Shaping a 21st-Century Defense Strategy: Reconciling Military Roles

By Braun, William G.,, III; Allen, Charles D. | Joint Force Quarterly, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Shaping a 21st-Century Defense Strategy: Reconciling Military Roles


Braun, William G.,, III, Allen, Charles D., Joint Force Quarterly


Once again the U.S. military is transitioning from a period of sustained conflict to a resource-constrained and uncertain future. Accordingly, the Nation is again debating its global role and how to develop an appropriate national security strategy. Even before that strategy is fully formulated, the military submitted a budget that comports with fiscal austerity while sustaining current readiness and investing in capabilities to meet future requirements for a complex international security environment.

This article expands the national security debate by advocating adapting the joint force to the emerging strategy and security environment through enhancing its shaping capabilities. The principal stimulus driving the need for change is the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, which sustains the security strategy shift from deterrence and containment to cooperation through engagement. The emerging consensus suggests the future national security strategy will direct a regionally tailored force for limited engagement. (1) As with any fundamental shift in national policy objectives, strategy, or operational concepts, the initial guidance is seldom the last word. (2) The military must be sized and resourced to adapt to the realities of strategy and policy adjustments as they occur. It is critical that military capabilities are resourced for the national strategy and that they posture the joint force to create and seize opportunities. The objective is a military that protects and advances U.S. interests in times of peace while providing robust and flexible options to confront aggression worldwide.

A Shift from Containment to Engagement

To establish context for the emerging military narratives, it is necessary to trace the trajectory of the national security debate since the end of World War II. The Cold War grand strategy, often attributed to "the father of containment" George Kennan, carried the Nation through the last half of the 20th century. (3) In his famous "X article" published in 1947, Kennan advocated replacing cooperation with the Soviet Union with a strategy of long-term containment of their expansionist philosophies. While the strategy matured during the Cold War, the military's role remained stable. (4) With a few notable exceptions, the Armed Forces provided credible and robust conventional combat capability to defend national interests, exercised legitimate coercive power to maintain international order through containment, and demonstrated a mutually assured destruction capability that discouraged nuclear confrontation.

With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a search for a new grand strategy narrative began. President George H.W. Bush presented a vision of a "new world order" to Congress in 1990 that emphasized "cooperation," where "nations of the world can prosper and live in harmony." (5)

President Bill Clinton described how the vision could be achieved through a strategy of "engagement and enlargement," thus giving it structure. This particular strategy relied primarily on economic and diplomatic efforts, backed by military force, and was designed to expand the global reach of democracy and economic prosperity. (6) President George W. Bush's National Security Strategy reiterated many of the tenets of the earlier post- Cold War security strategies. Faced with the new reality of terrorist attacks and the emergent demands of two simultaneous wars, Bush emphasized the role of military power and highlighted the U.S. prerogative for preemptive action to counter rogue states or terrorist organizations that might strike without warning. (7) While President Barack Obama's 2010 National Security Strategy acknowledged the role of the military, it reverted to much of the language related to cooperation and burden-sharing reflective of the 1990s. (8)

The national security strategy is in transition again. The strategic environment presents a weak global economy, a struggling U. …

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