Last week, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis released the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). Here is what you should know about this quadrennial national security report.

What is the National Defense Strategy?

The National Defense Strategy (NDS) is a report mandated by federal law that the Department of Defense must issue to the branches of the military every four years. Each strategy, known as the “national defense strategy,” must support the most recent national security strategy report of the President under section 108 of the National Security Act of 1947.

Each NDS is presented to the congressional defense committees in classified form with an unclassified summary. This report replaces the report known as the Quadrennial Defense Review.

How is the NDS connected to the National Security Strategy?

There are three related national security documents that have similar names but different functions: the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the National Military Strategy (NMS).

The NSS sets the broad principles and objectives for US national security, which informs the NDS (which outlines the strategic aims of the Defense Department).

In turn, the NDS provides the basis for the NMS (which outlines the strategic aims of the armed services.).

The order of influence is therefore: NSS –> NDS –> NMS, or Security –> Defense –> Military. (See also: What You Should Know About the National Security Strategy)

What is required to be included in the NDS report?

Each NDS report is required by law to include the following:

1. The Department of Defense’s priority missions, and the assumed force planning scenarios and constructs.

2. The assumed strategic environment, including the most critical and enduring threats to the national security of the United States and its allies posed by state or non-state actors, and the strategies that the Department of Defense will employ to counter such threats and provide for the national defense.

3. A strategic framework prescribed by the Secretary of Defense that guides how the Department of Defense will prioritize among the threats described in point two and the missions specified pursuant to point one, how the Department will allocate and mitigate the resulting risks, and how the Department will make resource investments.

4. The roles and missions of the armed forces to carry out the missions described in clause point one, and the assumed roles and capabilities provided by other United States government agencies and by allies and international partners.

5. The force size and shape, force posture, defense capabilities, force readiness, infrastructure, organization, personnel, technological innovation, and other elements of the defense program necessary to support such strategy.

6. The major investments in defense capabilities, force structure, force readiness, force posture, and technological innovation that the Department will make over the following five-year period in accordance with the strategic framework described in point three.

Who is in charge of creating the NDS?

The report is the responsibility of the Commission on the National Defense Strategy for the United States. The purpose of the Commission is to examine and make recommendations with respect to the national defense strategy for the US.

The Commission is composed of three members appointed by the chair of the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives; three members appointed by the ranking minority member of the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives; three members appointed by the chair of the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate; and three members appointed by the ranking minority member of the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate.

What’s in the NDS?

The report provides a broad summary of a strategic approach for the Department of Defense based on three pillars. Below is an outline of what is included in the latest report:

Build a More Lethal Force

  • Modernize key capabilities.
  • Evolve innovative operational concepts.
  • Develop a lethal, agile, and resilient force posture and employment.
  • Cultivate workforce talent.

Strengthen Alliances and Attract New Partners

  • Uphold a foundation of mutual respect, responsibility, priorities, and accountability.
  • Expand regional consultative mechanisms and collaborative planning.
  • Deepen interoperability.
  • Expand Indo-Pacific alliances and partnerships.
  • Fortify the Trans-Atlantic NATO Alliance.
  • Form enduring coalitions in the Middle East.
  • Sustain advantages in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Support relationships to address significant terrorist threats in Africa.

Reform the Department for Greater Performance and Affordability

  • Deliver performance at the speed of relevance.
  • Organize for innovation.
  • Drive budget discipline and affordability to achieve solvency.
  • Streamline rapid, iterative approaches from development to fielding.
  • Harness and protect the National Security Innovation Base.

Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.

Photo Credit: Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva testify on the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review to the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill, Feb. 6, 2018. DoD photo by Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kathryn E. Holm.