Pentagon strategy comes under increased scrutiny

The Defense Department has put a price tag on its latest post-Afghanistan global military strategy — $141 billion.

That was the message delivered today by Christine E. Wormuth, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development. Wormuth, who provided a keynote presentation on DOD’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review during a conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said if Congress fails to fully fund the Pentagon’s current and projected budget requests through 2019, it could put the department’s global strategy at risk.

With the president’s budget request, “we can execute,” Wormuth said, referring to the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2015 budget request and the 2015 – 2019 Future Years Defense Program.

Although the president’s baseline FY 2015 budget request of $496 billion meets the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act, popularly known as sequestration, it also includes an additional $26 billion for the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative. In addition, it calls for $115 billion in spending above sequestration-level caps through FY 2019. Pentagon officials have made it clear during a series of public briefings on the budget since its release March 4 that without the $141 billion in spending above sequestration, the military’s global defense strategy faces significant risk.


2014_03_Screen-Shot-2014-03-10-at-3.42.33-PMThe return of sequestration-level cuts would be “very damaging” to the strategy set forth in the QDR, Wormuth said.

“We would also have to go into the modernization accounts,” she said. “We would have much more significant readiness problems. Being a global leader does not come cheap. You cant live in a mansion if you’re working on a middle-class salary.”

But doubts about the Pentagon’s latest strategy document go well beyond budget line items and funding levels. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he plans to introduce legislation requiring DOD to go back to the drawing board and re-submit the QDR.

“This QDR provides no insight into what a moderate-to-low risk strategy would be, is clearly budget driven and is shortsighted,” McKeon said in a statement released March 4.

When asked about McKeon’s rejection of the QDR, Wormuth hit back, characterizing the QDR as a “strategy driven, but resource informed document.” To develop a strategy completely divorced from the resource constraints facing the department would be more akin to taking part in “a graduate seminar exercise” than developing a realistic military strategy, she said.


But McKeon is not alone in his criticisms.

Clark A. Murdock, senior adviser with the Defense and National Security Group at CSIS, said he is troubled with the broad language and concepts used in the QDR. The strategy’s focus on being prepared for the “full spectrum” of potential adversaries and conflicts is unrealistic, he said.

“That’s not setting priorities,” Murdock. “You may just spread yourself thin enough so that your not adequately prepared for any of them. You can’t prepare for everything. We have to make more hard choices. And not prepare for the things we’re not going to do.”

Stephanie Sanok Kostro, acting director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at CSIS agreed. The term “rebalancing and its fuzzy interpretation was rife throughout this document,” Kostro said. Although the QDR mentioned homeland security and counterterrorism many times throughout its 86 pages of content, it did so “without sufficient detail,” Kostro said. “There’s very little to support that they’re actually putting their money where their mouth is.”

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