When the continuing resolution currently funding the government runs out at midnight on Dec. 22, the Pentagon will have spent 1,096 days under continuing resolutions since 2011— more than three full years. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said the Navy alone has “put $4 billion in a trash can, poured lighter fluid on it, and burned it,” since 2011 due to the routine use of continuing resolutions instead of real full-year spending bills — and this eye-popping figure is likely an underestimate. Legislative gridlock has left the Pentagon struggling under the latest of repeated short-term continuing resolutions, stuck planning and executing programs in inefficient short-term chunks.
The new National Security Strategy talks tough — but here are the options the United States actually has, and the pros and cons of each.
The Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy is remarkably critical of China, warning that its “efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability.” Yet even as U.S. leaders have championed a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” they have yet to explain how this approach will apply to and be implemented in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the situation there has reached a critical stage as Chinese advances accumulate, America’s room for maneuver diminishes, and observers throughout the region wonder whether the United States is up to the challenge.
Thomas Mahnken of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments warned:
[W]e find ourselves today once again in a period of great-power competition with an increasing possibility of great-power war. It is the most consequential threat that we face, and failure to deter and prepare adequately for it would have dire consequences for the United States, our allies, and the global order. Because of that, I believe that preparing for great-power competition and conflict should have the highest priority.
"For years we've had a strategy that says we'll do A, B and C, but only the funding available to do A. And we never made the strategy and the resources line up together," said Jacob Cohn of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis "I think, is going to take a different approach to military conflict," said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former Naval military strategist.
“The National Security Strategy is to be commended for acknowledging the reality that the United States is enmeshed in a long-term competition with China and Russia for international influence. It is also to be commended for highlighting the fact that the challenge is a multi-dimensional one,” says Tom Mahnken at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Importantly, he adds this caveat: “We will now need to see the extent to which this emphasis is reflected in investment in national security, diplomacy, and economic policy.”