DOD Strategic Planning-the 'New Normal'

By Captain Daniel Steward, U.S. Navy (Retired)

How the World is Changing

To understand the gravity of the national situation, consider the operational environment already shaping and influencing global events and all aspects of U.S. government policy. Synthesized from several DOD analyses, the following categories characterize an environment and geopolitical cause-and-effect that are evolving rapidly and in unprecedented ways. 2

Population : Global population growth over next 30 years is projected at 60 million per annum. While undeveloped and underdeveloped nations and territories display rapid and significant growth, key developed nations are experiencing population declines and age inversions. These growing demographic imbalances, combined with economic growth failing to keep pace with population expansion, serve as catalysts for regional/global migration and incitement of the disenfranchised. Meanwhile, urbanization continues apace on a massive scale, the majority of it occurring along the world's littorals. To top it all off, non-state ethnic and religious loyalties increasingly eclipse nationalism and create additional demographic friction points.

Globalization : The "shrinking of the world" also seems symptomatic of nationalism eclipsed; the global village is transforming economic, informational, societal, and environmental forces. International alliances, borders, and sentiments are being tested and altered as political, geographic, economic, and cultural fortunes become increasingly intertwined.

Race for Resources : Concomitant with all these growing pains, the world is undergoing a steep rise in the demand for, consumption of, and competition for energy resources—a seismic shift for which existing energy sources, associated industries, and governments are woefully unprepared. Lagging investment in energy, rising energy costs, greater competition for energy resources, and consequences of energy-supply disruption all have cataclysmic economic potential, and are therefore exacerbating national and regional security concerns.

Food for the World : While global food supplies are projected to be adequate well into the future, manipulation of food production/distribution, water distribution, and offshore fishing/mining for political advantage continue as common practice. Whether natural or human-induced, water pollution and water-associated pandemics pose real destabilizing threats.

Jockeying for Dominance : International competition across the global commons—oceans, air, space, and cyberspace—is growing; efforts to achieve dominance threaten regional and global security.

A Changing Climate ? The impact of global climate change has many potent variables—rising sea levels, altered/devastated fishing grounds, new polar routes, resource exploration/development, population displacement. The United States' ability and willingness to provide humanitarian relief in the face of climatological disruptions will be viewed as a key factor in influencing national, regional, and global opinion.

The Techno-explosion : The exponential advancement of technology—particularly global communications—is creating virtually unlimited opportunity to increase global awareness and improve standards of living. The playing field is leveled as a greater percentage of the world population gains access to and engages in technology development. Conversely, the process expands the dichotomy between technology "haves" and "have nots."

Reconciling Paradigms

Confronting this ever more complex global environment, senior U.S. government leadership is challenged to develop viable strategies. While not elected the interagency "team captain," by dint of its capabilities and leadership, DOD frequently becomes the de facto lead - and finds itself squarely on the horns of a dilemma.

The old paradigm ? DOD's principal mandate is to fight and win the nation's wars. The emerging paradigm ? DOD is a key component in an interagency/international coalition more focused on deterring and preventing war than fighting it. While prevention, preemption, and deterrence of war are critically important, can these be allowed to supersede the Defense Department's principal mandate ? Reconciliation of these paradigms has major implications for our national-security policy.

History is rife with examples of why the United States must not abdicate its conventional military high ground or balk at leveraging its capability to reinforce and influence regional and global security. As the distinguished strategist Dr. Colin Gray notes: "A multipolar world is a world without a sheriff . . . . The U.S. hegemon needs to be able to control the geographies of the global commons. Americans will have to be free to use the sea, the air, space, and cyberspace at will, all the while being able to deny such operational liberty to some other states and political entities." 3 What Alfred Thayer Mahan postulated in 1890 in his seminal work, The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660-1783 , in a specifically naval context is no less valid today in a broader sense, and must be extrapolated to encompass all the global commons. Dominance in all four realms is now critical to winning wars; it is equally important in preventing/preempting war. For the Navy, there is no greater strategic mission than preserving freedom on, across, and through the commons - a reality that must govern strategic planning, messaging, and resourcing for DOD in particular and the federal government in general. That being said . . .

Balancing Job #1 and the ' New Normal'

Too few fully comprehend the tectonic shift that occurred with near spontaneity on 9/11, or the extent of the nation's economic Pearl Harbor. A "new normal" confronts the United States; it is a reality we must face head-on.

In terms of defense, the world is now one of friction between the current and conventional and the emerging and asymmetrical—a friction that parallels the dueling paradigms now vying for DOD's attention. In addressing this balancing act, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates writes, "we must not be so preoccupied with preparing for future conventional and strategic conflicts that we neglect to provide all the capabilities necessary to fight and win conflicts such as those the United States is in today." Seeking an elusive balance in the face of conventional and asymmetric threats, Secretary Gates directed the services to become as competent in irregular warfare (IW) as they are in traditional war—no small task given the economic environment, ongoing combat engagements, and service parochialism. 4

Let's be realistic. Historically, the services do not volunteer to shed big-ticket programs, largely for fear they will end up committing budgetary seppuku. Better to join the chorus espousing fiscal responsibility—and subsequently request a bigger budget based on complex assessments—than volunteer to bite a budget bullet. There is not enough money to pay for all the services' requests. Never has been, never will be; everyone knows it. Slapping an IW bumper sticker on a legacy program and marketing it as the latest defense against emerging threats is a disingenuous and unsound strategy. It is also a not-uncommon service dodge. Change is tough.

Being realistic also requires acknowledging the fact that Congress serves constituent interests as well as addressing national security. Not surprisingly, in the absence of a sense of crisis, national security issues take a congressional backseat.

And finally, don't forget the elephant in the room against which President Dwight D. Eisenhower cautioned in 1961:

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them . . . there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill . . . a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research . . . may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry . . . we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. . . . 5

For all its guidance and directives, DOD continues to be dragged down by—and often party to—a system that mortgages national security advantages built over many decades in favor of unhealthy compromise. In doing so, U.S. economic security—hence national security—is put at risk.

Secretary Gates understands well how the game is played. Requirements compete; uncertainty is constant; political maneuvering never ceases. He also recognizes IW and conventional warfare are not separate, one-or-the-other options. Lessons learned over the past eight years on and off the battlefield drive this lesson home. To earn their keep, DOD planners must eschew one-dimensional thinking, heed the secretary's message, and develop sustainable, integrated IW/conventional strategies. The services cannot tackle this issue alone; courage and leadership are also required from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and Congress. In stepping out, individuals and organizations risk being pilloried by those with vested interests in the status quo. Media reports abound of members of Congress, industry leaders, and lobbyists mongering fear and castigating the Secretary of Defense for undermining national security or abetting "the enemy" as he strives to set DOD on a balanced path.

The ' New Normal' and Meaningful DOD Action

DOD—indeed the greater national security establishment—stands at a crossroads. Yet it is not too late to rethink how we can achieve our strategic objectives without risking economic foreclosure—and challenge Congress to do the same. Under the weight of a far-from-over global recession, U.S. military resourcing will trend downward—a message clearly conveyed by history and the current administration's rhetoric. Embracing this reality and the "new normal" of national security, DOD must exercise bold new thought. Here are a few suggestions to stoke the fires:

  • Revamp U.S. government strategic planning procedures. Internecine service warfare to achieve budget preeminence must be relegated to the past. Fiscal reality and operational necessity demand a whole-of-government (W-o-G) approach, but self-imposed interservice/interagency harmony is a bridge too far; cooperation will not be the result of a kumbaya. Disabuse yourself of the notion of rival services and governmental agencies achieving reconciliation through compromise. What is required is a single overarching national-security authority: a disciplined and appropriately empowered National Security Council (NSC) charged with leading the effort and producing a viable W-o-G deliverable. Massive government reorganization is neither required nor desired. What's needed is a reinvigorated and empowered NSC with ultimate responsibility and commensurate authority to bring together senior players from across the government, authorized to speak for and act on the behalf of their respective departments, force cooperation, punish non-participation/non-compliance, and deliver—and maintain—a unified, executable national security plan of action.

     Neither novel nor impractical, just such a solution is what the Project on National Security Reform proposes. Sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency, the Project on National Security Reform was created in 2006 to make recommendations for the improvement of the interagency national security system. Following two years of comprehensive study of and interface with the current national security process, the project group issued its report. The guiding coalition for the study "unanimously affirm(ed) that the national security of the United States of America is fundamentally at risk." 6 A focused, centralized national security authority is the entity needed.


  • Develop a viable, mutually supporting conventional/IW force balance and appropriate marketing strategy to sell it. Reinforce the enduring necessity of protecting the strategic commons as 21st-century piracy, cyber warfare, and regional hegemony proliferate. For starters, revamp expeditionary strike group (ESG) configuration, training, and deployment to optimize ESG readiness and responsiveness to support both IW and conventional crises. Align and integrate ESG, Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, and Naval Special Warfare IW concept development and training to institute an enduring IW-in-the-littorals strategy. Ensure that future ship and aircraft designs factor in IW/special-operations support requirements. Present Congress a united DOD front and model of IW/conventional interoperability that disrupts congressional two-stepping (i.e., feigning change but foisting real change on a future generation).


  • Rethink DOD's boutique approach to research and development (R&D). Too many organizations exist across DOD for development of advanced technologies to be cost-effective or optimally responsive to operational requirements. Largely at fault is an acquisition system overly burdened by bureaucracy and constrained by military-industrial-complex pressures. Think interagency; think 21st-century networking and speed-of-technology. Follow the lead of U.S. Special Operations Command's rapid-exploitation initiative, which comprises a distributed network of operational, technical, and acquisition subject matter experts tasked to identify timely solutions to solve operational problems.

         Consider reorienting NASA from a dubious "back-to-the-future lunar program" to overseeing technology incubation for the government. For decades the space program played a huge but largely unsung role in R&D, yielding incredible governmental and commercial spin-offs. There is a definite role for a "new NASA" - revitalizing the U.S. technological edge, achieving efficiencies by integrating full-spectrum R&D, and encouraging industrial partnering without industrial monopolization. Visualize the second- and third-order effects to include reducing national laboratory redundancy, lagging U.S. investment in R&D, and revitalization of higher education.


  • Retool the DOD acquisition processes. Bloated, bureaucratic, inequitable, and outdated by the pace of technological development, current acquisition processes are relegated to the dusty-relic status of the rotary telephone. DOD is to the current acquisition process what energy-hungry nations are to OPEC: a hostage. The longer we wait to address the problem, the more costly the solution. The toll of inaction is already clearly visible. Proposals such as the one advanced by the Defense Science Board - create a new Office of the Secretary of Defense organization with a $3-billion annual budget for rapid acquisitions - have merit, but at what cost ? Apply a more-is-less mantra and consider U.S. Special Operations Command's "Buy-Try-Decide" model. This capabilities-based acquisition cycle allows the command to (1) purchase, evaluate, and modify technology and systems without being unduly constrained by acquisition processes, and (2) upgrade systems at or near the pace of technology.

Recover, Regroup, Move Forward

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal provides a nose-under-the-tent perspective of the diplomatic, political, and economic realities, give-and-take, and potential consequences of the "new normal." "The Obama administration's scrapping of long-range missile interceptors in Europe wasn't just about security and diplomacy, according to people close to the process: It also came down to money." 7 From a defense perspective, even if the nation recovers from this economic Pearl Harbor, the margins remain too thin for business-as-usual. We must determine to adequately defend the nation under increasingly austere budgets, making the necessary planning and budgeting adjustments quickly enough to avoid compromising tactical, operational, and strategic supremacy.

Failure to recognize the historic nature of the economic crisis of 2008 - 10 and commit to instituting necessary change is tantamount to cowardice in the face of the enemy. As we work through the current national security crisis, we would be wise to take to heart words of another Commander-in-Chief who witnessed several seismic events in his lifetime, Harry Truman: "Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." 8


1. New York Daily News , 24 September 2008, .

2. Not intended to predict the future, these studies analyze factors which influence the future environment. Among analyses studied: Joint Operational Environment 2008 (Joint Forces Command, 2008), U.S. Marine Corps Vision & Strategy 2025 (USMC, 2008), and Strategic Appreciation , draft (USSOCOM, 2008).

3. Colin S. Gray, After Iraq: The Search for a Sustainable National Security Policy (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2009), p. 51.

4. Robert M. Gates, "A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age," Foreign Affairs , Vol. 88, No. 1 (January-February 2009), p. 29. For the Secretary's IW orders, see "Department of Defense Directive 3000.07 - Subject: Irregular Warfare," 1 December 2008.

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address to the Nation, 17 January 1961, .

6. Project for National Security Reform, Forging a New Shield , November 2008, .

7. "Cost Concerns Propelled U.S. Missile Pivot: Obama Decision Is Aimed at Saving Pentagon Funds While Helping Nonproliferation Push; Shift Was Years in the Making," Wall Street Journal , 21 September 2009.

8. Harry S. Truman quotation #3607, quote/3607.html.

Captain Steward, a retired SEAL, served in a number of joint and interagency assignments.




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