The greatest value of the 2018 National Defense Strategy is its burning focus on great power competition and specifically the challenge from a surging China.
After the Cold War, America allowed capability and capacity gaps to shrink. Those gaps are increasingly closing, and the urgency of the Chinese pacing threat has never been greater.
The Cold War's end brought peace dividend cuts in force structure, a series of small wars against overmatched adversaries, and a now almost two-decades-long focus on counterinsurgency. And while the U.S. conducted very visible operations from Operation Desert Storm to today, competitors watched, took note, and invested in counters to U.S. superior capabilities.
Importantly, we also had 1993's "last supper" where Defense Secretary Les Aspin encouraged the many major players in the defense industrial base to accelerate mergers. The consolidated industrial base and the military services were later incentivized to limit investments in high-end capabilities and focus instead on violent extremist organizations.
In the post-9/11 era, Defense Secretary Bob Gates was explicit saying, "I have noticed too much of a tendency towards what might be called 'next-war-it is'--the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict." He noted that we didn't need the F-22 or the Army's Future Combat Systems if they can't "be useful now against terrorist groups and insurgents."
That short sightedness, and a concerted Chinese Communist Party strategy, led to a global environment where America is still superior but with an eroding lead. Through unfair trade practices such as forced joint-ventures and technology transfers for companies seeking access to the over 1.3 billion member Chinese commercial market--to the theft of knowledge through traditional and industrial espionage, cyberattacks and participation in the labs of our research universities--the Chinese know-how has grown exponentially.
As a major power, the United States hasn't faced a competitor with a GDP greater than 15 percent of its own. China is nearly equivalent. With the advantage of decision speed and a lack of internal legal impediments, they have made targeted investments and forced industrial cooperation with state national security organizations. China is now a peer.
But, after leading Pacific Air Command and meeting with my counterparts across the region, I know our system has key advantages over time...