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National Defense Strategy 2008

confront violent extremism. This has been accomplished through military, diplomatic, and economic means. Driving these efforts has been a set of enduring national interests and a vision of opportunity and prosperity for the future. U.S. interests include protecting the nation and our allies from attack or coercion, promoting international security to reduce conflict and foster economic growth, and securing the global commons and with them access to world markets and resources. To pursue these interests, the U.S. has developed military capabilities and alliances and coalitions, participated in and supported international security and economic institutions, used diplomacy and soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system, and using force when necessary. These tools help inform the strategic framework with which the United States plans for the future, and help us achieve our ends.

The security of the United States is tightly bound up with the security of the broader international system. As a result, our strategy seeks to build the capacity of fragile or vulnerable partners to withstand internal threats and external aggression while improving the capacity of the international system itself to withstand the challenge posed by rogue states and would-be hegemons.


To support the NSS and provide enduring security for the American people, the Department has five key objectives:

  • Defend the Homeland
  • Win the Long War
  • Promote Security
  • Deter Conflict
  • Win our Nation’s Wars

Defend the Homeland

The core responsibility of the Department of Defense is to defend the United States from attack upon its territory at home and to secure its interests abroad. The U.S. Armed Forces protect the physical integrity of the country through an active layered defense. They also deter attacks upon it, directly and indirectly, through deployments at sea, in the air, on land, and in space. However, as the spreading web of globalization presents new opportunities and challenges, the importance of planning to protect the homeland against previously unexpected threats increases. Meeting these challenges also creates a tension between the need for security and


the requirements of openness in commerce and civil liberties. On the one hand, the flow of goods, services, people, technology and information grows every year, and with it the openness of American society. On the other hand, terrorists and others wishing us harm seek to exploit that openness.

As noted in the 2006 QDR, state actors no longer have a monopoly over the catastrophic use of violence. Small groups or individuals can harness chemical, biological, or even crude radiological or nuclear devices to cause extensive damage and harm. Similarly, they can attack vulnerable points in cyberspace and disrupt commerce and daily life in the United States, causing economic damage, compromising sensitive information and materials, and interrupting critical services such as power and information networks. National security and domestic resources may be at risk, and the Department must help respond to protect lives and national assets. The Department will continue to be both bulwark and active protector in these areas. Yet, in the long run the Department of Defense is neither the best source of resources and capabilities nor the appropriate authority to shoulder these tasks. The comparative advantage, and applicable authorities, for action reside elsewhere in the U.S. Government, at other levels of government, in the private sector, and with partner nations. DoD should expect and plan to play a key supporting role in an interagency effort to combat these threats, and to help develop new capacities and capabilities, while protecting its own vulnerabilities.

While defending the homeland in depth, the Department must also maintain the capacity to support civil authorities in times of national emergency such as in the wake of catastrophic natural and man-made disasters. The Department will continue to maintain consequence management capabilities and plan for their use to support government agencies. Effective execution of such assistance, especially amid simultaneous, multi-jurisdictional disasters, requires ever-closer working relationships with other departments and agencies, and at all levels of government. To help develop and cultivate these working relationships, the Department will continue to support the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is responsible for coordinating the Federal response to disasters. DoD must also reach out to non-governmental agencies and private sector entities that play a role in disaster response and recovery.

Win the Long War

For the foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremist movements will be the central objective of the U.S. We must defeat violent extremism as a threat to our way of life as a free and open society and foster an environment inhospitable to violent extremists and all those who support them. We face an extended series of campaigns to defeat violent extremist groups,


presently led by al-Qaeda and its associates. In concert with others, we seek to reduce support for violent extremism and encourage moderate voices, offering a positive alternative to the extremists’ vision for the future. Victory requires us to apply all elements of national power in partnership with old allies and new partners. Iraq and Afghanistan remain the central fronts in the struggle, but we cannot lose sight of the implications of fighting a long-term, episodic, multi-front, and multi-dimensional conflict more complex and diverse than the Cold War confrontation with communism. Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is crucial to winning this conflict, but it alone will not bring victory. We face a clash of arms, a war of ideas, and an assistance effort that will require patience and innovation. In concert with our partners, we must maintain a long-term commitment to undermining and reducing the sources of support for extremist groups, and to countering the ideological totalitarian messages they build upon.

We face a global struggle. Like communism and fascism before it, extremist ideology has transnational pretensions, and like its secular antecedents, it draws adherents from around the world. The vision it offers is in opposition to globalization and the expansion of freedom it brings. Paradoxically, violent extremist movements use the very instruments of globalization – the unfettered flow of information and ideas, goods and services, capital, people, and technology – that they claim to reject to further their goals. Although driven by this transnational ideology, our adversaries themselves are, in fact, a collection of regional and local extremist groups. Regional and local grievances help fuel the conflict, and it thrives in ungoverned, under-governed, and mis-governed areas.

