Cato Policy Analysis No. 317 September 17, 1998

Policy Analysis

The Quadrennial Defense Review:
Reiterating the Tired Status Quo

by David Isenberg

David Isenberg is an analyst at DynMeridian, a private firm that advises the U.S. government on national security issues. The views expressed here are his own.


Executive Summary

The Quadrennial Defense Review was the Pentagon's third effort to chart a post-Cold War military strategy and force structure. But it was impossible to reconcile the gap between the determination of the United States to maintain its preeminent global military status and the cost of maintaining a Cold War military establishment. Because the QDR, like the preceding efforts, failed to question the underlying strategic logic of an interventionist U.S. foreign policy, its results were similarly unsatisfactory.

Although during the review, defense officials insisted that there would be no "sacred cows," the QDR left unchallenged key tenets of U.S. security policy. It failed to recognize a more benign threat environment; it did not change the criterion that forces should be structured to fight two regional wars nearly simultaneously; it did not question the military budget level and force structure (numbers of air wings, ships, and Army and Marine divisions); and it did not terminate any Cold War-oriented weapon systems. The QDR developed no replacement for the two-war criterion because no consensus exists on what constitutes vital American interests after the Cold War.

The National Defense Panel--an independent group tasked by Congress to review the QDR--was concerned that the two-war criterion merely justified existing force structure. However, the NDP did not provide a critique of that force structure or even analyze alternatives to it. Both the QDR and NDP were mired in "inside the box" thinking. In the new, more benign international environment, U.S. defense budgets, force structure, and weapons suited for the Cold War can be cut.

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