The Strategy -- Shape, Respond, Prepare Now

Our National Military Strategy depends first and foremost upon the United States remaining secure from external threats. A secure homeland is fundamental to US global leadership; however, it is not the only prerequisite. To protect and promote US national interests, our national military objectives are to Promote Peace and Stability and, when necessary, to Defeat Adversaries that threaten the United States, our interests, or our allies. US Armed Forces advance national security by applying military power to Shape the international environment and Respond to the full spectrum of crises, while we Prepare Now for an uncertain future.

National Military Objectives

Promote Peace and Stability. Promoting peace and stability means creating and sustaining security conditions globally, and in key regions, allowing the peaceful pursuit of our interests and the just resolution of international problems through political means. This does not imply a resistance to change; rather, it underscores a desire for peaceful change. Pursuit of this objective supports the President’s 1997 National Security Strategy by ensuring that no critical region is dominated by a power hostile to the United States and that regions of greatest importance to the US are stable and at peace. Such stability reduces the likelihood of widespread conflict and allows the pursuit of our interests by other instruments of national power. Where a potential regional hegemon threatens our interests and those of our allies through the buildup or use of armed forces, US military power may be concentrated to assure allies and friends, redress the imbalance, and deter or defeat aggression. Where the risk to peaceful political intercourse stems from other sources, US forces may conduct operations or otherwise contribute to efforts that seek to prevent conflict and reduce threats. Our role as a global leader is underscored by US forces performing tasks that encourage other nations to resolve problems through negotiation and compromise rather than by aggression and intimidation.

Defeat Adversaries. In the event of armed conflict, US Armed Forces will render an adversary incapable of armed resistance through destruction of his capacity to threaten our interests or by breaking his will to do so. This sets the military conditions for winning the peace. In conducting combat operations, the United States will use all means available, commensurate with the national interest at stake, the risks involved, and international law. We will endeavor to commit decisive force to ensure that we achieve the objectives established by the NCA and conclude hostilities in the shortest time possible and on terms favorable to the United States.

Elements of the Strategy: Shape, Respond, Prepare Now

US Armed Forces pursue these national military objectives in support of the President’s integrated approaches of shaping, responding, and preparing now, which synchronize all elements of national power to achieve our security objectives. Our use of military force should be guided by several considerations. First, military force should be used judiciously and decisively. Military missions must be clearly stated, with achievable military objectives that support national political aims. Second, on most occasions, our forces will operate as a joint team, harmonizing the unique and complementary strengths and capabilities of each of our Services. Third, while retaining unilateral capability, whenever possible we must seek to operate alongside alliance or coalition forces, integrating their capabilities and capitalizing on their strengths. Finally, we must ensure that the conditions necessary for terminating military involvement and withdrawing military forces are clearly established.

Shaping the International Environment. US Armed Forces help shape the international environment primarily through their inherent deterrent qualities and through peacetime military engagement. The shaping element of our strategy helps foster the institutions and international relationships that constitute a peaceful strategic environment by promoting stability; preventing and reducing conflict and threats; and deterring aggression and coercion.

Promoting Stability. Through peacetime engagement activities, US Armed Forces promote regional stability, increase the security of allies and friends, build coalitions, and ensure a more secure global environment. The commanders-in-chief of our unified commands, based on guidance from the NCA and CJCS, develop plans and employ forces and personnel in peacetime to protect and promote US interests and regional security objectives.

Our international exercise program is one such activity. Exercises enhance interoperability and readiness and demonstrate our ability to form and lead effective coalitions. They demonstrate our capabilities and resolve to friends and potential adversaries alike. They provide realistic conditions for working with the technologies, systems, and operational procedures that will be crucial in times of crisis. International exercises also provide geographic familiarity and foster an understanding of cultures, values, and habits of other societies. Exercises encourage burden sharing on the part of friends and allies, and facilitate regional integration.

Through other engagement activities, such as information sharing and a wide range of contacts between our military and the defense establishments of other nations, we promote trust and confidence and increase the security of our allies, partners, and friends. Partnership for Peace, defense cooperation activities, foreign military sales, the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and other programs establish long-term professional relationships between our Armed Forces and the future military leadership of other countries. Military-to-military contacts with countries that are neither staunch friends nor confirmed foes build constructive security relationships, help to promote the appropriate role of armed forces in a democratic society, and enhance stability.

Preventing or Reducing Conflicts and Threats. Conflict prevention means the reduction, mitigation, or neutralization of the causes of conflict. Though the military by itself can rarely address the root causes of conflict -- as it often stems from political, economic, social, and legal conditions that are beyond the core competence of the military to resolve -- military forces can provide a degree of fundamental security and use their unique operational and logistical capabilities to help civil initiatives succeed. Such military operations can have important strategic value when they promote the overall stability the US seeks, thus reducing the need for greater military effort later.

The US effort to prevent conflict and reduce threats includes arms control measures as an essential part. Verifiable arms control agreements, as well as confidence building and transparency measures, help reduce tensions and dangers. Military resources are an important component of this effort, particularly in the conduct of reciprocal inspection, verification, and, in some cases, enforcement activities. Bringing worldwide arsenals into conformity with international nonproliferation standards, helps to reduce uncertainty about potential threats, and allows countries to direct resources to safer, more productive relations. The United States remains committed to our obligations under bilateral and international arms control agreements. Expanding arms control efforts to address the use or possession of WMD, the development of WMD technology, and the control and transfer of fissionable materiel are also extremely important to enhancing US security.

Peacetime Deterrence. Deterrence means preventing potential adversaries from taking aggressive actions that threaten our interests, allies, partners, or friends. It is the military’s most important contribution to the shaping element of the President’s strategy. Deterrence rests in large part on our demonstrated ability and willingness to defeat potential adversaries and deny them their strategic objectives. Our deterrence capability gives allies and friends the confidence necessary for normal political discourse and peaceful resolution of differences. The critical elements of deterrence are our conventional warfighting capabilities: forces and equipment strategically positioned, our capability to rapidly project and concentrate military power worldwide; our ability to form and lead effective military coalitions; and our capacity to protect our homeland, forces, and critical infrastructure from the full range of potential threats. Our strategic nuclear forces complement our conventional capabilities by deterring any hostile foreign leadership with access to nuclear weapons from acting against our vital interests. Our nuclear forces may also serve to convince such leaders that attempting to seek a nuclear advantage would be futile.

Responding to the Full Spectrum of Crises. Given the strategic environment, the US military undoubtedly will be called upon to respond to crises across the full range of military operations, from humanitarian assistance to fighting and winning MTWs and conducting concurrent smaller–scale contingencies. US forces must be able to respond to crises from a posture of global engagement. In the event of a major theater war the United States will need to be extremely selective in undertaking substantial engagement activities and smaller–scale contingency operations. More than likely, we would have to disengage from activities and operations not deemed vital, in order to better posture our forces to deter or defeat aggression in a second major theater war. A credible US force-in-being, despite multiple demands, is a key stabilizing influence in the world. Responding to multiple concurrent contingencies requires careful consideration to ensure our forces are not dissipated and therefore either unable, or perceived as unable, to respond to more critical threats.

Deterring Aggression or Coercion in Crisis. The first response in any crisis normally consists of steps to deter an adversary so the situation does not require a greater US response. This generally involves signaling our commitment by enhancing our warfighting capability in a theater or by making declaratory statements to communicate US intentions and the potential cost of aggression to an adversary. We may also choose to emphasize our resolve by responding in a limited manner, for example, by enforcing sanctions or conducting limited strikes. The deterrent posture and activities of our armed forces ensure we remain prepared for conflict should deterrence fail.

Fighting and Winning Major Theater Wars. As a global power with worldwide interests, it is imperative that the United States be able to deter and defeat nearly simultaneous, large–scale, cross–border aggression in two distant theaters in overlapping time frames, preferably in concert with regional allies. For the time being, we face this challenge in the Arabian Gulf region and in Northeast Asia. However, even should these challenges diminish, this capability is critical to maintaining our global leadership role. Lack of such a capability would signal to key allies our inability to help defend mutual interests, thus weakening our alliances and coalitions. Because such weakness would not escape the attention of potential adversaries, it might make two simultaneous crises more likely. US commitment to one crisis would present the opportunity, otherwise unrealized, for another aggressor to act. Even more dangerous, it could inhibit the United States from responding to a crisis promptly enough, or even at all, for fear of committing our only forces and thereby making ourselves vulnerable in other regions of the world. The capability to fight two major theater wars initiated in rapid succession is of critical importance as it helps deter opportunism, promote stability, and provide the depth and flexibility to deal with unanticipated challenges.

In this regard, a particularly challenging requirement associated with fighting and winning major theater wars is being able to rapidly defeat initial enemy advances short of their objectives in two theaters in close succession, one followed almost immediately by another. Maintaining this capability is absolutely critical to our ability to seize the initiative in both theaters and to minimize the amount of territory we and our allies must regain from aggressors. Failure to halt an enemy invasion rapidly would make the subsequent campaign to evict enemy forces from captured territory much more difficult, lengthy, and costly. Such failure would also weaken coalition support, undermine US credibility, and increase the risk of conflict elsewhere.

Conducting Multiple, Concurrent Smaller-Scale Contingency Operations. Future challenges to our interests will likely require use of our forces in a wide range of concurrent operations short of major theater war. Swift action by military forces may sometimes be the best way to prevent, contain, or resolve conflict, thereby precluding greater effort and increased risk later. Using some of our unsurpassed capabilities in the pursuit of common interests and values demonstrates leadership and encourages confidence and greater contributions by others, reducing the demand on ourselves in the long run. US military forces provide a full array of capabilities that can be tailored to give the NCA many options in pursuing our interests. Our capacity to perform shows of force, limited strikes, opposed interventions, no-fly zone and sanctions enforcement operations, interposition or observation operations, and other missions allows us to deter would-be aggressors and control the danger posed by rogue states. US forces can perform peace operations and humanitarian assistance operations, and can evacuate noncombatants from dangerous situations, whether opposed or unopposed. US forces will act unilaterally and in concert with security partners, using all means authorized by the President and the Congress, to counter international terrorism at home and abroad. Unique military capabilities can also support domestic authorities in combating direct and indirect threats to the US homeland, such as the illegal drug trade, especially when the potential for violence exceeds the capability of domestic agencies.

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. To be able to respond effectively in the future, we must transform US combat capabilities and support structures, but while we do so, our forces must remain engaged worldwide and ready to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major theater wars. Success demands a stabilized investment program in robust modernization that exploits the RMA. It also requires fundamental reengineering of our infrastructure and streamlining of our support structures through the RBA to realize the cost efficiencies necessary to recapitalize the force. Though difficult to accomplish, such tasks are essential to reaching new levels of joint warfighting effectiveness.

JV 2010 is the conceptual template for joint operations and warfighting in the future. It provides the azimuth for the Services’ visions, thus ensuring the future interoperability of the joint force. Because we will often act in concert with like-minded nations, as we implement JV 2010, we must also retain interoperability with our allies and potential coalition partners. This vision of future capabilities guides our warfighting requirements and procurement, and focuses technological development. JV 2010's key enablers of information superiority and technological innovation will transform the current concepts of maneuver, strike, protection, and logistics into the new operational concepts of dominant maneuver, precision engagement, focused logistics, and full-dimensional protection. Turning these concepts into reality will help us to conduct decisive operations in any environment, a characteristic JV 2010 calls "full spectrum dominance." JV 2010 rests on the foundations of information superiority and technological innovation.

Information Superiority. Information superiority is the capability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of precise and reliable information, while exploiting or denying an adversary's ability to do the same. While it is dependent upon superior technology, systems integration, organization and doctrine, it is not an inherent quality but, like air superiority, must be achieved in the battlespace through offensive and defensive information operations. Information superiority yields battlespace awareness, an interactive, shared and highly accurate picture of friendly and enemy operations as they occur. Information superiority allows our commanders to employ widely dispersed joint forces in decisive operations, engage and reengage with the appropriate force, protect the force throughout the battlespace, and conduct tailored logistical support.

