Strategic Agility by Stimson Center

A Defense Strategy for a New Era: Military Superiority, Agility, and Efficiency

-This report looks at three key areas of analysis for the future military: US Interests, Comparative Strengths, and Priorities in Defense Choices. Taken together, the analysis suggests an update to the current strategy to take better advantage of the unmatched flexibility, agility, and reach of US forces. The authors call this approach “Strategic Agility.”

-US Interests: Only some interests can be protected or promoted through the use of military power and even fewer are important enough to warrant the shedding of American blood. The US now faces a less threatening international environment than it has since the early 1990s. Vital interests should be defined as: protecting the US homeland from foreign enemies; protecting US allies from attack; and ensuring unimpeded access to the global commons. Most areas of global instability pose only indirect threats to the United States, and should be viewed as threats to be managed rather than resolved through protracted military involvement.

-Comparative Strengths: We have a better understanding of the strengths and weakness of US-military capabilities after a decade of war. The US has unsurpassed global flexibility, agility, and reach. Space, air, naval, and special operations forces make it possible for the US to reach virtually any spot on the globe in a timely manner. These forces have unprecedented reach, precision, and lethality, providing capabilities that seemed like distant visions not many years ago. At the same time, US capabilities to fight unconventional wars on the ground, to defeat insurgencies, to stabilize governance, and to ensure security for societies in distant regions is limited, at best.

-Priorities in Defense Choices: Instead of the static positioning that governed the disposition of US forces during the Cold War, the United States should move to an expeditionary model that facilitates continuing engagement without elaborate overseas infrastructures. This includes frequent rotations of expeditionary forces to exercise jointly with allies, familiarize themselves with potential combat theaters, and demonstrate US resolve and capabilities. This model would play to US comparative military advantages without potentially counterproductive involvement in other nations’ politics and the antagonisms that result from sensitivities of presence.

-Care should be taken to avoid developing permanent facilities in the Middle East/South Asia. Friends in the region can be reassured by joint planning and frequent rotational deployments for joint exercises to demonstrate capabilities. In the Asia Pacific, if the US maintains its commitments and military presence and devotes the resources necessary to keep its technological edge, our advantage in military power will provide time for US diplomatic strategy to pursue equitable and peaceful relations with China, building on our common economic interests.

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