U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review Reveals a Strategy Void

Posted in Other | 15-Feb-06 | Author: Michael Weinstein

Vice Adm. Evan Chanik, director, Force Structure, Resources and Assessment, Joint Staff, and Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry roll out the QDR at a press briefing Feb. 3, 2006. Defense Dept. photo by Tech. Sgt. Sean P. Houlihan.

On February 3, 2006, the U.S. Defense Department released its third Quadrennial Defense Review (Q.D.R.) and held a flurry of press briefings about it led by senior officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Mandated by Congress, the Q.D.R. functions as a defense white paper defining Washington's defense strategy and projecting a twenty year program for implementing it. Analysts had expected the Q.D.R. -- the first one to be crafted exclusively under Rumsfeld's guidance -- to mark significant revisions in U.S. policy by shifting resources away from expensive weapons systems geared to fighting major conventional wars to the requirements for the more flexible and mobile forces needed -- in Rumsfeld's often stated opinion -- to meet the challenges posed by international Islamic revolutionary networks, failed states and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to smaller powers hostile to Washington's interests. The analysts' expectations had been based on signals from Washington throughout 2005 that the U.S. military establishment had placed the "long war" against Islamic revolutionaries at the top of its list of priorities and was repositioning itself to fight it. [See: "Washington's Long War and its Strategy in the Horn of Africa"]

Rather than registering a shift that would reallocate resources and acknowledge the existence of a multipolar configuration of world power -- as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did for U.S. diplomatic strategy in January 2006 -- the Q.D.R. preserved every major weapons system that had been in the works and simply added projects to deal with the new challenges without calling for an increase in the number of troops.

Independent analysts writing for defense publications and the general media, and opposition analysts from think tanks favorable to the Democratic Party, shared a consensus that the document lacked focus and credibility, representing a failure to prioritize that resulted in a wish list, all of which could not be satisfied in a period of ballooning federal budget deficits. They also were at one in concluding that the Q.D.R. revealed the failure of Rumsfeld to turn around the Pentagon bureaucracy and the senior officer corps, and direct them toward commitment to his vision of a flexible force structure. In consequence, the analysts concluded that the Q.D.R. had not accomplished its mission and could not serve as a reliable guide to Washington's defense strategy.

Strategic Irresolution

Although the analysts were correct that the Q.D.R. lacks focus and is probably unrealistic, they did not address the reasons for the document's irresolution beyond noting that it had resulted from a compromise between contending interests in the defense community in which conflict was avoided and choices deferred by giving every party what it wanted. That explanation is also correct, but it does not cut deeply enough to get at the underlying problem -- strategic irresolution.

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