China, cyber-security, Defense Department, ISIS, Martin Dempsey, multinational corporations, National Military Strategy, national security, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Pentagon, Putin, QDR, Quadrennial Defense Review, Russia, technology transfer
It’s always hard to know how seriously to take the national security and military strategy documents periodically issued by the White House and Defense Department. On the one hand, it’s clear that they’re the products of lots of person-hours and resources; a few years ago, in fact, I was honored by an invitation to participate in a skull session held in connection with one of the Quadrennial Defense Review reports.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to contend that these exercises result in any meaningful change. Sure, points of emphasis come and go – the new National Military Strategy (NMS) document just published by the Pentagon (the first since 2011) generated some news coverage (and complaints from Moscow) by pointing to a growing threat from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. And of course, it was the first such statement that mentioned ISIS. But the new NMS seems dominated by the usual declarations that the United States has global security interests (not its authors’ fault – setting the broader national security strategy is the job of elected and appointed political leaders, not them) and that the nation will defend and advance these wide-ranging functional and geopolitical objectives with whatever kinds of American and allied military forces and related resources are needed.
Nonetheless, two features of the NMS are arguably newsworthy:
>First, judging by the NMS, the U.S. military has no clue that the nation needs to start moving aggressively to curb the transfer of advanced militarily relevant technology abroad by American multinational businesses. The document actually leads off by noting, “Complexity and rapid change characterize today’s strategic environment, driven by globalization, the diffusion of technology, and demographic shifts” and then fretting that “When applied to military systems, this diffusion of technology is challenging competitive advantages long held by the United States such as early warning and precision strike.”
As should be clear to anyone educated enough to read a newspaper, cyber-hacking capabilities should be added to this list (and they are later in the NMS). In fact, as I’ve noted, America’s top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey, has publicly admitted that the United States no longer enjoys superiority in this critical sphere. But what should be even clearer is that when U.S. high tech companies in particular set up labs and training centers in China in particular, or invest in Chinese technology companies, they not only greatly strengthen China’s military, but they just as greatly boost the odds that dangerous devices and knowhow find their way to places like North Korea and Iran. A related problem: U.S. allies, described in the NMS as comprising “a unique strength that provides the foundation for international security and stability,” have often been more reckless than Washington in permitting the spread of these technologies.
Greater efforts at technology denial per se won’t solve this problem – largely because so much of this dangerous cat has been let out of the bag. But good luck with even maintaining a usable American technological edge on the military front if the world’s most advanced creators of high tech products and services remain so largely free to feed the Chinese beast.
>Second, Dempsey’s Foreward to the NMS contains a genuinely remarkable statement that would merit much greater discussion if it received any elaboration in the document. It didn’t, but contrasts so stunningly with the literally universalistic objectives that have dominated American strategy since Pearl Harbor that I need to spotlight it anyway.
According to Dempsey (in a poorly structured sentence), “We are more likely to face prolonged campaigns than conflicts that are resolved quickly…that control of escalation is becoming more difficult and more important….” And then he adds this kicker: “…as a hedge against unpredictability with reduced resources, we may have to adjust our global posture.”
It’s standard for military leaders to warn that the nation’s security commitments are threatening to exceed the resources available to meet them, and the NMS itself pointedly observes that “We will not realize the goals of this 2015 National Military Strategy without sufficient resources. Like those that came before it, this strategy assumes a commitment to projecting global influence, supporting allies and partners, and maintaining the All-Volunteer Force.” But by adding “unpredictability” to simple budgetary uncertainty as a reason for reconsidering the nation’s worldwide objectives, it looks like Dempsey is at least thinking along substantially different lines.
Again, since this statement is a standalone, it’s hard to know how much importance it merits, and whether there will be any follow-up anywhere in the Pentagon. One thing that is certain: Dempsey’s comment about adjusting the nation’s global posture, which I’ve argued is an essential step in strengthening its security, didn’t appear in the NMS by accident.