Strategy in a Time of Austerity: Why the Pentagon Should Focus on Assuring Access
Over the next decade, the U.S. military will need to undertake the most dramatic shift in its strategy since the introduction of nuclear weapons more than 60 years ago. Just as defense budgets are declining, the price of projecting and sustaining military power is increasing and the range of interests requiring protection is expanding. This means that tough strategic choices will finally have to be made, not just talked about. As the British physicist Ernest Rutherford once declared to his colleagues, “We haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think.”
A new strategic framework will be needed, one focused less on repelling traditional cross-border invasions, effecting regime change, and conducting large-scale stability operations and more on preserving access to key regions and the global commons, which are essential to U.S. security and prosperity. The bad news is that this will mean reducing the priority of certain objectives and accepting greater risk in some realms. But the good news is that with a shift in focus, truly critical U.S. interests can continue to be protected at a sustainable cost.
Because the resources available to the U.S. military will be increasingly limited, the objectives must be, too.
After the Cold War, Washington enjoyed a “unipolar moment,” drawing on its overwhelming advantage in resources and technology to achieve an unprecedented level of global military dominance. Two decades on, however, that moment is fading. The U.S. economic engine is sputtering, with unpleasant implications for a Defense Department that has grown accustomed to steady budget growth.