A sober assessment of these facts reveals the United States’ fortunate circumstances and, therefore, its ability to move towards a restrained strategy. The dominant view within the U.S. defense establishment instead reflects rampant threat inflation that suggests the United States is falling behind.2 This mindset results in a needlessly aggressive strategy, and an overly costly military posture.3 Strategic planners should prioritize among a range of future challenges, some of which are not susceptible to military solutions. The global COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the threat such non‐traditional challenges can pose to Americans’ safety. But while a more innovative and streamlined defensive force would be in the public interest, the Pentagon and its congressional allies may continue to expend energy on preserving existing or “legacy” weapons systems and programs that frequently fail to meet design goals, in part because such systems benefit a small but vocal constituency of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.
Future plans for confronting potential challengers in all domains—including air, land, sea, space, and cyber—should proceed with the confidence that there is adequate time to make prudent decisions. In the process, Pentagon planners should be forward thinking and acknowledge that the capabilities that prevailed in the world wars of the 20th century may have little relevance in the 21st. For example, what instruments of U.S. power will enable both coercion and deterrence? What advances in military technology have no direct counters? What branches of the military will use cutting‐edge technology, and what types of personnel, both in uniform and out, will be needed to support a modern military? Some within the defense establishment are asking such questions, but more research, education, and innovation is needed to solve future challenges.