Publication: The Military Balance 2017
14 February 2017
After one of the most contentious elections in US history, Donald Trump was due to take the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States on 20 January 2017. The 2016 presidential campaign showed that, on both the left and the right in American politics, there are more and more citizens who question America’s role in the world. This may place the nature and duration of some military deployments under greater scrutiny, and prompt a call for more innovative approaches to burden-sharing; these already exist in relation to funding: there are many cases of significant host-nation financial support for US overseas deployments. Trump’s election indicates that there is, in time, likely to be significant discontinuity with the security policies of the Obama administration. Policy proposals were at the end of 2016 still vague, and it was possible that some of his national-security appointments would be relatively unfamiliar with the workings of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the armed forces. Nonetheless, if the past is any guide, it will take months to confirm cabinet officers and to craft and implement any significant changes in direction. The DoD will be largely under the stewardship of military officers and career civil servants until the president has his team in place. Therefore, much of what had been planned in FY2016 will likely carry over into FY2017.
Return of great-power competition
In late 2016, General Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave the next administration some recommendations on the US armed forces. In an interview in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, Dempsey noted that ‘it’s the most dangerous period in my lifetime … we’ve got lots of things cropping up at the same time. We have multiple challenges competing for finite resources – and grotesque uncertainty with regard to the military budget.’ Earlier in 2016, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in his 2017 Defense Posture Statement, entitled ‘Taking the Long View, Investing for the Future’, described challenges from ‘great power competition from a resurgent Russia and a rising China, regional threats from North Korea and Iran, and the enduring need to counter terrorism’.