Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Tailored Deterrence: Strategic Context to Guide Joint Force 2020

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Tailored Deterrence: Strategic Context to Guide Joint Force 2020

Article excerpt

Some Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs) are "sustainers" in which the Department of Defense (DOD) refines a well-established strategy against known threats. The recent QDR had to contend with significant changes in the security environment and defense resources. The first such change is the return of China as a great power, which presents a complex blend of cooperation, competition, and concerns. What defense strategy and deterrence policy should guide the pivot to the Pacific and investments in Air-Sea Battle? The second change is the increasing convergence of rogue states, nuclear proliferation, cyber warfare, regional instability, and transnational terrorism in places such as North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Instead of preventive war, how should DOD deter and respond to an expanded range of hostile acts by rogue states and nonstate actors? The third change is the reduction in defense spending, which leads policymakers to reassess defense strategy and call for difficult choices about joint force structure, modernization, and readiness. What is the right balance of capabilities in Joint Force 2020?

To address these challenges, the National Security Strategy recognizes the need to "underwrite defense commitments with tailored approaches to deterrence." (1) Yet the Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) sets a more general goal: "The Joint Force will be prepared to confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world." (2) The DSG describes the mission to deter and defeat aggression as a doctrinal template to deny objectives and impose costs, but it does not detail whom and what to deter, or how. The DSG implicitly assumes that resources are sufficient to deter and defeat aggression everywhere, but defense cuts call this assumption into question by imposing reductions well beyond the programmed force on which the DSG is based.

To guide strategic choices driven by reduced resources, the United States should develop a defense strategy based on tailored approaches to deter the principal threats to national security while preserving flexibility to account for their uncertain trajectories and potential shocks. This hybrid approach would provide a strategic framework to ensure that defense planning scenarios are realistic and necessary, indicate the missions and forces required to execute clear policy, and guide defense spending to provide the greatest return on investment. A defense strategy based in part on tailored deterrence would thus discipline any "irrational exuberance" for operational concepts and capabilities intended to solve military-technical problems by ensuring that they remain consistent with rational foreign and defense policies.

To support the development of such a defense strategy, this article considers broadly what it means to "deter and defeat aggression" in specific cases and outlines the supporting missions and forces. As a framework, it provides direction for the development of deterrence policies and empirical analysis of supporting military plans by analyzing how deterrence is being operationalized within the force-sizing scenarios and suggesting alternative approaches. It concludes that DOD is overinvesting in offensive Air-Sea Battle capabilities beyond what is necessary and prudent to deter China from attacking U.S. allies, but underinvesting in the balanced joint force necessary to deter rogue states from conducting an expanded range of hostile acts and to secure weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in failing states.

Deterrence in the DSG

A deterrence strategy seeks to prevent or discourage a specific hostile actor from performing specific undesirable acts by introducing doubt in its ability to succeed or fear of retaliation. As the DSG states, "Credible deterrence results from both the capabilities to deny an aggressor the prospect of achieving his objectives and from the complementary capability to impose unacceptable costs on the aggressor." (3) Linking deterrence with capability, the DSG describes a decisive joint campaign to defeat aggression that includes the ability to "secure territory and populations and facilitate a transition to stable governance. …

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