HALIFAX, Nova Scotia —
Great power competition will require changes to DOD funding priorities and allocations to maintain America’s competitive advantage, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the Halifax International Security Forum today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said great power competition among the United States, China and Russia is a reality and that the United States must change the funding and development trajectory moving forward.
In 2018, the U.S. military “can defend the homeland and we have a competitive advantage over any potential adversary,” the chairman told Yalda Hakim, a BBC News foreign correspondent who interviewed the chairman.
But that can change.
“If we don’t change the trajectory that we have been on, if we don’t have sustained predictable, adequate levels of funding, [and] if we don’t look carefully at those areas where we are challenged … than whoever is in my job in 2023 and 2024 … will probably not have the same confidence in their ability to meet alliance commitments,” Dunford said.
That future military advantage hinges on the United States being able to project power and operate across domains of warfare. This advantage, Dunford said, has eroded over the past 15 years as the U.S. military focused on dealing with violent extremism.
The military dimension of great power competition manifests itself in the efforts China and Russia have made to undermine the ability of the United States and its allies to meet commitments in Europe and the Pacific. “Our responsibility is to ensure we can assure allies, we can deter and we can respond in case deterrence fails,” he said.
Competition does not equal conflict, the chairman said, but competition certainly ups the stakes. In the past, “we didn’t have much hot breath on the back of our neck from a competition standpoint and that informed the decisions that we made and that informed how we prioritize and allocate resources,” he said.
That has changed and it is mirrored in the National Defense Strategy and the U.S. Congress has also recognized this and given DOD the funding and flexibility to change the trajectory. “Since 2017, we began to prioritize and allocate resources in a different way,” the general said. “We began to realize that we needed to look at tomorrow even as we dealt with the challenges today.”
Some of this was forced on the department as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration. “I think that was where we might have been out of balance for a few years is that we were spending most of our budget dealing with the fight that we had, and probably not being as attentive as we needed to be in terms of developing the capabilities we need tomorrow based on the trends that are taking place in emerging technologies,” he said.
The chairman said this has consequences. If deterrence fails and conflict is forced upon the United States and its allies, the United States would prevail, but there would be more casualties. “To be specific … when we talk about competitive advantage the source of strength for the U.S. military has been our ability to project power when and where necessary to advance our national interests, combined with our network of allies and partners that we have built up since World War II,” he said. “Those combined are our competitive advantage.”
Russia and China look to undermine the cohesion of U.S. allies and partners, and they have studied American military doctrine and operations. The U.S. achievements in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990, in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, highlighted U.S. capabilities to move large amounts of men, materiel and equipment anywhere in the world. Chinese and Russian military planners identified what they perceive to be vulnerabilities and have developed systems specifically designed to disrupt U.S. ability to project power.
“I think, from a U.S. military perspective, it is incumbent upon us to continue to develop those capabilities that give our allies and partners the confidence that we can meet the commitments that we have, and also ensure that Russia and China understand that we do have the capability to respond if deterrence fails,” he said. “That conventional relative capability that we have had over the past couple of decades is actually a fundamental element of peace.”
The change to great power competition is more than merely buying more of the same capabilities. It means more than just adapting new technologies. It is investing in ideas, the chairman said. “We carefully analyze 14 competitive areas – space, cyberspace, the maritime domain, electromagnetic spectrum and so forth – and we have analyzed the path of capability development that Russia and China have been on,” he said.
DOD officials have analyzed where the Chinese and Russian will be in 2025 and identified “very specifically the areas where increased investment is required by the United States and its allies and partners … and we know the areas where we will be challenged,” he said. “It’s a question of ideas and technology.”
Sustained, predictable and adequate funding will be required, the chairman said. He and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis testified before Congress last year saying the department needed sustained growth of 3 to 5 percent per year over time to restore the competitive advantage. “What I think is as important as the topline is the degree of predictability that will allow us to use resources more wisely,” he said. “The 2020 budget will strive to get the right balance over all capability areas, so at the end of the day in the aggregate we will have what we need.”