The U.S. military isn't organized to fight the wars of the future and needs to start building and expanding now, a bipartisan panel of prominent defense experts and former officials concluded.
The report by the high-level group, led by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former Defense Secretary William Perry, explicitly warns about the "growing gap" between what the military is able to do and what it may be called on to do in the future. It advocates an expansion of the Navy and continued increases in an annual defense budget that has more than doubled since 2001.
"The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming," reads the "Final Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel," an advance copy (pdf) of which was obtained by The Cable.
The congressionally mandated report differs in significant respects from the official QDR, in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his team argued for rebalancing the military away from the huge weapons systems the United States has been building since World War II and toward more manpower- intensive, small-war capabilities like those being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The panel explicitly criticized the Pentagon's QDR by saying it is too focused on today's conflicts.
"It is a wartime QDR, prepared by a Department that is focused -- understandably and appropriately -- on responding to the threats America now faces and winning the wars in which America is now engaged," the report reads. "[I]t is not the kind of long term planning document which the statute envisions."
The report also calls for integrating all the natioal secuirty functions of the federal government, including in Congress, where the report writers recommended lawmakers should combine appropriations for defense, foreign operations, and intelligence into one big committee. It also calls for reforms in how the military pays for personnel and builds weapons, which it says have become so inefficient as to risk the integrity of the entire national security system.
"Most importantly, we need to pay attention to the substantial changes the Department needs to start making today (in force structure, personnel, benefits, acquisition, and so on) if we are going to be able to meet this broader set of defense challenges successfully within existing and projected resources," it says.
Other panel members include former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former four-star Gen. Jack Keane, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, former Republican Sen. Jim Talent, and CEO of the Center for a New American Security John Nagl.
Nagl, whose think tank was co-founded by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, who lead the review process at the Pentagon, told The Cable in an interview that his panel's report doesn't necessarily contradict Flournoy's document.
"The QDR was a very good product and did a good job of focusing on the wars we're in, but was unable to focus on the far out, which it was congressionally mandated to do. Plus the panel could look at things that were outside the Department of Defense," he said. "We also have the luxury of thinking deeper and seeing some troubling trends."
One of the problems with the QDR was that it came out before President Obama's National Security Strategy and therefore couldn't be properly aligned with the overall vision, Nagl said. "The entire process is not as tightly organized as we would like to see it and it doesn't cascade down from the top as we'd like it to."
But conservatives saw the panel's findings as a clear rejection of the Obama administration's military-spending priorities.
"This bipartisan report repudiates those seeking a peace dividend and reaffirms the need to prioritize investment in our national defense," said House Armed Service Committee ranking Republican Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-CA.
The American Enterprise Institute's Gary Schmitt said that while the real QDR didn't play down future threats from nation-states, it didn't really address them either.
"The review panel also had the guts to raise the problem of China's military modernization and the America's perceived decline in relative power in Asia directly, while the QDR can hardly bring itself to mention China, let alone suggest it should be a major strategic concern," he said.
(The QDR does mention China, but only in a few places. Page 54: "As part of its long-term, comprehensive military modernization, China is developing and fielding large numbers of advanced medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, new attack submarines equipped with advanced weapons, increasingly capable long-range air defense systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft, and counter-space systems. China has shared only limited information about the pace, scope, and ultimate aims of its military modernization programs, raising a number of legitimate questions regarding its longterm intentions.")
Gordon Adams, the head of national-security budgeting in the Clinton White House, was critical of the panel's work.
"I don't think I have seen any statement in recent months that more vehemently argues for the US global policeman role than this report, with blatant disregard for our fiscal security and despite the reality that much of the world thinks we have overstepped our role and should reshape our national security policy with greater modesty," Adams said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.