
- continued regional security challenges from countries such as Iran and North
- a continuation of the post-Cold War era
's focus (at least from a U.S. perspective) on countering transnational terrorist organizations that have emerged as significant non-state actors (now including the Islamic State organization, among other groups); and
- weak or failed states, and resulting weakly governed or ungoverned areas
that can contribute to the emergence of (or serve as base areas or sanctuaries for) non-state actors, and become potential locations of intervention by stronger states, including major powers.
In his February 2, 2016, remarks previewing DOD
's proposed FY2017 budget, Secretary Carter stated that for the United States, the international security environment poses five challenges—Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and transnational terrorism:
I've talked with President Obama about this a great deal over the last year and as a result,
we have five, in our minds, evolving challenges that have driven the focus of the Defense Department's planning and budgeting this year.
Two of these challenges reflect a return to great power of competition. First is in Europe,
where we're taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression, and we haven't had to worry about this for 25 years. While I wish it were otherwise, now we do. Second is in the Asia-Pacific, where China is rising and where we're continuing and will continue our rebalance, so-called, to maintain the stability in the region that we have underwritten for 70 years and that 's allowed so many nations to rise and prosper and win. That's been our presence.
Third challenge is North Korea, a hardy perennial, a threat to both us and to our allies,
and that 's why our forces on the Korean Peninsula remain ready every single day, today, tomorrow, to, as we call it, fight tonight.
Iran is the fourth challenge, because while the nuclear deal was a good deal and doesn't
limit us in the Defense Department in any way, none of its provisions affect us or limit us, we still have to counter Iran 's malign influence against our friends and allies in the region, especially Israel.
And challenge number five is our ongoing fight to defeat terrorism and especially ISIL,
most immediately in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and also, where it is metastasizing in Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere. All the time, we protect—all the while, we're protecting our homeland and our people....
DOD must and will address all five of those challenges as part of its mission to defend
our people and defend our country. 8
The June 2015 National Military Strategy released by DOD states:
Since the last National Military Strategy was published in 2011, global disorder has
significantly increased while some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode. We now face multiple, simultaneous security challenges from traditional state actors and transregional networks of sub-state groups—all taking advantage of rapid technological change. Future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield. They will have increasing implications to the U.S. homeland....
Complexity and rapid change characterize today
's strategic environment, driven by globalization, the diffusion of technology, and demographic shifts....
Despite these changes, states remain the international system
's dominant actors. They are preeminent in their capability to harness power, focus human endeavors, and provide security. Most states today—led by the United States, its allies, and partners—support the established institutions and processes dedicated to preventing conflict, respecting sovereignty, and furthering human rights. Some states, however, are attempting to revise key aspects of the international order and are acting in a manner that threatens our national security interests.
While Russia has contributed in select security areas, such as counternarcotics and
counterterrorism, it also has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals. Russia 's military actions are undermining regional security directly and through proxy forces. These actions violate numerous agreements that Russia has signed in which it committed to act in accordance with international norms, including the UN Charter, Helsinki Accords, Russia-NATO Founding Act, Budapest Memorandum, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Iran also poses strategic challenges to the international community. It is pursuing nuclear
and missile delivery technologies despite repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that it cease such efforts. It is a state-sponsor of terrorism that has undermined stability in many nations, including Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Iran's actions have destabilized the region and brought misery to countless people while denying the Iranian people the prospect of a prosperous future.
's pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technologies also contradicts repeated demands by the international community to cease such efforts. These capabilities directly threaten its neighbors, especially the Republic of Korea and Japan. In time, they will threaten the U.S. homeland as well. North Korea also has conducted cyber attacks, including causing major damage to a U.S. corporation.
We support China
's rise and encourage it to become a partner for greater international security. However, China 's actions are adding tension to the Asia-Pacific region. For example, its claims to nearly the entire South China Sea are inconsistent with international law. The international community continues to call on China to settle such issues cooperatively and without coercion. China has responded with aggressive land reclamation efforts that will allow it to position military forces astride vital international sea lanes.
None of these nations are believed to be seeking direct military conflict with the United
States or our allies. Nonetheless, they each pose serious security concerns which the international community is working to collectively address by way of common policies, shared messages, and coordinated action....
For the past decade, our military campaigns primarily have consisted of operations
against violent extremist networks. But today, and into the foreseeable future, we must pay greater attention to challenges posed by state actors. They increasingly have the capability to contest regional freedom of movement and threaten our homeland. Of particular concern are the proliferation of ballistic missiles, precision strike technologies, unmanned systems, space and cyber capabilities, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – technologies designed to counter U.S. military advantages and curtail access to the global commons....
