Strategy for Changing Times

Dec. 1, 2001

In early September, the Pentagon was just finishing up the Quadrennial Defense Review, on which it had labored for the past seven months. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been given a broad charter to transform the armed forces to better meet the needs of the new century.

However, the White House had left the drafting of strategy to the Pentagon. At that point, developing national security strategy wasn’t on the Administration’s front burner.

That changed suddenly with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. A quick revision to the QDR made homeland security the top defense priority.

More important was the “Bush Doctrine.” The President declared that the focal point of his Administration will be destroying the terror networks. Nations must choose: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” Bush said. “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

With that, the President laid the foundation for the first real defense strategy we have had since the Cold War. It is unlike the loose strategies of the 1990s, which scattered too much of their attention on interests deemed “important” but not necessarily “vital.”

This time, the security of the nation is at risk. This time, there are enemies intent on bringing us down.

Assumptions and relationships in effect before Sept. 11 may no longer be in effect. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the BBC, “We have a much higher priority now than anything we had two, three, four years ago.”

It is possible that new alliances could emerge, in the same way that the Cold War spawned NATO. We have already seen extraordinary cooperation from other world powers, including Russia, in the counterattack on terrorism.

The Bush Doctrine is clearly the cornerstone of the new strategy, but major building blocks will be supplied by Rumsfeld and his QDR team. A key point, which Rumsfeld has been pushing since last summer, is that we should move from a “threat-based” strategy to one that is “capabilities-based.”

The capabilities-based model concentrates on how an adversary might fight rather than–as previous strategies did–on who the adversary might be and where a war might occur. This would, the QDR report said, “refocus planners on the growing range of capabilities that adversaries might possess or could develop” and point to the capabilities we will need ourselves.

It would also anticipate surprise.

In a column for the Washington Post, Rumsfeld said that we must simultaneously win the war on terror and “prepare now for the next war–a war that may be vastly different not only from those of the past century but also from the new war on terrorism that we are fighting today. The methods of the Sept. 11 strikes came as a surprise. In the decades ahead, we will almost certainly be surprised again.”

Rooting al Qaeda out of the caves in Afghanistan is one, but only one, of the things we need to do. The QDR report introduced a new acronym for us to worry about: CBRNE–chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and enhanced high explosive–weapons in the hands of states supporting terrorism, particularly in the Middle East.

Critical national infrastructures, among them the electrical power grid and the banking system, are vulnerable. At some point, there will be a serious attack on our assets in space or on the computer networks on which we increasingly depend.

On the other hand, Wolfowitz reminded the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in October, the next challenge we face “might even be a return to the past with nation states invading their neighbors.”

No matter what self-appointed experts might say on television or in the newspapers, conventional forces have not lost their importance. The air defense of North America has moved from the sidelines to the front lines. Air National Guard interceptors are a common sight above American cities.

We should further note that the first requirement in the counterattack on al Qaeda was global power projection. Homeland security cannot be achieved by defensive measures alone. It is simply not possible to be on guard everywhere against everything. Thus, a big element in defending the homeland against terrorists is to move the fight out of our homeland and into theirs.

The strategic change brought on by the Bush Doctrine is still too new–and not yet mature enough–to see fully how it will be implemented and what requirements it will generate.

It is generally obvious, though, that the requirements will range from human intelligence on the ground to technology in air and space. The Bush Doctrine commits us to search out and destroy those who threaten the United States, whoever and wherever they are. Among the military capabilities essential to the purpose are long reach, precision, and a high order of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

As they deliberate on these matters, the architects of the new strategy may also find value in an operational goal first declared by the Air Force in 1996. It said the guiding objective for the 21st century would be to find, fix, track, and target anything that moves on the surface of the Earth.

That sounds like a good prescription, not only for the war on terror but also for whatever lies beyond.