Despite the brief notoriety of U.S. special operations activities after the tragic ambush in Niger last October, U.S. strategic priorities in Africa remain inscrutable. For a recent example of the administration’s enigmatic approach to the continent, look in turn at the Africa sections in the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Defense Strategy (NDS). You will find a curious disconnect.
The release of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy offers a window to evaluate current and ongoing U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific region. But while the documents offer bold, clear strategic direction at a time the United States and the world need clear guideposts, the administration’s actions are at odds with the strategies.
The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy outline a U.S. shift from counterterrorism to inter-state competition with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. However, U.S. policymakers need to be prepared for much of this competition to occur at the unconventional level, since the costs of conventional and nuclear war would likely be catastrophic.
The Department of Defense (DOD) faces a strategic choice: whether to focus on modernization for high-tech conflicts with China and Russia or expand forces and improve readiness to meet a superpower’s commitments for ongoing conflicts and crisis response. In their FY 2018 budgets, the services all complain that they are too small for the demands being put on them and hedge toward expanding forces and readiness. In the new DOD strategy being developed for 2019 and beyond, the services hope to pursue all three goals—expand forces, improve readiness, and increase modernization—but the fiscal future is highly uncertain, and they will likely have to make difficult trade-offs.
This report provides an assessment of current and future U.S. amphibious capabilities and those of a select group of allies and partners. It further explores options to allow U.S. amphibious forces to leverage partner and allied capabilities for combined operations without sacrificing warfighting capabilities.