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The Distracted Defense Department
The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marisol Walker)
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marisol Walker)

The Distracted Defense Department

Nadia Schadlow

The Defense Department is in trouble under the Biden administration. It surrendered to the Taliban and has been slow in responding to the challenge posed by China. Meanwhile, Pentagon leaders wasted time and resources developing a climate strategy, which they released this month.

At the root of these blunders is a failure to distinguish between strategic challenges posed by adversaries and problems such as climate change. Unless the military refocuses on deterring and winning wars, we will likely lose more conflicts.

China is an adaptive actor—an adversary who can think and shift course. Yet the Biden administration conflates such actors with challenges like Covid-19 and climate change, lumping them together as threats. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said few threats to national security “deserve to be [called] existential,” but that climate change qualified. He ordered the Pentagon to “prioritize climate change considerations.” President Biden’s interim national-security guidance reiterates this point. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said among the top challenges facing the U.S. Navy are China, climate change, and Covid.

This is misguided. The Chinese Communist Party, unlike climate change and Covid-19, is an opponent that makes choices to advance its goals. That is why defense experts consider China a “pacing threat.” China has modernized its armed forces to deny others access to the island chain running from Japan through Taiwan down to Singapore. This makes it more difficult for the U.S. military to project power in the area. In recent months, China has sent dozens of aircraft into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone. It has developed weapons systems, such as hypersonic missiles and cyber capabilities, and is expanding its nuclear arsenal.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

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