The National Defense Panel (NDP) is one of Washington’s oddest creatures. It was created by Congress to provide a sanity check of the Administration’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the once every four year report that is supposed to be a forward looking assessment of the adequacy of the U.S. military to meet the missions assigned to it and to counter current and prospective threats to national security. It is designed to be bipartisan, meaning that both parties in the House and Senate get to pick a couple of NDP members and the Secretary of Defense chooses the co-chairs. This time the co-chairs were former Secretary of Defense William Perry and retired General John Abizaid. Members included former senior government officials from the current and previous administrations. One, Michelle Flournoy, had run the previous QDR in 2010 when she was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
Given the political nature of the NDP and the fact that it lacks the time and resources necessary to fully assess the QDR and develop alternative strategies, force structures and investment plans, one would assume that the Panel’s report would be anodyne, at best. Far from it. The 2014 NDP report is a clear and hard-hitting critique of the Obama Administration’s defense strategy as well as Congress’s unwillingness to adequately resource the U.S. military.
Here are five key conclusions and recommendations reached by the NDP:
1. The QDR force is inadequate to meet this Nation’s needs for military power. Moreover, unless sequestration is undone and additional resources provided to build a larger military and invest in more modern capabilities, “the Armed Forces of the United States will in the near future be at high risk of not being able to accomplish the National Defense Strategy.” A robust, highly capable military is this Nation’s insurance policy against all sorts of potential catastrophes. “Americans know that, in a crisis, it is better to have what we may not need than to need what we do not have.”
2. The two major theater war force sizing construct first articulated in the 1997 QDR remains valid today. In fact, the requirement for U.S. forces to be able to operate in multiple theaters at the same time has, if anything, increased. The NDP criticizes recent attempts to water down this standard and provides its own expansive definition:
“We feel it is imperative that as a global power with worldwide interests, the United States armed forces should be sized and shaped to deter and defeat large-scale aggression in one theater . . . while simultaneously deterring and thwarting opportunistic aggression in multiple other theaters . . . all the while defending the U.S. homeland and maintaining priority global missions such as global counterterrorism operations.”
3. The requirement for high confidence conventional deterrence of a potential war with China can no longer be ignored. “One of DoD’s force planning scenarios should involve the most challenging high-end threat the United States and its allies face in the Western Pacific.”
4. The increasing demand for forward presence and power projection into multiple theaters necessitates a reconsideration of the rush to bring U.S. forces home and additional investments in logistics infrastructure and mobility assets. Even more important, the NDP calls for a major increase in shipbuilding in order to create a fleet of between 323 and 346 ships.
5. The readiness of the current force is seriously eroding. Both the Administration and Congress share the blame for this travesty. Both need to heed the NDP’s recommendation for an emergency supplemental appropriation devoted to fixing the readiness crisis.
The NDP makes a number of other important and even courageous recommendations on such subjects as the size of the Army and Marine Corps, recapitalizing the Air Force, acquisition reform, base closures and reining in runaway personnel costs in order to save the All Volunteer Force. The Administration and Congress should adopt in toto the recommendations of the 2014 NDP.
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