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The Commission on the National Defense Strategy of the United States

November 28, 2018

Ambassador Eric Edelman, Roger Hertog Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS
Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), Robert and Marion Oster Distinguished Military Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Moderated by Eliot Cohen, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs & Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies

Co-chairs of the Commission on the National Defense Strategy held a discussion at the Washington, DC campus to release its Congressionally-mandated report. The commission was created by the 2017 National Defense Authorization act and consists of security experts from across the political spectrum. The group was tasked with assessing the National Defense Strategy (NDS), which was unveiled in January 2018 at Johns Hopkins SAIS by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

The commission’s report warned of potential dire consequences should the United States go to war against either Russia or China. 

Eric Edelman discussed how the report will be used as a second opinion for Congress, essentially becoming a template for the stewardship of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He noted that the commission’s progress on the report was not hindered by one-sided politics. “The deliberations were not just bipartisan, they were nonpartisan,” Edelman said. “This was a group of twelve dedicated Americans concerned about the future of the nation’s security, wrestling with some very difficult problems.”

Gary Roughead mentioned that the commission agrees with the overall NDS and sees it as a good description of the challenges faced both today and in the future. Determining what should be invested in and how to drive an increase in technical production with allies will be challenging, but necessary. If the United States makes the right investments and if the government thinks through how to optimize these investments with innovative concepts, the country’s military capabilities will be enhanced, Roughead said.

One surprising finding of the report indicated that the United States may not be able to prevail against China or Russia in war. Both speakers agreed this marks a big change in US military readiness. Had they read this statement ten years ago, they would not have believed such a finding at that time, they said.

The NDS recognizes that the United States is in an era of great power competition, according to Edelman. Trends have become adverse to the United States because adversaries have been developing technology and capabilities that make it harder for the country to come to the defense of its allies. Edelman noted that if these trends aren’t reversed, there may be difficulty ahead.

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