Today, the probability of U.S. involvement in interstate war with a major power is
assessed to be low but growing. Should one occur, however, the consequences would be immense. VEOs [violent extremist organizations], in contrast, pose an immediate threat to transregional security by coupling readily available technologies with extremist ideologies. Overlapping state and non-state violence, there exists an area of conflict where actors blend techniques, capabilities, and resources to achieve their objectives. Such "hybrid" conflicts may consist of military forces assuming a non-state identity, as Russia did in the Crimea, or involve a VEO fielding rudimentary combined arms capabilities, as ISIL has demonstrated in Iraq and Syria. Hybrid conflicts also may be comprised of state and non-state actors working together toward shared objectives, employing a wide range of weapons such as we have witnessed in eastern Ukraine. Hybrid conflicts serve to increase ambiguity, complicate decision-making, and slow the coordination of effective responses. Due to these advantages to the aggressor, it is likely that this form of conflict will persist well into the future. 9
Markers of the Shift to the New Environment
For observers who conclude that the international security environment has shifted to a new
situation, the sharpest single marker of the shift arguably was Russia 's seizure and annexation of Crimea in March 2014, which represented the first forcible seizure and annexation of one country's territory by another country in Europe since World War II. Other markers of the shift, such as Russia 's actions in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe since March 2014, China's economic growth and military modernization over the last several years, and China 's actions in the East and South China Seas over the last several years, have been more gradual and cumulative.
Some observers trace the beginnings of the argued shift in the international security environment
back to 2008. In that year, Russia invaded and occupied part of the former Soviet republic of Georgia without provoking a strong cost-imposing response from the United States and its allies. Also in that year, the financial crisis and resulting deep recessions in the United States and Europe, combined with China 's ability to weather that crisis and its successful staging of the 2008 Summer Olympics, are seen by observers as having contributed to a perception in China of the United States as a declining power, and to a Chinese sense of self-confidence or triumphalism. 10 China's assertive actions in the East and South China Seas can be viewed as having begun (or accelerated) soon thereafter. Other observers trace the roots of the end of the post-Cold War era further, to years prior to 2008. 11
Comparisons of the New Environment to Earlier Periods
Each international security environment features a unique combination of major actors,
dimensions of competition and cooperation among those actors, and military and other technologies available to them. A new international security environment can have some similarities to previous ones, but it will also have differences, including, potentially, one or more features not present in any previous international security environment. In the early years of a new international security environment, some of its features may be unclear, in dispute, or not yet apparent. In attempting to understand a new international security environment, comparisons to earlier ones are potentially helpful in identifying avenues of investigation. If applied too rigidly, however, such comparisons can act as intellectual straightjackets, making it more difficult to achieve a full understanding of a new international security environment 's characteristic features, particularly those that differentiate it from previous ones.
Some observers have stated that the world is entering a new Cold War (or Cold War II or 2.0).
That term may have utility in referring specifically to U.S.-Russian relations, because the new international security environment that some observers have identified features competition and tension with Russia. Considered more broadly, however, the Cold War was a bipolar situation, while the new environment appears to be a situation that also includes China as a major competing power. The bipolarity of the Cold War, moreover, was reinforced by the opposing NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances, whereas in contrast, Russia today does not lead an equivalent of the Warsaw Pact. And while terrorists were a concern during the Cold War, the U.S. focus on countering transnational terrorist groups was not nearly as significant during the Cold War as it has been since 9/11.
Other observers, viewing the emerging situation, have drawn comparisons to the multipolar
situation that existed in the 19th century and the years prior to World War I. Still others, observing the promotion in China and Russia of nationalistic historical narratives supporting revanchist or irredentist foreign policy aims, have drawn comparisons to the 1930s. Those two earlier situations, however, did not feature a strong focus on countering globally significant transnational terrorist groups, and the military and other technologies available then differ vastly from those available today. The new situation that some observers have identified may be similar in some respects to previous situations, but it also differs from previous situations in certain respects, and might be best understood by direct observation and identification of its key features.
