A disappointing global posture review from Defense

The Department of Defense (DOD) has just announced that it completed its Global Posture Review. It has not released the document itself, which is classified, but instead has provided an overview of its contents in a series of on-the-record and background briefings. What it has made public is, to say the least, more a source of confusion than of enlightenment. 

To begin with, it is unclear why the review was completed before the release of the National Defense Strategy. Its stated purpose is to “help strengthen posture decision-making processes, improve DOD’s global response capability, and inform the draft of the next National Defense Strategy.” One might have expected that America’s strategic objectives and priorities would “inform” its force posture. 

Indeed, in February, Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia GOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE announced that the Global Posture Review would align the DOD’s military posture with the national security guidance. Instead, the review appears to be aligned only with the Interim National Security Guidance that the administration released in March. By definition, however, interim guidance is subject to change, in which case, so too must be global posture. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to understand what exactly might have been the purpose of reviewing — and presumably prescribing changes to — posture prior to issuing the final version of the national strategy.

ADVERTISEMENT

Judging by what the department has publicly released, the posture review offers little that is new. It reiterates the administration’s emphasis on deterring China but adds little to previous decisions regarding America’s posture in the Western Pacific, other than to invest in additional logistics facilities. It confirms the administration’s announcement in September that Washington would send fighters and bombers to Australia. Similarly, as the DOD’s announcement acknowledges, it reiterates Austin’s announcement that the United States will permanently station a helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in Korea. 

On the other hand, precisely because the defense strategy’s priorities, and those of the national strategy upon which it is based, have yet to be finalized, the Global Posture Review offers no indication whether, which and how many forces from the Middle East — or, for that matter, from elsewhere in the world — might be shifted to East Asia.

The DOD has emphasized that the review calls for “additional cooperation with allies and partners to advance initiatives that contribute to regional stability” and deter China and North Korea. Yet the nature of that cooperation is undetermined. Given growing uncertainty about American reliability, Washington may not obtain the level of foreign cooperation that the posture review appears to anticipate.

The review also offers little that is new with respect to American military presence in Europe. Rather than identify additional initiatives to strengthen its support of NATO’s deterrent against an increasingly aggressive Russia, the review merely reflects the reversal of decisions made by the previous administration. It cancels the Trump administration’s plan to place a 25,000 active-duty force cap in Germany. Similarly, the review reiterates a decision, announced in August, to retain seven military sites that had been identified for transfer to Belgium and Germany.  

Moreover, the only force increase that the review’s briefers offered is one of 500 personnel in Germany — a decision that Austin already announced in April and that, in any event, is hardly one that would alter Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS threatens sweeping export controls against Russian industries German military official who said it's 'easy' to give Putin the respect he probably 'deserves' resigns US orders families of embassy staff in Ukraine to leave country MORE’s ongoing strategic mischief.

ADVERTISEMENT

One might have expected the review to address the fact that Russia’s threat to NATO resides not only in Northern and Central Europe. Russia’s long-term naval and air base leases in Syria, and its growing presence in Libya, enable it to threaten NATO’s southern flank. Yet there appears to be nary a word about any changes to American force posture in Southern Europe or the Mediterranean.

Despite coming “at a key inflection point following the end of operations in Afghanistan,” the review appears to offer no indication of where and to what extent the resources, much less the forces that were committed to operations in that country, might be reallocated. Nor does the review address outer space — which is meant to be the subject of a separate review — even though space posture incorporates terrestrial facilities that are certainly a key element of global posture. 

The administration has underscored that the Global Posture Review was a whole-of-government effort, with participation by the National Security Council, State Department, Agency for International Development, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. No doubt all those who contributed to the review — and clearly there were many — had the best of intentions. Nevertheless, the document, at least as it has been publicly represented, hardly seems to have been worth the personnel, time, effort and taxpayer money that went into what ultimately can only be termed a highly disappointing product. 

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.