Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford recently said the strategy, which is classified, governs how the U.S. military will implement the National Defense Strategy.
Dunford began writing the strategy soon after taking office in 2015. The strategy was rewritten in 2016 and last year. An unclassified description of the strategy is now available.
"The National Military Strategy provides a basic framework consistent with the National Defense Strategy, including the problem sets of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism," Dunford said in a recent interview.
"The key thing is we have campaign plans written to address each of those challenges on a day-to-day basis," he said. "Then we have integrated base plans so if there is a contingency it is a global perspective of what we need to do in the context of a given contingency."
The chairman used a contingency on the Korean Peninsula as an example. Some years ago, it was possible to think that if North Korea invaded South Korea, all action could be confined to the peninsula. That is not the case today. North Korea has ballistic missiles, the nation has tested nuclear devices, and North Korea has used offensive cyber capabilities. Any incident would not only involve forces on the peninsula, but also the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the U.S. Northern Command, the U.S. Strategic Command, the U.S. Cyber Command and others.
What's more, adversaries seeing the United States and its allies in a contingency in Korea might be tempted to push the envelope in other parts of the world, hoping the United States could not respond.
"We're there to be a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, we not only have a plan for what happens there, but we integrate all the plans we have in the Indo-Pacific so we secure the platform from which we project power," Dunford said. "Then we would talk about what we expect to do globally as that campaign is being waged."
Under the chairman's direction, the Joint Staff developed the National Military Strategy. The staff also oversees the development of the campaign plans with an eye to the transregional all-domain battlefield the United States military would have to engage upon. "It gives you a much better start point than a narrow [combatant command-specific] operations plan," Dunford said.
Staying with the Korea example, the chairman — as the global integrator — would be able to survey the plans worldwide and be able to determine what forces would be required to deter Russia and what forces would be dedicated to defending the homeland. He would also be able to gauge how many service members would still be involved in disrupting violent extremism. Finally, he could look at what forces would be needed to deter Iran even as the campaign is being waged in Korea. "It has given us a much more realistic appreciation of resources, timing, sequencing those sorts of things," Dunford said.
The strategy expands the idea of global integration to describe how the Joint Staff will operate in a security environment shaped by challenges in all domains that span multiple regions and functions, said Air Force Lt. Gen. David Allvin, the director of strategy, plans and policy at the Joint Staff. The strategy builds on the guidance in the National Defense Strategy, and leaders can use it to inform investments in Joint Force needs.
The military strategy deals with the threats enumerated in the National Defense Strategy: the reemergence of great power competition from Russia and China; dealing with the threats emanating from Iran and North Korea; and maintaining vigilance to combat terrorism. But the strategy is not a straitjacket. "The full scope of global integration must recognize uncertainty and be vigilant for emerging threats to the security and interests of the United States, its allies and partners," Allvin said.
The military strategy introduces a new concept called the "continuum of strategic direction," he said. This is three overlapping strategy horizons for the Joint Force. "Force employment is how the Joint Force will meet the challenges of the current strategic environment," Allvin said. "Force development describes adaptation of the current Joint Force to do what it does better. Force design describes innovation to enable the Joint Force to do what it does differently in a fundamentally disruptive way."
The continuum looks to address operations from today to the future.
Dunford has often said that the nature of war has not changed, but the character of war has, and the National Military Strategy builds on this reality. It recognizes that future conflicts will be increasingly transregional and cross all domains: land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. Planning, force management, decision-making and force development and design must be considered as decisions are made at the highest levels of the government.
The U.S. military is the most effective force in the world today, and for national strategies to remain effective, the military must retain and enhance lethality. Defense leaders have talked for years about the U.S. military never being thrust into a fair fight with an adversary. The National Military Strategy looks to force development and force design to continue American military dominance. Force development adapts the current Joint Force to enable it to do what it does better, Allvin said. "Force design focuses on innovation to enable the Joint Force to do what it does in fundamentally different and disruptive ways," he said.
With the emergence of great power competition with China and Russia being the main threat to the United States, building a force to counter these near-peer competitors now and in the future will be an important part of the National Military Strategy.
One asymmetric advantage that the United States has over any potential adversary is its vast network of allies and partners. The United States began developing this network during World War II, and the Cold War accelerated the process. NATO is the crown jewel and now has 30 members pledged to mutual defense. The United States has allies in the Pacific — Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Thailand — and ties with many more countries. The U.S.-led defeat-ISIS organization now numbers 79 nations and organizations.
"The nation's allies and partners are indispensable to safeguarding a free and open international order; they remain a strategic source of strength for the Joint Force," Allvin said. "Assuring allies and partners remains a crucial mission area for the Joint Force in the 2018 National Military Strategy."