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January 19, 2018

Summary

Last Friday, January 19th, the US Department of Defense published a summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). The full document, which is classified, was written in conjunction with the National Security Strategy Report of last December. This is a result of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which required the Secretary of Defense to present a new national defense strategy in the year following a presidential election. The NDS showed a further divergence from the national security rhetoric of the Obama era. While Afghanistan and North Korea were discussed, the document was more focused on the perceived danger of our geopolitical rivals China and Russia. Defense Secretary Mattis introduced the document stating that “Great-power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security”.

The document asserts that “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea… It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions” and that Russia and China are a “central challenge to US prosperity and security.” China was quick to respond to the provocation, with Ren Guoqiang of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense contending that the NDS was “full of unreal assertions of ‘zero-sum’ games and confrontations”. Ren defended China’s “sovereign rights to carry out peaceful construction activities and deploy necessary defense facilities on islands and reefs of the South China Sea”, further suggesting that it “seems that certain countries do not want to see peace and stability in the South China Sea region and insist on intensifying their own military deployment and presence there…they are the backstage manipulator for militarizing the region.”

Defense Secretary Mattis also stated that the NDS is based on the “fundamental precept” that we need to increase defense spending because our survival is in question. Describing our military as “overstretched and under-resourced”, Mattis asked Congress to ensure a stable flow of funding towards the interest of national defense.

Analysis

With over 500,000 US military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region, it is understandable that China is offended by the Trump administration’s accusations of imperialism. As much as Mattis wants to portray the US as the crumbling guardian of democracy, we already take up 36% of global defense spending, more than three times what China spends. With Mattis’ explanation that “history makes clear that America has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield”, one must question whether the problem with the last 50 years of US foreign policy is really a lack of funding or merely a reckless sense of adventurism among Washington war-hawks.

Engagement Resources

  • Read an Analysis of US Presence in the South China Sea: Here is an opinion piece published in Forbes on the subject.
  • Read the Full National Security Strategy Summary: Here is the full summary
  • Read a Previous USResist brief on the National Security Strategy: Here is our brief from last December.

This brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact colin@usresistnews.org.


 

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