Naming the New Environment
Observers who conclude that the international security environment has shifted to a new situation
do not yet appear to have reached a consensus on what term to use to refer to the new situation. As noted above, some observers have used terms such as a new Cold War (or Cold War II or 2.0). Other observers have referred to the new situation as an era of renewed great power competition. Other terms that some observers have used include multipolar era, the disorderly world (or era), 12 the "complexity crisis in U.S. strategy, "13 and the age of everything, meaning an age in which the United States will face multiple security challenges of various types. 14
Congressional Participation in Reassessment of U.S. Defense
During Previous Shift
A previous change in the international security environment—the shift in the late 1980s and early
1990s from the Cold War to the post-Cold War era—prompted a broad reassessment by the Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress of defense funding levels, strategy, and missions that led to numerous changes in DOD plans and programs. Many of these changes were articulated in the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR), 15 a reassessment of U.S. defense plans and programs whose very name conveyed the fundamental nature of the reexamination that had occurred. 16 In general, the BUR reshaped the U.S. military into a force that was smaller than the Cold War U.S. military, and oriented toward a planning scenario being able to conduct two major regional contingencies (MRCs) rather than the Cold War planning scenario of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. 17
Through both committee activities and the efforts of individual Members, Congress played a
significant role in the reassessment of defense funding levels, strategy, plans, and programs that was prompted by the end of the Cold War. In terms of committee activities, the question of how to change U.S. defense plans and programs in response to the end of the Cold War was, for example, a major focus for the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in holding hearings and marking up annual national defense authorization acts in the early 1990s. 18
In terms of efforts by individual Members, some Members put forth their own proposals for how much to reduce defense spending from the levels of the final years of the Cold War,19 while others put forth detailed proposals for future U.S. defense strategy, plans, programs, and spending. Senator John McCain, for example, issued a detailed, 32-page policy paper in November 1991 presenting his proposals for defense spending, missions, force structure, and weapon acquisition programs. 20
Perhaps the most extensive individual effort by a Member to participate in the reassessment of
U.S. defense following the end of the Cold War was the one carried out by Representative Les Aspin, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In early 1992, Aspin, supported by members of the committee 's staff, devised a force-sizing construct and potential force levels and associated defense spending levels U.S. defense for the new post-Cold War era. A principal aim of Aspin 's effort was to create an alternative to the "Base Force " plan for U.S. defense in the post-Cold War era that had been developed by the George H. W. Bush Administration. 21 Aspin 's effort included a series of policy papers in January and February 199222 that were augmented by press releases and speeches. Aspin's policy paper of February 25, 1992, served as the basis for his testimony that same day at a hearing on future defense spending before the House Budget Committee. Although DOD and some other observers (including some Members of Congress) criticized Aspin' s analysis and proposals on various grounds,23 the effort arguably proved consequential the following year, when Aspin became Secretary of Defense in the new Clinton Administration. Aspin 's 1992 effort helped inform his participation in DOD 's 1993 BUR. The 1993 BUR in turn created a precedent for the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process that remains in place today.
Some Emerging Implications for Defense
Defense Funding Levels
The shift in the international security environment that some observers have identified—from the
post-Cold War era to a new situation—has become a factor in the debate over the size of the U.S. defense budget in coming years, and over whether the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 ( S. 365/P.L. 112-25 of August 2, 2011) as amended should be further amended or repealed. The nature of the U.S. response to a shift in the international security environment could lead to defense spending levels that are higher than, lower than, or about the same as those in the BCA.
Renewed Emphasis on Grand Strategy and Geopolitics
Discussion of the shift in the international security environment that some observers have
identified has led to a renewed emphasis on grand strategy and geopolitics as part of the context for discussing U.S. defense budgets, plans, and programs. A November 2, 2015, press report, for example, stated:
The resurgence of Russia and the continued rise of China have created a new period of
great-power rivalry—and a corresponding need for a solid grand strategy, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said Monday at the Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C.
"The era of everything is the era of grand strategy, " Work said, suggesting that the United States must carefully marshal and deploy its great yet limited resources. 24
From a U.S. perspective, grand strategy can be understood as strategy considered at a global or interregional level, as opposed to strategies for specific countries, regions, or issues. Geopolitics refers to the influence on international relations and strategy of basic world geographic features such as the size and location of continents, oceans, and individual countries.
From a U.S. perspective on grand strategy and geopolitics, it can be noted that most of the
world's people, resources, and economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in the other hemisphere, particularly Eurasia. In response to this basic feature of world geography, U.S. policymakers for the last several decades have chosen to pursue, as a key element of U.S. national strategy, a goal of preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another, on the grounds that such a hegemon could represent a concentration of power strong enough to threaten core U.S. interests by, for example, denying the United States access to some of the other hemisphere 's resources and economic activity. Although U.S. policymakers have not often stated this key national strategic goal explicitly in public, U.S. military (and diplomatic) operations in recent decades—both wartime operations and day-to-day operations—can be viewed as having been carried out in no small part in support of this key goal.
