Executive Summary: Quadrennial Defense Review: Building Blocks for National Defense

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Executive Summary: Quadrennial Defense Review: Building Blocks for National Defense

January 28, 2009 4 min read Download Report

Authors: Baker Spring and Mackenzie Eaglen

Pursuant to law, the Department of Defense (DOD) will release its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) strategy in just over one year. The QDR is designed to establish a 20-year defense program that is clear and consistent. Completing the QDR will require tremendous work, effort, coordination, and significant manpower.

Minding the Budget Calendar. Because of the relentless demands of the budget calendar, the Obama Administration needs to set the stage for proper delivery of the QDR by creating a buffer between the demands of the budget calendar and the strategy policy process. Further, to become an enduring strategy for years to come, the QDR must serve the broader purposes of the National Security Strategy. Therefore, both the initial budget decisions and the conduct of the National Security Strategy should precede the QDR.

By giving the Administration significant time to craft a longer-term budget request for defense and other areas of the federal government, the budget process will allow the President and his team to answer the most pressing question: How much government can the economy afford? Assuming rea­sonable spending restraints by state and local gov­ernments, the answer is no more than 20 percent of gross domestic product.

Global Stability and U.S. National Security. America's interests span the world, and its military has global reach and responsibilities. The U.S. mili­tary's primary purpose is to deter attacks on and to defend the homeland. When required, America's military must fight and win wars to protect U.S. security interests. Success requires a military capable of defeating traditional threats posed by nation-states, transnational threats from terrorist organiza­tions and organized crime, and dangers from col­lapsed states, such as piracy. The United States cannot arbitrarily pick the enemies that it wants to fight or ignore potential threats that may become challenges or conflicts.

Building Blocks for Defense. No defense review can precisely anticipate the full array of operations that the U.S. military may be asked to perform up to two decades in advance. Because not every potential threat can be predicted and because procurement cycles typically take decades to field a particular system, the U.S. military must plan its forces around a grand strategy and hedge with specific capabilities to meet any future requirements. These core capabilities-many of which the military possesses today-should be the mainstays of strate­gic planning.

The unavoidable fact is that acquiring the man­power and weapons for a strong military takes many years. A defense review that attempts to meet specifically defined operational needs will be short-sighted. Instead, military leaders should focus the QDR on putting in place the basic building blocks to provide the military with assets that may be used to perform the necessary operations as they arise. These building blocks must be sufficiently robust and redundant to permit an effective response to surprises. These essential building blocks include: (1) strategic defense and deterrence; (2) seizing and holding territory against organized ground forces; (3) counterinsurgency capabilities; (4) growing and modernizing the Reserve component; (5) special operations forces; (6) air superiority; (7) long-range bombing; (8) projecting power through the mari­time domain; (9) space access and denial; (10) deterring, protecting, denying, and attacking in cyberspace; and (11) global logistics.

Force Structure. To be effective, the defense strategy must then effectively translate the basic building blocks of U.S. military power into spe­cific force structure recommendations. Military force structure should be divided into five compo­nents. The first component should describe the U.S. strategic force structure, including ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, bombers, long-range ballistic missile defenses and air defenses including cruise missile defenses. The remaining four components of the U.S. military force structure should correspond to the military services, specifically: Air Force wings, Army brigade combat teams, Marine Corps expeditionary forces, and Navy ships and aircraft.

Funding. Fiscal policy alone cannot determine whether the U.S. should continue to devote 4 per­cent of GDP to defense. Defense policy also plays an essential role in answering this question, primarily through the upcoming QDR. Maintaining the basic building blocks of defense and the associated force structure and end strength can be achieved based on current defense budget commitments to prop­erly fund military requirements. This projection for funding the core defense program consciously excludes the costs of larger-scale military opera­tions. Such operations should be funded as they arise through supplemental appropriations.

Coordinating with Congress. The defense strategy should outline the broad military capabili­ties required to defeat a myriad of threats and emerging challenges as well as hedge against the unknown. To bolster its relevance, the next QDR should delineate how the strategy could be imple­mented on an operational level instead of creating yet another fruitless budget-driven exercise. Defense and military leaders should include Mem­bers of Congress in the ongoing strategy dialogue to avoid irrelevance once completed and achieve movement toward consensus.

The 2009 Quadrennial Defense Review does not need to be a radical departure from current Defense Department plans. Instead, it should seek to ensure that the military means for securing the nation and its vital interests are sufficient to the ends of national security. If the Obama Administration establishes a National Security Strategy in keeping with Amer­ica's tradition of leadership since the end of World War II and uses the Quadrennial Defense Review to keep America's military of sufficient size and strength to meet the needs of this strategy, then it will have done its duty by the Constitution, the American people, and the brave men and women who serve in uniform.

Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy and Mackenzie M. Eaglen is Senior Policy Analyst for National Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

Mackenzie Eaglen
Mackenzie Eaglen

Senior Research Fellow