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Why Biden’s National Security Strategy Is Destined to Fail

F-22
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor conducts a heritage flight during the 2022 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show at MCAS Miramar, San Diego, California, Sept. 24, 2022. The F-22 Raptor is the Air Force’s fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Its combination of stealth, super-cruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in war-fighting capabilities. The theme for the 2022 MCAS Miramar Air Show, “Marines Fight, Evolve and Win,” reflects the Marine Corps’ ongoing modernization efforts to prepare for future conflicts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Adam Bowles)

The Biden administration’s newly released National Security Strategy (NSS) calls for a military that can essentially do it all – from “backstopping diplomacy, confronting aggression, deterring conflict,” to fighting and winning the nation’s wars. Focusing the military on its core functions is wholly appropriate. But to do so ably requires robust policies, capable leaders, and sufficient resources in place. 

National Security Strategy: Aspirational Only?

Unfortunately, the National Security Strategy is based on a false premise. The document states that America’s military power “continue[s] to grow, often outpacing those of other large countries.”

In reality, America’s conventional and nuclear deterrents are at a nadir and in dramatic need of rebuilding. With repeated defense budgets that do not keep pace with inflation and a bureaucracy on autopilot, the state of the military is unlikely to be reversed soon.

If the Biden administration’s past budget submissions are any indication, this White House strategy may simply be aspirational. 

In an echo from the National Defense Strategy released earlier this year, the NSS labels China as the military’s “pacing challenge” and calls Russia an “acute threat.” While acknowledging that Russia threatens the international order, the National Security Strategy labels China as the only other country with the intent, and increasingly the capability, to reshape the international order. 

The security strategy calls for a military that’s able to deter both of these countries while also “disrupt[ing] the terrorist threat to the homeland.” To do so, however, the Defense Department must first reset the ratio of procurement-to-R&D spending in next year’s budget request. For FY 2023, that ratio is an astoundingly low 1.3 to 1. Making matters worse, this year’s president’s budget request for defense would have lowered the ration to 1.11 to 1.

Thankfully, Congress stepped in.

Wars Aren’t Fought in Laboratories 

During the Reagan build-up and the Cold War era, the procurement-to-R&D ratio was $2.74 to $1.00. In  the mid-2000s, during the wars in the Middle East, it was $2.07 to $1.00. History shows that when defense capabilities are needed in the moment – or even within five years’ time – the armed services need money not only to field systems, but to field enough of them to matter.

A healthy ratio of purchasing to development sits closer to 2.25 to 1, which can be achieved by moving $45 billion out of the research and development account for each of the next five fiscal years. Without ample funding to take products from the experiment and prototype phases, and to field tangible capabilities in quantities that can aid warfighters, the Pentagon wastes time and money on systems that never make it out of the laboratory. 

Reconfiguring this all-important ratio for 2024 will help reverse the trend of a shrinking, aging force. 

The same theme of words over action continues in the NSS’s section on the Defense Industrial Base. The administration hopes for a workforce that can quickly manufacture the capabilities our military needs now, and invest in the next generation of technologies. If only things were that simple. The war in Ukraine has drawn down U.S. munitions and other stocks, once-hot production lines are now dormant, and inflation plus supply-chain woes are disrupting contractors’ operations. Leaders are finding they cannot simply turn production lines back on after they have starved industry.

A Dissonant National Security Strategy 

Congress and defense officials must buy lots of needed equipment like they do ships: through multiyear procurement contracts, which provide a solid demand signal over the long-term. Such signals keep manufacturing lines moving and incentivize companies to make capital investments. The military needs this steady approach for more than just the big-ticket items, such as the Javelins, Stingers, and munitions that we have been sending in great amounts to Ukraine. Here again, Congress, particularly the Senate, is taking action by adding multiyear procurement contracts to defense bills.

Asking the U.S. military to modernize, deter and defeat enemies, maintain a robust nuclear triad, and seamlessly cooperate with allies and partners requires sustained, predictable, and robust resources above inflation each year. 

