January 19, 2016

Agenda SECDEF: Crafting the Next Defense Strategy

By Shawn Brimley, and Loren DeJonge Schulman

When the next secretary of defense arrives in the Pentagon in January 2017, he or she must show up with a fairly well-developed agenda in order to properly seize the various levers of power and influence inside the Pentagon, rather than be seized by them. If past is prologue, the secretary should not wait for the perennially late National Security Strategy before diving into an actionable defense agenda. At the risk of oversimplification, this effort should span the strategic spectrum of ends, ways, and means.

Typically a secretary and his or her key staff will inherit a Quadrennial Defense Review process — or Defense Strategy Review, as it is now known — that is already underway and carrying considerable historical baggage. Recent QDRs have been accused of being public affairs exercises catering to external audiences; carefully word-smithed platforms on which to hang major programs; or the “most pointless and destructive planning effort imaginable.”According to a saying frequently quoted inside The Building, “if God really hates you, you may end up working on a QDR.”

Read the full op-ed on War on the Rocks.