Tuesday, November 01, 2022

A Review of the 2022 National Defense Strategy

In the very serious and expensive game of national defense, words matter. Even more than words, published documents with the President or Cabinet Secretaries' signatures are the source code of what our government will do as a matter of effort and expenditure. They are the "Ref. A." and regardless of their readability or subjective goodness, they require serious understanding and careful reading. 

Readers could not ask for a better mind to look at the most recent National Defense Strategy than our friend and occasional guest poster, Bryan McGrath. 

Refresh your drink of choice and dive in to his overview below. Bryan, over to you. 

Following close on the heels of the Biden Administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS), the Secretary of Defense released last week the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) which is designed to explicate how the Department of Defense will prioritize and align to carry out the tasks assigned it (explicitly and implicitly) by the NSS. Released alongside the NDS were the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review and the 2022 Missile Defense Review, neither of which are addressed in this essay.

The lens through which this assessment is made is that of a navalist and unreconstructed Seapower advocate. Those biases acknowledged up front, the reader must decide whether the quality of analysis is impacted.

The document is well-written, and is a quick read, digestible by most readers who stay abreast of national security and international events. It is—like most of its predecessors—far more like the strategy it replaces than it is different. We tend not to lurch but to probe.

The format of this evaluation is to assess the goods and others of each section in turn. Verbatim quotes are in bolded italics.



The purpose of this section of the document is to give the reader insight as to what the Secretary of Defense considers the most important of the most important parts of the strategy. The letter is clear and well-written and avoids diving too deeply into any of the more controversial parts of the NDS.


The NDS directs the Department to act urgently to sustain and strengthen U.S. deterrence, with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the pacing challenge for the Department.

This is superb. This sentence is the entire strategy boiled down to twenty-eight words. Would that it had remained so.

The PRC remains our most consequential strategic competitor for the coming decades. I have reached this conclusion based on the PRC’s increasingly coercive actions to reshape the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to fit its authoritarian preferences, alongside a keen awareness of the PRC’s clearly stated intentions and the rapid modernization and expansion of its military. As President Biden’s National Security Strategy notes, the PRC is “the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order, and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do so.”

Again, this is superb. This is the problem statement, and as such, it cannot be improved.

Even as we take these steps, we will act with urgency to build enduring advantages for the future Joint Force, undertaking reforms to accelerate force development, getting the technology we need more quickly, and making investments in the extraordinary people of the Department, who remain our most valuable resource.

There is potential for greatness in these words, as what is implied here is the buildup of both offensive and defensive power. We will return to them.



Our central charge is to develop, combine, and coordinate our strengths to maximum effect. This is the core of integrated deterrence, a centerpiece of the 2022 NDS. Integrated deterrence means using every tool at the Department’s disposal, in close collaboration with our counterparts across the U.S. Government and with Allies and partners, to ensure that potential foes understand the folly of aggression. The Department will align policies, investments, and activities to sustain and strengthen deterrence—tailored to specific competitors and challenges and coordinated and synchronized inside and outside the Department.

We will come back to this, the creation of the term “integrated deterrence” to somehow differentiate how the Biden team intends to conduct what previously was known as… “deterrence.” The suggestion that previous administrations—irrespective of party—did not do these things as the jot and tittle of their approach to deterrence is uninformed, ahistorical, and incorrect.

The Department will also campaign day-to-day to gain and sustain military advantages, counter acute forms of our competitors’ coercion, and complicate our competitors’ military preparations.

Again, we will return to this concept of “campaigning” later in the document. But when I read those words above, I find myself nodding and saying “Yep. Deterrence.” 


I.                INTRODUCTION

The introduction restates much of what was in the Secretary’s Letter of Promulgation.


The strategy identifies four top-level defense priorities that the Department must pursue to strengthen deterrence. First, we will defend the homeland. Second, we will deter strategic attacks against the United States, our Allies, and our partners. Third, we will deter aggression and be prepared to prevail in conflict when necessary. Fourth, to ensure our future military advantage, we will build a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem.

Clear, unobjectionable. My only quibble is the annoying adoption of the word “ecosystem”—first by the computer science world and now by all the other cool kids to describe a “system” or a “system of systems.” But that is just me.

