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Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG)

Definition Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) is a policy document released by the U.S Department of Defense outlining the strategic national security priorities and objectives that the military forces must be prepared to address. It serves as a roadmap for how the military forces should align their capabilities, investments, and operations to meet these defined security […]


Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) is a policy document released by the U.S Department of Defense outlining the strategic national security priorities and objectives that the military forces must be prepared to address. It serves as a roadmap for how the military forces should align their capabilities, investments, and operations to meet these defined security concerns. Essentially, DSG provides a clear framework for how military resources are deployed and used in support of national defense interests.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) provides guidance from the Secretary of Defense to the Department of Defense regarding strategic priorities and objectives, which directly informs budget allocation decisions and military force structure.
  2. The DSG outlines key military objectives, identifies potential challenges and threats, and details plans for using military resources to achieve strategic goals. This is crucial for long-term strategic decision-making within the Defense Department.
  3. The DSG isn’t static and is subject to revisions reflecting changes in the global security environment, technological advancements, and U.S. policy. This adaptability ensures that the DSG remains a vital tool for shaping the Defense Department’s strategic posture.


The Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) is critical because it outlines the strategic direction for the U.S. military.

It sets the priorities for defense planning and helps decision-makers determine where to allocate resources. The DSG reflects the current and future security environment’s realities, thus helping strategists design responses to potential threats efficiently.

The DSG also helps shape the military’s institutional organization, force structure, and capabilities. Furthermore, it’s a key instrument in explaining the Department of Defense’s strategic intentions and objectives to Congress, the American public, and international allies.

Without an updated and comprehensive DSG, the armed forces would lack a necessary roadmap for strategically aligned defense planning and operations.


The Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) is an important document in the United States military operations as it maps out and articulates the strategic direction for the Department of Defense (DoD). The purpose of the DSG is to outline the strategic priorities for the US military and to guide resource allocation decisions based on this defined strategy. This document is especially important because it provides the framework for military planning, acquisition, and force structure decisions.

The DSG takes into consideration a detailed analysis of the global security environment and potential threats to U.S. security, enabling the DoD to make strategic decisions on where to focus or what capabilities to develop.

Additionally, the DSG serves as a planning tool to align the military’s operations with national security objectives. It helps in defining specific missions and tasks that the armed forces should be prepared to undertake and determining the size, structure, and capabilities of the force that is necessary to meet these assigned missions.

By doing so, the DSG aims to ensure that the United States military is structured in a way that reflects its strategic priorities and capable of meeting contemporary and future security challenges.

Examples of Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG)

U.S. Defense Strategic Guidance 2012: This DSG, often referred to as the Obama Doctrine, was published under President Barack Obama’s administration. It shifted the focus of U.S. defense strategy from counterterrorism and irregular warfare in the Middle East to a strategic ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ towards the Asia-Pacific Region. The guidance reflected rising concerns about China’s rapid military development and the need to maintain stability in the region.

U.S. Defense Strategic Guidance 2020: The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), which serves as the DSG for the Trump administration, shifted focus back to ‘Great Power Competition’ with Russia and China. It outlined how to execute defense strategy, prioritize resources, and build military forces to meet the challenges presented by these competitors in multiple domains.

Post Cold-War DSG Documents: After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Pentagon’s DSG had to adjust to a world without a monolithic threat. The new focus was on regional conflicts, peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention and, after 9/11, global anti-terror operations. This shift in DSG was reflected in actual military operations in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

FAQ Section: Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG)

What is Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG)?

Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) is a document issued by the Department of Defense (DOD) that provides policy and priority information for the DOD’s future plans. It is essentially the DOD’s strategy document that outlines its approach to protecting the United States and its interests.

Who is responsible for creating the DSG?

The DSG is created by the Department of Defense, with input from a wide range of stakeholders, including the military service branches, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense. The President may also influence the DSG as the Commander-in-Chief.

How often is the DSG updated?

The frequency of updates to the DSG is not fixed and can vary depending on changes to the strategic environment, threat assessment, and policy. Typically, a new DSG is released every few years.

How does the DSG impact military operations?

The DSG impacts military operations by setting out the strategic priorities and risk management decisions for the Department of Defense. It essentially sets the strategic “course” for the DOD and influences decisions related to force structure, readiness, and modernization efforts.

Where can the public access the DSG?

The DSG can typically be accessed through the Department of Defense’s official website, though some details may be classified and not publicly available. Also, certain think tanks and academic institutions involved in national security studies may have access to the DSG.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Strategic Timing and Readiness Model (STAR model)
  • Force Size and Structure
  • Budgetary Constraints
  • Global Defense Posture
  • Military Modernization Efforts

Sources for More Information

  • U.S. Department of Defense: An official site of the Department of Defense providing key information about the Defense Strategic Guidance.
  • RAND Corporation: A global policy think tank that provides research and analysis in areas such as defense and political stability.
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): An independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher focusing on U.S. foreign policy and international affairs.
  • Brookings Institution: A think tank that conducts research about problems facing U.S society and the world across multiple dimensions, including defense and international relations.

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