An independent bipartisan commission tasked with reviewing the Pentagon’s defense strategy released its report on Wednesday, offering criticism that “challenges President Trump’s commitment to supporting a strong military,” according to The New York Times.
Over all, the panel that was appointed last year by Congress praised the general direction of the National Defense Strategy that was issued in January by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
But it warned that projected budget shortfalls, overtaxed military forces around the globe and other risks were imperiling the plan, just as it was taking effect.
“America’s longstanding military advantages have diminished,” according to the wide-ranging, 98-page report, an advance copy of which was made available to The New York Times. “The country’s strategic margin for error has become distressingly small. Doubts about America’s ability to deter and, if necessary, defeat opponents and honor its global commitments have proliferated.”
The report complained that the Pentagon’s defense strategy “represents a constructive first step in responding to this crisis,” but it fails to “adequately explain how we should get there.”
The National Defense Strategy shifts focus from the insurgent wars of the past nearly two decades to China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.
Wednesday’s report said China and Russia were seeking regional hegemony and pursuing aggressive military buildups aimed at neutralizing American strengths. Additionally, it said, threats posed by Iran and North Korea have worsened in recent years as both have developed more advanced weapons.
Those rivals and others, the report found, are also increasingly engaged in what the military calls “gray-zone conflicts” — actions short of all-out war but that include diplomatic and economic coercion, media manipulation and cyberattacks, and the use of paramilitaries and proxy forces.
The report pointed to “political dysfunction” and reduced military spending as having tied the government’s hands regarding threats the panel deemed “a crisis of national security.”
The report’s sober warnings come as Mr. Trump has ordered the Pentagon to cut 5 percent from its proposed 2020 fiscal year budget — to about $700 billion from roughly $733 billion. Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and most likely the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has signaled that he favors even deeper cuts in military spending.
Regarding the significant threats posed by China, the panel called for increasing the number of long-range military trandsport planes, submarines, and other underwater warfare equipment; as for Russia, a continued "NATO buildup on the alliance’s eastern flank and the Baltics" was recommended.
Over the past two decades, while the Pentagon mainly focused on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, the report found that foreign adversaries were studying the American military. As a result, they developed ways to counter longstanding American advantages in projecting power over distances, air and missile defense, cyberoperations and electronic warfare.
“In some cases, we are behind, or falling behind, in critical technologies,” the report said. “U.S. competitors are making enormous investments in hypersonic delivery vehicles, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.”
“Many of the skills necessary to plan for and conduct military operations against capable adversaries — especially China and Russia — have atrophied,” the report said.
What is the origin of the commission?
The 12-member panel, formally known as the Commission on the National Defense Strategy for the United States, was created as part of the 2017 fiscal year defense budget to review the Pentagon’s new plan even before Mr. Mattis released it. The panel is led by Eric S. Edelman, a former top Pentagon policy official in President George W. Bush’s administration, and Adm. Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations.