Does Ukraine’s Crisis Override Pentagon’s Defense Strategy?

The president’s nominee to be the Defense Department’s policy chief says no.

Berkut riot police hang a Ukrainian flag from a street light on Independence Square on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
March 10, 2014, 1:40 p.m.

Even though a re­cently re­leased de­fense-strategy re­port scarcely men­tions Rus­sia, don’t ex­pect the Pentagon to brush it aside any­time soon.

A “whole­sale redo” of the re­view, which broadly out­lines the De­fense De­part­ment’s strategy every four years, isn’t ne­ces­sary — des­pite the crisis in Ukraine, Christine Wor­muth, deputy un­der­sec­ret­ary of de­fense for strategy, plans, and force de­vel­op­ment, said Monday.

The 64-page doc­u­ment, which came out March 4, made little men­tion of Rus­sia, ded­ic­at­ing just one para­graph to out­lining the pos­sible risks it may pose to Wash­ing­ton’s or its al­lies’ in­terests.

The doc­u­ment did note that some of Rus­sia’s mil­it­ary ac­tions could “vi­ol­ate the sov­er­eignty of its neigh­bors” and “present risks,” adding that the United States will try to work with Rus­sia to “re­duce the risk of mil­it­ary mis­cal­cu­la­tion.”

But the Pentagon’s re­view is “kind of broadly en­vi­sioned and would al­low us to kind of do the kinds of things that we need to do to both sup­port the gov­ern­ment of Ukraine and re­as­sure our NATO al­lies,” Wor­muth said.

But if the De­fense De­part­ment wants to be able to tackle a swath of is­sues out­lined in the de­fense re­view — ran­ging from con­tain­ing Rus­si­an in­flu­ence or shift­ing the U.S. fo­cus to the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion — it will need Con­gress to cough up the ex­tra $115 bil­lion over five years the ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­ques­ted in its five-year budget plan, Wor­muth said.

“This is not a post-Cold War, early-90s kind of se­cur­ity en­vir­on­ment,” said Wor­muth, who is also the pres­id­ent’s nom­in­ee to be­come the de­part­ment’s un­der­sec­ret­ary for policy. “You can’t live in a man­sion if you’re work­ing on a middle-class salary. At a cer­tain point we are go­ing to have to ask ourselves, ‘What kind of na­tion do we want to be?’ “

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