National Defense Strategy: Pentagon preparing for war with Russia and China but is not resourced for both

The newly released National Defense Strategy envisions refocusing the armed forces away from fighting low-intensity, lightly-armed insurgents and towards near-peer great powers with a focus on Russia and China. However, the Pentagon’s most senior military officers are not sure that Congress can or will adequately resource for both.

For one, Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that fighting Russia or China will require different resource sets, and those are “in competition with one another.”

“Any fight with China, if it were to come to blows, would be a largely maritime and air fight,” Selva said. “It doesn’t mean the Army and the Marine Corps don’t have a place. But when you think about how a potential conflict with China would evolve, it very likely involves a substantial contribution from the naval and air forces, and the Army and Marine Corps would be supporting elements in that fight.”

However, “the Russia global problem set is largely an air and ground fight. Supported by elements of our maritime component, because you can’t get to Russia, you can’t get to Europe in any large measure without transiting the North Atlantic,” he added. “Which means there’s going to be a maritime fight to get things to the continent, but the fight itself as it evolves is likely to be an air and ground fight.”

He further noted that in the National Defense Strategy Russia is considered a “global” challenge, not merely a European problem.

There are additional concerns with other potential enemies, and the Pentagon has described it as the 4 + 1 threats — Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorism. [source]

Analysis: Gen. Selva is currently in the process of building out a “global campaign plan” for both Russia and China, assessing the breadth of the U.S. military’s current capabilities. Part of that assessment will include at some point recommendations to Congress and the president as to what level of funding and resource allocation is necessary to handle all potential scenarios. That’s the trick, however — figuring out which scenario is the most likely, and then building out the force to match it. The question on Selva’s mind is whether or not there is funding for the two biggest scenarios, Russia and China. “If it’s not affordable, then we will express the risk to the [Defense] secretary, to the president and to the American people,” he said. “Then we have to go to the secretary and president and say: ‘We are assuming risk on behalf of the American people because we can’t do this set of tasks.’ We can either appropriate the funds to get those tasks done, or we can articulate the risk.”

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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