Principles for the Next Quadrennial Defense Review
Congress mandates that the Pentagon
conduct a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) every four years. This
exercise is meant to define a 20-year road map that addresses the
Pentagon's strategy toward force structure, force modernization,
infrastructure, and budget. The first QDR, in 1997, was largely
criticized for being a budget-driven process that failed to
realistically connect the Pentagon's objectives with the means at
its disposal. The second QDR, in 2001, is viewed in a better light,
and it provided the intellectual basis for the Pentagon's
the 2005 QDR to be successful, it must provide a framework to move
beyond conceptualizing transformation and begin its implementation.
The following principles should guide the process:
- Budget prospects
should not drive the QDR. Growing deficits have already
prompted some in Congress to suggest that defense spending should
be cut. Growing deficits, however, should have no bearing on
analyses of how much money the nation needs to defend itself. The
quickest way to ensure that the QDR is irrelevant is to compel
Pentagon analysts to force their conclusions into predetermined
budget constraints. Instead, 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
- Combat platforms
and systems must be weighted equally. A serious discussion
about long-term platform investment must be reintroduced into the
transformation discussion. The entrenched interests associated with
specific big-ticket programs have created significant resistance to
major programmatic changes. The result has been a transformation
debate that focuses heavily on systems integration while not
sufficiently addressing platforms and programs. An effective
strategy must include both systems (e.g., networks and sensors) and
platforms (e.g., planes, ships, and tanks). In some cases, existing
capabilities may be sufficient and simple reconstitution efforts
will suffice. In others, new and improved platforms might be the
answer, and a platform modernization program could be sufficient.
In both scenarios, platform transformation should wait until truly
cutting edge technologies become available. However, in other
cases, now is the time to begin cutting back some capabilities and
investing in new transformational platforms.
force structure, and responsibilities must be balanced.
The United States has well over 2.5 million people in its armed
forces, counting both active and Reserve components. Yet it is
having a difficult time sustaining a force of 135,000 personnel in
Iraq over an extended period. The United States maintains a very
small standing force for the many responsibilities that it assumes.
Therefore, when the nation is called to war, as it was after
September 11, the force is going to feel some strain. However, that
is not an excuse to accept overstretched forces. If the United
States wants to maintain a small standing armed force that is
flexible enough to take on the many challenges of the 21st century,
it 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. This
means defining the role of the military in homeland security,
rejecting interventions that have little to do with vital U.S.
national interests, creating a Reserve component that is built
around more frequent deployments, and recognizing that America's
armed forces must be better prepared for post-conflict
systems remain central to long-term national security.
Although most national security policy debate focuses on the threat
of terrorism and the possibility of terrorists obtaining weapons of
mass destruction, more traditional state-based threats still exist.
China is engaged in a robust strategic modernization effort, Russia
maintains a large nuclear arsenal, Pakistan and India are proven
nuclear powers, North Korea likely has a few nuclear weapons, and
Iran is not far behind. For this reason it is imperative that the
United States continues to develop and deploy effective ballistic
missile defenses and maintains a safe, reliable, and credible
nuclear deterrent. However, to be effective, the United States
cannot rely on its gargantuan and largely irrelevant Cold War
nuclear deterrent. As with its conventional forces, it must also
transform its strategic forces.
- The war on
terrorism should influence--but not drive--long-term decision
making. The armed forces must be prepared for many 21st
century missions, and the war on terrorism is just one mission. One
risk of conducting long-term analysis during a conflict is that the
conflict could disproportionately influence the analytical
conclusions. While the war on terrorism should influence the QDR,
it should not drive the review. The war on terrorism indicates the
types of capabilities that the U.S. may need in the future, but it
alone does not define what those capabilities should be. The next
QDR should be about building a force that is relevant for the next
half century, not about finishing a war that has already begun.
Although it is unclear who or what may threaten the United States
during the next 50 years, the U.S. will clearly need a very
flexible force that can take on any number of diverse threats.
Quadrennial Defense Review is meant as a long-term analysis of the
nation's defense requirements. This is precisely the sort of
guidance that is now needed to advance the Pentagon's stated
transformation agenda. Transformation is not about the war on
terrorism, peacekeeping in the Balkans, or any other current
operation. It is about the force that the United States should have
in 20 years. By following the principles stated above, the QDR can
provide that guidance.
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