The Quadrennial Defense Review Report lays out some of the thinking behind the military component of US grand strategy. The QDR goals are articulated as a sequence of intended transformations, a selection of which are laid out in the table below.
|Current State of the Defense Paradigm||Desired State of the Defense Paradigm|
|From a time of reasonable predictability||to an era of surprise and uncertainty|
|From single-focused threats||to multiple, complex challenges.|
|From nation-state threats||to decentralized network threats from non-state enemies.|
|From conducting war against nations||to conducting war in countries we are not at war with (safe havens)|
|From “one size fits all” deterrence||to tailored deterrence for rogue powers, terrorist networks and near-peer competitors|
|From responding after a crisis starts (reactive)||to preventive actions so problems do not become crises (proactive).|
|From crisis response||to shaping the future|
|From threat-based planning||to capabilities based planning|
|From a focus on kinetics||to a focus on effects|
|From static defense, garrison forces||to mobile, expeditionary operations|
|From a battle-ready force (peace)||to battle hardened forces (war)|
|From large institutional forces (tail)||to more powerful operational capabilities (teeth)|
|From major conventional combat operations||to multiple irregular, asymmetric operations|
|From separate military Service concepts of operation||to joint and combined operations|
|From an emphasis on ships, guns, tanks and planes||to focus on information, knowledge and timely, actionable intelligence.|
|From massing forces||to massing effects.|
|From static alliances||to dynamic partnerships|
|From the U.S. military performing tasks||to a focus on building partner capabilities|
|From Department of Defense solutions||to interagency approaches|
These are extremely abstract goals. The chapter entitled "The Fight Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq" provides few clues into how these highly abstract concepts might be applied in practice, at least in their initial forms. There is some discussion of "indirect warfare" against terrorism; explicit recognition is given to the need to vastly upgrade the language skills of defense personnel; the crucial role of information warfare is highlighted. But by and large one is left with the impression of a huge conventional force groping for ways to apply these concepts, often by renaming existing activities but more frequently by adjusting the emphasis within existing activities. The wholly new capabilities which are required before the transformational vision described in the table above becomes reality is not even remotely approached.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the QDR pays it in spades to the terrorist form of warfare. Many of the attributes in the desired state of the transformation table are qualities which clandestine, terrorist organizations possess or are provided through the medium of the Islamic religion. But whereas terrorist agents are mere vehicles of viral destruction, the US Armed Forces must provide a full spectrum of capabilities against a variety of threats ranging from natural catastrophes, conventional attack and even against threats which haven't been recognized yet. That requirement and its technological heritage means it must become something wholly other than its terrorist foe; at one moment pursuing foes on horseback across Afghanistan and at another organizing elections or writing articles on the Internet, when they are not cruising the uncharted reaches of outer space in futuristic craft.
The real difficulty is that operations envisioned to successfully fight the Long War according to this QDR blur the lines between traditional military roles and those of evangelists, aid workers and crusading politicians. It is practically a strategy to mobilize nearly all sources of national power and bring it to bear upon the enemy on an ongoing basis. Not to fight a future war, but one already in progress.
Personally, I see little prospect of attaining the transformations envisioned by the QDR unless the vision it embodies is accepted by a broad political consensus. And that will be far from easy because there are currently marked divisions in the perception of what constitutes the main threats to world peace and what steps should be taken to address them. To a very large percentage of the body politic, international security is still about treaties and multilateral action undertaken by traditional military forces within the framework of organizations like NATO or the UN. Ideas like "tailored deterrence", "preventive actions so problems do not become crises", "asymmetric operations" -- to name a few -- are not only unfamiliar but would be regarded with undisguised horror. One interesting experiment would be to put any one of these points before national figures in the Democratic or Republican parties just to gauge their opinion on the subject, if they have one.
Nor do I think that many of the novel ideas expressed in the QDR are in anything like their final forms. If any phrase can be used to summarize the message of the QDR, I think it is 'the need to make things up as we go along because the old formulas do not work any more'. It's single greatest contribution, if the public becomes interested in it at all or the newspapers devote more than a few pages to its content, is to start a debate into the strategies needed to fight the Long War. Not the Cold War: the Long War.