By Thom Shanker
The New York Times
WASHINGTON – As the military approaches the 10th anniversary of combat since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — the longest era of non-stop warfare in the nation’s history — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believes the United States has reached “a strategic inflection point.”
What that means, according to the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, is that the military now must revise how it goes about defending America and its interests. Admiral Mullen will make that official on Tuesday with the release of a new national military strategy.
The 21-page document is the first top-to-bottom rewrite of national military strategy in seven years – reflecting an official assessment that the Pentagon must officially adjust its focus beyond Afghanistan and Iraq to prepare for a broad range of future risks.
Troops may be out of Iraq by the end of this year. The “surge” to Afghanistan has peaked, with a transition of security duties to Afghans set for 2014.
But the American military will not be given any pause, the strategy says. So it will have to recover from 10 years of war and rebuild itself – but in stride, and in an era of tight budgets – as it seeks to defend against another terrorist strike and readies for potential threats in Asia and elsewhere in the Middle East, according to the strategy document.
The risks of new instability caused by demographic trends and natural resource shortages are looming, as well, in a world that the strategy describes as “multi-nodal” – a term used to define an era of shifting alliances and emerging powers instead of rigid opposing blocs that defined the cold war.
Competition in outer space and cyberspace will accelerate, according to the document.
In response, the new military strategy sets four national military objectives: countering violent extremism, deterring and defeating aggression, strengthening international and regional security arrangements, and preparing the future military.
Although the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must, by law, review the national military strategy every two years, the document has not been revised since 2004. The new document makes clear that so much has changed that a new strategy was required.
Although strategy documents exist in an intellectual world far from the chaos of the battlefield, they nonetheless serve an important purpose within the Defense Department by defining goals, focusing the attention of the military bureaucracy and defining how financial resources should be spent.
While not ignoring threats in regions that currently are the focus of the military, “the nation’s strategic priorities and interests will increasingly emanate from the Asia-Pacific region,” the new strategy document states.
Tight budgets preclude any dramatic increase in American forces for deployment in Asia and across the Pacific, so the military will have to develop new ways to make its current force do more – perhaps by increasing its partnerships in the region, by conducting more training exercises with countries there or by rotating forces through nations where today there is no American military presence.
“While the strength of our military will continue to underpin national security, we must continuously adapt our approaches to how we exercise power,” the strategy document states.
The strategy calls for the American military to “serve in an enabling capacity to help other nations achieve security goals that can advance common interests.” And it says for the first time that the military also must act as “a convener.”
In defining that new term, the strategy states, “Our relationships, values and military capabilities provide us, often uniquely, with the ability to bring others together to help deepen security ties between them and cooperatively address common security challenges.”
And while the United States military is prepared to guarantee security with partners and allies, it also must be ready to do it “alone if necessary – to deter and defeat acts of aggression.”
The strategy acknowledges that the American military has focused on counterinsurgency and low-intensity conflict over the past decade, allowing an important range of skills for high-end combat to atrophy.
Therefore, it calls for the armed services to “provide the full range of capabilities necessary to fulfill this strategy.”
Even with downward pressures on the Pentagon budget, the strategy stresses the importance of taking care of those in uniform and their families. It calls “to safeguard service members’ pay and benefits, provide family support and care for our wounded warriors.”
And it reminds the military to remain “an apolitical institution.”
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