For the current fiscal year, the military simply does not have the dollars to achieve all that is asked of it. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last week there is no “dissonance between what’s in the [NSS] and what’s in the budget.” 

If only that were true. If the administration is serious about its new National Security Strategy, it will make this clear with its 2024 defense budget topline request. The Biden administration must ensure this request adequately accounts for inflation, provides a solid demand signal to our defense industrial base, and grows our defense spending by at least 3% to 5% real growth, with an emphasis on procurement over R&D.

A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. She is also a regular guest lecturer at universities, a member of the board of advisers of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. She is also a regular guest lecturer at universities, a member of the board of advisers of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. John

    October 17, 2022 at 5:16 pm

    We also seem to be locked in spending a lot of money on platforms like supercarriers which may not survive a peer conflict.
    Where is the strategery guided by data from Rand and military experts how to best spend our money.
    Do we not need tens of thousands of long range loitering munitions and longrange platforms and drone subs?
    Plus our nuclear plans are completely inadequate. Will need 5000 deployed warheads to deter 15000 Sinorussian warheads.
    Need much better missile defense. And our allies need to go nuclear as we are withering away.
    We will need trillion dollar defense budgets. Freedom is not free. Increasing taxes seems inevitable, sorry GOP

  2. Tamerlane

    October 17, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    It is not that our armed forces need to be funded “more”, though with inflation for instance, SM/ms pay was actually cut about 6.5% this year alone. Rather it is that our focus should be on protecting the United States and our core interests, instead of insisting upon engaging in wars of choice, nation building crusades, humanitarian interventions, regime change excursions, or other utopian quagmires. With our focus narrowly tailored on defending our people, our rule of law, and our country, we can go a lot further with our dollars. Interestingly, this resumption of “defense” instead of an attempt at seizing global hegemonic positioning through force, will buttress our industry (such a policy would result in allied and sympathetic countries the world over increasing their own defense budgets and through these, buying American dollars and debt to enable purchase of our weapons systems) and would contribute to the overall stability of the world. We are better off when all of our allies are as equally committed to their defense as we are.

  3. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    October 17, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    Quite literally everything Biden has done since gaining the presidency has failed miserably – this will undoubtedly be no different.

  4. Jim

    October 17, 2022 at 8:24 pm

    Why Biden’s National Security Strategy Is Destined To Fail

    Two main reasons American Diplomacy is failing.

    One, the tactics & strategy are wrong.

    1. Bullying your allies.
    2. Breaking commitments to friends, allies and enemies, alike.
    3. Threatening & saber rattling at rivals & competitors.
    4. Lie to both allies & rivals, alike.
    5. Back stab allies.

    Two, the goals are wrong; regime change all the time, i. e., regime change in Russia (come on, we all know what the policy is).

    How many times have we seen “regime change” as a policy goal… and when has it ever worked out positively… beyond the initial regime change, rather, it are left a trail of wreckage in its wake, death, destruction, and failed nation-states strewn behind it.

    Like an ogre smashing its way across a small European village… with the villagers streaming out after it with torches & pitchforks.

    (That’s why a large number of nation-states and citizens of those nation-states look askance at the U. S. and its so-called “diplomacy” and objectives.)

    Put Empire-like tactic & strategy together with Empire-like strategic goals… what do you have… an Empire that is out of control & failing.

    If all you have is a hammer, every issue looks like a nail.

    The hammer of empire has failed.

    Time to move on to a more normal & classical diplomacy.

    Not the strategy & goals of a drunk lout at the bar of power, full of arrogance, that turns off his friends and acquaintances, even passers by on the street know it’s a bad scene.

    It’s not attractive (Johnny doesn’t work and play well with others…)

  5. 403Forbidden

    October 17, 2022 at 8:25 pm

    Biden’s national security strategy will succeed, the US has already reached or arrived at a point where the power of the greenback virtually guarantees certainty of achieving absolute success.