This conflict is a prolonged irregular campaign, a violent struggle for legitimacy and influence over the population. The use of force plays a role, yet military efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to promote local participation in government and economic programs to spur development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies. For these reasons, arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves.

Working with and through local actors whenever possible to confront common security challenges is the best and most sustainable approach to combat violent extremism. Often our partners are better positioned to handle a given problem because they understand the local geography, social structures, and culture better than we do or ever could. In collaboration with interagency and international partners we will assist vulnerable states and local populations as they seek to ameliorate the conditions that foster extremism and dismantle the structures that support and allow extremist groups to grow. We will adopt approaches tailored to


local conditions that will vary considerably across regions. We will help foster security and aid local authorities in building effective systems of representational government. By improving conditions, undermining the sources of support, and assisting in addressing root causes of turmoil, we will help states stabilize threatened areas. Countering the totalitarian ideological message of terrorist groups to help further undermine their potency will also require sensitive, sophisticated and integrated interagency and international efforts. The Department will support and facilitate these efforts.

The struggle against violent extremists will not end with a single battle or campaign. Rather, we will defeat them through the patient accumulation of quiet successes and the orchestration of all elements of national and international power. We will succeed by eliminating the ability of extremists to strike globally and catastrophically while also building the capacity and resolve of local governments to defeat them regionally. Victory will include discrediting extremist ideology, creating fissures between and among extremist groups and reducing them to the level of nuisance groups that can be tracked and handled by law enforcement capabilities.

Promote Security

The best way to achieve security is to prevent war when possible and to encourage peaceful change within the international system. Our strategy emphasizes building the capacities of a broad spectrum of partners as the basis for long-term security. We must also seek to strengthen the resiliency of the international system to deal with conflict when it occurs. We must be prepared to deal with sudden disruptions, to help prevent them from escalating or endangering international security, and to find ways to bring them swiftly to a conclusion.

Local and regional conflicts in particular remain a serious and immediate problem. They often spread and may exacerbate transnational problems such as trafficking in persons, drug-running, terrorism, and the illicit arms trade. Rogue states and extremist groups often seek to exploit the instability caused by regional conflict, and state collapse or the emergence of ungoverned areas may create safe havens for these groups. The prospect that instability and collapse in a strategic state could provide extremists access to weapons of mass destruction or result in control of strategic resources is a particular concern.

To preclude such calamities, we will help build the internal capacities of countries at risk. We will work with and through like-minded states to help shrink the ungoverned areas of the world and thereby deny extremists and other hostile


parties sanctuary. By helping others to police themselves and their regions, we will collectively address threats to the broader international system.

We must also address the continuing need to build and support long-term international security. As the 2006 NSS underscores, relations with the most powerful countries of the world are central to our strategy. We seek to pursue U.S. interests within cooperative relationships, not adversarial ones, and have made great progress. For example, our relationship with India has evolved from an uneasy co-existence during the Cold War to a growing partnership today. We wish to use the opportunity of an absence of fundamental conflict between great powers to shape the future, and to prevent the re-emergence of great power rivalry.

The United States welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China, and it encourages China to participate as a responsible stakeholder by taking on a greater share of burden for the stability, resilience, and growth of the international system. However, much uncertainty surrounds the future course China’s leaders will set for their country. Accordingly, the NSS states that “our strategy seeks to encourage China to make the right strategic choices for its people, while we hedge against other possibilities.” A critical component of this strategy is the establishment and pursuit of continuous strategic dialogue with China to build understanding, improve communication, and to reduce the risk of miscalculation.

China continues to modernize and develop military capabilities primarily focused on a Taiwan Strait conflict, but which could have application in other contingencies. The Department will respond to China’s expanding military power, and to the uncertainties over how it might be used, through shaping and hedging. This approach tailors investment of substantial, but not infinite, resources in ways that favor key enduring U.S. strategic advantages. At the same time, we will continue to improve and refine our capabilities to respond to China if necessary.

We will continue to press China to increase transparency in its defense budget expenditures, strategies, plans and intentions. We will work with other elements of the U.S. Government to develop a comprehensive strategy to shape China’s choices.

In addition, Russia’s retreat from democracy and its increasing economic and political intimidation of its neighbors give cause for concern. We do not expect Russia to revert to outright global military confrontation, but the risk of miscalculation or conflict arising out of economic coercion has increased.

We also share interests with Russia, and can collaborate with it in a variety of ways. We have multiple opportunities and venues to mold our security relationship and to cooperate – such as in countering WMD proliferation and extremist groups.


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