Know Your Military

Esper, Dunford Emphasize Key Role of Strategy in American Defense

Aug. 28, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone

The Defense Department will continue to make all decisions based on the National Defense Strategy and will follow the lines of effort — increasing lethality, encouraging alliances and partnerships, and reforming the department — that provide the strategy's foundations, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.

Speaking alongside Esper at a Pentagon news conference today, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supported the secretary's statements and gave a quick summary of the steps the military has taken to support the strategy.

The strategy is based on four problem sets: the return of great power competition with China and Russia, changes in the character of war, the capacity of the force vis-a-vis operational commitments, and "the unprecedented pace of change in virtually every aspect of our profession," Dunford said. 

Two men speak at podiums.
News Conference
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, right, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks to reporters during a news conference with Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2019.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia
VIRIN: 190828-D-AP390-1245C

The U.S. military has changed how it plans, how it supports the secretary in making decisions, how it prioritizes resources and how it modernizes. "We have shifted from a traditional focus on operational plans for specific contingencies to plans that are globally oriented on each of the challenges addressed in the National Defense Strategy — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism," the chairman said.

Esper has been in office for only a month, but it has been a busy month, as he has traveled to the Indo-Pacific region and is preparing to go to Europe. The secretary inherited the National Defense Strategy and said today that he stands fully behind it. The only change he has made is to the lines of effort, adding one: "Taking care of service members and their families," he said.

Three men walk together in front of troops.
Troop Review
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper reviews troops with Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya in Tokyo, Aug. 7, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
VIRIN: 190807-D-SV709-0339

The strategy is a realistic response to real concerns around the world, Esper said, noting that Russia and China are actively working to challenge the United States to enable their geopolitical aspirations. China and Russia are working to weaken America's alliance network, and the two nations are bulking up their military capabilities. They want to replace an international system that has even benefitted them with one that works only to their advantage. "It is clear that China is engaging in a deliberate strategy to undermine the stability of the region," Esper said. "It is clear that the values and behaviors of the Chinese Communist Party do not align with the vast majority states."

Asian nations want the United States to remain involved in the region and want the United States to retain its leadership role, the secretary said.

Iran remains a problem regionally and globally, Esper said, and the United States has put in place Operation Sentinel to provide support to freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and adjacent waters. "Operation Sentinel is up and running, with the [United Kingdom], Australia and Bahrain joining us in this effort," the secretary said. "The purpose of this operation is … to provide freedom of navigation for the commercial shipping that is so vital to global economic trade and … to deter provocations and avoid conflict in the region."

A man speaks at a podium.
News Conference
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2019.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia
VIRIN: 190828-D-AP390-1187D

The United States continues to work with other nations and would welcome their participation in this operation, he added. 

Esper said he is excited about the activation of U.S. Space Command tomorrow. The command will "ensure the protection of America's interest in space," he said. 

Air Force Gen. John W. Raymond will command the new combatant command. It will apply the necessary focus, energy and resources to the task of ensuring American dominance in space — a crucial domain for the military. "As a unified combatant command, the United States Space Command is the next crucial step towards the creation of an independent Space Force as an additional armed service," Esper said.