Tag Archives: QDR

The Road to the QDR, Part I

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).


Les is More.
                                                Les is More?

Before our other writers suggest ways ahead for strategic guidance I thought I’d take a brief look at the origins and of the American institution of what has come to be the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

Our first stop: 1993. The Soviet Union, “the threat that drove our defense decision-making,” had died in an aborted coup two years prior, at the barricades of the Russian White House. At the request of Congress, the U.S. Department of Defense conducted what it called the Bottom Up Review (BUR), an analysis of the nation’s strategic outlook, the forces required to meet the still-present dangers of the world and the thorough scrubbing of Department-wide processes to best support those capabilities. The BUR was developed to respond to a changed world, but one recognizable today, with such headlining concerns earlier outlined to the Atlantic Council by Les Aspin, Secretary of Defense at the time of the BUR, as terrorism, “regional thugs”, and Japanese economic power (so some things have actually changed).

One of the most important decisions made in the BUR was to choose as its force structure-requirement benchmark the ability to fight and win to major regional contingencies (MRCs). As a result, a critique leveled at the BUR was that while it paid lip service to other objective-driven force structure requirements – such as the naval need to furnish 11 carriers (plus a reserve training carrier) to sustain a global presence – it nonetheless rested on an assumption that the ability to prevail in two MRCs would provide enough force structure to handle all requirements from “lesser-included cases.” The fault in this assumption, the critique posited, was that it did not fully recognize the specific and perhaps different capabilities, nor the straining operational tempo, such lesser contingency or peacetime operations would demand from the active duty force.

Another guiding assumption in the BUR was the belief that even in a fiscally constrained environment the military could sustain its readiness without risking what it termed “force enhancement”. This was essentially a gamble that procurement, and research and development efforts to modernize the force could be sustained along with readiness, at the cost of some downsizing of the Armed Forces.

By 1997 the BUR’s 2 MRC requirement had been adopted by the National Security Strategy and National Military Strategy. However, Eric Larson notes that by this point it had also become clear that high deployment-rates and operational tempos were not only degrading readiness but were risking the vaunted force enhancements, as funds marked for modernization were shifted to operations and maintenance accounts whenever one of those ol’ lesser –case contingencies reared its head. Additionally, Larson wrote that “research in fact suggests that the cumulative level of peacetime operations approximated a full MRC or more of force structure.” Against this backdrop Congress would act (yes, there was a time those two words could appear together in the same sentence). With the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act Congress formally established the requirement for a “comprehensive examination” every four years, specifically entitled the Quadrennial Defense Review, tasking the Secretary of Defense to examine:
─ Force structure
─ Force modernization plans
─ Infrastructure
─ Budget plan
─ Other elements of the defense program and policies of the United States

How did the first QDR play out? Stay tuned…

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

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. 

On Stockdale and Strategy

The following article kicks off The Hunt for Strategic September, a week of analysis on the relevance of strategic guidance to today’s maritime strategy(ies).

stockdaleFor two weeks in September, I participated in a Navy fleet exercise, supporting our nation’s defense by flinging razor-sharp PowerPoint slides at the enemy.

The nature of the exercise – which featured U.S. and coalition ships sailing into an escalating regional tiff – raised an important question with which fans of Admiral Stockdale may be familiar: “Who are we? Why are we here?” In other words, why did this fleet of American warships exist and why did it bother coming to this forsaken, if fictional, part of the world?

We can talk about Quadrennial Defense Reviews and Strategic Choices Management Reviews and TPS Reports endlessly, but they’re all at a level of granularity that misses the point, which is – why do we bother?

The national security strategy answers the question. At least, it should. But lately, it’s hard to define what it is.

Time was, it could be summed up as a doctrine (think Monroe or Truman) or perhaps in a word, such as “containment.” The armed forces were structured to support some overarching goal and their missions were more or less guided by it. But that time is past. This isn’t to say we don’t have a national security strategy – we do– but does the general public possess any common notion of what it might be?

Luckily, I know some members of this “public,” so I asked them. Respondents to my unscientific inquiry included teachers, scientists, cops, economists, retired military officers and everything in between. A sampling of responses follows.


