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  • The Failed History of the QDR
    Posted by Paul McLeary 3:02 PM on Sep 04, 2009

    Since the first Quadrennial Defense Review was published in 1997, critics have been wondering—and with good reason—how much the report actually succeeds in influencing the strategic and budgetary priorities of the Pentagon.  

    In a report due to be released next week which ARES has obtained, Anthony Cordesman and Erin K. Fitzgerald of the Center for Strategic and International Studies take full aim at the QDR’s historical failings, while outlining what the Pentagon planners need to do to avoid the fate of previous reports, which the pair says have “done nothing to change whatever trajectory the Pentagon’s leadership has pre-decided.”

    There are plenty of issues that the Obama team is wrestling with in this year’s QDR, and one of the big ones is how to treat the notion of “Hybrid War,” which Secretary Gates and members of his staff have said time and again will deeply influence their report.

    Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, has long talked about the Hybrid War concept, which is a catch-all that includes everything from irregular warfare like we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan to “high-end” threats from sophisticated state actors using conventional tactics as well as anti-satellite, anti-ship, and cyber threats, to a combination of the two, akin to what Hezbollah employed against Israeli forces in Lebanon in 2006—which included both crude and relatively sophisticated missile attacks along with coordinated, dispersed infantry and insurgent tactics against IDF forces.

    Back in June, Secretary of Defense Gates said that “conflict in the future will slide up and down a scale, both in scope or scale and in lethality…and we have to procure the kinds of things that give us—the kinds of equipment and weapons that give us—the maximum flexibility, across the widest range of that spectrum of conflict.” Flournoy also told Army officers this past spring that to meet this threat, “we need new competencies, but we can't afford to lose the old ones.”

    All of which gives Cordesman and Fitzgerald fits, and they find the formulation in terms of budgeting priorities and overall strategy problematic, since “the concept provides no basis for shaping programs, nor does it rationalize cutting them.” In other words, it's smart-sounding rhetoric that will need to be tied to procurement decisions and force structure changes if it is to have any meaning at all.

    What the CSIS report calls “the failed history of the QDR” revolves mostly around each iteration of the report being “decoupled from a real world force plan, failed to take hard decisions about manpower or procurement, and made no budgetary linkages,” according to the authors. They add that the QDR “can only be useful to the extent that it is tied to detailed force plans, procurement plans, program budgets, and measures of effectiveness, rather than the past mix of jargon and buzzwords” 

    That said, from its conception, the QDR has “failed to do what was intended—provide a link among strategy, force-planning and defense budgeting. Indeed, with every QDR the situation has gotten worse.”

    Reading the CSIS study dovetailed with a book I’m currently reading: The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars  by David Ucko, which absolutely slams the 2006 QDR. While the report’s rhetoric about irregular war and the Pentagon’s force-sizing construct to meet contemporary challenges was spot-on, Ucko argues, the lack of detailed understanding it showed for the civilian side of counterinsurgency, and its emphasis on Special Operations forces to handle the lion’s share of the mission, showed a deep “disconnect between the rhetoric in irregular war and the direction it set for DoD.” While the document contained some hopeful rhetoric for change in the department, it also failed to make any decisions, or recommendations, on procurement issues or force structure changes that would have to accompany any change in thinking.

    And Cordesman and Fitzgerald fear that the 2010 QDR will continue that tradition.

    Tags: Quadrennial defense review, gates, ar99

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