Shadow Government

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Seeking balance: the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review

The Defense Department today released the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, its Congressionally-mandated examination of defense programs and plans. The review is the latest milestone in Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s campaign to focus the Defense Department on the need to win today’s wars. As such, it is to be applauded. However, in concentrating on ...

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Defense Department today released the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, its Congressionally-mandated examination of defense programs and plans. The review is the latest milestone in Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates's campaign to focus the Defense Department on the need to win today's wars. As such, it is to be applauded. However, in concentrating on that goal, it too often shortchanges other challenges.

In its language, the 2010 QDR has clearly been Obamacized. It reads more like a corporate annual report than a strategy to guide the world's most powerful military, one that has been at war for most of the last decade. One is at pains, for example, to find in the document's 105 pages the word "win" (as in, "win the war in Afghanistan"). Indeed, the only instance of the word appears on p. 101, in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's commentary of the document. Instead, U.S. forces are to "prevail in today's wars" by "ensur[ing] the success of our forces in the field" (p. 11). The United States is not characterized as the sole superpower, but rather "a leading security provider" (p. 26). 

In its substance, however, the document represents a basic continuity, not only with the 2008 National Defense Strategy, signed by Secretary of Defense Gates during the last year of the Bush administration, as well as his January 2009 Foreign Affairs article, but also the 2006 QDR, completed on Donald Rumsfeld's watch. That continuity is largely a good thing: the United States faces a set of enduring challenges, and rising to them will take dedicated effort over years. Apart from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global struggle against violent Islamist extremism, the United States faces regional rogues such as Iran and North Korea, regimes that possess or are seeking nuclear weapons. We must also contend with an increasingly powerful and bellicose China. 

The Defense Department today released the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, its Congressionally-mandated examination of defense programs and plans. The review is the latest milestone in Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s campaign to focus the Defense Department on the need to win today’s wars. As such, it is to be applauded. However, in concentrating on that goal, it too often shortchanges other challenges.

In its language, the 2010 QDR has clearly been Obamacized. It reads more like a corporate annual report than a strategy to guide the world’s most powerful military, one that has been at war for most of the last decade. One is at pains, for example, to find in the document’s 105 pages the word "win" (as in, "win the war in Afghanistan"). Indeed, the only instance of the word appears on p. 101, in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s commentary of the document. Instead, U.S. forces are to "prevail in today’s wars" by "ensur[ing] the success of our forces in the field" (p. 11). The United States is not characterized as the sole superpower, but rather "a leading security provider" (p. 26). 

In its substance, however, the document represents a basic continuity, not only with the 2008 National Defense Strategy, signed by Secretary of Defense Gates during the last year of the Bush administration, as well as his January 2009 Foreign Affairs article, but also the 2006 QDR, completed on Donald Rumsfeld’s watch. That continuity is largely a good thing: the United States faces a set of enduring challenges, and rising to them will take dedicated effort over years. Apart from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global struggle against violent Islamist extremism, the United States faces regional rogues such as Iran and North Korea, regimes that possess or are seeking nuclear weapons. We must also contend with an increasingly powerful and bellicose China. 

In addressing these challenges, particularly that posed by Chinese military modernization, the QDR comes up short. The QDR is absolutely right when it states that the ability of the United States to project power underpins global stability, as it is right when it states that efforts to deny the United States access to key regions such as the Western Pacific would undermine our alliance relationships. However, it treats China’s development of capabilities to do precisely that as more of a future hypothetical contingency than a pressing concern. Thus although the report contains concrete actions to win the wars we are currently fighting, its recommendations for dealing with Chinese military modernization largely consist of future studies and experiments.

The United States must win today’s wars. As the world’s sole superpower, however, it cannot afford to neglect other challenges.

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