The U.S. goal of preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or
another is a major reason why the U.S. military is structured with force elements that enable it to cross broad expanses of ocean and air space and then conduct sustained, large-scale military operations upon arrival. Force elements associated with this goal include, among other things, an Air Force with significant numbers of long-range bombers, long-range surveillance aircraft, long-range airlift aircraft, and aerial refueling tankers, and a Navy with significant numbers of aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered attack submarines, large surface combatants, large amphibious ships, and underway replenishment ships.
U.S. and NATO Military Capabilities in Europe
Russia's seizure and annexation of Ukraine and Russia 's subsequent actions in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe have led to a renewed focus among policymakers on the adequacy of U.S. and NATO military capabilities in Europe. 25 Some observers have expressed particular concern about the ability of the United States and its NATO allies to defend the Baltic members of NATO in the event of a fast-paced Russian military move into those countries. 26
Administration officials have announced a series of specific actions to bolster military deterrence
in Europe. 27 In July 2014, the Administration, as part of its FY2015 funding request for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) part of DOD 's budget, requested $1 billion for a European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), of which $925 million would be for DOD to carry out several force deployments and operations in Europe. 28 As part of its proposed FY2017 defense budget, the Administration is requesting $3.4 billion for ERI for FY2017.
At the September 4-5, 2014, NATO summit in Wales, NATO leaders announced a series of
initiatives for refocusing NATO away from "out of area " (i.e., beyond-Europe) operations, and back toward a focus on territorial defense and deterrence in Europe itself.29 In December 2014, Russia issued a new military doctrine that, among other things, calls for a more assertive approach toward NATO. 30 In June 2015, Russia stated that it would respond to the placement of additional U.S. military equipment in Eastern Europe by deploying additional forces along its own western border. 31
The increased attention that U.S. policymakers are paying to the security situation in Europe,
combined with U.S. military operations in the Middle East against the Islamic State organization and similar groups, has intensified questions among some observers about whether the United States will be able to fully implement the military component of the U.S. strategic rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region that was formally announced in the January 2012 defense strategic guidance document.
Countering Hybrid Warfare and Gray-Zone Tactics
Russia's seizure and annexation of Crimea, as well as subsequent Russian actions in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, have led to a focus among policymakers on how to counter Russia 's so-called hybrid warfare or ambiguous warfare tactics. 32 China 's actions in the East and South China Seas have similarly prompted a focus among policymakers on how to counter China' s so-called salami-slicing or gray-zone tactics in those areas.33
Capabilities for High-End Warfare
China's continuing military modernization effort34 and Russian actions to modernize its military have led to a renewed emphasis in U.S. defense plans and programs on capabilities for conducting so-called high-end warfare, meaning large-scale, high-intensity, technologically sophisticated warfare. 35 Included in this emphasis are programs for procuring advanced aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) 36 and the next-generation long-range bomber, 37 highly capable warships such as the Virginia-class attack submarine38 and DDG-51 class Aegis destroyer, 39 ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities, 40 longer-ranged land-attack and anti-ship weapons, new types of weapons such as lasers, railguns, and hypervelocity projectiles, 41 new ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities, military space capabilities, 42 electronic warfare capabilities, and military cyber capabilities. 43 In his February 2, 2016, remarks previewing DOD 's proposed FY2017 budget, Secretary Carter stated:
We will be prepared for a high-end enemy. That
's what we call full spectrum. In our budget, our plans, our capabilities and our actions, we must demonstrate to potential foes, that if they start a war, we have the capability to win. Because the force that can deter conflict, must show that it can dominate a conflict.
In this context, Russia and China are our most stressing competitors. They have developed and are continuing to advance military system that seek to threaten our advantages in specific areas. And in some case, they are developing weapons and ways of wars that seek to achieve their objectives rapidly, before they hope, we can respond.44
Maintaining Technological Superiority in Conventional Weapons
DOD officials have expressed concern that the technological and qualitative edge that U.S.
military forces have had relative to the military forces of other countries is being narrowed by improving military capabilities in other countries, particularly China and (in some respects) Russia. To arrest and reverse the decline in the U.S. technological and qualitative edge, DOD in November 2014 announced a new Defense Innovation Initiative. 45 In a related effort, DOD has also announced that it is seeking a new general U.S. approach—a so-called "third offset strategy"—for maintaining U.S. superiority over opposing military forces that are both numerically large and armed with precision-guided weapons. 46 A November 24, 2014, press report stated:
After spending 13 years fighting non-state actors in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, the US
Defense Department is shifting its institutional weight toward developing a new acquisition and technology development strategy that focuses more on major state competitors, the Pentagon 's No. 2 told Defense News on Nov. 21[, 2014].
