Executive Summary


The National Military Strategy provides the advice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combatant Commanders on the strategic direction of the Armed Forces over the next three to five years. In formulating the 1997 National Military Strategy, the CJCS derives guidance from the President’s 1997 National Security Strategy and from the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) report prepared by the Secretary of Defense.

In both the 1997 National Security Strategy and the QDR report, the President and the Secretary of Defense introduced an integrated strategic approach embodied by the terms Shape, Respond and Prepare Now. The 1997 National Military Strategy is based on these concepts. It builds on the premise that the United States will remain globally engaged to Shape the international environment and create conditions favorable to US interests and global security. It emphasizes that our Armed Forces must Respond to the full spectrum of crises in order to protect our national interests. It further states that as we pursue shaping and responding activities, we must also take steps to Prepare Now for an uncertain future.

The Strategic Environment

The United States has entered a period that presents both opportunities and challenges. Our nation is at peace and much of the world embraces the democratic ideals we cherish. The threat of nuclear war has diminished and diplomatic efforts continue to reap benefits in creating a more stable and peaceful world. Nonetheless, there remain a number of uncertainties, including potentially serious threats to America’s security. Principal among these are regional dangers, asymmetric challenges, transnational threats, and "wild cards." This uncertain environment would be even more threatening without the American engagement and leadership that this strategy supports.

The Strategy

National Military Objectives

To defend and protect US national interests, our national military objectives are to Promote Peace and Stability and, when necessary, to Defeat Adversaries. US Armed Forces advance national security by applying military power as directed to help Shape the international environment and Respond to the full spectrum of crises, while we also Prepare Now for an uncertain future.

Elements of Strategy

Shaping the International Environment. US Armed Forces help shape the international environment through deterrence, peacetime engagement activities, and active participation and leadership in alliances. Critical to deterrence are our conventional warfighting capabilities and our nuclear forces. Deterrence rests on a potential adversary’s perception of our capabilities and commitment, which are demonstrated by our ability to bring decisive military power to bear and by communication of US intentions. Engagement activities, including information sharing and contacts between our military and the armed forces of other nations, promote trust and confidence and encourage measures that increase our security and that of our allies, partners, and friends. By increasing understanding and reducing uncertainty, engagement builds constructive security relationships, helps to promote the development of democratic institutions, and helps keep some countries from becoming adversaries tomorrow.

Responding to the Full Spectrum of Crises. The US military will be called upon to respond to crises across the full range of military operations, from humanitarian assistance to fighting and winning major theater wars (MTW), and conducting concurrent smaller–scale contingencies. Our demonstrated ability to rapidly respond and to decisively resolve crises provides the most effective deterrent and sets the stage for future operations if force must be used. Should deterrence fail, it is imperative that the United States be able to defeat aggression of any kind. Especially important is the ability to deter or defeat nearly simultaneous large–scale, cross–border aggression in two distant theaters in overlapping time frames, preferably in concert with allies. The ability to rapidly defeat initial enemy advances short of their objectives in two theaters in close succession reassures our allies and ensures the protection of our worldwide interests. We must also be prepared to conduct several smaller-scale contingency operations at the same time, as situations may dictate the employment of US military capabilities when rapid action is required to stabilize a situation.

Preparing Now for an Uncertain Future. As we move into the next century, it is imperative that the United States maintain the military superiority essential to our global leadership. Our strategy calls for transformation of our doctrine and organizations and a stabilized investment program in robust modernization that exploits the Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA) and Business Affairs (RBA).

Strategic Concepts

The National Military Strategy describes four strategic concepts that govern the use of our forces to meet the demands of the strategic environment. Strategic Agility is the timely concentration, employment and sustainment of US military power anywhere, at our own initiative, and at a speed and tempo that our adversaries cannot match. It is an important hedge against the uncertainty we face. It allows us to conduct multiple missions, across the full range of military operations, in geographically separated regions of the world. Overseas Presence is the visible posture of US forces and infrastructure strategically positioned forward, in and near key regions. Forces present overseas promote stability, help prevent conflict, and ensure the protection of US interests. Our overseas presence demonstrates our determination to defend US, allied, and friendly interests while ensuring our ability to rapidly concentrate combat power in the event of crisis. Power Projection is the ability to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain US military power in and from multiple, dispersed locations until conflict resolution. Power projection provides the flexibility to respond swiftly to crises, with force packages that can be adapted rapidly to the environment in which they must operate, and if necessary, fight their way into a denied theater. Decisive Force is the commitment of sufficient military power to overwhelm an adversary, establish new military conditions, and achieve a political resolution favorable to US national interests. Together, these four strategic concepts emphasize that America’s military must be able to employ the right mix of forces and capabilities to provide the decisive advantage in any operation.

The Joint Force

Our Armed Forces are the preeminent military force in the world, persuasive in peace and decisive in war. To successfully implement our strategy of shaping, responding, and preparing, the forces and capabilities recommended in the QDR report are essential. Equally critical to the success of our strategy are the men and women who comprise our military forces. We must continue to recruit, train, and maintain a high quality force to ensure our nation’s security. Our forces must maintain the high state of readiness that is essential to global leadership; thus the means by which we achieve, maintain, and evaluate our readiness demand continued emphasis. Our military must be ready to fight as a coherent joint force – fully interoperable and seamlessly integrated. Capitalizing on technology will also be central to maintaining military superiority. Our modernization effort will focus on those technologies that improve the combat effectiveness of our Armed Forces while enhancing the interoperability and integration of the Total Force. Modernization is not an end in itself, but a means to improve the capabilities of our warfighters across the full range of military operations – from peacetime engagement activities to war.


The National Military Strategy of Shaping, Responding, and Preparing Now addresses the challenges and opportunities that confront us now as well as those that await us as we approach the next century. Working with our allies, partners, and friends, we will promote peace in an increasingly complex and potentially more dangerous world. This strategy will ensure that the US military will remain capable of performing whatever tasks we are called upon to perform around the world in the years ahead.

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The National Military Strategy (NMS) provides advice from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the Combatant Commanders, to the National Command Authorities (NCA) on the strategic direction of the Armed Forces. Based on A National Security Strategy for a New Century, approved by the President in May 1997, and the report of the Secretary of Defense to Congress of the 1997 QDR, the NMS describes the strategic environment, develops national military objectives and the strategy to accomplish those objectives, and describes the military capabilities required to execute the strategy. As an unclassified document, it makes this advice accessible to the widest range of government officials, interested citizens, and foreign leaders.

Purpose of the Armed Forces

The President’s 1997 National Security Strategy advances the Nation’s fundamental and enduring security needs: protection of the lives and safety of Americans; maintenance of the sovereignty of the United States, with its values, institutions and territory intact; and provision for the prosperity of the Nation and its people. It further establishes as a core objective "to enhance our security with effective diplomacy and with military forces that are ready to fight and win."

The Armed Forces are the Nation’s military instrument for ensuring our security. Accordingly, the primary purpose of US Armed Forces is to deter threats of organized violence against the United States and its interests, and to defeat such threats should deterrence fail. The military is a complementary element of national power that stands with the other instruments wielded by our government. The Armed Forces’ core competence is the ability to apply decisive military power to deter or defeat aggression and achieve our national security objectives.

Fighting and Winning Our Nation’s Wars

Our Armed Forces’ foremost task is to fight and win our Nation’s wars. Consequently, America’s Armed Forces are organized, trained, equipped, maintained, and deployed primarily to ensure that our Nation is able to defeat aggression against our country and to protect our national interests.

Protecting US National Interests

US national interests fall into three categories. First in priority are our vital interests – those of broad, overriding importance to the survival, security, and territorial integrity of the United States. At the direction of the NCA, the Armed Forces are prepared to use decisive and overwhelming force, unilaterally if necessary, to defend America’s vital interests. Second are important interests – those that do not affect our national survival but do affect our national well-being and the character of the world in which we live. The use of our Armed Forces may be appropriate to protect those interests. Third, armed forces can also assist with the pursuit of humanitarian interests when conditions exist that compel our nation to act because our values demand US involvement. In all cases, the commitment of US forces must be based on the importance of the US interests involved, the potential risks to American troops, and the appropriateness of the military mission.

Throughout our history, America’s Armed Forces have responded to a variety of national needs other than waging wars. The security environment we face includes threats to our country and to our interests that are not "war" in the classical sense, and yet may call for military forces. Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), illegal drug-trafficking , and other threats at home or abroad may exceed the capacity of other agencies and require the use of military forces, depending upon applicable law, the direction of the NCA, and the national interest involved. In addition, military resources will continue to support civil authorities in executing missions such as civil works, disaster relief, and domestic crises.

The Imperative of Engagement

The President’s National Security Strategy for a New Century stresses "the imperative of engagement" and enhancing our security through integrated approaches that allow the Nation to Shape the international environment; Respond to the full spectrum of crises; and Prepare Now for an uncertain future. Our strategic approach uses all appropriate instruments of national power to influence the actions of other states and nonstate actors, exert global leadership, and remain the preferred security partner for the community of states that share our interests. The Armed Forces play a key role in this effort. The United States’ unparalleled military capabilities form the foundation of mutually beneficial alliances and security partnerships, undergird stability in key regions, and buttress the current worldwide climate of confidence that encourages peace, economic growth, and democratization. Our global engagement makes the world safer for our Nation, our citizens, our interests, and our values.

A Posture of Global Engagement

Because America is engaged worldwide, even in peacetime, significant portions of our Armed Forces are present overseas or readily available to deploy overseas, where many of our interests are found. This posture of global engagement and the activities of our forces deployed around the world help shape the international environment by promoting stability and the peaceful resolution of problems, deterring aggression, and helping to prevent conflict. They also preserve our access to important infrastructure, position our military to respond rapidly to emerging crises, and serve as the basis for concerted action with others.

Peacetime Military Engagement

Peacetime military engagement encompasses all military activities involving other nations intended to shape the security environment in peacetime. Engagement is a strategic function of all our Armed Forces, but it is a particularly important task of our forces overseas – those forward stationed and those rotationally or temporarily deployed. Engagement serves to demonstrate our commitment; improve interoperability; reassure allies, friends and coalition partners; promote transparency; convey democratic ideals; deter aggression; and help relieve sources of instability before they can become military crises.

The text that follows describes our strategic ends, ways, and means. After summarizing the near-term strategic environment from a military perspective, it then describes the "ends:" the national military objectives that support the President’s national security strategy and the Secretary’s QDR defense strategy. Next, it outlines the "ways" by which the military pursues these objectives according to the integrated approaches of Shaping, Responding, and Preparing Now, and the supporting military strategic concepts. Finally, the NMS describes the necessary "means:" the joint forces required to carry out the strategy.

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