Decisions Deferred: Balancing Risks for Today and Tomorrow
By Lieutenant General David Barno and Dr. Nora Bensahel
Reviewed by John Handley, Vice President, American Diplomacy
General Barno and Dr. Bensahel, both senior fellows at the Center for New American Security, the authors of this short but well articulated article, discuss the minimal impact of Secretary of Defense Hagel's recent publication of the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) on both the upcoming 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and the QDR's requirement to forecast potential threats to the U.S. for the next two decades. In the face of continued sequestration and anticipated defense budget cuts, the SCMR did little to address the major choice the QDR must make: does America invest its dwindling defense funds into forces capable of facing today's know threats or in thwarting tomorrow's treats (by 2034), about which one can only speculate.
The authors argue that spending limited defense funds on current military systems, such as the $400 billion allotted to a new short-range manned strike fighter, offers little to no protection from risks or threats the U.S. may face by 2034. They also state that today’s military establishment can meet the present daily requirement for U.S. military forces around the world, which is driven largely by U.S. regional commanders.
Barno and Bensahel, CNAS Deputy Director of Studies, believe that now is the time to concentrate this nation's limited defense resources on preparing for future wars. The U.S. at present has no global military challenger. No other major military power is rearming and thus threatening American security interests. Furthermore, "No existential threat to the well-being of the United States or its people is evident" (page 2). For the authors, the "urgent" needs of today risk distorting the vital (perhaps existential) needs of tomorrow.
Reviewer’s Comment: Unfortunately, no one looking ahead twenty years can know what threats to the U.S. might arise from China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, or the Middle East, from some other state or non-state actor, or even from technology itself, which includes cyber-warfare as well as unmanned and autonomous air, land, and sea systems. Some may also view today's Islamic fundamentalism as an existential threat to Western countries in general and to the United States in particular.
Although the authors emphasize the need to invest America's finite resources to prepare for future warfare, it is difficult to believe such investment will actually occur. While almost everyone can vividly describe the present, most people have great difficulty imagining the future. Whether right or wrong, shortsighted or not, those regional commanders will continue to receive the personnel and material they request, and defense resources will continue to be allocated to support America's fielded forces. Future threats, of necessity, will be faced by future generations.