There is no way as of yet to predict what the outcome of the war in Ukraine will be for Ukraine’s future, but it is all too clear that it is unlikely to have a happy ending. Ukraine has loyal and brave fighters, but the war has already produced massive damage to its economy and to the lives of its citizens – and even an ending to the war that leaves Ukraine somewhat intact seems unlikely to end the threat that Russia now poses to Western Europe.
Act Now to Face the Post-Ukraine War World
The war in Ukraine seems all too likely to leave a lasting state of confrontation between Russia and the U.S. as well as its European partners in NATO. Even if Russia does not actively threaten the Baltic states, intimidate some other European power, or fully execute its increasingly threatening modernization of its nuclear forces, the near to mid-term prospects for any form of Russian cooperation with the rest of Europe and the U.S. seem marginal at best. At least in the near term, Russia will represent the major nuclear threat to the U.S. and its NATO allies, and Russian military planners will do their best during much of the coming decade to build-up far more effective land, air, and sea forces – drawing on the painful lessons of Russia’s initial failures in Ukraine.
The war also seems likely to increase the tensions and levels of competition between the U.S., its strategic partners, and China. This not only will affect the military balance, but it will also affect civil competition and raise the levels of tension in other parts of the world. Powers in other regions will attempt to exploit the situation, and Russia and China will engage in spoiler operations and extend their competition with the U.S. and its strategic partners to other parts of the world.
If the U.S. is to take the lead in coping with such an outcome of the war in Ukraine, it must do four things:
- The U.S. must first get its own house in order in developing an effective strategic planning, programming, and budgeting (PPB) system;
- The U.S. must revitalize its strategic partnership with NATO and lead a major new NATO force planning exercise;
- The U.S. must focus as much on China as on Russia, and it must realize that China is becoming the most serious emerging threat;
- And, the U.S. must continue to focus on global threats as well as Russia and China, and it must continue to strengthen relations with its other strategic partners.
Develop an Effective U.S. Strategic Planning, Programming, and Budgeting (PPB) System
Ever since the break-up of the Former Soviet Union (FSU), the U.S. has failed to create effective national military plans, programs, and budgets for dealing with the Russian, Chinese, and other threats it identifies in its national security strategy. It has never shaped its defense spending and programs around the need to meet emerging threats and perform key missions.
U.S. program budgeting efforts have largely collapsed, and U.S. strategy documents have served only as brief exercises in rhetoric with no meaningful program budget or justification in the form of detailed net assessments. Its defense budgets have been driven more by the priorities of each military service than by national needs, the need to find the best approach to joint warfare, or the need to integrate emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) into the structure of U.S. forces.
Recent U.S. efforts to develop meaningful Future Years Defense Programs (FYDPs) have been little more than hollow shells, and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) proposed annual budget plans have failed to shape actual spending even a year in advance for well over the past decade. U.S. joint and combatant commands have moved forward in terms of their individual force posture and contingency plans, but U.S. national efforts to carry out meaningful long-term planning of its national strategy first floundered in the empty rhetoric of the Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs) and then collapsed in the face of the Budget Control Act in ways that substituted rhetoric for real planning and analysis.
More recently, the U.S. has discussed the need to integrate the capabilities of each of its military services to perform joint all-domain operations (JADO) and the need to reshape its forces to make use of new emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs). So far, however, the U.S. has focused more on describing the need for change rather than planning ways to achieve it.
The U.S. has discussed rebalancing to Asia for a decade without defining what this really means, without fully examining the implications for NATO, and without focusing in detail on the role of its strategic partners in Asia and the rest of the world. The U.S. has largely decoupled its military planning from its planning for civil competition with Russia and China, and it has decoupled U.S. national budget planning to giving precedence to major rises in civil entitlement spending without examining what the U.S. needs to create a fully effective deterrent and defense.
At a time when the U.S. faces growing competition from Russia and China, it is spending less than half the share of its GDP on national security than it did during most of the Cold War. The U.S. has also focused on burden sharing rather than working with its strategic partners in shaping more effective common forces.
The U.S. has not provided any official open-source net assessments or comparisons of the real buying power of U.S. versus Russian and Chinese military spending, and the U.S. has never based its plans, programs, and budgets on any overall assessment of what is needed to meet the possible Russian and Chinese threat in either the coming year or the future. It has only provided consistent official annual assessments of one threat: China.
Neither the Executive Branch nor Congress have provided most of the critical elements needed to justify U.S. military spending. Both have relied on issuing a fog of strategic rhetoric and generalities, and then proceeded to focus on producing short-term shopping lists for each military service.
The Ukraine War is a clear warning that the U.S. now needs to create strategies that focus on developing actual capabilities for deterrence and defense, and that the U.S. must work with its strategic partners rather than simply pressuring them. The grim military realities that have emerged from the war in Ukraine also show that U.S. defense plans, programs, and budgets need to examine both current and future needs in terms of realistic net assessments.
This means the U.S. needs to restore and restructure its planning, programming, and budgeting efforts to focus on each combatant command rather than each service. At present, the military services tend to isolate their plans and budget priorities. Far too often, they plan separately or compete for resources – at a time when every aspect of force development should focus on jointness and innovation.
It has been clear since at least the 1950s that the U.S. should put in the effort to create real joint strategies based on substantive analysis and real-world priorities in the hands of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, and each combatant commander – rather than in each military service. At the same time, the U.S. needs to plan for long-term competition with threats like Russia and China, not on meeting arbitrary annual budget goals for the coming fiscal year.
This is particularly true because the U.S. showed throughout much of the Cold War that it could spend roughly twice as much on defense as a percent of GDP (7%+) as it is now spending (2.7-3.2%). The U.S. also had far more support from its strategic partners in NATO – and the rest of the world – in gaining serious military support during the 1960s-1990s, when it focused on real-world security needs than when it reacted to the Russian seizure of Crimea by focusing on arbitrary spending goals like pressuring every NATO state to spend 2% of GDP on defense, and 20% of that defense spending on procurement. (Source: CSIS)