Defensive, or Offensive Strategy?

In the end, peace can be achieved only by hegemony or by balance of power”

Henry Kissinger spilled these words from the vast amount of experience that he had in polity and diplomacy; indeed, they hold good even in the stormiest political landscapes like the one that we are going through. The world is experiencing tremendous shifts in the world order, that have been in place since the fall of Soviet Union. USA rose into the seat of a global hegemony and no one questioned the supremacy of United States in matters pertaining to the stability, peace and trade. However, nothing is constant in the world and so is the case with United States’ hegemony. The status quo is being questioned with more and more regional powers emerging into the global arena. The uni-polar nature of the world is being questioned and with the rise of countries like China and Russia, the USA’s role of playing the core decision maker in global issues is slowly fading away. Though this was the undercurrent for the past several years, it seems like the United States was the last to recognize this trend; to acknowledge the fact that the American supremacy is largely being questioned in the diplomatic and political spheres. The recently unveiled National Defence Strategy (NDS) papers, released by Pentagon points to this insecurity that the American community is experiencing.

The New National Defence Strategy published by Pentagon comes after the gap of nearly a decade since the last paper was released way back in 2008. The recurring theme of the new NDS is that “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security”, a reference to the rising power of China and Russia who often deters the American interests in several domains. The document considers China as a strategic competitor which feeds on its rivals through petty economic power to persuade the other countries to fall in line and the single force causing instability in the South China Sea. And for Russia, the blame is on its expansionary trends and frequent violations of the neighboring borders. The names of Iran and North Korea are also mentioned numerous times, and essentially, the document narrates the ‘erosion of global order of liberty and freedom’, a view from American perspective.

National Defence Strategy 2018 has become a matter of interest due to several reasons. The most important amongst all is the shift in the American approach; while the earlier policy papers largely focused on the “War Against Terrorism” as the core aspect of American defence endeavours, the 2018 version focuses more on the ‘Strategic Relevance of American Forces’. Whereas the previous papers largely looked at tackling menace caused by the terrorist outfits and radical organizations, now the focus in upon the rival nations. Now the world’s most powerful nation wants to continue as the powerful nation by being ‘strategically predictable and operationally unpredictable.’ Means of achieving these goals include developing a joint nuclear triad of cyber systems, forces and missile technology. The document also speaks about the need for reducing the administrative expenditures and the need for quick decision making and resolution mechanism.

Now, as Washington pursues it goals, what would be the take away for other nations?


For India, the document brings in a lot of opportunities and hope. Though the document is largely silent about India, it has references to several matters, about which India is also very much interested in. For both USA and India, China is the common threat and both could counter the rise of dragon nation if they act together. Similarly, the new strategy focuses on the stability of the power dynamics in the South Asian region, which is something that India has been worried about for long. However, the policy shift also causes certain concerns for India. The most important among all is the fact that America is refocusing on enemy nations rather than enemy organizations. This means that the nation is deviating from its long propagated ‘War on Terrorism”. As the cross-border terrorism and infiltrations are growing faster than any time before, now India will have to take the lead to fight the war on terrorism; for America, the priorities have changed.

Looking at things from a global perspective, there is a possibility that there might be a backlash from the fellow nations in the form of ‘offensive approach’ towards the new ‘defensive strategy’. China, Russia, and their allies will pursue their goals, irrespective of the American policy. The World which is already tired of American hegemony, will not look at intensifying American influence. This shift may also incentivize terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda to resurrect from ashes and resume the ‘Holy War’ that they have been fighting.

At such an early stage like this, it would be illogical to predict the outcome of the new American defence strategy. It is not just the American strategy that matters, but also the way that the world is going to react to it.

-Contributed by Jiss Palellil

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