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National Defense Strategy 2008

hedge against changes in the strategic environment that might invalidate the assumptions underpinning the strategy as well as address risks to the strategy.

First, there are risks associated with the indirect approach that is fundamental to the Long War. We must recognize that partner contributions to future coalition operations will vary in size, composition, competence, and capability. Some partners will have the political will and the capacity and capability to make significant contributions across the spectrum of conflict. Other partners will demonstrate more restraint in the type of operation (e.g., counter-terrorism, stabilization, traditional combat operations) in which they will participate. We must balance the clear need for partners – the Long War is ultimately not winnable without them – with mission requirements for effectiveness and efficiency. Additionally, the strategic shocks identified above could potentially change the rules of the game and require a fundamental re-appraisal of the strategy.

Second, the strategy must account for four dimensions of risk:

  • Operational risks are those associated with the current force executing the strategy successfully within acceptable human, material, financial, and strategic costs.
  • Future challenges risks are those associated with the Department’s capacity to execute future missions successfully against an array of prospective future challengers.
  • Force management risks are those associated with managing military forces fulfilling the objectives described in this National Defense Strategy. The primary concern here is recruiting, retaining, training, and equipping a force and sustaining its readiness.
  • Institutional risks are those associated with the capacity of new command, management, and business practices.

Operational Risk

To address the potential for multiple contingencies, the Department will develop a range of military options for the President, including means to de-escalate crises and reduce demand on forces where possible. Addressing operational risk requires clearly articulating the risks inherent in and the consequences of choosing among the options and proposing mitigation strategies.

U.S. predominance in traditional warfare is not unchallenged, but is sustainable for the medium term given current trends. The 2006 QDR focused on non-traditional or irregular challenges. We will continue to focus our investments on building


capabilities to address these other challenges, while examining areas where we can assume greater risk.

Future Challenges Risk

An underlying assumption in our understanding of the strategic environment is that the predominant near-term challenges to the United States will come from state and non-state actors using irregular and catastrophic capabilities. Although our advanced space and cyber-space assets give us unparalleled advantages on the traditional battlefield, they also entail vulnerabilities.

China is developing technologies to disrupt our traditional advantages. Examples include development of anti-satellite capabilities and cyber warfare. Other actors, particularly non-state actors, are developing asymmetric tactics, techniques, and procedures that seek to avoid situations where our advantages come into play.

The Department will invest in hedging against the loss or disruption of our traditional advantages, not only through developing mitigation strategies, but also by developing alternative or parallel means to the same end. This diversification parallelism is distinct from acquiring overmatch capabilities (whereby we have much more than an adversary of a similar capability). It will involve pursuing multiple routes to similar effects while ensuring that such capabilities are applicable across multiple mission areas.

Force Management Risk

The people of our Total Force are the greatest asset of the Department. Ensuring that each person has the opportunity to contribute to the maximum of their potential is critical to achieving DoD’s objectives and supporting U.S. national security. An all-volunteer force is the foundation of the most professional and proficient fighting force in the world. It also underlines the necessity to innovate in providing opportunities for advancement and growth. Our civilian and military workforce similarly possesses skills that are highly prized in the private sector, thus requiring a concerted strategy to retain these professionals.

Retaining well-trained, motivated military and civilian personnel is key. Financial incentives only go so far. Our military and civilian personnel elect to serve their country unselfishly. It is the responsibility of our senior leaders to recognize that fact and provide the means for personnel to grow, develop new knowledge, and develop new skills.


Institutional Risk

Since 2001, the Department has created new commands (integrating Space and Strategic Commands, establishing Northern and Africa Commands) and new governance structures. DoD is already a complex organization. We must guard against increasing organizational complexity leading to redundancy, gaps, or overly bureaucratic decision-making processes.


The strategy contained in this document is the result of an assessment of the current and future strategic environment. The United States, and particularly the Department of Defense, will not win the Long War or successfully address other security challenges alone. Forging a new consensus for a livable world requires constant effort and unity of purpose with our Allies and partners. The Department stands ready to fulfill its mission.


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