Playing politics with national security is a bad idea. So Congress established the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The purpose of that review? To “set a long-term course for DoD as it assesses the threats and challenges that the nation faces and re-balances DoD's strategies, capabilities, and forces to address today's conflicts and tomorrow's threats.”
In 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates dutifully produced this legislatively-mandated review. But that QDR didn’t pass the ha-ha test in certain, well-informed corners of Congress. Lawmakers promptly chartered a bi-partisan Independent Panel to review the review. Its conclusion: Gates’ QDR significantly undersold defense needs.
But while the Independent Panel reported Gates had understated defense needs, the Office of Management and Budget was informing the Secretary that his projected needs cost too much. Gates’ answer was to ignore his own QDR and the Independent Panel and start lobbying for a smaller, less capable, and more poorly-funded military. In other words, he started advocating for exactly what Congress said it did not want: a cost-driven, rather than needs-based, defense budget.
Lawmakers desperate to balance the budget are easily tempted to grasp at Gates’ military-lite request. But Congress can’t delude itself into thinking it can provide real national security by rubber-stamping anything close to the administration’s budget.
For a much needed reality check, lawmakers should read “A Strong National Defense: The Armed Forces America Needs and What They Will Cost.” This report from by The Heritage Foundation examines authoritative open-source documents, including the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review and the Independent Panel’s report and maps the vital national interests in five strategically important regions.
The study then identifies the forces needed to address those concerns and what it would cost to sustain them. The results clearly show that Gates has sold Congress a bill of goods—and sold security short.