The next U.S. National Defense Strategy will be about winning the strategic competition with China (and to a lesser extent, Russia). Much of this will play out short of armed conflict, in the ”gray zone” between peace and war. But trying to “win” gray zone competition is a bad idea.
The release of the next National Defense Strategy, expected in early 2022, will address the continued importance of China as a “pacing threat” even as it recognizes the “increasingly complicated and complex security landscape.” As the renewed potential for great power conflict drives strategy and plans, some have dubbed this a “new Cold War.” Letting this planning construct drive DoD’s investment program without paying attention to other kinds of potential contingencies is a bad idea.
The Defense Department should start preparing now for an uncertain post-coronavirus budget environment. It should clearly identify the “crown jewel” capabilities it cannot sacrifice, start cutting end strength and lower priority force structure, and prepare for a robust debate over global security commitments and budget constraints.