New DOD strategic review won't sink Marine Corps's postwar plans

"I do not see an appetite" inside the Department of Defense to push the Marine Corps off its postwar strategy to become a more maritime-based, quick-reaction force, Maj. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters during a breakfast in Washington. 


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McKenzie is top officer in charge of the service's portion of the department's Quadrennial Defense Review, a overarching evaluation of the service's current capabilities and an assessment of where those capabilities need to go in the coming years. 

The Marines's vision for the QDR, according to McKenzie, is anchored in the idea of moving away from the "second land army" the Corps became during the Iraq and Afghan wars and returning to its traditional role as a light infantry force patrolling the globe's hot spots aboard Navy ships. 

That approach was backed up by the Pentagon's strategy of shifting its national security focus away from the Mideast into the Asia-Pacific region — a strategy, McKenzie added, that has evolved along a "maritime trajectory." 

But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel threw a wrench into that trajectory last week, when he ordered a review of that Pacific-centric strategy in light of the budget cuts under sequestration.

That ongoing review would look at the Pentagon’s strategy, force posture, investments and previous assumptions and practices and likely influence the QDR, which is due in February 2014, Pentagon press secretary George Little said last Monday. 

That same day, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey predicted that the current focus on the Asia-Pacific region was going to have to change as a result of sequestration. 

“I don’t yet know how much our defense strategy will change, but I predict it will,” Dempsey said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event. 

“We’ll need to re-look our assumptions. We’ll need to adjust our ambitions to match our abilities. That means doing less, but not doing it less well," the four-star general added. 

As a result, McKenzie and other service leaders are looking at a "range of outcomes" that could arise from the strategy review. "We are beginning to look at that range," he added, declining to comment on what those outcomes could include. 

McKenzie did admit the strategic review has put some additional pressure on the Marine Corps's plans to return to the shoreline, but said the pressure "was not any more than any other service" was facing as a result of the review. 

However, the two-star general noted that regardless of how DOD's strategic review turns out, there is no plan by Marine Corps leaders to abandon its own strategy to return to the sea. 

"We are pretty confident about what [capabilities] we have got right now," McKenzie said. "USMC is a naval force."