The War on Terrorism and Beyond: Principles and Issues for the Quadrennial Defense Review

Report Homeland Security

The War on Terrorism and Beyond: Principles and Issues for the Quadrennial Defense Review

December 10, 2004 4 min read
Jack Spencer
Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom
Jack Spencer oversees research as Vice President for the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity.

Every four years, the Department of Defense, as required by law, conducts a review of its forces, resources, and programs, and presents the findings of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) to the President and Congress. The QDR is instrumental in shaping budgets, strategy, and force structure. The last QDR, in 2001, outlined a major shift in defense thinking from the "threat-based" model to the "capabilities-based" model, which in turn has generated increased focus on transformation of the military. A successful QDR will require addressing critical issues raised at a recent conference at the Heritage Foundation, including improving interagency operations, advancing the military use of space, preparing Reserve Component forces for the 21st century, and ensuring adequate manpower and industrial base to support sustained operations.


Issues for the 2005 QDR

  • The War on Terrorism. How should the QDR reflect the tasks of homeland security? The Department of Defense has necessary and appropriate roles to play in combating transnational terrorism, but determining roles and the resources need for them must reflect not only the military's missions, but also the responsibilities of other agencies and allies. The 2005 QDR must also address all the military's tasks, not just its counterterrorism role.
  • Service Issues. All services must address balancing recapitalization, transformation, and modernization; the debate on systems and platforms; and the challenge of determining the difference between what future capabilities will be essential and which ones would be just "nice to have."
    • Air Force: Current resources cannot sustain projected needs, especially under the pressure of procuring the anticipated compliment of F-22 and JSF (F-35) fighter aircraft. The 2005 QDR must address the imbalance between tactical aircraft and bombers, rigidity in long-term acquisition strategy, and the modernization of the tanker fleet.
    • Army: For the Army, the debate over the optimum size and structure of the force, moving from division-centric to brigade-centric organization, increasing "modularity" to ensure flexibility, and investment in the Future Combat System will be at the forefront of the QDR.
    • Navy: The Navy has no officially approved plan for the number and type of ships it needs. The QDR must address the implications of this uncertainty.
    • Special Operations Forces. Special Operations forces are among the most critical components of America's armed forces. Not only are they versatile, flexible, and cost-effective but they also help bridge critical technological interoperability gaps with allies and partners. The QDR must address continuing modernization efforts for Special Operation Forces.
    • Interagency Cooperation. Post-conflict operations in Iraq have demonstrated the increasing importance of effective interagency operations. The QDR should advance proposals for improving the effectiveness of interagency activities.
    • Active and Reserve Components. New roles and missions have led to an imbalance between the Reserve Component and Active Component in capabilities, deployment rotations, and other operational factors. A major issues for the 2005 QDR will be the Total Force concept and how it should be applied in future.
    • Space. There is a lack of focused advocacy for military space programs. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there may be some need to deploy assets in space and develop the capability to protect them.
    • The Defense Industrial Base. At the nexus of national security, free trade, arms control, financial policy, and commerce is an emerging set of issues associated with the globalization of the defense industrial base.
    • Management. Business practices, recapitalization of facilities, and acquisition reform remain key management issues for the Department of Defense. The 2005 QDR should support the idea of a Chief Management Officer who can ensure efficient business practices and resource management.

    The range of threats and capabilities, complexity of issues, and financial and organizational constraints facing 2005 QDR strategic planners are intensely challenging. For the process to be successful, it should be guided be a set of sound principles. These principles for the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review include:

    • Budget prospects should not drive the QDR. Those conducting the QDR should be directed to carry out their analysis based on the assumption that while resources are not limitless, robust defense budgets will be sustained.
    • Platforms and systems must be weighted equally. A serious discussion about long-term platform investment must be reintroduced into the transformation discussion.
    • Capabilities, force structure, and responsibilities must be balanced. The United States must ensure that it clearly defines what capabilities it needs, the force structure to produce those capabilities, and the responsibilities for which the U.S. must be held accountable.
    • Strategic systems remain central to long-term national security. While most national security policy debates focuses on the threat of terrorism, more traditional state-based threats still exist and must not be ignored by the QDR.
    • The war on terrorism should influence, but not drive, long-term decision making. The armed forces must be prepared for all of its 21st century missions, and the war on terrorism is just one.

    For more information on principles to guide the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, see Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 954, "Principles for the Next Quadrennial Defense Review."


    Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Kathy Gudgel, Research Assistant in Defense and National Security, contributed to this piece. This paper is based on presentations given at The War on Terrorism and Beyond: Principles and Issues for the Quadrennial Defense Review, held at the Heritage Foundation on December 3, 2004.


    Jack Spencer
    Jack Spencer

    Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom