Does US grand strategy need a reboot? Inkstick asked Emma Ashford, Kate Kizer, and T.X. Hammes how the Biden administration should approach US grand strategy. They all agreed that the United States needs to be more of a partner to its allies, invest in updating its technologies, and rethink its reliance on military options.
Their other recommendations are as follows:
Emma Ashford, Senior Fellow, New American Engagement Initiative, Atlantic Council
- Stay the Course on Afghanistan: There’s been open discussion about whether the Biden administration will seek to extend the US presence in Afghanistan or slow the withdrawal started by the Trump administration. This shouldn’t even be a debate. There is no path to victory in the War in Afghanistan; the current stalemate situation may be sustainable, but carries no real benefits and puts US service members and contractors both at risk. The Biden administration should abide by the terms of the Doha agreement that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban in February 2020, and withdraw troops by May 2021, finally ending America’s longest war.
- Commit to Transparency: It’s often been hard to judge the Trump administration’s global military footprint, in large part because of the Department of Defense’s decision to stop sharing data on US military deployments and basing. For the last few years, we’ve had to rely on journalists and third-party estimates in order to even understand where American troops are fighting. This makes it hard to have accurate debates about what conflicts the United States should be fighting, and makes it harder for Congress to conduct oversight, which is Congress’ constitutional responsibility. The Biden administration should immediately commit to publishing regular updates on troop deployments, casualties, and other relevant information for the public.
- Bolster Burden-Sharing: While on the campaign trail, President Joe Biden promised to restore American leadership on the world stage. And while many countries will undoubtedly be happy to see America return to a more predictable, less confrontational foreign policy, it would be a mistake for the Biden administration to simply re-embrace the pre-Trump status quo. One area where some progress has been made is in allied burden-sharing. The Biden administration should continue to push for US allies, particularly in Europe, to contribute more to their own defense, both in monetary terms, and in manpower. America should reenter its relationship with allies less as a “leader,” and more as a partner, sharing the burdens of defense, and listening to other states.
Kate Kizer, Policy Director, Win Without War
- Pause US Military Operations and Resolve Conflicts During The Pandemic: President Biden should announce a unilateral ceasefire for all US military operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is in the United States’ direct interest to help foment peace — even if temporary — in support of global public health. Doing so won’t just help address human security challenges around the world, it will also help protect US troops (unnecessarily) stationed all over the world. It would also help build further international momentum behind the UN secretary general’s call for, and UN Security Council’s statement, in support of a global ceasefire.
- Defund the Pentagon + Invest in People-Centered Solutions: The Biden administration must prioritize reforming the current national security state. It should release a presidential budget request (PBR) for FY2022 that responsibly reduces the Pentagon’s budget by more than $200 billion per year (ideally for the next ten years), doubles the international affairs budget, and invests in a just green transition to support working people in the defense industry to find new, sustainable jobs in better job-creating sectors. Reducing the Pentagon’s budget is a critical first step toward freeing up the resources to make the necessary investments domestically and internationally needed to fully arrest this crisis. Increasing the international affairs budget would also allow the administration to prioritize expanding the diplomatic ranks and the programming needed to truly move the United States away from a perpetual war-footing to a conflict-prevention and peacebuilding strategy. The White House has an opportunity to lead on reorienting national spending priorities in FY2022 — the first year in a decade there are no statutory limits on funding levels. But doing so will require a fundamentally new approach.
- Prioritize Climate Justice, Not Just Mitigation: The threat posed by unmitigated climate change cannot be addressed through military tools. The Biden administration issued a bold executive action that makes clear his administration understands the existential threat we face. But that executive order should be seen as the floor, not the ceiling. From a national security perspective, the executive actions have thus far failed to address the Pentagon’s role as one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the entire world; this is not simply a matter of making the Pentagon more green or its installations more resilient. If the Pentagon wants to play a credible role on climate then it should focus on winding down military misadventures and troop deployments around the world and ending the procurement of fossil fuel-dependent weapons programs that drive these emissions. We need a reallocation of its massive budget to tools to sustainably address climate impacts, like multilateral initiatives that seek to uplift the most vulnerable in this crisis. The scale of this crisis, however, requires us to go even further. A commitment to equitably reforming the international economy to support human security rather than elite security is an essential step to increasing human resilience to this crisis. Failing to address the inequalities and exploitation in the international economy will ultimately undermine the administration’s bold climate goals.
T.X. Hammes, Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University
- Focus on the Economy: Grand strategy must be rooted in a strong economy. Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is dramatically altering the base of economic strength. The most important strategic step the Biden administration can take is to focus on moving the economy into the twenty-first century. Obviously dealing with the pandemic is critical to economic recovery but the administration must also focus on policies to support advanced manufacturing, advanced services, Artificial Intelligence (AI), synthetic biology, etc. For instance, it could start a program for advanced manufacturing similar to the Civil Reserve Air Fleet where it partially funds new advanced manufacturing facilities in return for immediate access to those facilities if mobilization is required.
- Invest in 21st Century Military Systems: Emerging technologies are also changing the character of conflict. In response, the administration needs to shift spending from its current inventory of few but exquisite 20th century legacy systems to the 21st century’s evolving smart, small, and relatively cheap weapons. The United States cannot afford its current weapons systems. Their enormous cost and operating expenses are crowding out funding for essential improvements in cyber, space, and electromagnetic domains. In particular, the F-35 program needs to be cut back significantly, B-21 canceled, and LCSs should be mothballed. As the United States shifts to simpler, cheaper systems, it can offer allies the opportunity to co-produce these systems and then train together as teams in their employment. This would be a significant step in enhancing our relationships with allies and friends globally.
- Rebuild Alliances: Allies and friends are a second major pillar of US grand strategy. The new administration is already moving to reestablish relations with allies. But the Biden administration must show that the United States is committed to alliances with a primary focus on Asia. While the United States should continue to insist allies carry their share of the defense burden, it must also increase opportunities for those allies to participate in joint and combined military exercises. We can work together to develop the most effective organizations and employment of these new systems across all domains of war.
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