President Obama Has a Unique Opportunity to Examine America’s Defenses

The United States military is surely the most advanced fighting machine in the world, but we’ve learned that the blunt instrument of military force isn’t always enough to keep us safe. With transnational terrorism, humanitarian disasters, and roller-coaster energy prices now counted among threats to our security, the Obama administration has to concentrate on building the civilian-run tools of national defense. America needs capacities like a bigger Foreign Service, effective public diplomacy and developmental assistance, and increased intelligence collection.

Unlikely though it may be, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is leading this charge, calling for “a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.”

While the military will remain the key tool in our defense, we need to strike the right balance between funding our military and civilian instruments.  In a new report for the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), I advocate creating a “Quadrennial National Security Review” [QNSR] as a replacement to the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review [QDR] as a solution.

The QDR began under Bill Clinton to study the strategic military challenges and objectives facing the Pentagon. Given the dynamic nature of security, a QNSR would broaden the QDR’s scope, identifying and prioritizing today’s traditional and non-traditional threats.

The QNSR could consist of multiple teams of experts from across the government—Defense, State, the IC, DoJ, Energy—as well as academics and lawmakers. Akin to President Eisenhower’s Project Solarium, each team would present a report that identifies and prioritizes their findings on the challenges to America’s security.

The new administration would craft two additional documents based on the QNSR: a practical National Security Strategy to signal Congress of the administration’s spending priorities, and a Planning Guidance that assigns distinct security missions across government agencies.

You can read the full report at www.ppionline.org and see more about it on my blog www.allourmight.com