From USNI West 2010:

QDR cover

“…instabilities and threats to key US allies or trading partners, and the specter of international terrorism have combined to force a redressing of our National Military Strategy.”

…”Another element of instability in the world environment has been the emergence of terrorism as a means of achieving political ends… Whether seeking political anarchy, a homeland to call his own, or the overthrow of a hated regime, the international terrorist has exhibited a devotion to his cause even unto death that respects neither social mores nor rules of law… The… unpredictability of this threat makes it perhaps the most difficult and frustrating of all to counter and negate.”

The above statements might easily have been taken from the recently released 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). They do not come from the 2010 QDR, however. They come instead from the 1986 USNI publication The Maritime Strategy. The first statement was authored by then-CNO Admiral James Watkins, and the second by Marine Commandant P. X. Kelley. They are illustrative of the utility of looking at the path already traveled as well as that which still lies ahead. The lessons learned in the journey thus far often pay great dividends in the journey yet to come. The above assertions about the conditions in which US forces operate are as germane today as when they were written a quarter century ago.

The release of the Quadrennial Defense Review on Monday has generated plenty of debate based largely on initial impressions. Contained in its one hundred-plus pages is a great deal of information that discusses current defense posture, current threats, and current fights. (I have read through the QDR once and selected portions a second time. So my familiarity with the QDR falls somewhere between the Gettysburg Address and the 1,000-page Health Care Reform Bill.)

Having said that, I find the document to be adequate in some areas, providing some interesting portent as to what the vision for parts of US National Security Strategy will likely be. However, I am struck not just by the fact that the QDR does not look forward twenty years, as is the generally accepted understanding of the document’s purpose, but how disconnected the assertions of the QDR seem to be from our past National Experience.

The 2010 QDR gives only cursory mention as to why the US maintains relationships with its key allies, and even less about why they came about. The listing of US vital interests across specific regions of the globe includes many, many references to “stability”, yet there is little by way of defining what those interests are for which stability is vital. Are they strategic? Military? Economic? Or do we simply identify war prevention as a pursuit of an altruistic national goal?

Tenets of likely National Military Strategy (the NMS, with its guiding National Security Strategy, is as yet unpublished), contained under the heading of “Defense Strategy”, appear in the body of the document but are matched with no particular vision or guidance as to how those tenets will be accomplished, other than “initiatives” defined in the most general of terms. Of those initiatives, many represent significant and possibly unreachable challenges in an era of shrinking defense budgets.

References to a naval presence and power projection seem to ignore the historical lessons that possessing such capabilities require the necessary ships, manpower, equipment, and training inherent in maintaining those capabilities. Yet, our navy and amphibious capabilities continue to wither, a situation incompatible with QDR guidance.

Assumptions made in the QDR, such as “Many of our authorities and structures assume a neat divide between defense, diplomacy, and development that simply does not exist” would come as a bit of a surprise to someone who spent time in foreign or military service throughout the 1950s and 60s. Such a demonstrated short-term memory at the national level leads to a lack of perspective and context in which to frame present and future challenges and opportunities. The ability to point to a tradition of inter-agency cooperation provides a far more effective template for how such must be done than the simple assertion that it needs doing.

The assertion that the world is somehow more complex than ever points to a lack of understanding of the events of the last century, many of which continue to shape our 21st Century world. I doubt very much that the world of 2010 is any more complex an environment than the world of 1913 was, or 1938 or 1949. Or 2001. US foreign and military policy was made and executed during those times, however imperfectly, despite the complex and unknown before the respective leaders.

I agree with the commentary here and elsewhere that the 2010 QDR generates far more questions than it answers. Reading through the document, I admit I am not surprised. The ability to provide an organization with meaningful vision for the future is inextricably intertwined with the requirement to examine and absorb the lessons from that organization’s history. The 2010 QDR has precious little of either. What we have in the 2010 QDR is a document that cannot be used as a foundation for developing a future vision, because there is little concrete enough to provide any underlying assumptions upon which to begin.

Much of what I find in the 2010 QDR is somewhat less than insightful and certainly non-specific. What I have heard called “blinding flashes of obvious”. Not that the QDR is a platform for intense detail or greatly in-depth discussion. However, this document is generic enough that it provides DoD with a slate that is next to blank.

Too often at all levels of policy making and execution, from warfighting doctrine to weapons and warship design and development, any attempt to provide historical context or revisit known axioms that do not lend themselves to “transformation” is dismissed brusquely as “old think”. Possibly a reflection of what CDR Bryan McGrath so eloquently described as “uniqueness bias”, a belief that the current circumstances and situation are like none other yet experienced, with no lessons of previous efforts of much value or credence.

Perhaps it is a symptom of the age we live in, where nothing is so tantalizing as that which is “revolutionary”, “ground-breaking”, or “transformational”. Yet, in believing so, we fail to heed the wise warning of a distant past. The voice of the Roman philosopher Cicero echoes in our ears from across the ages when he cautions us that,

“A culture that knows not its past is doomed to forever reside in that most illusory of tenses, the Present, as if a small child lost, who knows not from whence he came, nor whither he goes.”

The QDR may could have been authored by that lost child. Let’s hope he finds himself soon.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Foreign Policy, History, Homeland Security, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Navy, Soft Power

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