America’s defense policy is at a crossroads. Since 1997, the United States Congress has required the Department of Defense to undertake a major defense review every four years. The department is currently developing the third such review and will release it later this year. The review promises to be nothing short of a watershed.
The last Quadrennial Defense Review was published a few weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a result, it gave only hints of the counterterrorism strategy to come. The 2005 review, by contrast, will represent several years of thinking by the Bush administration, and thus will serve as a key indicator of the future course of American defense policy.
The grand strategy that serves as the foundation for American defense policy has not undergone major change since 2002. Focusing on terrorism, the strategy calls for strengthening the network of international partners seeking to eradicate transnational terrorism, and for direct action against terrorist organizations and their sponsors. Ultimately, it seeks to address what President Bush considers the root causes of terrorism, particularly the absence of open political systems and economic opportunity.
What is changing is the way that US military power is used to implement this grand strategy. There is little doubt that the 2005 Defense Review will formalize the change in focus underway since September 11, 2001. Before that, the American military concentrated on swift victory in a major theater war against another state’s military forces. Today, however, the US military is more likely to be used to stabilize and rebuild failed states, assist partners in countering insurgency and terrorism, control nuclear weapons when regimes collapse, or directly eradicate terrorist organizations and their supporters. This requires a different type of force, and one capable of running a marathon rather than a sprint, sustaining major deployments for extended periods.