“Our national strategy in foreign affairs seems to lack a strong guiding principle, well-founded or misguided or anything else it might be.  We seem to be reacting to a series of foreign crises (often in philosophically inconsistent ways) rather than making any serious attempt to proactively influence the course of foreign affairs.”

“Our national strategy in foreign affairs seems to be one of PR rather than defense.”

“Simply put… ‘might makes right.’”

“Strategy seems like a generous term – it suggests deliberate action. U.S. policy is set ad hoc and largely reactive. The terms “incoherent” and “ineffective” come to mind… though the administration would say it is promoting democracy and U.S. interests broadly.”

“Promote democracy, protect trade, maintain world power status.”

“Our national strategy is, despite all pronouncements, a strategic retreat from aggressive foreign policy, and a return to more diplomacy, less stick.”

“We either do not have one, or it is to shoot from the hip.”

“I’d have to surmise that our national strategy is to act in accordance with what we view to be our own short-term economic self-interest.”

“The U.S. post-WWII strategy has been to promote political and economic stability in those parts of the globe in which there is a perceived national interest… the last three administrations have done a terrible job articulating a foreign affairs strategy to the American people, or Congress.”


A couple of themes emerge here: First, respondents don’t know much about the national strategy, and events don’t give them a “warm fuzzy” that it either exists or is being executed. Second, they perceive a reactive streak to current U.S. strategy – events drive our actions, not the other way around.

Well, America, I’m happy to report we do have a National Security Strategy. Our nation’s actual priorities, per the National Security Strategy of 2010, can be summed up as Security, Prosperity, Values and International Order. I think. Actually, it might be Building Our Foundation, Pursuing Comprehensive Engagement, and Promoting a Just and Sustainable International Order. It’s hard to tell as written. Maybe I’m not so happy to report we have it, after all.

From a communications standpoint, this is a problem, which leads to at least one of three other problems in the real world (possibly – probably? – all three):

1.) Nobody understands it.

2.) Policymakers don’t follow it.

3.) Foreign powers don’t take it seriously.

What to do?

Hunted to extinction in 1991
Hunted to extinction in 1991

Let’s start by acknowledging that in this arena, the U.S. is a victim of its own success. With the Cold War won, the population of foreign dragons to slay was drastically reduced (though Christian Bale continued to find employment). The U.S. has become, in effect, a status quo power, whose chief goal is maintaining the world system (economic, diplomatic and otherwise) and bringing the outliers into it. “Okay, guys, let’s just keep things the way they are and try to encourage incremental improvement at the margins” is not a very sexy mission statement.

But that is no excuse. Whatever the challenges, a clear and concise strategy must be articulated. And most importantly, it has to be meaningful to the layperson, whose taxes are paying for it and whose children are wearing the uniforms.

My recommendation: Get back to basics. The security establishment is spending a disproportionate amount of time on the means – budgets, force structures, manpower reviews – when what needs some articulation is the end. What does the U.S. want the world to look like? What goals are we working toward? Even a status quo power can have ideals to strive for. We could do far worse than refer back to Admiral Stockdale and ask ourselves, “Who are we? Why are we here?”


Matt McLaughlin is a Navy Reserve lieutenant and strategic communications consultant who doesn’t work on that kind of strategy. Opinions expressed do not represent those of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, or his employer.

The Hunt for Strategic September

HuntWashington 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 nextwar@cimsec.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.

The Future Ashore

                                                                   Blurring the flavors of force.

Since contemplating Janus a month and a half ago we’ve seen a lot of ink spilled about national security affairs. The majority of it is driven by the fiscal challenges facing the U.S. government. There’s been hyperbole, exaggeration, as well as underestimation and ignorance.  Even here at NextWar we’ve seen some hysterics (yes Hipple, we’re looking at you).  The Firm believes that the U.S.’ Sequestration and the Continuing Resolution are bad.  They demonstrate terrible leadership and hint at a government bereft of the capacity for strategic thinking.  Discussing the politics of sequestration, however, isn’t going to help us at CIMSEC fill the void.

We said there is a “hint” that the government is incapable of strategic thinking, but we only say hint.  There has been some recent writing, publishing, and thinking about the future.  Specifically, about the future of American ground forces.  Buried in all the pages of frenzy about what happens March 1st, a pair of articles were published this month by leaders in the Army and Marine Corps meant to provide a vision for the future.

“Foreign Policy” (rapidly becoming a favorite of the Service Chiefs, we wonder what that says about their editorial policies) published General Odierno’s article “The Force of Tomorrow.”  The Army’s Chief of Staff laid out his vision for the post-OIF/OEF U.S. Army.  The article shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, none of the ideas are new and the overall language is in line with both the Administration’s January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the material the Joint Staff regularly puts out.  There are a couple of things that struck us, however, as we read it.  Despite the whitebread nature of the article, there was something about it that rubbed us the wrong way.  The Chief of Staff appears to be advocating for a force which sounds an awful lot like an Imperial Army.  His future Army is forward deployed all over the globe, working with our partners on their home turf.  That sounds good on the surface but makes three significant and problematic assumptions.

First it assumes that our partners want a large number of U.S. Soldiers in their country for an extended period of time.  We don’t see a lot of countries asking for that these days.  Second it assumes that we have the money in the national accounts for a land force that is both big enough to be good at large formation combined arms and small formation partnership and daily crisis response.  This requires units spread out in garrisons all over the globe like a modern day Roman Legion.  Besides the will, and the political/diplomatic problems with that kind of vision, there is no money for that.  The Chief of Staff doesn’t really even acknowledge the coming fiscal problem.  The third assumption it makes is that we need another part of the military that is globally deployed on a day-to-day basis focused on partnership, presence, and crisis response.  Just because the Defense Strategic Guidance says that the U.S. military should be doing those things, doesn’t mean that every Service should be doing every one of them in equal amounts.  It appears that money isn’t the only pie the Pentagon wants slice and serve in equal proportions, and the Chiefs want everyone eat their piece at the same time after dinner.  Here at The Firm we sometimes like pie for brunch, or Liner if we really sleep in.

This idea that the services should all be doing the same thing is ridiculous.  We need a U.S. Army that is optimized for large-formation combined-arms combat operations.  If the Army doesn’t do it, then who will?  There isn’t another service that does that.  We already have a service which is optimized for operations at roughly the battalion size and below, which historically has conducted partnership missions, crisis response, and small wars globally, and it’s call the U.S. Marine Corps.  The last twelve years of operations ashore appear to have convinced everyone that the Marine Corps is another land army, not just in terms of how we spend money, but also how we divide missions and responsibilities.

That brings us to the second article published this month.  Marine Corps Major General Kenneth McKenzie’s article “Naval Power and the Future of Assured Access” in “Armed Forces Journal.”  With General Odierno creating an obvious opening for debate, and an opportunity for the Marine Corps to reassert its historic role in our military, we had high hopes for this article.  Instead, we are treated to something written more for “The Rings” of the Pentagon than for a substantive discussion of roles and missions.  If we had a podcast of this article we would turn it into a drinking game – taking a shot for every cliché, piece of jargon, or doctrinal reference.  Each of the Marine Corps’ important acquisition programs gets a nod, the ground forces get to push back against AirSea Battle…or what they think AirSea Battle might be (since we’re not sure that anyone really knows), and we get to perpetuate the language of Jointness.  From the author of Revenge of the Melians we expected so much more.  Instead we’re treated to another staff-produced “article” that probably looks a lot better as the PowerPoint bullets where it started.  We feel sorry for the poor Major who actually wrote this article and didn’t appear to get any help from the chop chain (We do love the AFJ cover photo though).

We like the fact that the Marine Corps is talking about naval affairs.  This is a positive step and we don’t mean to belittle it.  However, we need clear thinking to move these discussions and debates forward.  If these two articles are indicative of what MGEN McKenzie called “the intellectual capital” that is being prepared for the coming Quadrennial Defense Review, we suspect that the 2014 QDR will be as useless as all the previous QDR’s.  It’s time to start talking about the strengths and weaknesses of each service, and being honest about who best fills the roles and missions required in today’s world.  Instead of playing games inside “The Rings” to increase prestige and funding, let’s talk about how to best defend our nation and our interests.

The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters.  Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.