Despite some concern that the Pentagon is conducting its sweeping review of military strategy in a vacuum, administration officials say they plan to consult with the defense industry and lawmakers on the congressionally mandated exercise that will guide the Defense Department’s plans, budgets and policies for the next four years.
This go-around marks the third official Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) — and the first time an administration has gone through the review twice. It has been deemed a “top-down” study, and so far has been closely controlled by a handful of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s top aides.
“This is the first time in history anybody ever got a second chance at the QDR. It was always done by new guys coming in, taking their best shot,” said James Carafano, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “The fact that it’s the second one means they understand the issues and the process better and can afford to be a little more top-down.”
But Ryan Henry, the Pentagon’s principal deputy undersecretary for policy and one of the drivers of the QDR process, said that, while the yearlong review is controlled by Rumsfeld, it will pull together input from outside the secretary’s immediate office. The QDR will officially go to the Hill next February, around the same time as the 2007 budget request.
“We’d like to have a competition of ideas within the department … but we look forward to engaging in a dialogue and an outreach effort with all sorts of communities,” Henry said during a Heritage Foundation speech Feb. 3 in Washington. Those include not only Congress and industry but also allies and the public at large.
Such an effort, he added, is one of the “guiding principles” of the QDR and will help spark “informed debate” within the Defense Department.
Always a subject of interest, the QDR this time is expected to pave a new way forward for the department, shifting it away from a strategy focused largely on major theater wars and instead toward preparation for numerous types of contingencies, including fighting terrorists, insurgents and other non-state enemies.
Such a shift will have a dramatic impact on the way the military is organized and equipped. Many analysts expect the 2005 QDR to set a new benchmark for the Defense Department, effectively ending the post-Cold War military philosophy that has dominated defense thinking since the late 1980s.
“Since the Cold War, we have focused on one problem and one problem only,” said Robert Work, a senior analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “We have to start doing a true review.”
Already, Pentagon planners proposed slashing defense budgets by $30 billion through 2011. A total of $55 billion has been sheared from such weapons systems as the F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet, the DD(X) destroyer and missile defense, with $25 billion reappointed to equipping new Army modular units.
The program cuts were not officially part of the QDR but will help guide the review throughout the next year.
Members of Congress have widely opposed the cuts, which were done with no consultation from Capitol Hill and little input from the services. But the Pentagon’s outgoing policy chief, Doug Feith, has said defense leaders will discuss the cuts with lawmakers.
“There will be a legislative effort, a legislative-affairs effort, to explain the thinking to people on the Hill,” Feith said during a Jan. 26 breakfast with reporters. “People on the Hill understand that the world has changed a lot in recent years. They are by and large receptive to the thinking that has been done in the government about how to adapt to the changes in the world security situation.”
As Congress and industry gird for the extensive — and potentially painful — cuts, their input in the QDR could be their best shot at convincing the Pentagon to save pet projects.
But so far, the QDR is still closely held. Henry’s event at Heritage was packed, a possible sign that many in Congress and the defense community are still in the dark.
“People have lots of question they don’t have answers to,” Carafano said. “If there is a process [to engage other people], it’s not apparent it’s under way. People are still trying to read tea leaves.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, a vice president at the Association of the United States Army, said the organization has not yet been involved with the QDR process. However, he recently asked Henry to brief a group of the association’s fellows on the review, and the Pentagon official agreed.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon has not yet approached him on the QDR.
“We are not involved — and I’m not saying that in a pejorative way,” he said.
When he was Navy secretary in the 1970s, the military put its budgets together with no consultation from Congress, he said. The same generally holds true for the QDR. In fact, if the department does formally and extensively reach out to Congress and industry during this review, it will be a first, Carafano said.
“I don’t remember anything terribly formal about QDR engagement in previous QDRs … in terms of outreach to the private sector, think tanks and Congress,” he said. “Normally … people don’t want to lay stuff out there and have it get torpedoed.”