This week, the Defense Department will begin the Quadrennial Defense Review, a year-long study that should help the secretary put his stamp on the military.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates's bid to remake the Pentagon enters a new and crucial phase this week as the Defense Department begins a year-long review of its own strategy that will inform how it should spend billions of dollars and what its priorities should be.
The result is the Quadrennial Defense Review, and in addition to the Pentagon budget, the QDR is one of the most powerful tools at Secretary Gates's disposal to try to put the military on a new course. He has argued the Pentagon must get its head in the current fights in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of gazing at the strategic horizon – preparing for hypothetical threats, such as the one posed by China.
The QDR, released every four years, is designed to consider all scenarios. According to a Pentagon internal document, this year's QDR will assess the risks for scenarios including the possibility of militants in Pakistan getting control of its nuclear weapons and a potential conflict between China and Taiwan. Ultimately, the review must answer the question of whether the US should worry about conventional threats from established countries or more "asymmetric" threats emanating from unstable countries such as Somalia.
"Preparing for this operating environment is extremely challenging," said Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon's top policy official Wednesday. "It will pull us in two very different directions."
Given Gates's proclivities, it's likely the finished product will set in stone spending priorities for more irregular forms of warfare. Gates's $534 billion fiscal 2010 budget, which he previewed earlier this month, sets aside billions of dollars for counterinsurgency warfare – from remote-controlled aircraft to new helicopters. At the same time, it tempers spending on programs designed for more conventional warfare, such as F-22 stealth fighter jets.