Pentagon abandons two-war doctrine —but not the two wars

This week the Barack Obama administration’s Defense Department released its first Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a congressionally mandated planning and strategy document that every four years provides a framework for the military’s structure and budgets. The 2010 QDR abandons the Bush administration’s “Long War” doctrine. Significantly, the report states that the US will no longer prepare to fight two major wars at the same.

The Pentagon’s new strategy is a more limited and strategic four-prong focus that will have the US: 1) prevail in today’s wars, 2) prevent and deter future conflicts, 3) prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies, 4) enhance the all-volunteer force.

The document also represents a repudiation of the Bush administration’s unilateralism. In the Executive Summary, the QDR states: “America’s power and influence are enhanced by…maintaining interactions with important international institutions such as the United Nations.”

In vague terms, it seemingly broaches eventually passing responsibility for Washington’s current wars over to international peacekeepers: “The Department will improve its capacity for enabling the United Nations and other multinational peacekeeping efforts… The Department will work to enhance the capacity of United Nations and regional organizations’ peacekeeping field operations.” This rhetoric should be viewed in the context of Washington’s full payment last year of more than $2 billion in arrears for UN peacekeeping programs.

While the QDR states that counterinsurgency and stabilization operations will continue to be a key part of the Defense Department’s mission, it also emphasizes “enhancing language, regional, and cultural abilities” as a part of DoD’s long-term planning. It emphasizes unconventional warfare, stating that the Pentagon must be prepared to confront a “much broader range of security challenges,” especially naming threats in cyberspace.

Unlike previous such documents, the new QDR recognizes global environmental threats. “Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment,” it states. “Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”

At the Pentagon press conference announcing the new document, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that it’s time to rethink the “construct” of national security. “We have learned through painful experience that the wars we fight are seldom the wars that we planned,” he acknowledged.

The QDR was released simultaneous with the White House’s staggering $3.8 trillion budget request, which includes a record $708.3 billion (more than half the discretionary portion of the request) for military purposes, including the Pentagon’s base budget, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and nuclear weapons-related activities in the Energy Department. (UN Dispatch, Miller-McCune, Feb. 5; War Resisters League, Center for American Progress, Feb. 4; Foreign Policy, Feb. 2; CSM, Feb. 1)

As we have noted, the two-war capability has been Pentagon doctrine since 1992. It is telling that it is being abandoned just as the US is actually fighting two wars—the one in Iraq ostensibly winding down, but still leaving the country in a ghastly state of entropy; the one in Afghanistan rapidly escalating. And meanwhile, the US appears to be getting drawn into a third war in Yemen.

See our last posts on the politics of the GWOT and the nuclear reposturing.

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