Pentagon Publishes New National Defense Strategy Aimed at ‘Integrated Deterrence’ of China, Russia
The US Department of Defense has published its first National Defense Strategy (NDS) in almost five years, combining them with two other documents typically issued separately: the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review. The public-facing documents outline Washington’s strategic focus under the Biden administration.
In the previous NDS, published in January 2018
, the Pentagon introduced a shift in Washington’s primary strategic focus based on the idea that “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.” The new document has refined that aim, identifying China as the US' primary threat, while highlighting Russia as an “acute threat” that is nonetheless incapable of challenging the US-led global order over the long term.
“The NDS bluntly describes Russia as an acute threat, and we chose the word ‘acute’ carefully,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters.
“Unlike China, Russia can’t systemically challenge the United States over the long term, but Russian aggression does pose an immediate and sharp threat to our interests and values. And [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s reckless war of choice against Ukraine, the worst threat to European security since the end of World War II, has made that very clear for the whole world,” he added.
In 2018 and 2019, the US variously described Russia as a “revitalized malign actor” in public-facing documents and a “marginal player” in internal National Security Council reports
15 January 2021, 22:44 GMT
Biden also released a separate National Security Strategy (NSS) earlier this month
, which was delayed from a spring 2022 release by the launching of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine.
China: ‘Most Consequential Strategic Competitor’
According to Austin’s introduction to the 2022 document
, the People's Republic of China (PRC) “remains our most consequential strategic competitor for the coming decades. I have reached this conclusion based on the PRC’s increasingly coercive actions to reshape the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to fit its authoritarian preferences, alongside a keen awareness of the PRC’s clearly stated intentions and the rapid modernization and expansion of its military.”
The NDS calls the People’s Liberation Army a “pacing challenge” because of its modernization priorities with the aim of offsetting US advantages, and says that Beijing “seeks to undermine US alliances and security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, and leverage its growing capabilities, including its economic influence and the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) growing strength and military footprint, to coerce its neighbors and threaten their interests.”
“In addition to expanding its conventional forces, the PLA is rapidly advancing and integrating its space, counterspace, cyber, electronic, and informational warfare capabilities to support its holistic approach to joint warfare,” it says, saying the PLA aims to undermine the ability of US forces to project power around the world. It also highlights the PLA’s expanding “global footprint” and the modernization and expansion of its nuclear capabilities.
Noting that “in these times, business as usual at the Department is not acceptable,” the document centralizes what it calls “integrated deterrence,” or the issuing of threats of an economic, political and military nature to any nation that might think of challenging US foreign policy goals.
“Our central charge is to develop, combine, and coordinate our strengths to maximum effect. This is the core of integrated deterrence, a centerpiece of the 2022 NDS. Integrated deterrence means using every tool at the [Department of Defense’s] disposal, in close collaboration with our counterparts across the US government and with allies and partners, to ensure that potential foes understand the folly of aggression,” Austin wrote.
“The Department will align policies, investments, and activities to sustain and strengthen deterrence - tailored to specific competitors and challenges and coordinated and synchronized inside and outside the Department.”
Later, the NDS outlines several examples of “tailored” deterrence methods against potential attacks by China, Russia, Iran, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The new NPR included with the NDS was also the first to be published since 2018. It prioritizes the modernization of the US’ massive nuclear arsenal while blaming Biden’s failure to live up to his pledge to reduce nuclear weapons on Russia and China.
The review notes the primary goal of US strategy is “to be able to deter conventional aggression that has the potential to escalate to nuclear employment of any scale.”
“The Nuclear Posture Review reaffirms that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the fundamental role of US nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies and our partners,” Austin told reporters.
However, the issue of a declaratory policy has changed little since the 2018 report
, which notably included the possibility of using nuclear weapons in response to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” defined as including, but not limited to “attacks on the US, allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on US or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”
In the 2022 NPR, the Pentagon refuses to back away from that possibility, justifying it by saying that explicitly defining beforehand which situations it would or would not use nuclear weapons - such as with a No First Use or a Sole Purpose policy - “would result in an unacceptable level of risk.”
“We retain the goal of moving toward a sole purpose declaration and we will work with our Allies and partners to identify concrete steps that would allow us to do so,” the document says.
The review notes that with Russia’s steady nuclear modernization and development of novel nuclear weapons delivery methods, such as hypersonic missiles and the Poseidon underwater drone, and China’s aim to expand its nuclear arsenal from 200 to nearly 1,000 warheads in the coming years, Washington will soon find itself in an unusual situation.
“By the 2030s the United States will, for the first time in its history, face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors and potential adversaries,” the document says. “This will create new stresses on stability and new challenges for deterrence, assurance, arms control, and risk reduction.”
Part of that the Pentagon hopes will be addressed in 2026, when the New START Treaty extension expires. Instead of another extension, the NPR says the US wants to negotiate “a new arms control framework” to replace it that would likely include China as well as Russia.
As part of the US’ own force modernization, the NPR says the Pentagon will retire the B83-1 gravity bomb, which is presently the most powerful thermonuclear warhead in the US arsenal, and cancel the controversial nuclear-armed Sea-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N) program.
“As you know, our inventory of nuclear weapons is significant. And so we determined, as we looked at our inventory, that, you know, we did not need that capability,” Austin told reporters when asked about the SLCM-N cancellation. “We have a lot of capability in our nuclear inventory, and I don’t think that sends any message to Putin. He understands what our capability is.”
However, the Biden administration will retain the W76-2, the low-yield nuclear warhead introduced by the Trump administration, because it “provides an important means to deter limited nuclear use.” The 2018 NPR rationalized building the weapon to answer the specific fear
that adversaries might perceive the US as unwilling to respond to a smaller conflict with a high-yield nuclear weapon.
The third document released on Thursday was the MDR, not issued since 2019.
“Since the release of the last MDR in 2019, missile-related threats have rapidly expanded in quantity, diversity, and sophistication,” the document says. “US national security interests are increasingly at risk from wide-ranging missile arsenals that include offensive ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic weapons, as well as lower-tier threats such as Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS).”
“Within the framework of integrated deterrence, missile defense and nuclear capabilities are complementary,” the document says.
“US nuclear weapons present a credible threat of a robust response and overwhelming cost imposition, while missile defenses contribute to deterrence by denial. If deterrence fails, missile defenses can potentially mitigate some effects of an attack. Missile defense contributes directly to tailored US deterrence strategies to dissuade attacks on the United States from states like North Korea and contributes to extended deterrence for US Allies and partners, and our respective forces abroad."
It notes that China “continues to close the gap” with the US, rapidly introducing new and diverse missile systems, including sophisticated cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and hypersonic missiles designed to evade US missile defense systems. At the same time, Beijing is developing newer and better air defense systems, including missiles but also radars, satellites, and other equipment. It also notes Russia’s hypersonic missile arsenal has grown, and that Moscow has developed a new multi-tiered air defense system of its own.
The document calls for a new ground-based interceptor system and an Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) with “like-minded nations” across the planet.