Leadership: Why The Quadrennial Defense Review Matters


February 19, 2006: The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a Congressionally-mandated strategic review that covers force modernization and force structure that occurs every four years (this review is a year late), has come under fire from many directions. One editorial criticized the failure to cut back on what it described as "gold-plated weapon systems" rather than confronting real problems. Another publication ran an article that described it as a "strategy for heroes". When it came to the 2006 QDR, everyone seems to be a critic. But do the criticisms have any basis in reality?

The 2001 QDR wasn't really much use at all (having been largely overtaken by the events of September 11, 2001), but the 1997 QDR did have some areas that were put to good use (the Air Force was particularly good at carrying out its missions in Afghanistan and Iraq), while it also requested more cutbacks.

For the 2006 QDR, four goals were set forth. The first is to defeat terrorist networks (either by capturing members, killing them, or denying places to operate in). The second is to protect the homeland in depth (usually by working with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies). The third is to prevent terrorists and rogue states from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (which would make them extremely dangerous). The fourth is to shape the decisions of countries at "strategic crossroads" (in other words - to prevent them from starting conflicts with the United States).

In a very real sense, the 2006 QDR is reflecting changes from the war on terrorism. One of the big changes is an increase in the forces for Special Operations command. This reflects the fact that conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are gradually moving away from U.S.-led efforts.

The fact that al Qaeda failed to disrupt five elections (two in Afghanistan and three in Iraq) has made them look weak. The high voter participation meant that their agenda has largely been rejected by the people in both countries. Defeating terrorist networks is an ongoing process - and in many cases, it is reflected in what does not happen as opposed to what happens. This comes through a variety of activities, including what used to be derided as "nation-building" six years ago (terrorists don't thrive when the locals have memories of American troops helping take care of sick animals, digging wells, and building schools and hospitals). Tips from locals can often lead American or local troops to terrorists - and that usually means the terrorists will not be capable of bothering anybody any more.

The defense in depth concept is being applied to defense of the United States from attacks. This concept is part of adding numerous hurdles to carrying out an attack, and in developing capabilities to mitigate the effects of any attack. In a sense, this is a reflection of the fact that in one sense, terrorists are on the offensive. In a real sense, they can pick the time and place of an attack, and the police (not to mention intelligence services and the military) are reacting to their actions.

Denying terrorists WMD is probably based on one of the most fundamental basics: The best defense being a good offense. Weapons of mass destruction will most likely come from a state sponsor - and Iran, Sudan, and Syria have well-earned reputations for sponsoring terrorism. The key here is to build up the intelligence and surveillance capabilities, interdiction of components and delivery systems, as well as the means for special operations forces to secure weapons of mass destruction.

The last goal is to influence the decision of nations at a "strategic crossroads". Here, the reality is a bit different. This seems to be more of a catch-all covering anything from cooperation on security issues and cultural awareness to improving undersea technology and ballistic missile defense. One of the other means is called tailored deterrence.

How realistic is the 2006 QDR? In a real sense, it is very realistic in terms of dealing with the fact that the new threats being faced are much different, and in applying the lessons of just over four years of war. In a large sense, Desert Storm proved the folly of fighting the United States military in a force-on-force basis. The decision to tailor deterrence for various opponents also sounds realistic - the Iranian mindset will be much different than the Chinese mindset, and what might work against China probably will not work against Iran. The only real reduction seems to be the fact that in what is an unpredictable world, the budget is proposing a reduction in the quantity of American forces, but quantity is not always a sign of quality. The Department of Defense is focusing more on massing effects than in massing forces. How well this approach will work remains to be seen. - Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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