We cannot meet these complex and interconnected challenges alone. Mutually-beneficial Alliances and partnerships are our greatest global strategic advantage – and they are a center of gravity for this strategy. We will strengthen major regional security architectures with our Allies and partners based on complementary contributions; combined, collaborative operations and force planning; increased intelligence and information sharing; new operational concepts; and our ability to draw on the Joint Force worldwide.

The strength of our economy (protected and sustained by our Navy) is the most important contributor to our military strength. The second most important contributor is our network of friends and allies (I do not capitalize “ally” or any of its variants—although I do capitalize “Seapower,” so sue me). This is clear and unambiguous here, and throughout this strategy. Time will tell whether posture decisions demonstrate our commitment to these friends and allies.


The Department will advance our priorities through integrated deterrence, campaigning, and actions that build enduring advantages. Integrated deterrence entails working seamlessly across warfighting domains, theaters, the spectrum of conflict, all instruments of U.S. national power, and our network of Alliances and partnerships. Tailored to specific circumstances, it applies a coordinated, multifaceted approach to reducing competitors’ perceptions of the net benefits of aggression relative to restraint. Integrated deterrence is enabled by combat-credible forces prepared to fight and win, as needed, and backstopped by a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.

Broken record alert—integrated deterrence is deterrence—it is not new; it is not novel. It is—as a term of art—cunningly constructed to indicate a preference for the increased importance of (and resource allocation from) OTHER “instruments of U.S. national power” so that defense resources can be either applied differently or harvested for other domestic policy preferences. The term is a creation of the DoD, and if the NSS or statements by other key figures in the national security apparatus (POTUS, SECSTATE, NSA) is any guide to the degree to which it has been adopted elsewhere in the “whole of government,” one can assume it is not widely respected.

Day after day, the Department will strengthen deterrence and gain advantage against competitors’ most consequential coercive measures by campaigning – the conduct and sequencing of logically linked military initiatives aimed at advancing well-defined, strategy-aligned priorities over time. The United States will operate forces, synchronize broader Departmental efforts, and align Departmental activities with other instruments of national power to counter forms of competitor coercion, complicate competitors’ military preparations, and develop our own warfighting capabilities together with those of our Allies and partners.

The inclusion of “campaigning” alongside “(integrated) deterrence” and “building enduring advantages” is a category error. The second sentence in this paragraph IS deterrence. As a navalist/conspiracy theorist, I have some anxiety about this concept. This is the camel’s nose in the tent for those with an adolescent understanding of naval presence (the “why do you need all those ships over there sailing around without a real mission?”) crowd, who wish to reduce the size of the Navy and have it operated more from a surge posture than from a forward posture.




This is a very well-written and conceived section that focuses on what the Administration considers important.


Climate Change and other Transboundary Challenges. Beyond state and non-state actors, changes in global climate and other dangerous transboundary threats are already transforming the context in which the Department operates. Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and more frequent extreme weather conditions will affect basing and access while degrading readiness, installations, and capabilities. Climate change is creating new corridors of strategic interaction, particularly in the Arctic region. It will increase demands, including on the Joint Force, for disaster response and defense support of civil authorities, and affect security relationships with some Allies and partners. Insecurity and instability related to climate change may tax governance capacity in some countries while heightening tensions between others, risking new armed conflicts and increasing demands for stabilization activities.

I believe climate change is happening and that man is contributing to it. I believe we are an adaptable species and that we can and will adapt. I find myself often shaking my head when I read DoD officials talking about climate change and the degree to which they attempt to steal a rhetorical base by turning it into a national security threat. Climate change will cause DoD to make investments in bases over time—either creating new ones or buttressing old ones. Over a long time. If—as I am so often reminded—climate change will cause an acceleration and intensifying of all manner of “climate events” (a.k.a “natural disasters”), then there is a serious “say/do” mismatch between their rhetoric and their resourcing. To wit: the Navy’s large amphibious ships are not only important for the projection of land power ashore, but they are among the defense arsenal’s MOST useful platforms to mitigate human suffering in the event of natural disasters. The capacity for cargo carrying, power generation, water-making, and food distribution—not to mention the labor force contained therein, a labor force assembled for far more violent ends—makes these ships invaluable. Yet the Defense Department is trying to kill off the LPD 17 Flight II class at three ships (instead of 10), a resource driven requirement that is not only short-sighted, but unwise.




  • Defending the homeland, paced to the growing multi-domain threat posed by the PRC;
  • Deterring strategic attacks against the United States, Allies, and partners;
  • Deterring aggression, while being prepared to prevail in conflict when necessary –prioritizing the PRC challenge in the Indo-Pacific region, then the Russia challenge in Europe; and,
  • Building a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem

This short section is clear and straightforward, except for the previously stated objectionable use of the term “ecosystem.”


I have already spilled enough electrons in my criticisms of “integrated deterrence,” and so I will not belabor them here. This is—to my knowledge—the first real attempt by OSD to create a “definition” of integrated deterrence. There is an interesting discussion in the section of “How We Will Deter” (not “How We Will Integratedly Deter”) that brings up the standard deterrence theory terms “denial” and “punishment”, and the degree to which THIS administration is unwilling to cast its lot with one over the other (the Trump team having explicitly come down on “denial”).


Meeting the challenge requires a holistic response: integrated deterrence. In the past, the Department’s approach to deterrence has too often been hindered by competing priorities; lack of clarity regarding the specific competitor actions we seek to deter; an emphasis on deterring behaviors in instances where Department authorities and tools are ill-suited; and stovepiping. Integrated deterrence is how we will align the Department’s policies, investments, and activities to sustain and strengthen deterrence – tailored to specific competitors and coordinated to maximum effect inside and outside the Department.

This is a broad swipe at every single administration since the end of WWII, and I am not aware of scholarship that backs up this view of how deterrence has been achieved.

Deterrence by Resilience. Denying the benefits of aggression also requires resilience – the ability to withstand, fight through, and recover quickly from disruption. The Department will improve its ability to operate in the face of multi-domain attacks on a growing surface of vital networks and critical infrastructure, both in the homeland and in collaboration with Allies and partners at risk. Because the cyber and space domains empower the entire Joint Force, we will prioritize building resilience in these areas. Cyber resilience will be enhanced by, for example, modern encryption and a zero-trust architecture. In the space domain, the Department will reduce adversary incentives for early attack by fielding diverse, resilient, and redundant satellite constellations. We will bolster our ability to fight through disruption by improving defensive capabilities and increasing options for reconstitution. We will assist Allies and partners in doing the same.

So, let us review some of the terminological excesses of this strategy. First, it attempts to create a new kind of deterrence, called “integrated deterrence,” which is not in fact, new at all. Or even required. Next, it raises “campaigning” to the level of deterrence, when it is in fact, a means to achieve deterrence—deterrence by denial. The next crime is this new concept of “deterrence by resilience,” which up until a few days ago, I had never heard of. This is because virtually every word in how this term is defined applies to deterrence by denial. It is an unnecessary attempt to add a veneer of intellectual heft to an already well-understood topic.

Finally, a portion of this section is devoted to “Tailored Deterrence Approaches” (not “Tailored Integrated Deterrence Approaches” …I am so confused). It attempts to take highly classified approaches and plans and present them in an unclassified fashion. Doing so is unfortunate, as this section is not useful in an unclassified setting.


V.               CAMPAIGNING

This section is unnecessary and should have been included in the “(Integrated) Deterrence” section.




The clear message here to friends and allies is that “you matter.” Our network of friends and allies is important.


The Department will seek to improve denial capability, including resilience, particularly for those most exposed to military coercion.

If one needed more proof for my contention that “deterrence by resilience” is just “deterrence by denial,” one only needs to consider this sentence.




Our approach to force planning aims to build strength and capability in key operational areas. To maintain information advantage, the Department will improve our ability to integrate, defend, and reconstitute our surveillance and decision systems to achieve warfighting objectives, particularly in the space domain, and despite adversaries’ means of interference or deception. To preserve command, control, and communications in a fast-paced battlefield, we will make our network architectures more resilient against system-level exploitation and disruption so as to ensure effective coordination of distributed forces. To enhance our ability to deny aggression, we will improve the speed and accuracy of detection and targeting. To mitigate adversary anti-access/area denial capability, the Department will develop concepts and capabilities that improve our ability to reliably hold at risk those military forces and assets that are essential to adversary operational success, while managing escalation. For logistics and sustainment, we will reinforce our adaptability to quickly mobilize and deploy forces and to sustain high-intensity joint denial operations despite kinetic and no-kinetic attack and disruption.