Technological Innovation. As we reshape our forces to meet the challenges of a changing world, we will leverage emerging technologies to enhance the capabilities of our servicemen and women through development of new doctrine, organizations, material, and training. Development and acquisition of new systems and equipment will improve our ability to conduct decisive operations and achieve full spectrum dominance. However, they are not a panacea. We must recognize that each includes inherent vulnerabilities; each must be applicable across the range of operations; and each must enhance the human capability of our forces.

Balanced Evolution. The fundamental challenge for our Armed Forces is to shape and respond in the current and near-term security environment, while we concurrently prepare for the future. Because our forces are engaged worldwide every day, their transformation to achieve the new capabilities described in JV 2010 is necessarily evolutionary. Through a rigorous process of experimentation, assessment, refinement, and doctrinal development, we can meet our responsibility to maintain ready forces today while taking steps to transform those forces to be superior tomorrow. This transformation of our forces is not a choice between people or technology, but about how to integrate the strengths of both to give the Nation the best possible military capability. It involves much more than the acquisition of new military systems. It means harnessing new technologies to give US forces greater military capabilities through advanced concepts, doctrine, and organizations so that they can dominate any future battlespace.

Strategic Concepts

Strategic concepts are key ideas that govern our use of military force and forces as we execute the strategy of Shape, Respond, Prepare Now. These ideas are also important considerations that guide how our forces are trained, equipped, and organized.

Strategic Agility. Strategic agility is the timely concentration, employment, and sustainment of US military power anywhere at our own initiative, at a speed and tempo that our adversaries cannot match. Our forces must be able to seize and maintain the momentum of operations rapidly to meet multiple demands in an uncertain and complex strategic environment. Strategic agility requires our Armed Forces to be versatile, that is, to conduct multiple missions simultaneously, across the full range of military operations, in geographically separated regions of the world. This versatility, and the equally important abilities to orchestrate, command, control and support dispersed joint forces permit the decisive application of our strengths against enemy weaknesses. Strategic agility is essential if we are to remain globally engaged but not find ourselves improperly positioned or otherwise unable to respond to crises.

Overseas Presence. Overseas presence is the visible posture of US forces and infrastructure strategically positioned forward, in or near key regions. Permanently stationed and rotationally or temporarily deployed forces promote security and stability, prevent conflict, give substance to our security commitments, and ensure our continued access. Overseas presence enhances coalition operations by promoting joint and combined training and encouraging responsibility sharing on the part of friends and allies. Overseas presence contributes to deterrence by demonstrating our determination to defend US, allied, and friendly interests in critical regions while enabling the US to rapidly concentrate military power in the event of crisis. The presence of our forces provides commanders with a flexible array of options to respond promptly to aggression. Overseas presence forces embody global military engagement. They serve as role models for militaries in emerging democracies; contribute uniquely to the stability, continuity, and flexibility that protects US interests; and are crucial to continued democratic and economic development.

Power Projection. Power projection is the ability to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain US forces in and from multiple, dispersed locations. Complementing overseas presence, power projection strives for unconstrained global reach. Power projection assets are tailored to regional requirements and send a clear signal of US commitment. Being able to project power means being able to act even when we have no permanent presence or infrastructure in a region. If necessary, it means fighting our way into a denied theater or creating and protecting forward operating bases. The ability to assemble and move to, through, and between a variety of environments, often while reconfiguring to meet specific mission requirements, is essential to offsetting an adversary’s advantages in mass or geographic proximity. Global power projection provides our national leaders with the options they need to respond to potential crises.

Decisive Force. Decisive force is the commitment of sufficient military power to overwhelm all armed resistance in order to establish new military conditions and achieve political objectives. In cases not involving armed resistance, decisive force means that US forces will be wholly sufficient to accomplish the full scope of their military tasks. Decisive force in the early stages of a crisis can be critical to deterring aggression. The concept does not promise quick or bloodless solutions to military challenges, but does require that, where the actual commitment of military power is anticipated, such force will be clearly superior to that of any potential adversary.

Return to Table of Contents