Shanahan Stresses National Defense Strategy in First Meetings as Acting Secretary

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan will use the National Defense Strategy as his blueprint moving forward, Pentagon officials said.

Shanahan took over for James N. Mattis on Jan. 1.

The acting secretary had served as the deputy defense secretary since July 2017. Before that, he was a senior executive at the Boeing Co. As deputy secretary, Shanahan was intimately involved with the development of the National Defense Strategy and the administration’s South Asia strategy.

Shanahan stressed the National Defense Strategy’s importance during his first meeting with department officials. The department’s transition from a counterinsurgency strategy to one based on near-peer competition will continue, he said. Shanahan told defense officials to emphasize “China, China, China.”

Russia and China are near-peer competitors to the United States not only militarily, but politically, diplomatically and economically. The Chinese, particularly, see themselves as taking America’s place and instituting their own rules-based architecture that would only benefit China.

Rebuilding U.S. Capabilities

The National Defense Strategy announced last year is aimed at rebuilding U.S. military capabilities that were decimated by years of sequestration spending cuts, constant deployments and equipment overuse. It also is designed to foster the capabilities needed to maintain American pre-eminence into the future.

Shanahan has said many times that he is laser-focused on operationalizing the defense strategy. Doing that, he has noted, requires the resources in place. He has called the fiscal year 2020 defense budget “the most significant” for the department. “It is about the resources you put in place and the taskings and activities that those resources direct,” he said during a presentation to the Military Reporters and Editors organization in October.

With that in mind, Shanahan said, the department’s chief financial officer, David Norquist, will perform the duties of deputy defense secretary. The 2020 budget request is being finalized and will be presented to Congress at the beginning of February.

“As department of defense chief financial officer and comptroller for the past 19 months, David Norquist has had insight into virtually every tenet of this department,” Shanahan said in a statement announcing the decision. “I have the greatest confidence in his abilities to lead a phenomenally talented team while performing the duties as deputy secretary of defense.”

The three lines of effort in the National Defense Strategy will remain unchanged, Shanahan said: improving lethality, maintaining and building strong alliances, and reforming DOD business practices.

The acting secretary has been involved in the three lines. He worked on the Nuclear Posture Review. He is the point man for the department’s Space Working Group, and the legislative proposal to establish a separate Space Force will be unveiled with the 2020 defense budget submission.

“The strategy in its most distilled form is about doing more,” Shanahan said last year just after the strategy was unveiled. “It’s about being more lethal, it’s about having more relationships, and it’s about being more affordable. When I’m sitting in the room with the staffs … thinking about strategy, I’m really thinking about the person most downrange. It’s all about how do we make them more lethal? How do we make their efforts easier? How do we make them smarter, faster, stronger, better?”