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Son of QDR: Prospects for the Army

July 15, 2000

The Department of Defense’s 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is remembered as an indecisive, bare-knuckled interservice scuffle over defense resources. Yet hope springs quadrennially when roles and funding are on the line; the Army, and the other services, are already gearing up for the next QDR. The new Secretary of Defense will deliver the report to Congress in September 2001.

Congress mandated the first QDR with the Armed Forces Force Structure Review Act of 1996 (part of Public Law 104-201). It intended to provoke a fundamental reassessment of defense strategy and force structure. Skeptical of DoD’s ability to do this, Congress also created a National Defense Panel (NDP) to critique the QDR and offer its own recommendations. This fear was borne out as the QDR was driven by budgetary constraints that effectively rubber-stamped the status quo, skimming off a thin layer of cuts from each service.

This faint-hearted and political approach perpetuated the faults of the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR). It did little to challenge the force structure largely held over from the Cold War and it entrenched a severe strategy–resources mismatch. The QDR force is not even close to affordable at anywhere near the $250 billion ceiling (in 1997 dollars) set by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen. One recent study concludes it is being underfunded by up to $100 billion a year.

There are reasons to believe this second go-round will be more fruitful. Recent publicity about the military’s chronically underfunded budgets and the existence of a federal surplus have warmed the climate for increased defense spending. Last year saw the administration request a real increase in the defense budget for the first time since 1985, and this year’s request looks to build on that. With defense a potential issue in the upcoming presidential campaign, the next administration may feel empowered to shake things up. It is more likely to find its hands tied.