The Pentagon Report That Details Tomorrow's Military

Fewer boats and planes, more liberal-friendly focus on climate change and multilateralism

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Every few years since 1996, the Department of Defense has released the Quadrennial Defense Review, a comprehensive examination of the tasks facing the U.S. military. The Pentagon's second QDR since September 11, 2001 leaked this weekend ahead of this morning's scheduled release. The 128-page report surveys the military's future--from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to practices for hiring contractors to its role in global humanitarian crisis. Bloggers, reporters and military insiders are parsing the QDR, picking out the big and unexpected changes in the U.S. military and its challenges ahead.

  • Why The QDR Matters Robert Farley counters liberal critics who dismiss the QDR military bloat that fails to address more pressing concerns. "The US military is a huge organization of organizations, and by virtue of its size even small course corrections affect the lives of millions of people." Even "lip service" on, say, increased humanitarian work can make a huge difference.
  • Less Boats and Planes, More Human Terrain Spencer Ackerman reports a reduced emphasis on fighting a conventional war. Instead, "missions include supporting civilian authorities, improving cyberspace capabilities and performing counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and stability operations."
  • Ends 'The Long War' Against Terror Robert Farley finds what could be the most significant detail: zero mentions of "the long war," a phrase that has dominated the military by defining the war on terror in cold war-like terms. Farkins thinks the military now sees each threat, such as in Afghanistan or Yemen, as distinct rather than part of a monolithic, Soviet-like enemy. "What it lacks in narrative, however, it makes up for in general good sense."
  • Declaring War on Climate Change Erik Loomis sees efforts within the military to curb energy consumption and, more importantly, a push to consider military threats caused by climate change. For example, rising sea levels change naval dynamics and evaporating resources can worsen many poverty-based conflicts.
  • Liberal's Dream: Focus On Multilateralism Spencer Ackerman cheers, "[T]he more emphasis placed on multilateralism and collective security in our basic defense planning documents the better, as far as I'm concerned. This is a foundational premise of liberal internationalism. And it's a 'central elemen[t] of U.S. security strategy,' according to page 57."
  • Little Focus on China's Naval Ambitions The U.S. Naval Institute's official blog writes that "preventing and deterring more conventional conflict" is addressed, but the blogger worries that China's expanding naval presence sees insufficient attention. "The inherent danger in such a practice is the strategic space it gives potential adversaries to maneuver and accomplish long-term goals - like establishing overseas bases."
  • Emphasis on Health Christopher Albon, who specializes in conflict health, sees his field expanding. "[H]umanitarian disasters are mentioned as one such area where the US could have a national security interest in strengthening weakened governments against natural disasters." But it focuses heavily on Asia, to the exclusion of other areas. "The DoD discusses at length partnering with Asia and Oceanic states to improve their capacity to respond to humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Africa and South America are only briefly mentioned."
  • 'Teach-Coach-Mentor' Missions Spencer Ackerman finds 500 personnel now dedicated to guiding foreign militaries. An alternative to direct U.S. involvement, Ackerman says this tactic was utilized effectively in the Philippines and could be applied in Yemen.
  • Proves Pentagon's 'Limited Relevance' Matthew Yglesias thinks the report demonstrates "that for all the vastness of its budget, the Department of Defense has a limited relevance to the international relationships that really matter." On our relationship with China, trade and monetary policy is "far, far, far more significant" to Americans that the country's defense posture. He concludes, "it seems pointless to try to draw a budgetary distinction between 'security' and 'non-security' agencies. Our interests around the world are inherently connected to the impact of the world on events inside our borders."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.