National Defense Strategy Annex Emphasizes the Importance of Irregular Warfare
The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) provides a roadmap for how the Joint Force in an increasingly complex global environment. Most notably, the strategy underscored the threat of great power competition from near-peer competitors, such as China and Russia. In an NDS summary, Department of Defense (DOD) objectives state, “Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department, and require both increased and sustained investment, because of the magnitude of the threats they pose to US security and prosperity today, and the potential for those threats to increase in the future.”
But great power competition doesn’t mean we should expect and prepare for conventional warfare between two or more superpowers. A recent article from The Hill entitled Irregular warfare with China, Russia: Ready or not, it’s coming—if not already here, calls conventional warfare obsolete. Instead, it says, “We should expect China and Russia to come after us with irregular-war strategies, avoiding a conventional fight.”
And indeed, DOD realizes this fact. This month it released an Irregular Warfare Annex to the NDS. A summary of the annex states, “Irregular warfare is an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the US Department of Defense.
“The character and form of war are constantly changing, yet its fundamental nature remains the same. Though Great Power Competition is now our primary national security challenge – a departure from conducting almost two decades of continuous irregular war against violent extremist organizations worldwide – the requirement for mastery of irregular warfare persists. Far from abandoning these critical competencies, we will sharpen these capabilities for application against peer competitor, nation-state adversaries.”
An article from the Modern War Institute at West Point explains the significance of the annex: “Renewed focus on great power competition suggests a shift away from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions, but no one should interpret this shift to imply the wholesale abandonment of the relevant toolsets and expertise of IW [irregular warfare].
“Instead, the IW Annex represents an approach to state competition that is attuned to the competitive landscape and hostile states’ strategies against the United States. Adopting this approach requires rethinking what constitutes IW, how IW fits into interagency frameworks for competition, and the ability for IW to proactively contest malign activities short of conflict.”
The Irregular Warfare Annex provides critical clarification for the NDS. It reflects on warfare’s current and future nature, so the Joint Force can be better prepared to compete, deter, and win.