Small Wars Journal

The FY2020 Defense Budget Request and the Need for a Real "Strategy Driven" Budget

The FY2020 Defense Budget Request and the Need for a Real "Strategy Driven" Budget by Anthony H. Cordesman – CSIS Report

The proposed FY2020 defense budget is scarcely without merit. Meeting the request would fund many badly needed increases in readiness and major new programs within each service. At the same time, it is also a major failure. The Defense Budget Overview of the FY2020 budget issued by the Office of the Secretary of Defense calls it a "strategy driven budget," but neither the Overview – nor the hundreds of pages of supporting justification provided by the OSD Comptroller and military services – focus on strategy, key threats, net assessments of U.S. and threat forces, and the budget’s impact on key commands and missions.


These issues are explored in depth in a new Burke Chair analysis of the proposed FY2020 budget. This study is entitled The FY2020 Defense Budget and the Need for a Real Strategy Driven Budget. It is available on the CSIS web site at


The analysis calls for a return to real planning, programming, and budgeting. The current FY2020 budget request documents describe spending by military service and focus on the coming fiscal year, rather than tie plans, programs, and budgets together by major mission and strategic goal. They are not justified in net assessment terms and do not address the role of strategic partners. They instead present an “input budget” in the form of a jungle of line items which – if explained justified at all – are done so by military service.


When documents like the Defense Budget Overview do touch on strategy, they almost always do so by describing broad goals. They make little attempt to tie spending requests to either the new National Security Strategy the Administration issued in December 2017, or the National Defense Strategy that it issued in early 2018 It does not define how the U.S. will deal with Russia, China, North Korea, nor Iran in any detail. It presents no clear plan to fight terrorism or extremism.


There is no meaningful form of program budget, and no clear replacement for the annual posture statements of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs issued in the past. There is no way to know how the budget request will shape the capabilities of Department's 10 combatant commands, and how it will affect their "geographic or functional mission" and "command and control of military forces in peace and war."…

Read the entire report.