The new enemies of the United States

After nearly 16 years of war, President-elect Donald Trump and the American people face a challenging national security environment. The Pentagon identifies the primary threats to the United States to be four states (Russia, China, North Korea and Iran) and Violent Extremist Organizations (e.g. the Islamic State). Given the threats to our security, the United States should return to a strategy of deterrence as the most economical and efficient way to realize our security and prosperity. Deterrence may be understood as the coercing of a state to refrain from taking actions detrimental to the security of the United States through the threat of punishment. The efficacy of this strategy is based on the threat of force versus the actual use of force. That is, dissuading an adversary from acting against our interests costs much less than actually compelling an enemy to stop acting against our interests through the physical use of force. Central to the use of a deterrence strategy is communicating what we value and demonstrating our credibility to impose unacceptable costs on any threat that acts against our interests. The United States must clearly communicate what actions an adversary may take that would warrant a military response and also demonstrate a credible means to inflict unacceptable costs upon the adversary if they choose to threaten what the United States values. Adversaries perceive American credibility in our capability to act and our will to follow through on our security guarantees. Deterrence must be credible not only in capability, but also in our will to use the capability. The United States has confused adversaries in our approach to deterrence. Specifically, in Syria the United States clearly communicated that the use of chemical weapons would be met with American military force. However, despite the clear signal of capability and intent, the Syrian regime used chemical weapons and the United States did not demonstrate the will to back-up its threat of punishment. Lack of action makes a strategy of deterrence impossible, risks more aggressive behavior from our adversaries, and eventually demands the costly deployment of military force to compel enemies to stop their actions. President-elect Trump cannot undo this clear expression of ineffectiveness to our enemies and abandonment of deterrence as a credible strategy. However, he can leverage his jingoistic campaign rhetoric to contrast his message and approach with the previous administration. If President-elect Trump combines his change of American perspective to national security with a more robust conventional military force, then he may be able to re-establish the effectiveness of deterrence. The President-elect’s stated campaign promise to increase the size and capability of the U.S. military is the basis for a return to the efficacy of deterrence. The remaining task for the President-elect is to lead the Congress to fund the military to levels required to dissuade adversaries. The threat of force is a more cost effective way to realize our security than the actual use of force. A strategy of deterrence represents the most effective way for the United States to realize our national security. The President-elect must renew America’s capacity and will to defend our vital interests by investing in our military and clearly communicating what we will defend by threat of punishment. (Col. James Chastain is in the U.S. Army and is currently a student at the National War College in Washington, D.C. The thoughts expressed are his alone and do not represent the official policy of the US Government, Department of Defense or the National War College. Col. Chastain graduated from Presbyterian College in 1996 and was a professor at the United States Military Academy, West Point NY (taught geopolitics) and was the Strategic Intelligence Advisor to Ambassador Karl Eikenberry at the U.S. Embassy Afghanistan. Col. Chastain is married to Ami Davenport, formerly of Clinton. She is the daughter of Norma Davenport and the late Colonel Cecil Davenport (USAF).)

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