The Decision to Employ Military Forces
The decision whether to use force is dictated first and foremost by our national interests. In those specific areas where our vital interests are at stake, our use of force will be decisive and, if necessary, unilateral.
In situations posing a threat to important national interests, military forces should only be used if they are likely to accomplish their objectives, the costs and risks of their employment are commensurate with the interests at stake, and other non-military means are incapable of achieving our objectives. Such uses of military forces should be selective and limited, reflecting the importance of the interests at stake. We act in concert with the international community whenever possible, but do not hesitate to act unilaterally when necessary.
The decision to employ military forces to support our humanitarian and other interests focuses on the unique capabilities and resources the military can bring to bear, rather than on its combat power. Generally, the military is not the best tool for humanitarian concerns, but under certain conditions use of our Armed Forces may be appropriate. Those conditions exist when the scale of a humanitarian catastrophe dwarfs the ability of civilian relief agencies to respond, when the need for relief is urgent and only the military has the ability to provide an immediate response, when the military is needed to establish the preconditions necessary for effective application of other instruments of national power, when a humanitarian crisis could affect U.S. combat operations, or when a response otherwise requires unique military resources. Such efforts by the United States, preferably in conjunction with other members of the international community, will be limited in duration, have a clearly defined mission and end state, entail minimal risk to U.S. lives, and be designed to give the affected country the opportunity to restore its own basic services.
In all cases, the costs and risks of U.S. military involvement must be commensurate with the interests at stake. We will be more inclined to act where there is reason to believe that our action will bring lasting improvement. Our involvement will be more circumscribed when regional states or organizations are better positioned to act than we are. Even in these cases, however, the United States will be actively engaged with appropriate diplomatic, economic, and military tools.
In every case, we will consider several critical questions before committing military force: have we explored or exhausted non-military means that offer a reasonable chance of achieving our goals? Is there a clearly defined, achievable mission? What is the threat environment and what risks will our forces face? What level of effort will be needed to achieve our goals? What is the potential cost — human and financial — of the operation? What is the opportunity cost in terms of maintaining our capability to respond to higher-
priority contingencies? Do we have milestones and a desired end state to guide a decision on terminating the mission? Is there an interagency or multinational political-military plan to ensure that hard-won achievements are sustained and continued in the mission area after the withdrawal of U.S. forces?
Having decided that use of military forces is appropriate, the decision on how they will be employed is based on two guidelines. First, our forces will have a clear mission and the means to achieve their objectives decisively. Second, as much as possible, we will seek the support and participation of our allies, friends, and relevant international institutions. When our vital interests are at stake, we are prepared to act alone. But in most situations, working with other nations increases the effectiveness of each nation’s actions and lessens everyone’s burden.
Sustaining our engagement abroad over the long term will require the support of the American people and the Congress to bear the costs of defending U.S. interests — including the risk of losing U.S. lives. Some decisions to engage abroad with our military forces could well face popular opposition, but must ultimately be judged by whether they advance the interests of our nation in the long run. When we judge it to be in our interest to intervene, we must remain clear in our purposes and resolute in our actions. We must also ensure that protection of that force is a critical priority and that our protection efforts visibly dissuade potential adversaries.
Preparing for an Uncertain Future
We must prepare for an uncertain future, even as we address today’s security problems. We need to look closely at our national security apparatus to ensure its effectiveness by adapting its institutions to meet new challenges. This means we must transform our capabilities and organizations — diplomatic, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and economic — to act swiftly and to anticipate new opportunities and threats in today’s continually evolving, highly complex international security environment. We must also have a strong, competitive, technologically superior, innovative, and responsive industrial and research and development base and a national transportation system with the resources and capacity to support disaster response and recovery efforts if national mobilization is required.
Strategically, our transformation within the military requires integrating activities in six areas: service concept development and experimentation; joint concept development and experimentation; robust processes to implement changes in the Services and joint community; focused science and technology efforts; international transformation activities; and new approaches to personnel development that foster a culture of bold innovation and dynamic leadership.
The military’s transformation requires striking a balance among three critical funding priorities: maintaining the ability of our forces to shape and respond today; modernizing to protect the long-term readiness of the force; and exploiting the revolution in military affairs to ensure we maintain our unparalleled capabilities to shape and respond effectively in the future. Transformation also means taking prudent steps to position us to effectively counter unlikely but significant future threats — particularly asymmetric threats.
Investment in research and development is an essential element of our transformation effort. It permits us to do what we do best: innovate, not copy. Revolutionary, not evolutionary, leaps will happen in an economy where new ideas can be pursued and quickly translated from vision to reality. It is a competitive advantage that leverages our technological breakthroughs into sustained military superiority. This requires support not only for bringing promising technologies out of the labs for insertion in weapons platforms, but also for fundamental research that will produce the as-yet-unknown technologies that will give the United States the revolutionary advantages we will need in the future. Ultimately, our development efforts must be practical and founded in war-fighting objectives tested through aggressive experimentation.
At the same time we push technological frontiers and transform our military, we also must address future interoperability with multinational partners. Since they will have varying levels of technology, a tailored approach to interoperability that accommodates a wide range of needs and capabilities is necessary. We must encourage our more technically advanced friends and allies to build the capabilities that are particularly important for interoperability, including the command, control, and communication capabilities that form the backbone of combined operations. We must help them bridge technological gaps, supporting international defense cooperation and multinational ventures where they enhance our mutual support and interoperability.