This is excellent stuff, and it represents effective thinking at DoD. Would that it were married to a sense of dread at the capacity problems all the services face.


The Joint Force will remain prepared to employ combat-ready forces on short notice to address aggression or crisis, an ability critical to strengthening deterrence. At the same time, the Department will make sure that day-to-day requirements to deploy and operate forces do not erode readiness for future missions, or bias investments towards extant but increasingly less effective capabilities at the expense of building capability and proficiency for advanced threats.

Further to my earlier discussion of conspiracy, this is the Austin/Hicks DoD approach to knee-capping the Navy. One can sense the disdain associated with the words “day-to-day requirements to deploy and operate forces do not erode readiness for future missions, or bias investments towards extant but increasingly less effective capabilities at the expense of building capability and proficiency for advanced threats” as OSD continues to question the operational value of forward based naval forces as instruments of U.S. security and prosperity. This is the stuff of ridiculous “presence for presence’s sake” arguments, and flies in the face of the will of the House of Representatives (at least for now), which passed a 2023 NDAA changing the Title 10 mission of the Navy to include these vital peacetime activities. Predictably, OSD has objected to this change, and is hoping to derail it in upcoming House/Senate NDAA negotiations.



Transform the Foundation of the Future Force. Building the Joint Force called for by this strategy requires overhauling the Department’s force development, design, and business management practices. Our current system is too slow and too focused on acquiring systems not designed to address the most critical challenges we now face. This orientation leaves little incentive to design open systems that can rapidly incorporate cutting-edge technologies, creating longer-term challenges with obsolescence, interoperability, and cost effectiveness. The Department will instead reward rapid experimentation, acquisition, and fielding.

Any red-blooded American ought to be all for this. Any red-blooded American who understands the system (not “ecosystem”) knows how heavy a lift this will be.

Because Joint Force operations increasingly rely on data-driven technologies and integration of diverse data sources, the Department will implement institutional reforms that integrate our data, software, and artificial intelligence efforts and speed their delivery to the warfighter.

We have an immense amount to learn from how the commercial world handles data, software, and AI. Continuing to try and build these competencies within DoD—rather than aggressively partnering with industry to provide them—is a legacy (and weakness) of the system described above.

The Department will strengthen our defense industrial base to ensure that we produce and sustain the full range of capabilities needed to give U.S., allied, and partners forces a competitive advantage.

Hear, hear!


The Department will act urgently to better support advanced manufacturing processes (e.g., aircraft and ship building, preferred munition production) to increase our ability to reconstitute the Joint Force in a major conflict.

This is the single most dangerous, simplistic, wrong-headed, and non-strategic statement in this entire strategy. The suggestion of “reconstitution “in a “major conflict” is a pipe dream. The complexity of what will need to be reconstituted, along with the lack of reconstitute-able industrial capacity, means we will fight with what we have. The time to build and stockpile is NOW, not when the shooting starts, especially given the prominence of the next decade in how this DoD sees the threat environment. How this sentence survived into the final cut is beyond me.



Inside baseball and not useful to readers.


X.               CONCLUSION

Nothing objectionable in the document’s conclusion.


My conclusion raises objections. There is a gigantic hole in this strategy, in that it does a wonderful, clear-eyed job of defining the threat and the challenges, but then offers up a flaccid and insubstantial justification of what it intends to do about them. The “divest to invest” mantra we have heard so much about is out of phase with an NDS that appears to cite a near-term threat. Pointing to “integrated deterrence” and “campaigning” as the two of the three primary ways to achieve its ends, it offers a reduced and destabilizing vision of what DoD does when it is not shooting at people to shift resources from critical peacetime security and prosperity activities to, both legitimate war-fighting needs and less legitimate domestic policy preferences. It accelerates and deepens the path we are on—one of being better able to fight a war that we are increasingly less able to deter. We must do both.

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC. These views are his own and do not represent those of any client.

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