August 10, 2005 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: New Missions in Homeland Security and Post-Conflict Operations?

Every four years, the Department of Defense conducts a review of its forces, resources, and programs and presents the findings of this Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) to the President and Congress. The QDR provides a basic strategy for addressing critical issues like budget and acquisition priorities, emerging threats, and Pentagon capabilities for the next 20 years. There are many important topics under consideration in the 2005 QDR, and a "QDR Team" is assigned to take the lead on each broad theme, one of which is roles and missions. What is the appropriate role of and what might be potential new missions for the U.S. military in the areas of homeland security and post-conflict operations? How should these new missions be reflected in QDR deliberations? At a recent Heritage Foundation conference, distinguished experts considered whether these are indeed "new" missions and what are the implications for U.S. national security and military operations of expanding the military's role in these spheres.


Homeland Defense Begins Outside the Homeland

Homeland defense begins overseas, and this must be recognized as part of a global strategy. Afghanistan is good example of the success of this policy. Operations in Afghanistan not only removed the brutal Taliban regime, but also forced al-Qaeda to flee, severely disrupting its finances, communications, leadership, and operations. This success, bolstered by increased preparedness and vigilance at home, is likely one of the main reasons for the security that the U.S. has enjoyed over the past three years.


The nature of the threats that the nation faces has changed rapidly over the past few decades. Formerly, it took the combined resources of a nation or a coalition of nations to fundamentally threaten the U.S. Technology proliferation, however, has empowered small states, individuals, and groups of transnational terrorists with destructive capabilities formerly reserved for larger state actors. Terrorists will seek-and with the advent of miniaturized, transportable capabilities and proliferation, perhaps acquire-weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).


The Department of Defense recognizes the new threat environment and is responding with a set of policy changes that will transform it from and industrial age force ready to fight the Cold War to a 21st-century force prepared to respond to any number of unpredictable crises. This evolution, called "transformation," has resulted in substantial change over the last three years, in terms of capabilities, doctrine, and culture. As part of this effort, the Pentagon has begun to rethink its contribution to homeland security, and recently drafted its first ever Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support.[1] The core element of this strategy is the recognition that the U.S. must have an active, layered, and in-depth defense, taken to the enemy. Much like its approach to force protection in the field, DOD recognized that passive, close-in defenses are not adequate. Uncertainty must be injected in the enemy's planning processes and threats must be interdicted before they ever reach American shores. To this end, DOD must identify the battlespace comprehensively, understand its own capabilities, and determine which capability or set of capabilities will most efficiently defeat the threat.


In preparation for the QDR, DOD has identified $30 billion in its budget that already supports homeland defense. This investment ensures continued transformation in four vital domains:

  • Air: Air defenses have been transformed to address today's threats, and combat air patrols have been increased. Ground-based air defenses have also been improved. DOD is formulating extremely tight rules of engagement to address the issue of commercial airliners being used as a hostile platform by terrorists.
  • Sea: Continuing its focus on intercepting threats at sea, improving synchronization between the Navy and the Coast Guard, and bolstering port security all contribute to keeping threats away from the homeland. A "maritime NORAD" is one idea that should be further developed.
  • Land: Employment of the active duty military on U.S. soil is tightly circumscribed by law. There has always been a historical demarcation between military and law-enforcement functions. However, DOD is on alert to augment and reinforce civilian capabilities, or provide unique capabilities, as a component of any larger homeland security effort. This is true especially in response to multiple, geographically-dispersed attacks that might involve WMDs.
  • Allies: Certain unique and welcome capabilities brought by allies such as Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, and Israel are being woven into our own active, in-depth defense.


The Military Role in Homeland Defense - A Historical Perspective

The United States government has addressed the role of the military in past strategic reviews. Two documents that went into some detail about this issue are the Pentagon's Bottom-Up Review (1993) and the Executive Summary of the Hart-Rudman Commission (2001). Both of these documents discussed many of the critical homeland defense themes that are currently being debated. Their recommendations provide a strong framework for the new QDR to build upon. With these documents in mind, the QDR must:

  • Be strategic, not departmental. Fundamental findings, recommendations, etc. must be put in writing.
  • Be a national study, not a Department of Defense study.
  • Be careful about declarative statements, such as who has the "primary mission" in certain situations. The QDR should have a declarative statement that the Guard and Reserves have responsibilities both in homeland defense and overseas.
  • Define and specify in writing the active Army's role is in defending the homeland.
  • Take the time to get the perspective of first responders and leaders in homeland defense-police, firefighters, EMTs, and the National Guard. It is important to think about military response in case of a domestic emergency. In the wake of 9/11, for example, the National Guard helped overcome gaps in civilian leadership on the ground; assisted first responders to act organizationally, not individually; provided discipline and an established chain of command; and provided unique capabilities.


Post-Conflict Operations

Post-conflict operations, post-major combat activities, stability operations, and reconstruction and stabilization efforts are not new, but the recent emphasis (and difficulty in settling on precise terminology) on them is. This concentration is the result of several factors:

  • Most of America's military actions since the end of the Cold War have had significant humanitarian elements associated with them. Commanders have been asked to solve military, humanitarian, reconstruction, and stabilization problems all at the same time.
  • America's overwhelming military and economic might will compel many who challenge U.S. power to resort to alternative means of organized violence, such as terrorism and insurgency, rather then to traditional concepts of war.
  • Insurgents realize that they must defeat stabilization efforts and deny legitimacy to any new government. While the U.S. has to win, insurgents only have to "not lose." Once engaged, the U.S. has to sustain the effort on land, sea, and air and with allies.
  • The media has now become omnipresent. Although this has some positive aspects, the enemy can use the press against the U.S. in the court of public opinion.


Given these environmental conditions, the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan could linger for the next 5 to 10 years. In addition, there is always the possibility that new crises will arise that will also have both military and humanitarian components-such as in North Korea. In order to focus future efforts, it is worth looking at some recommendations born of experience:

  • The best-qualified federal agencies should lead efforts and focus on their core competencies. The armed forces, for example, should lead when it come to fighting and winning wars but might not be the most appropriate agent of the government to aid foreign efforts to build stable governments. The Department of State and its Agency for International Development (AID) should lead on matters of economics and governance, while the armed forces could lay the security groundwork-along with indigenous forces, if appropriate.
  • Both State and AID will have to make cultural changes and adjust funding to adapt to new responsibilities in post-conflict operations. The creation of the new Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by Ambassador Carlos Pasquale is a good initiative, although too small.
  • There must be a new charter for interagency planning. Future operations may require more interagency planning up front. Individuals with experience in reconstruction and stabilization-even if they are civilians-must be involved from the beginning in war planning. That said, the core mission of the Pentagon remains and must always be to fight and win America's wars.
  • Congress and the administration need to examine and unravel the maze of dysfunctional authorities that keep the U.S. from being as effective as possible in reconstruction and stabilization work. Contracting is a mess. Laws must be created that enable people working in the field, instead of disabling them.


Homeland defense and post-conflict operations are not really "new" missions; they have always been with us. However, the evolving 21st-century security environment is changing how we think about-and the relative importance of-the armed forces' role in these operations. The U.S. requires a substantial capability for homeland defense, theater support, and post-conflict operations-on both "home" and "away" missions; it must be adept at both traditional combat operations and providing security for civilians and critical infrastructure (including a large medical component); and it must incorporate the ability to streamline the use of and oversee vital contractor support. Assuring that the armed forces can fulfill their responsibilities without subjecting them to missions that are beyond their core competency will be a challenge for years to come.


For more information on and analysis of the Quadrennial Defense Review, see Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 790, "Defense Department's Serious Thinking About Homeland Security;" Backgrounder No. 1859, " Winning the Peace: Principles for Post-Conflict OperationsExecutive Memorandum No. 954, "Principles for the Next Quadrennial Defense Review"and Lecture No. 864, "The Quadrennial Defense Review: Some Guiding Principles."


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, former Research Assistant in Defense and National Security, contributed to this piece. This paper is based on presentations given at "The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: New Missions? Homeland Security and Post-Conflict," held on June 9, 2005, at The Heritage Foundation.

[1]This document is available at

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

Kathy Gudgel Program Manager
Asian Studies Center