Dysfunction in the US Congress has prevented it from appropriating an annual budget that supports the defense strategy. An honest examination of the stated function, purpose and history of a quadrennial defense review (QDR) must occur to reverse this condition.
As the Department of Defense executes the 2014 QDR, it should review the 2010 version. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his staff have several issues to tackle before providing a useful QDR to Congress.
A Look Back
Per Title 10 of the US Code, the QDR should:
■Delineate a national defense strategy per the current National Security Strategy (NSS).
■Define sufficient force structure, force modernization plans, infrastructure, budget plan, etc., to execute the full range of missions of the national defense strategy.
■Identify a budget plan that provides resources at a low-to-moderate level of risk and identify resources beyond the current five-year defense program.
■Conduct the risk assessment with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the political, strategic and military risks.
■Appropriately address 17 areas identified.
The 1997 QDR defense strategy concluded that DoD must “fight and win two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts.” The 2001 QDR was quickly revised after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It concluded that DoD must “defend the United States; deter aggression and coercion forward in four critical regions; swiftly defeat aggression in two overlapping major conflicts; and conduct a limited number of smaller-scale operations or 1-4-2-1.”
The 2006 QDR focused on four priorities: defeating terrorist networks, defending the homeland in depth, shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads, and (4) preventing hostile states and non-state actors from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction.
The 2010 QDR’s four priorities for DoD included: prevail in today’s wars, prevent and deter conflict, prepare to defeat adversaries, and preserve the all-volunteer force.
Defense secretaries claimed each QDR to be strategy driven, but QDR 2010 was characterized as resource informed as well. For most QDRs, the Joint Chiefs did not communicate the level of risk necessary to achieve the defense strategy, with the exception of the 2001 QDR. Most independent panels criticized QDRs for being short-sighted and failing to address the strategy-resource gap.
A Look Forward
Changes since the last QDR include the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, with unforeseen cuts to defense spending; the Defense Strategic Guidance of 2012; sequestration; and findings from the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) by the DoD.
The 2014 QDR Terms of Reference established five issue teams: defense priorities; integrated plans, presence and posture; threats to the homeland; force sizing construct; and institutional reform/efficiencies/compensation. These working groups are in danger of revising old conclusions without an updated NSS.
Congress codified in Goldwater-Nichols of 1986 and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 1987 a model for strategy formulation composed of the three-legged stool of “ends, ways and means,” but effectively ignored it. The president provides strategic direction to DoD and other national security agencies through the NSS, the Joint Chiefs publishes or updates the National Military Strategy every two years to articulate how the military will achieve NSS objectives, and DoD submits a QDR to provide Congress insights about DoD needs.
Congress critically thinks through the resource-unconstrained QDR, the NSS, the president’s budget and testimonies to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to raise and maintain military forces.
The three-legged stool becomes dysfunctional when one leg constantly changes. Transition from an industrial to information society in the 1980s shortened decision and response cycles. Budgets moved from biannual to yearly submissions. An NSS was published by presidents 12 times in the first 14 years after Goldwater-Nichols. However, the wartime presidents of the 21st century have averaged one NSS per elected term.
Are we at an inflection point that requires a new strategy and expectation of the United States on the world stage, or are we sustaining a preconceived status quo? The current strategy with accompanying ends, ways and means arguably fails to support the status quo.
How To Avoid Dysfunction
To produce a sound 2014 QDR:
First, petition the National Security Staff to complete an NSS immediately. Rationale: Budget changes since the 2010 NSS are too significant to ignore and a new NSS will provide assumptions, strategic direction and reduce uncertainty about resources.
Second, define strategic risk in the categories and levels required. Rationale: The SecDef and Joint Chiefs should delineate the strategy-resource gap when defining the risk in the defense strategy, given the president’s budget or BCA.
The DoD has wrestled with “hard choices,” now it must communicate some “hard sayings” to Congress, the president and the American people to avoid dysfunction.
Col. Sylvester H. Brown, director, Second Resident Course, US Army War College. These views are his own.