    But biden’s success is also deep state’s success and it may have a consequence or two in tow.

    US will become an armed nation with two opposing camps and mass shootings will become a norm of daily life.

    Already under Biden, US is experiencing the worst ever period of internal war, where regularly, police shoot people and people shoot other people with great gusto.

    Abroad, nations begin to sense or realize that politicians in Washington always have wars and confrontations in mind, especially politicians from democrat party or fascismo party, thus they will want to become armed to the teeth.

    Result is rampant inflation, permanent waves of people seeking migration, huge scramble for resources and arms race. Forget about fighting climate change which would become permanent mere hot air billowings.Thanks to Biden and his great success.

  6. Michael Nunez

    October 17, 2022 at 11:57 pm

    It’s very clear to anyone that Biden has literally gave away America’s Energy independence . Opened up the Southern Border to the Drug Cartels , and is giving away American Tax Dollars without legal Congressional approval in the Billions , yet Homelessness in America is at Catastrophic levels . Where in this mess is does America’s security actually protects America …. ?

  7. Joe Comment

    October 18, 2022 at 1:28 am

    Jim: Your argument would be stronger if you included examples. Which bullying, broken commitment, threat, lie, or backstab are you talking about? Without that, it’s hard even to give a meaningful retort.

    But let’s look at the alternatives, with one example for each major anti-US force. Does Russia not bully Belarus, pressuring it to support the unpopular war in Ukraine? Does China not break its commitments in the Joint Declaration, liquidating Hong Kong’s free press, independent courts, and competitive political scene long before the end of the 50-year no change period? Does North Korea not threaten and brandish its missiles at South Korea, Japan and the US? Does Iran not lie about the intentions of its nuclear program? Does Cuba not backstab, playing both sides of the Colombian conflict?

  8. Anybody

    October 18, 2022 at 8:09 am

    Poor Americans. Either Emperor Trump or the woke Left. Either run, not walk, away from Lady Clinton. Or run, not walk, away from Emperor Trump. What needs reform is the two party political system?

    But then, reading from totally bi-polar comments here there and everywhere, that’s what the Americans want?

  9. Jim

    October 18, 2022 at 11:04 am

    Joe, I agree, examples are valuable. Brevity was what I was attempting… (that doesn’t always work out).

    Bullying, it’s clear that most of the Europeans weren’t looking for a war on their continent (Macron didn’t want it, Germany certainly didn’t want it). But once they went along, Stockholm syndrome took over.

    America broke it’s commitment not to expand NATO up to the Russian border.

    Saber rattling? Come on… lying, see above.

    What is happening in Europe, the Nordstream bombing.

    A full catalogue would make the comment too long.

    It’s clear… all the above have been done by other countries… but we claim to be better.

    I also know we can do better than the standard run… of what has been done by other countries, down through history.

    But it would also put us in better stead around the world… Our diplomacy would have more success.

    We claim we are a beacon… diplomatically we are not.

  10. Joe Comment

    October 18, 2022 at 11:56 am

    Jim: Then it seems your main point is to repeat Putin’s anti-US propaganda.

    Who started the war in Ukraine? Which European country do you claim is sharing US views on the matter only due to bullying from the US? In which treaty did the US commit not to expand NATO? Warning Russia not to conquer Ukraine is saber rattling, or what is? Your example of lying is again the NATO expansion based on facts not in evidence? Are you laying the Nord Stream incident on the US and if so, based on what?

    I can easily make a concise list of cases where the US diplomacy has gone wrong and led to failure, but I wouldn’t take my list from the pages of a Russian propaganda handbook.

  11. GhostTomahawk

    October 18, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    We can dump all the money into defense we want but as long as the troops within our ranks are lead by inept social justice bureaucrats it’s all just semantics. We need the military to get back to its roots and that calls for a top down purge. We also need to make the standards higher and make war fighters better. The incentive being enlisted needs to be better. The pay needs to be much higher. We need to make our soldiers WANT to stay. Not freeze their promotions or stagnate their careers because they’re deployed while non deployed soldiers are going to college and advancing.

