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Project on Defense Alternatives

Enabling "change that matters"
Policy Assessment and Development Program 2009-2010


Advisory Board





The United States is entering a critical period of transition in security policy. During the next two years, America's defense posture will be re-assessed and, to an unknown extent, adjusted or revised. The advent of the Obama administration presents a singular opportunity for "change that matters." But the challenge facing the new Administration is unparalleled. It inherits a security posture that is unsustainable and, in vital respects, ineffective - even counter-productive. And the way forward to real, sustainable security is not yet clear. The Project on Defense Alternatives has identified three areas of concern that are pivotal to progress, and these define its policy analysis and development program for the next two years.

I. Taking stock of the "global war on terrorism" and its alternatives

Today the "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) is the principal framework for US security policy. But, after nearly eight years, this pivotal campaign - its full scope and cost - remains poorly understood or examined in the public sphere. Troubled from the start, the GWOT strategy remains unclear and unbounded, making it difficult to set priorities, integrate disparate activities, or gage progress.

This program element will:

Survey and summarize the full scope of US counter-terrorism efforts worldwide since 2001 - thus providing an adequate basis for campaign assessment;
Subject recent practice to a holistic cost-benefit analysis;
Identify and critically examine the assessments, goals, and strategy underlying US counter-terrorism efforts; and,
Summarize and evaluate alternatives strategies for dealing with terrorism.

II. New guidance on the use of force in US policy: when, how, how much?

During the past decade, and especially since 11 September 2001, there has been a substantial increase in US military activity abroad. This surge encompasses not only combat operations (which today routinely involve more than 200,000 military personnel), but also a notable expansion in the non-combat roles, missions, and "authorities" of the Pentagon. America's armed forces have become the leading edge of US global engagement. And they presently seemed poised on the threshold of a new era of counter-insurgency and nation-building activities.

Notably lacking, however, has been a serious, holistic cost-benefit accounting of these practices - or a thorough, well-informed national discussion of their utility. Does the expanded use of America's armed forces represent a sustainable and effective path to stability and security? What does America's recent experience in war and military occupation teach about the limits and utility of these practices? What is needed, but lacking, are shared principles to guide the new administration in its uses of American military power - a cost-benefit "calculus" based on the nation's considerable recent experience.

This program component will:

Review and evaluate the operational use of America's armed forces during the post-Cold War period;
Similarly survey the new non-combat roles, missions, and "authorities" afforded the Pentagon;
Advance a framework for weighing the utility of these practices; and,
Where appropriate, outline a set of cooperative and non-military alternatives.

III. How much of what is enough toward a sustainable US defense posture?

Central to the effort to devise a sustainable and effective defense posture is the question, How Much of What is Enough? Of course, this question begs another: Enough for what purpose? This program element will produce a "breakthrough" analysis that accounts for the allocation of the nation's defense dollars and assets among the roles, missions, and purposes they serve. This will support a more meaningful policy debate by answering questions such as: How much of our defense effort - people and dollars - is devoted to counter-proliferation? Counter-terrorism? Other ends?

The program element will:

Summarize the evolution of America's defense posture since the end of the Cold War;
Survey the military capabilities that the USA presently has on hand and those it plans to build; and
Weigh these capabilities - past, present, and future - in terms of official security objectives.

This accounting is an essential precursor to answering the questions: Do we have what we need? Do we need what we have? Taking up these questions, the program element will illustrate possible solutions to the present "defense dilemma": defense posture options that are sustainable, well-adapted to the post-9/11 security environment, and consonant with the goals of international stability and cooperation.

Updated -- February 2009

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