The March 11 Wall Street Journal contains a detailed description of the ideas underpinning the Pentagon’s 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). In a front-page story, reporter Greg Jaffe reveals that the structure of the review focuses mainly on unconventional threats such as terrorism and weapons proliferation rather than the conventional challenges that drove Cold War defense preparations. The framework that Jaffe describes demonstrates the underlying coherence and consistency of the Bush Administration’s strategic vision, but it also suggests some troubling gaps in logic.
The QDR is focused on four core challenges that resemble a matrix of future threats favored by the Rumsfeld team. That matrix identifies four types of dangers: conventional warfare, “irregular” challenges such as the insurgency in Iraq, “catastrophic” attacks employing weapons of mass destruction, and “disruptive” breakthroughs that give adversaries a sudden gain in capabilities. The matrix assumes that the likelihood of major conventional combat is receding, while the probability of the other, unconventional dangers is rising.
As reporter Jaffe points out, the Rumsfeld paradigm has been heavily influenced by strategic surprises on his watch. But it would be a mistake to interpret the structure of the QDR as simply a response to recent experience. The reality is that the administration had a plan from the very beginning to reorganize U.S. forces, and the concepts shaping the QDR mirror views that Bush and his advisors expressed long before 9-11.
For example, in a campaign speech on September 23, 1999, candidate Bush said, “We know that this era of American preeminence is also an era of car bombers and plutonium merchants and cyber terrorists… Homeland defense has become an urgent duty… We will defend the American homeland by strengthening our intelligence community — by focusing on human intelligence and on the early detection of terrorist operations… Our heavy forces must be lighter. Our light forces must be more lethal. All must be easier to deploy. And these forces must be organized in smaller, more agile formations rather than in cumbersome divisions.”
Those remarks were made two years before 9-11, but almost everything Rumsfeld has done as defense secretary in the intervening period matches Bush’s original vision. And therein lies a danger. The administration is so preoccupied with new dangers that it is allowing conventional capabilities to run down, creating weaknesses that countries like China will exploit. Six of seven military aircraft lines will close over the next several years, even though air fleets are older than ever before. Very few warships are being built.
These weaknesses matter more than Rumsfeld realizes, because he overestimates how great America’s technology edge will be in the future. The industrial economy of his youth has been hollowed out, while foreigners have caught up with America in information technology. When America faces its next great threat, the limitations of unmanned vehicles, special operators and vulnerable networks will be all too clear.
Find Archived Articles: