The United States’ next national defense strategy will not focus solely on China, but will seek to address a broad array of threats through increased work with allies, according to a senior Pentagon official.
“We recognize China as the ‘pacing challenge,’ as the secretary [of defense] has underscored, and remain profoundly concerned about Russia, and other issues as well,” said Mara Karlin, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities.
“We will in many ways focus on getting after that China challenge, while ensuring that we are responsibly working with our closest allies and partners to deal with many of the other challenges that we also see metastasizing or shifting and not going away.”
The national defense strategy is slated to be published in early 2022. A quadrennial document, the last edition was compiled in 2018 under then-defense secretary Gen. James Mattis. That strategy shifted the United States’ defense focus from the Global War on Terror to great power competition with China and Russia.
That strategy approached China and Russia as something of a joint problem but, according to Karlin, the new strategy will break with that somewhat to engage with China and Russia as their own issues.
It will address Russia’s gray zone conflict capabilities, potential conflict in Ukraine, and reinforce the primacy of the United States’ global presence by focusing on the role of allies in its strategic thinking.
“We are a global power,” Karlin said. “We are proud of being a global power. We think that that is good for us and good for the international community.”
The strategy will also have a force planning element, which Karlin said would be focused on providing “credible” recommendations for further developing the military based on real threats and resource limitations.
“Frankly it can be little bit too easy for us to kind of project something that’s just not going to be a reality,” Karlin said. “I don’t think that’s fair to us. I also don’t think it’s fair to our successors and to the future force.”
“We’ve got to be sober and clear-eyed about what we would ask the force to do and then make sure that it has the capabilities to actually do that.”
Karlin also said that the strategy would seek to address the “China challenge” across the political, military, and economic domains, and would leverage disruptive technologies through the recently established Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, an initiative designed to encourage prototyping and experimentation to support joint warfighting concepts.
“If we are just sitting in a defensive bubble, or Pentagon bubble, and not looking at those other tools in the toolkit, we simply won’t be as effective in dealing with [these problems],” Karlin said.