Truman National Security Project

America’s New Defense Posture

By Leo Cruz | 4.18.13

As the United States winds down from more than a decade of war, it faces the challenge of slimming down while confronting new threats. In particular, the Pentagon must adjust its defense posture to confront the continued threat from non-state actors, like al-Qaeda.

To protect its national interests and honor commitments to allies, the U.S. must re-tool its defense posture. Specifically, the Department of Defense must address what the future capabilities and missions of the American military should be, and more importantly, how it can meet those requirements with an increased involvement from our allies. Acting alone—and failing to prepare for evolving threats, like cyber attacks—will put America’s security at risk.

In January 2012, the Obama Administration released a strategic guidance memo that captured the need to transition towards a new national defense posture. President Obama proposed an American military that is “agile, flexible, and ready for the full range of contingencies,” while advancing “the Department’s efforts to rebalance and reform, and supports the national security imperative of deficit reduction through a lower level of defense spending.”

With rising concern from military and political leaders about America’s rising deficit, the Pentagon and Congress need to have an honest discussion about what missions they are willing to support, no matter the costs, and which mission can be shared with U.S. allies. With growing isolationism from some in Congress, the Administration must find innovative approaches to spread the burden of other critical mission areas that may be affected by a reduction of American resources available. This should also include engaging our allies to develop the capabilities for continuous joint efforts in maintaining global security.

However, the American strategy for global engagement is still based on regional alliances where the United States is the “security partner of choice,” within each regional area of responsibility [Figure 1]. To wit, in the strategic guidance memo, there is only one mention of the potential of partnering with our NATO allies “to pool, share, and specialize capabilities as needed to meet 21st century challenges.” The U.S. must plan for a future where our allies take on larger responsibility for regional stability. Ideally, the United States can play a smaller and  specialized role in global conflicts, rather than assume overall command responsibility—similar to the limited role the U.S. military played in Libya. It is only prudent for the U.S. to enhance and develop defined regional partnerships to maintain peace, stability, and the free flow of commerce.

Figure 1:  Map shows the world divided into State Department regional bureaus by colors and the Department of Defense Combatant Commands' area of responsibility delineated by line.

Figure 1: Map shows the world divided into State Department regional bureaus by colors and the Department of Defense Combatant Commands’ area of responsibility delineated by line.

By increasing the military responsibility of our allies in various areas of concern, the United States will be able to sustain its global commitments, as well as strengthen its ability to use all elements of national power. In short, the U.S. would be smart to enable partners—like it did in Libya—to execute far-away missions of shared interest. In doing so, America would be able to develop strategies for removing U.S. military forces from an area of operation as quick as they were sent in. In doing so, the U.S. would strengthen its allies’ capabilities to maintain stability within their own regions and develop strategic plans that only require the full commitment of U.S. forces as a last resort.

The military is balancing the drawdown from two major conflicts, while still maintaining its preparedness to tackle flexible and unconventional threats. There needs to be a wider conversation on what will be America’s new defense posture in the 21st century. America’s international allies and security partners are essential members of that conversation.

Leo Cruz is a Truman Political Partner.