13 September 2020

Latest Version of Timely CRS Report—“Renewed Great Power Competition”

Ronald O’Rourke, Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress, R43838 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 25 August 2020).

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Many observers have concluded that the post-Cold War era of international relations—which began in the early 1990s and is sometimes referred to as the unipolar moment (with the United States as the unipolar power)—began to fade in 2006-2008, and that by 2014, the international environment had shifted to a fundamentally different situation of renewed great power competition with China and Russia and challenges by these two countries and others to elements of the U.S.-led international order that has operated since World War II.

The shift to renewed great power competition was acknowledged alongside other considerations in the Obama Administration’s June 2015 National Military Strategy, and was placed at the center of the Trump Administration’s December 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and January 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). The December 2017 NSS and January 2018 NDS formally reoriented U.S. national security strategy and U.S. defense strategy toward an explicit primary focus on great power competition with China and Russia. Department of Defense (DOD) officials have subsequently identified countering China’s military capabilities as DOD’s top priority.

The shift to renewed great power competition has profoundly changed the conversation about U.S. defense issues. Counterterrorist operations and U.S. military operations in the Middle East, which moved to the center of discussions of U.S. defense issues following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, continue to be conducted, but are now a less dominant element in the conversation, and discussions of U.S. defense issues now feature a new or renewed emphasis on the following, all of which relate to China and/or Russia:

  • grand strategy and the geopolitics of great power competition as a starting point for discussing U.S. defense issues;
  • nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence;
  • the global allocation of U.S. military force deployments;
  • new U.S. military service operational concepts;
  • U.S. and allied military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region;
  • U.S. and NATO military capabilities in Europe;
  • capabilities for conducting so-called high-end conventional warfare;
  • maintaining U.S. superiority in conventional weapon technologies;
  • innovation and speed of U.S. weapon system development and deployment, to help maintain U.S. superiority in fielded weapons;
  • mobilization capabilities for an extended-length large-scale conflict;
  • supply chain security, meaning awareness and minimization of reliance in U.S. military systems on foreign components, subcomponents, materials, and software; and
  • capabilities for countering so-called hybrid warfare and gray-zone tactics.

The issue for Congress is how U.S. defense planning should respond to this shift, and whether to approve, reject, or modify the Trump Administration’s proposed defense funding levels, strategy, plans, and programs for responding to this shift. Congress’s decisions on these issues could have significant or even profound implications for U.S. defense capabilities and funding requirements.

Author’s Biography—Ronald O’Rourke

Mr. O’Rourke is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, from which he received his B.A. in international studies, and a valedictorian graduate of the University’s Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, where he received his M.A. in the same field.

Since 1984, Mr. O’Rourke has worked as a naval analyst for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. He has written many reports for Congress on various issues relating to the Navy, the Coast Guard, defense acquisition, China’s naval forces and maritime territorial disputes, the Arctic, the international security environment, and the U.S. role in the world. He regularly briefs Members of Congress and Congressional staffers, and has testified before Congressional committees on many occasions.

In 1996, he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Library of Congress for his service to Congress on naval issues.

In 2010, he was honored under the Great Federal Employees Initiative for his work on naval, strategic, and budgetary issues.

In 2012, he received the CRS Director’s Award for his outstanding contributions in support of the Congress and the mission of CRS.

In 2017, he received the Superior Public Service Award from the Navy for service in a variety of roles at CRS while providing invaluable analysis of tremendous benefit to the Navy for a period spanning decades.

Mr. O’Rourke is the author of several journal articles on naval issues, and is a past winner of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Arleigh Burke essay contest. He has given presentations on naval, Coast Guard, and strategy issues to a variety of U.S. and international audiences in government, industry, and academia.

For one of the works referenced here, see: Andrew S. Erickson, “Make China Great Again: Xi’s Truly Grand Strategy,” War on the Rocks, 30 October 2019.