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said that at the top of the agenda are powers like
China and Russia, both of whom have "regional and global aspirations, so that 's going to increasingly take a lot of our attention. "
Next come regional states that want to become nuclear powers, such as Iran and North Korea, and finally are transnational terrorist groups and their myriad offshoots.
"Layered on top of all three are technological advancements that are happening at a very rapid pace, " Work said, which has given rise to a global competition for the latest in stealth, precision strike, communications and surveillance capabilities over which the United States no longer holds a monopoly.
The new Defense Innovation Initiative that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently
announced is "really focused on state actors, " Work said, "and looking at the capabilities that could potentially hurt our nation the most and how [the Pentagon can] prepare to address those capabilities and deter their use. "
A major part of this push is the new
"offset" strategy, which is looking to identify new technologies that the United States can use in order to deter or defeat those threats. 47
Another aspect of DOD 's efforts to maintain superiority in conventional weapons is the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), which DOD created in 2012. In his February 2, 2016, remarks previewing DOD 's proposed FY2017 budget, Secretary Carter stated:
And as you can imagine, the budget also makes important investments in new
technologies. We have to do this to stay ahead of future threats in a changing world. As other nations try to catch on the advantages that we have enjoyed for decades, in areas like precision-guided munitions, stealth, cyber and space.
Some of these investments are long-term, and I will get to them in a moment. But to help
maintain our advantages now, DOD has an office that we don't often talk about, but I want to highlight today. It 's called the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO for short.
I created the SCO in 2012 when I was deputy secretary of defense to help us to
re-imagine existing DOD and intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential enemies—the emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs. Getting stuff in the field quickly.
We need to make long-term investments as well. I will get to them in a moment. But the
focus here was to keep up with the pace of the world....
SCO is incredibly innovative, but it also has the rare virtue of rapid development, and a
rarer virtue of keeping current capabilities viable for as long as possible—in other words, it tries to build on what we have. 48
Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Deterrence
Russia's reassertion of its status as a major world power has included, among other things, references by Russian officials to nuclear weapons and Russia 's status as a major nuclear weapon power. 49 This has led to an increased emphasis in discussions of U.S. defense and security on nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence50—a development that comes at a time when DOD is in the early stages of a multi-year plan to spend scores of billions of dollars to modernize U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent forces. 51 DOD, for example, currently has plans to acquire a new class of ballistic missile submarines52 and a next-generation long-range bomber. 53
Speed of Weapon System Development and Deployment
DOD officials and other observers have argued that staying ahead of improving military
capabilities in countries such as China in coming years will require adjusting U.S. defense acquisition policy to place a greater emphasis on speed of development and deployment as a measure of merit in defense acquisition policy. As a consequence, they have stated, defense acquisition should feature more experimentation, risk-taking, and tolerance of failure during development. The previously mentioned Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) (see "Maintaining Technological Superiority in Conventional Weapons " above) forms one aspect of DOD's efforts to move in this direction. Efforts within individual military services, such as the Navy's new Maritime Accelerated Capabilities Office (MACO), form another. 54 DOD officials have also requested greater flexibility in how they are permitted to use funds for prototyping and experimentation. 55
In a December 22, 2014, opinion column, Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for
Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, stated:
For some time I have been trying to make the point that the United States
' military technological superiority is being challenged in ways we have not seen for decades. This is not a future problem, nor is it speculative. My concerns are based on the intelligence reports I have received on a daily basis for almost five years....
Some time ago, I asked the Defense Intelligence Agency to produce a poster size
document showing the scope of China 's modernization programs in key war-fighting areas. The result is a dense compendium of dozens of programs. More recently, I asked my staff to prepare a similar depiction of the United States ' ongoing and projected modernization programs. The two documents are strikingly different.
The chart on China is dense with program descriptions and timelines. The chart on the
US programs is characterized by a high amount of white space. China and Russia are fielding state-of-the-art weapons designed specifically to overmatch US capabilities....
