In the latest Pentagon strategy, uncertainty rules.

Author:Erwin, Sandra I.

An elaborate plan recently unveiled by the Defense Department aims to prepare the military services to cope with a wide range of threats to national security during the next 20 years.

The document lays out a comprehensive strategy that, for the first time, attempts to move the military away from Cold War-style war planning and acknowledges the daunting challenges of "irregular" conflicts, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most notably, the architects of the strategy--known as the quadrennial defense review--recognize that they have no clear foresight into what exactly they expect U.S. military forces to be doing in the next decade or two. Further, the review specifically calls for the military to expand its mission portfolio, but is glaringly lacking in details on what type or size the force should be to accomplish those larger goals.

A close examination of the QDR and comments by defense officials can only lead one to conclude that the Pentagon's crystal ball is much foggier than anyone had predicted before the review was unveiled.

In the QDR, "we put major emphasis on unpredictability and uncertainty in the future world," says Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy,

A selected cadre of senior military and civilian defense officials who began drafting the QDR a year ago assumed that U.S. forces would be engaged somewhere in the world in the next 10 years, Henry tells reporters. But they were, for the most part, "clueless" as to where or when exactly those conflicts will occur, or in what manner the force will be engaged.

Like the quadrennial reviews of 1997 and 2001, this one retains a requirement for the military services to prepare to fight in two major regional conflicts. But the caveat is that one of those conflicts could be a prolonged Iraq-type campaign.

In addition, the services will need to be capable of defeating terrorist networks, defend the homeland, prevent the acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction, and exert influence over countries that own WMDs and find themselves at "strategic crossroads," such as Russia or Pakistan.

The QDR does articulate plans to substantially increase the ranks of special operations forces. But it intentionally shies away from specifying how many soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are needed to achieve the goals set in the review, Henry says. "To be able to give you a set of numbers and tell you they are sufficient is a fallacy."

This is not surprising, given the...

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