QDR doesn't set useable defense strategy, say panelists

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The quadrennial defense review is a poor way to develop Defense Department strategy because of its one-size-fits-all approach and necessarily watered-down language, said panelists at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on the upcoming 2014 QDR.

"I can't think of a worse way of making good strategy than a quadrennial defense review" because of the involvement of a few thousand people and the needed result of an unclassified document, said Jim Thomas, vice president and director of studies for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments at the Jan. 28 CSIS conference.

Thomas and other panelists said the QDR process has too varied an audience to avoid setting obvious and unhelpful DoD strategies such as an overall goal of preventing wars, adequately fighting wars currently engaged in and preparing for future events and conflicts.

This "one-size fits all strategy for the problems that face the nation and that Defense has to deal with" typically encourages maintaining the status quo and does not properly address new real-world situations, said Thomas.

The 2014 QDR process needs to have fewer players and focus on new ways to approach goals, he said, such as recent efforts to combat terrorist networks by directing federal efforts at reducing global, catastrophic capabilities while relying on friendly regional partners to address local events.

Shawn Brimley, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who played a part in crafting the 2010 QDR, said that the process would set better targets and goals if it were classified, either in part or in whole.

Brimley said the process now is essentially "coming up with a bumper sticker that would describe an incredibly complicated set of force planning scenarios and methodology." Since the QDR relies heavily on classified documents and reports, said Brimley, the QDR would be best served by having their findings represented as accurately as possible by not removing important classified findings.

The declassified document also cannot be explicit enough on some goals so it can leave some issues open to interpretation and that "extends the difficulties of trying to implement some of the decisions in the QDR," he said.

For more:
- listen to the CSIS panel on preparing for the 2014 QDR

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