I applaud Jim Lacey for taking on the Quadrennial Defense Review and its value to the national-security dialogue. His recent critique of the QDR in National Review Online should get the attention of people who are serious about the hard work of continuously aligning national-security strategy, military capabilities, and force structure with the realities of a changing world and a changing budget.
He believes the outcome of the first four QDRs is a history of disappointment, in that they failed to meet Congress’s intent and that the 2014 QDR is destined to meet the same fate. Let me provide NRO readers a response that digs into this important issue from a different point of view.
A prediction of failure might play out, but it is not a foregone conclusion. I am convinced that the present confluence of events — an evolving national-security strategy that rebalances toward the Pacific; a 2014 redeployment from Afghanistan; a forecast that includes continuing acts of terrorism, unstable states, and nuclear posturing; and a prolonged international economic downturn — combine to make this period a strategic inflection point. The dynamics are so pronounced that I see this QDR and these next few years as an opportunity for reinvention on a scale that only comes around once or twice in a century. This is a great time to answer the call.
I must respectfully disagree with the notion that each QDR office is said to be “charged with protecting as much of that service’s equities and budget as possible.” Most organizations in many sectors do behave this way, so it’s an easy and common charge to make, but it isn’t always so. As the Air Force’s QDR representative, one of my mandates is to explain the value that our service offers to America and our national leadership. I expect my peers and all the service chiefs to vigorously articulate the value that their services offer as well. I further expect that there will be issues on which we can’t agree. But I also believe that we can collaborate with one another and with our Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) leadership to make some decisions to start the turn to where we think we need to be in a couple of decades. And we should be held accountable for the results.
There are plenty of ways to review the broad array of DOD capabilities, and I can’t imagine going through 2013 without doing so — end strength, capabilities, modernization programs, mission overlaps . . . readers are familiar with the list. Those conversations best serve the taxpayer and our leadership when they use accurate figures to describe capability, cost, and purchase size and relevance. In my experience, one cannot enter a serious conversation on these issues without analysis to support his or her position, but that only gets the conversation started. We are committed to providing accurate, complete analysis to identify the capabilities best suited for the strategy the nation is pursuing.
Finally, I agree that the QDR work is a job for a dozen or so strategic thinkers, rather than for the hundreds of people who are prepared to help with analysis and staffing. Perhaps that’s what will unfold. After all, significant efforts such as the Defense Strategic Guidance of 2012 used just such a tightly controlled process. Whatever the size of the effort, we owe it to the American citizens to provide a useful and relevant document.
I am grateful to Mr. Lacey for starting this conversation. I hope others will join. When two people observe the same thing, it’s common for them to agree on what they saw while disagreeing on what it means. That’s how I feel about Mr. Lacey’s article: I’ve seen first-hand the process he has chronicled, from a variety of viewpoints. But I draw different conclusions. Even in a sometimes perplexing environment, there are still smart, motivated, and well-intentioned people trying to do the right thing for their service and more broadly, for the nation. I’ve met them in each service, on the Joint Staff, and in OSD. If this team comes together with a dose of strong leadership and the courage to make some tough choices, then real change — maybe even a step toward reinvention — is possible. I’m not ready to give up on this opportunity for OSD, the Joint Staff, and the Services to think deeply about the strategy, capabilities, and force structure best suited to meeting our national leadership’s needs. If there’s going to be a new way to meet the nation’s needs with all the changes in strategy and requirements of the security environment in 20 years, then why not leverage the QDR team to start the turn in that direction? Let’s give it a shot.
— Major General Steve Kwast is the director of the United States Air Force’s Quadrennial Defense Review Office.