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The QDR in Perspective: Meeting America's National Security Needs in the 21st Century

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Final rept.

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Congress has required by law that every four years the Department of Defense conduct what would outside of government simply be called a strategic review of its existing plans and programs. The Department calls this process the Quadrennial Defense Review or the QDR for short. The modern QDR originated in 1990 at the end of the Cold War when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff undertook in the Base Force study to reconsider the strategy underpinning the military establishment. Then in 1993, building on his own work as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin decided to conduct what he called a Bottom-up Review - an examination, with emphasis on the long term of the risks which America was likely to face, the capabilities necessary to meet them, and the various options for developing those capabilities. As originally conceived, the process was supposed to be free ranging, with the initiative and analysis proceeding from within the DOD and flowing upwards. The point was to free the Department from the constraints of existing assumptions and refresh the intellectual capital of the top political leadership in Congress as well as the Executive branch. The initial Bottom-up Review was considered a success. Of course there was much debate about the conclusions, but Congress thought the process was worthwhile and mandated that it be repeated every four years. Unfortunately, once the idea became statutory, it became part of the bureaucratic routine. The natural tendency of bureaucracy is to plan short term, operate from the top down, think within existing parameters, and affirm the correctness of existing plans and programs of record.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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