On January 19, 2018, Secretary of Defense Mattis released the unclassified summary of the Department of Defense's (DOD) first congressionally mandated National Defense Strategy (NDS). In addition to stating DOD's approach to contending with current and emerging national security challenges, the NDS is also intended to articulate the overall strategic rationale for programs and priorities contained within the FY2019-FY2023 budget requests. Overall, the document maintains that the strategic environment in which the United States must operate is one characterized by the erosion of the rules-based international order, which has produced a degree of strategic complexity and volatility not seen "in recent memory" (p. 1). As a result, the document argues, the United States must bolster its competitive military advantage—which the NDS sees as having eroded in recent decades—relative to the threats posed by China and Russia. It further maintains that "inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security." (p. 1)

Statutory Requirement

Particularly since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has regularly reviewed its strategy, policy, and programs to ensure they are appropriate to the current and emerging strategic landscape. Over time, these reviews became congressionally mandated and referred to as the "Quadrennial Defense Review." Eventually, dissatisfaction with the QDR process and its associated outcomes led Congress to rewrite the requirements for these DOD strategy documents. The FY2017 NDAA, P.L. 114-328, Section 941, amended Title 10, United States Code, Section 113, to require the Secretary of Defense to produce an NDS which articulates how the Department of Defense will advance U.S. objectives articulated in the National Security Strategy, released in December 2017. The document released on January 19th represents a summary of the full NDS, which is itself classified.

What the NDS Says

Consistent with comparable documents issued by prior administrations, the NDS maintains that there are five central external threats to U.S. interests: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and terrorist groups with global reach. The NDS mandate requires DOD to prioritize those threats. Accordingly, retaining the U.S. strategic competitive edge relative to China and Russia is viewed a higher priority than countering violent extremist organizations. Further, the NDS appears conceptually consistent with the National Security Strategy regarding the notion that "peace through strength," or improving the capability and lethality of the joint force in order to deter warfare, is essential to countering these threats. It also contends that, unlike most of the period since the end of the Cold War, the joint force must now operate in contested domains where freedom of access and maneuver is no longer assured.

As such, it organizes DOD activities along three central "lines of effort"—rebuilding military readiness and improving the joint forces' lethality, strengthening alliances and attracting new partners, and reforming the department's business practices—and argues that all three are interconnected and critical to enabling DOD to effectively advance U.S. objectives. It also notes that programs designed to advance those objectives will be included in the FY2019-FY2023 budgets. Some further key points include

Potential Questions for Congress

As Congress considers the NDS, as well as the programmatic and resource decisions to be proposed by the Trump Administration to accomplish objectives contained within the strategy, it could consider the following points: