Comments on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review
February 3, 2010
Let me first take an opportunity to congratulate my many friends and former colleagues in the Department of Defense (DoD) on surviving and succeeding in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process. It’s an immense undertaking.
This QDR successfully continues DoD’s post-9/11 evolution away from defense cultures and conventions that persistently failed to conform to realities our military faced on the ground.
In previous work, I concluded that the QDR should adhere to eight principles. It should:
- Proceed from a whole-of-government perspective on preventing and responding to conflict;
- Optimize many capabilities for an unconventional future populated by far fewer traditional threats;
- Recognize the new more unconventional threat spectrum will transcend the war on terror (WoT);
- Acknowledge inherent limitations of military power, pointing operations toward more limited objectives;
- Favor essential, near-term evolutionary defense change over wholesale revolution;
- Recognize and account for the inherent tension between conflict prevention and contingency response;
- Incorporate unthinkable “shocks” in defense planning; and finally,
- Integrate homeland security and homeland defense into strategy and planning in a meaningful way.
This QDR report explicitly or implicitly accounts for all of these or is certain to do so in follow-on work.
A good example of how DoD has hit the mark in many of these areas is its identifying and addressing the need to strengthen defense capabilities in six key mission areas:
- Defending the United States and supporting civil authorities;
- Succeeding in counterinsurgency (COIN), stability operations (STABO), and counterterrorism (CT);
- Building partner capacity (BPC);
- Defeating A2/AD opponents;
- Countering proliferation and WMD; and finally,
- Operating effectively in cyberspace.
I might quibble on minor points in describing any one of these, but I think these general bins are spot on as future areas of defense emphasis.
Ultimately, how DoD scopes and explores the mission areas will be very important. For example, the second mission area on COIN, STABO, and CT is vulnerable to being painted too much by current experience, and as a result it might fail to fully account for future irregular challenges. More on this later. Whereas, the third—BPC—can fall victim to unrealistic expectations about how well we might align our interests with those of prospective partners. In this regard, BPC may not be the silver bullet many bill it as.
For me, there are two major forward thinking “headlines” in this report. First, there seems to be an implied “division of labor” among the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Forces on the one hand and the Air Force and Navy on the other. The former oriented to addressing “disorder”—insurgency, state weakness and failure, and terrorism—and the latter focused on securing or penetrating the contested commons to confront high-end A2/AD threats. Naturally, they still complement each other in important ways in all operations, but there do appear to be new forms of jointness on the horizon.
Second, the report implies that there is a new “gold standard” for measuring defense capability. It is no longer whether or not DoD can succeed in two mirror-image traditional contingencies but rather whether or not it can simultaneously succeed in multiple contingencies that may in fact be fundamentally dissimilar in character. This more closely reflects DoD’s planning reality.
In general, I also believe the report takes on the concept of risk more holistically and comprehensively than past QDRs. The fact that they have not only identified and defined the key components of defense risk but also attempted to flag risk specifics is a huge step forward.
I do have one concern with respect to risk. It regards whether or not the QDR handles some aspects of the “present-future” balance question sufficiently in force shaping and sizing. In particular, I am concerned that DoD has not thought sufficiently about its future irregular or unconventional challenges beyond Iraq, Afghanistan, and the wider WoT.
Finally, this QDR gets very high marks in my book on the subject of developing and caring for people. We owe a great deal to those who serve. But, DoD also seems to recognize that maintaining the overall readiness and well-being of the force preserves maximum strategic flexibility for the United States. This points to a defense future where DoD both thinks more systematically about the individual demands on its personnel and the long-term personnel-related risks associated with the employment of military force.
Nathan Freier is a senior fellow with the International Security Program the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Commentaries are produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, located in Washington, D.C. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views expressed herein should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2010 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.