The National Catholic Review
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Dropping the long-held dedication to the type of military planning that committed the United States to fighting two major cold war-style conflicts simultaneously, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review shifted its focus to the need to prevail in the country’s far-from-conventional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates introduced the results of the review in early February, along with a whopping $548.9 billion defense budget request and an additional $159.3 billion for “overseas contingency operations” in the 2011 fiscal year.

“Achieving our objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq has moved to the top of the institutional military’s budget, policy and program priorities,” Gates said. “We now recognize that America’s ability to deal with threats for years to come will depend importantly on our success in the current conflicts.”

Toward that end, the fiscal 2011 budget requests take additional steps to fill what Gates called “persistent shortfalls that have plagued recent military efforts, especially in Afghanistan” related to intelligence gathering and surveillance capabilities.

Gates said the cumulative effect of the 2010 and 2011 budget requests, along with the defense review recommendations “make sure this department is doing everything we can...to prevail in the wars we are in, while preparing our military to confront the most likely and lethal threats in the future.”

Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor of international relations at The Catholic University of America, said in an interview with America at this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington that the review’s shift from the two-war doctrine could be viewed as a “slap at the Air Force and the Navy.... [They’ve] been arguing that the type of conflict we are fighting now is really an exception, that we need to get back to cold war conflict [planning] against conventional armies.”

Predicting that the United States will confront a number of smaller, unconventional conflicts and responsibilities in the future, the latest defense review, Love said, rejects that approach completely. “We’re going to be called in for humanitarian relief in emergencies like Haiti while fighting counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism,” said Love. “We’re going to be asked to do a lot of different types of things simultaneously, and we’re not really going to fight a conventional war,” she added. “We need to be more flexible; we need to be adaptable; and we really need to be ready for the variety of conflicts.”

Love said the review offered some positives: a greater emphasis on preventing conflict, supporting a stronger role in intercepting conflict by nonmilitary agents like the State Department and a commitment to more attention to peacebuilding among affected communities. Love added that Secretary Gates has demonstrated more willingness to cut back on large-scale Pentagon projects, “which is very hard to do in Washington,” and said cuts so far “could be a warning shot” of more to come.

“But the bad news is the budget did not do more [to reduce spending],” she said. “There’s still a whole lot of spending for traditional military hardware systems for fighting conventional wars against a Russia or a China that might emerge in the future, despite the defense review saying that if they ever were our enemies, they don’t plan to fight us that way.” Love said it was more likely that the next field of battle will not be littered with fallen soldiers and smoldering tanks, but e-mailed Trojan horses and cyberviruses. Frazzled hackers and security firewalls may represent the future of combat aimed at defeating an enemy electronically before a shot is even fired. “Putting a lot of money into conventional weapons really isn’t going to help us with that,” she said.

When all defense-related costs are figured in, said Love, despite all the nation’s pressing needs, “we’re still spending more than one third of the budget [on defense], out of size with the threats we face, certainly out of size with what the rest of the world is spending. We have to ask: Who benefits? Is it really making us more secure or is it really making us less secure, since it is undermining our economic performance?”