In the face of increasing and sophisticated threats to our technological superiority, paying
a reasonable price for the equipment we acquire and incentivizing industry to perform at its best is a means to an end, not the end itself. While we will continue those efforts, we have to turn our attention more toward meeting the very real challenges to our technological superiority.
's] BBP [Better Buying Power] 3.0 [defense acquisition improvement initiative] will focus on the ways we pursue innovation and acquire technology. All of our investments in research and development will be reviewed with the goal of improving the output of those investments. We will look for ways to reduce cycle time for product development. We will examine the barriers to greater use of commercial and international sources of technology.
The emphasis on the professionalism of the acquisition workforce that I introduced in BBP 2.0 [in 2012] will continue, but the focus now will be on encouraging innovation and technical excellence; not just within the defense government enterprise but across industry as well. We will conduct a long-range research and development planning effort to ensure we are investing in the highest payoff technologies. We will seek resources to increase the use of prototyping and experimentation. Our ability to accept and manage risk, which is essential to technological superiority and inherent in cutting edge programs, will be re-examined....
As a nation we must overcome these threats, or we will wake up one day to the
realization that the United States is no longer the most capable military power on the planet. 56
Minimizing Reliance on Components and Materials from Russia and China
Increased tensions with Russia have led to an interest in eliminating instances of being dependent on Russian-made military systems and components for U.S. military
systems. A current case in point concerns the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine, which is incorporated into U.S. space launch rockets, including rockets used by DOD to put military payloads into orbit. 57
Concerns over Chinese cyber activities or potential Chinese actions to limit exports of certain
materials (such as rare earth elements) have similarly led to concerns over the use of certain Chinese-made components (such as electronic components) or Chinese-origin materials (such as rare earth elements) for U.S. military systems. 58
Issues for Congress
Potential policy and oversight issues for Congress include the following:
Potential r eassessment of U.S. defense analogous to 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR) . In response to changes in the international security environment, should there be a broad reassessment of U.S. defense funding levels, strategy, plans, and programs, analogous to the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR)? If so, how should it be done, and what role should Congress play? Should Congress conduct the reassessment itself, through committee activities? Should Congress establish the terms of reference for a reassessment to be conducted by the executive branch or by an independent, third-party entity (such as a blue ribbon panel)? Should some combination of these approaches be employed?
- Defense funding levels. In response to changes in the international security
environment, should defense funding levels in coming years be increased, reduced, or maintained at about the current level? Should the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, as amended, be further amended or repealed?
- U.S. grand strategy. Should the United States continue to include, as a key
element of U.S. grand strategy, a goal of preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another? 59 If not, what grand strategy should the United States pursue?
- U.S. and NATO military capabilities in Europe. Are the United States and its
NATO allies taking appropriate and sufficient steps regarding U.S. and NATO military capabilities and operations in Europe? What potential impacts would a strengthened U.S. military presence in Europe have on total U.S. military force structure requirements? What impact would it have on DOD 's ability to implement the military component of the U.S. strategic rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region?
- Hybrid warfare and gray-zone tactics
. Do the United States and its allies and partners have adequate strategies for countering Russia 's so-called hybrid warfare in eastern Ukraine and China 's so-called salami-slicing tactics in the East and South China Seas?
- Capabilities for high-end warfare. Are DOD
's plans for acquiring capabilities for high-end warfare appropriate and sufficient? In a situation of constraints on defense funding, how should tradeoffs be made in balancing capabilities for high-end warfare against other DOD priorities?
- Maintaining technological superiority in conventional weapons. Are DOD
's steps for maintaining U.S. technological superiority in conventional weapons appropriate and sufficient?
- Nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence. Are current DOD plans for
modernizing U.S. strategic nuclear weapons, and for numbers and basing of non-strategic (i.e., theater-range) nuclear weapons, aligned with the needs of the new international security environment?
- Speed in
d efense acquisition policy. To what degree should defense acquisition policy be adjusted to place greater emphasis on speed of development and deployment, and on experimentation, risk taking, and greater tolerance of failure during development? Are DOD's steps for doing this appropriate?
- Reliance on Russian and Chinese components and materials. Aside from the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine, what Russian or Chinese components or materials are incorporated into DOD equipment? What are DOD's plans regarding reliance on Russian- or Chinese-made components and materials for DOD equipment?
Legislative Activity for FY2017
The Administration's proposed FY2017 defense budget was submitted to Congress on February 9, 2016.