In Nod to Top Brass, Rumsfeld Shifts QDR's Direction; Focus on Terrorism, WMD Modified

By Jason Sherman / February 9, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is significantly changing the focus of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review at the prompting of military commanders who believe the assessment must take a broader view of future challenges, according to Defense Department sources.

This wider scope will require the Pentagon to give greater weight to the role other federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations and coalition partners play in dealing with the four strategic problems Rumsfeld wants the department to address in the 2005 QDR.

Accordingly, the Pentagon is reframing its approach to examining what future capabilities will be needed to counter terrorism and deal with weapons of mass destruction.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, suggested at a Jan. 27 combatant commanders' conference with Rumsfeld and other senior Defense Department leaders that the scope of the strategy review be widened, according to a source familiar with those discussions.

Specifically, Abizaid argued that the strategic challenges outlined in a draft terms of reference memo outlining the focus and scope for the review were too narrow. The lengthy, draft document, according to sources familiar with it, described the four problems Rumsfeld wants examined, including: countering Islamic extremism, which includes "ensuring the demise of terrorist networks"; dealing with a "failed" nuclear-armed state; the military's role in homeland security; and the conventional military of an emerging power.

"As a result of the combatant commanders' conference, they generally agreed to cast a wider net on these issues," said a Defense Department source.

That is translating into "significant" changes to an updated draft terms of reference document that will be forwarded soon to Rumsfeld for approval, multiple sources said.

"The emphasis on the terrorist problem has shifted to building partnerships to defeat terrorists. It is really more about getting our interagency partners, our allies, other people involved," said one defense official familiar with the recently modified draft terms of reference.

Similarly, the challenge of dealing with a failed nuclear-armed has changed.

"A lot of people, not only combatant commanders, thought it was too narrow," said the source. The focus now is on preventing hostile states or terrorists from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Sources said the review will still allow for an examination of dealing with a failed state, but it will involve a much broader look at the problem of weapons of mass destruction.

A more expansive approach to these problems could generate a wider set of capabilities to deal with each challenge, defense officials said.

"By starting off a little broader you end up with a broader set of capabilities in your portfolio," said the defense official.

These shifts set up what could end up being one of the most challenging issues the Pentagon faces in the review -- and one that Defense Department alone cannot change.

"One of the things that we're going to be looking at in the QDR is this whole question of how do we structure ourselves to be more effective working with other agencies of the U.S. government and internationally," Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters Jan. 26. "We are expanding the set of problems the Defense Department recognizes we're going to need to play a role in dealing with. We're also very conscious of the fact that many of these problems are not narrowly DOD problems; they are broadly U.S. government problems."

However, some officials are saying that the 2005 QDR in the end may not be up to the task of adequately addressing the challenges Rumsfeld has laid out. Because these problems cut across various departments of the executive branch of the U.S. government, many Pentagon officials believe that what is necessary is a quadrennial strategy review -- something wider in scope than the QDR.

The 1995 Commission on Roles and Missions, a precursor to the QDR, recommended such a strategy review at the beginning of each presidential term. The head of the commission, John White, who later became deputy defense secretary, was unable to win support outside the Pentagon for the proposal.

His idea, however, is finding traction among many preparing for the 2005 QDR.

"The thinking for the last few months at the staff level was that it's evident that the interagency process for some of these things that we're doing just doesn't work very well. So the Department of Defense can continue to fix itself and make it better and better and better but it doesn't operate by itself. It operates as part of the interagency. So perhaps the QDR needs to be broadened even further to address the interagency piece," said a Pentagon official.

This source, however, doesn't expect such a review to happen soon. "Since the interagency process is so relatively undefined, I'm pretty sure the secretary of defense wouldn't want to hitch his wagon to that process," said the defense official.

Improving cooperation across the departments and agencies of the federal government to deal with new security challenges is the focus of a "Beyond Goldwater-Nichols" project led by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank in Washington.

"When you look at the range of challenges we face -- combatting terrorism, counterproliferation, conducting operations on the ground -- almost everything we do will be fundamentally interagency in character," said Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser at CSIS who is involved in the project. "This means the Defense Department cannot achieve the objective by itself. It has to have partners from other agencies of government who are able to operate alongside it to be effective. Right now there is a big gap between what is needed and what exists in terms of operational capacity outside of DOD."

One organization is focused on trying to fill the gap. The State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, established last summer and headed by Amb. Carlos Pascual, is leading U.S. government efforts to improve interagency cooperation in identifying and marshaling civilian resources quickly to stabilize and reconstruct a country after a major combat operation. This office is charted to work closely with the Defense Department to ensure civil-military cooperation in planning and operations.

These issues aside, the modified terms of reference are being well received by top brass, said one senior military official directly involved in efforts to lay the groundwork for the QDR. "We're very happy with the terms of reference. All of the combatant commanders have reviewed it, and all of the services chiefs, and they have collaborated on it. We're very satisfied the defense review will get at those issues that we think it should."