This week, we talk about our military’s Strategic Goals, Strategic Planning, and Strategic Communication; Tim Walton, Delex consultant and Annie George, CIMSEC President, join us for Episode 2- Strategy (download).
This article is special to The Hunt for Strategic September, a week of analysis on the relevance of strategic guidance to today’s maritime strategy(ies).
The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Pub 1-02 defines the term “Strategic Concept” as: “The course of action accepted as the result of the estimate of the strategic situation. It is a statement of what is to be done in broad terms sufficiently flexible to permit its use in framing military, diplomatic, economic, information and other measures which stem from it.” The government’s estimate of the strategic situation can be found in the National Intelligence Council publication: Global Trends 2030 Alternative Worlds, December 2012.  The course of action is reflected in the President’s 5 January 2013, defense strategy guidance entitled: Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.  Known as the DSG, this guidance was intended to serve as the basis for DoD policy and resource decisions based on projected fiscal constraints. However, the DSG did not include the significant additional cuts triggered by the Budget Control Act, e.g. “sequestration.”
The Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR), commissioned by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, was designed to produce guidance to the DoD to deal with the sequestration in 2014; formulate budgets for 2015-2019; and, serve as the basis for the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). On 1 Aug 2013 Secretary Hagel announced the findings of the SCMR and laid out two alternative paths. One path would prioritize high-end capabilities over end-strength. The other would keep end-strength but sacrifice modernization and research and development on next-generation systems. In summary, the world situation is well-defined in the DNI’s Global Trends 2030 Alternative Worlds (footnote 1). However, the strategy or course of action for national defense planning and programming is a mess given the certainties (or uncertainties) of fiscal levels resulting from sequestration. For Congress, the question is which comes first: the national defense strategy (the chicken) or the funding levels (the egg)? Clearly the egg is in charge.
The QDR, mandated by Congress, is to be conducted by the DoD every four years to examine force structure, force modernization plans, infrastructure, and budget plans. The QDR is supposed to be a comprehensive effort to prepare a national defense strategy looking forward 20 years. Logic would argue that if the national security threat is well-defined and understood, the strategy for addressing that threat would come first, with fiscal constraints causing adjustments to the strategy in areas of least risk. The threat is projected thru 2030 and available to Congress. The President has issued defense strategy guidance priorities for the 21st century which are available to Congress. So, why does Congress require a QDR that, in effect, duplicates the executive branch processes? Surely the congress understands that the DoD QDR has to be consistent with the President’s defense strategy guidance and consistent with the President’s budget submissions for DoD.
As presently defined, the QDR requires a substantial effort, delivers little value, and should be terminated.
Washington is awash in strategic planning. The Strategic Choices Management Review (SCMR) more or less wrapped up by August, but hearings on Capitol Hill continue through this month. The DoD is also spinning up the teams that will hammer out the latest Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) for issuance next year. Elsewhere the long-awaited Cooperative Seapower for the 21st Century update (revision? re-write?) is expected shortly (yet its release has been pushed back previously).
Thus, with our penchant for overly dramatic titles, we give you, “The Hunt for Strategic September”, to run as a series of posts from 22 September through the end of the month. This is a call for ideas. We want to hear your thoughts on strategic guidance, primarily in the context of the QDR and SCMR, but by no means so narrowly constrained.
For example – What’s the point of the QDR, its history, and its relation to other strategic reviews such as the National Security Strategy (NSS) and Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG)? Have past QDRs effected any change? How is this QDR cycle different? Is the cycle broken? Does the U.S. even need a QDR? Has the SCMR altered this calculus? More importantly, what should be in the QDR? What shouldn’t be in the QDR? What “sacred cows” can/should be slain in this or other strategic guidance? What about the Seapower 21 update?
Nor need your thinking be limited to U.S. strategic guidance. What lessons can be learned from Australia’s White Papers? Britain does a 5-yearly Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), next slated for 2015. Do these and others serve a similar purpose? Would a prospective naval power that doesn’t have such a product or process benefit by one? Are there disconnects between the maritime components of the U.S. QDR and the strategic documents of its international commitments (NATO, UN, etc..)?
Please email Matt Hipple at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in participating. While our main focus is on the upcoming development of the QDR, as long as your ideas have some tangential relation to the broader theme of The Hunt for Strategic September, we’d like to hear your thoughts. Thinking outside the box is encouraged.
Before his appointment as U.S. Secretary of Defense, concerns existed that Chuck Hagel was a proponent of the massive cuts envisioned for the DoD as part of Sequestration. With his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) (31/07/13), the Secretary has made it very clear that he is no bedfellow of austerity.
Followers of security policy have already drawn out two possible paths from the Secretary’s words. However, the real thrust of the speech was that these were not options, as he sums up in his closing:
The inescapable conclusion is that letting sequester-level cuts persist would be a huge strategic miscalculation that would not be in our country’s best interests…
It is the responsibility of our nation’s leaders to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration. It is unworthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families. And even as we confront tough fiscal realities, our decisions must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask America’s sons and daughters to make for our country.”
At multiple points within his piece, the Secretary reiterates that Sequestration cuts are not only damaging, but roughly impossible:
The review showed that the “in-between” budget scenario we evaluated would “bend” our defense strategy in important ways, and sequester-level cuts would “break” some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made. Under sequester-level cuts, our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained…
Unlike the private sector, the federal government, and the Defense Department in particular – simply does not have the option of quickly shutting down excess facilities, eliminating entire organizations and operations, or shutting massive numbers of employees – at least not in a responsible, moral, and legal way…
In closing, one of the most striking conclusions of the Strategic Choices and Management Review is that if DoD combines all the reductions I’ve described, including significant cuts to the military’s size and capability – the savings fall well short of meeting sequester-level cuts, particularly during the first five years of these steep, decade-long reductions.”
That is to say, even if we break the back of our armed forces, we still fall short of the required austerity. The original intent of Sequestration, as an “impossible scenario,” is unfortunately coming to pass – not in possibility but in functionality.
The reality is that the real portion from which the cuts must come is the compensation that consumes “roughly half of the DoD budget,” but even then…
The efficiencies in compensation reforms identified in the review – even the most aggressive changes – still leave DoD some $350 billion to $400 billion short of the $500 billion in cuts required by sequestration over the next ten years. The review had to take a hard look at changes to our force structure and modernization plans.”
The most worrisome reality check laid down by the Secretary is that if Sequestration is not rescinded for DoD, the reforms suggested will require the agreement of a recalcitrant Congress that was more than willing to execute Sequestration, but unwilling to bear the political consequences of the actions they’ve forced. Most likely, that scenario will only lead us deeper down the strategically damaging rabbit-hole:
These shortfalls will be even larger if Congress is unwilling to enact changes to compensation or adopt other management reforms and infrastructure cuts we’ve proposed in our Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Opposition to these proposals must be engaged and overcome, or we will be forced to take even more draconian steps in the future.”
The Secretary has not, through the SCMR’s response to Sequestration, put down a viable plan for the future. He has set down a warning of what is to come. Let us hope that warning is heeded.
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.