After last year’s fears that President Donald Trump would undermine NATO unity, we now have a clearer understanding of the administration’s ambition for transatlantic security. An unclassified version of the new U.S National Defense Strategy was released on Jan. 19, and it was generally well-received. Critics have lauded the strategy for clearly hierarchizing among competing priorities while others focused on funding issues, but all recognized the important shift towards prioritizing strategic competition with Russia and China (although the specifics of this competition with Moscow and Beijing are unclear), which consequently degraded the relative importance of fighting terrorism.
Much ink has been spilled in the last 12 months over whether President Donald Trump can have a grand strategy and, if so, what form it takes — or should take. Before Trump had even assumed office, Micah Zenko and Rebecca Lissner accused the president of “strategic incoherence” and a transactional approach to international relations focusing on bilateral deals. Hal Brands differed from this view by characterizing Trump’s grand strategy as “resurgent nationalism,” while other scholars argued that the president is following a Jacksonian tradition of American foreign policy based on “national honor” and “reputation.” More boldly, Richard Burt, a Cold Warrior who served at the highest levels of the U.S. national security establishment, harkened back to Nixon and Kissinger in prescribing “a grand strategy of great-power balancing” or else “all bets are off.”
The 2017 National Security Strategy is a statement of Trump administration priorities, and its central tenets can be directly traced to statements made by Donald Trump on the campaign trail, albeit now framed in more genteel terms. National security experts are busily analyzing the strategy to discern its insights, pivots, oversights, inconsistencies, and priorities. This essay, however, concerns itself solely with the strategy’s implications for American seapower.
The recent story of Australian defense policy is straightforward. Faced with an increasingly adverse strategic outlook, Australia has been bolstering its defenses since the turn of the century. In the past 15 years defense spending has increased by 75% in real terms, defense personnel numbers are up by 18%, and military modernization is underway across the board. At the same me, Australia has demonstrated its alliance credentials through stalwart support of US‐led operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. As a result, there is little doubt that the Australian Defense Force (ADF) is now more capable and more inter‐operable with the US, and the Australia‐US alliance is stronger than at any time since at least the Vietnam conflict.
But the strategic environment has continued to deteriorate on multiple fronts. Most alarming has been China’s annexation and militarization of contested territory in the South China Sea. It is hardly surprising then, that Australia unveiled plans last year to further expand and modernize its own defense force. Just about every aspect of the ADF is slated for expansion and/or enhancement over the next two decades, but the centerpiece is a US$50 billion naval construction program. In addition to new classes of anti‐submarine frigates and offshore patrol vessels, 12 new French‐designed submarines — much larger than any extant conventional submarines — will replace the six existing boats. To pay for this large‐scale program, the government has promised to increase defense spending to 2.1% of the GDP by 2020.
The best defense is a good offense — or is it? The answer to this question, along with an understanding of the stronger form of warfare, is the single most important consideration in U.S. space strategy and funding major space programs.
Satellites and other spacecraft have always been vulnerable targets for America’s adversaries. Today, attacking U.S. on-orbit capabilities offers the potential to cripple U.S. conventional power projection and impose significant costs, whether in dollars, lives or political capital.
Many strategists and policymakers have concluded that because space-based systems are seen as exposed to attack — with little way to defend them — that the offense is the stronger form of warfare in space. This conclusion is incorrect and has led to an underdeveloped U.S. space strategy.
Time-tested theory and principles of war underscore that the defense is the stronger form of warfare in space.