    THEN when we stabilize the status of forces emphasize the rest. All the cool tips in the world matter for naught of they’re used by bad troops who are lead by bad leaders.

  12. Jim

    October 18, 2022 at 12:22 pm

    For some reason the U. S. has viewed diplomacy as a zero-sum game…

    It’s not… there is a win-win option.

    We’ve proved it, here, in this country, when we’re at our best.

    The world with it’s bounty of resources can be that way, too.

    We just need to have the imagination to see it.

    If we have that kind of leadership, our vision can lead the 21st Century into a more peaceful & prosperous world.

    As the world leader, America should have a peace policy.

    Let our diplomacy be more than the devolution into Old World Politics… our founders knew we had a chance to avoid the Old World internecine warfare & politics.

    Why?

    Because America and its ideals were of the New World.

    Let’s keep it that way…. or if we’ve faltered, as I argue, above … then lets make a course correction.

    … Realism… as a diplomatic framework, is the best starting point.

  13. Joe Comment

    October 18, 2022 at 8:24 pm

    Jim: Some situations have win-win potential, others do not. Putin has published a lot of writing denying Ukraine’s right to exist separate from Russia, based on their shared history. Achievement of his goals can only come at the expense of Ukraine’s goals, in other words it is a zero-sum game.

    Realism is important, but it’s also important to avoid extending it to the point of the might-makes-right principle.

  14. Brent

    October 19, 2022 at 12:09 am

    I’m interested in learning where Ms Eaglen served and it which branch, just to see where her expertise lies.

  15. Jim

    October 19, 2022 at 10:00 am

    Joe, you set up a zero-sum game.

    But we know serious negotiations were going on in Istanbul, Turkey in early April, which could have ended military hostilities.

    The Russians were serious, quite possibly the Ukrainians were serious, too, but Boris Johnson went to Kiev (with the blessings of Washington) and scotched the peace deal between the parties.

    We know the Russians made a basic set of demands before the war even started: no offensive missiles in Ukraine, no NATO membership and recognize Crimea, as part of
    Russia.

    The Secretary of State, Blinken, as the chief diplomatic wouldn’t even seriously consider the proposals or sit down with the Russians to negotiate in good faith.

    As a realist, I recognize there are cases where it’s a graze zone or potentially a zero-sum game, but too many times, U. S. diplomacy sees the situation as zero-sum.

    Or actively shapes the situation into a zero-sum game.

    Joe, what letter grade do you give American Foreign Policy in the last 20 years?

    Everything hunky dory…

  16. Joe Comment

    October 19, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    Jim: It was clearly a non-starter for Russia to expect official recognition of any territorial changes from Ukraine. Examples abound of badly defeated countries holding territorial claims decades after the conflict. And any exclusion of Ukraine from NATO would need to be balanced with some alternative way of establishing Ukraine’s security, and definitely could not be combined with territorial loss and continued Russian support of Donbas separatists.

    Arms control was a serious possibility but it would have had to be mutual, not in exchange for a mere promise of no further invasion. Negative incentives are the opposite of win-win.

    So no, I don’t believe Russia has been ready to accept any politically feasible diplomatic solution at any moment until now.

    To answer your other question, I would give American diplomacy a C minus over the 2002-2022 period.

    My top list of the major failures with the worst consequences: The breakdown of the Agreed Framework with North Korea and the latter’s nuclear breakout, the failure to get an internationally accepted solution in Kosovo and ensuing string of copycat Russian-backed separatist wars, the extremely poor execution in all aspects around Afghanistan and resulting instability, a series of terrible decisions around Iraq seriously destabilizing the region while also destroying the US reputation, the unnecessary friction with our own allies in recent years, and yes, poor handling of US relations with other top powers (Russia, China).

  17. Jim

    October 19, 2022 at 1:52 pm

    Joe, I appreciate your letter grade C-, and your rundown of why C-. Thanks.

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