The United States must pivot to focus on great power competition. Clearly the two major players in this are the United States and China, with Russia a not-too-distant third.
The United States comes to this competition with advantages and disadvantages. One key challenge stems from "the peace dividend" subtracted from the Defense Department's budget after the fall of the Soviet Union, coupled with almost three decades of constant conflict beginning with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
Now we must concentrate on the existential threat the nation faces in this great power competition. I was in the room years ago when a former secretary of defense said, "We will never fight China." Let there be no doubt, today we compete with China and Russia across every element of national power--diplomatic, informational, military and economic. To protect our interests, we must act to ensure we maintain our advantages in each area.
When we talk about great power competition, we usually begin with and focus most attention on the military element of national power. On a trip to China in 2012, the commander of the Chinese Air Force said to me, "We watched what the U.S. and its coalition did in the '90s in Europe and the Middle East and we knew we had to change."
Clearly Russia learned similar lessons. We need only to watch its actions to see how far it has come. Our competitors copy us where they can, and work to mitigate our strengths when they cannot match our advantages. We are engaged in an innovation and technology race and China and Russia do everything they can--to include cheating--to ensure they win.
From artificial intelligence to hypersonic weapons to quantum computing to undersea warfare, we cannot afford to lose the technology race. We need to develop and field capability faster to pair our superior warfighters with the best weapons to ensure U.S. dominance.
The other critical aspect of the military element of national power is capacity. In this great power competition, technology and capability will play a large role, but capacity will also significantly impact the outcome. Unlike our competitors, the U.S. military engages globally, forcing the department to stretch its forces.
Over the past quarter century, as the United States engaged in multiple operations across multiple theaters, the cumulative impact significantly lessened capacity. No other nation comes close to the global footprint and engagement of the U.S. military.