Secrecy News

Next U.S. National Military Strategy to be Classified

In a number of national security policy areas, there is a long-term trend in favor of greater transparency and disclosure. For example, the U.S. Army openly published a manual last week on Techniques for Information Collection During Operations Among Populations (ATP 3-55.4). It supersedes and replaces a previous publication from 2007 (FM 2-91.6) that was for restricted distribution and was marked For Official Use Only.

But in some other areas, the arrow of transparency is pointed backwards and previously unclassified categories of records are becoming newly restricted or classified.

That appears to be the case with The National Military Strategy of the United States of America. It was publicly released as an unclassified document in 2015, but the forthcoming edition that is to be completed by the end of next year will be classified.

“The [next] national military strategy will be a classified document,” said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a March 29 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He acknowledged that up to now the National Military Strategy was “an unclassified document that has historically, you know, been written for the public.” But the next Strategy will not be made public, although “we will certainly articulate to the public the guts of a national military strategy,” he said.

He did not elaborate on the rationale for classification of the hitherto unclassified document, except to say that “in my mind, what the national military strategy ought to do is drive the development of our operation[al] plans. And more importantly, drive the development of viable options that we would need in a crisis [or] contingency.” His speech was reported in Defense News (April 5) and the US Naval Institute News (March 29).

The Congressional Research Service said “it can be assumed” that Special Operations Forces “will figure prominently in DOD’s new classified military strategy document.” But CRS warned that “a high or increased level of U.S. SOF involvement in the nation’s new classified military strategy could come with a price…. there could be a tendency to assign them an inordinate amount of responsibility under this new strategic construct.” See U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, updated April 8, 2016.