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Transforming Defense
National Security in the 21st Century
Report of the National Defense Panel - December 1997

INTRODUCTION

The United States enters the new millennium as the preeminent political, economic, and military power. Our military in particular is superbly equipped, led, and trained and blessed with magnificent men and women in its ranks. For the near term, we are unlikely to see an opponent who can successfully counter our military strength directly.

Our military forces today are organized according to current threats. But today's threats are not necessarily the ones we will see in the future. Unless we are willing to pursue a new course, we are likely to have forces that are ill-suited to protect our security twenty years in the future. Our future adversaries will learn from the past and will likely confront us in very different ways. New challenges will surely emerge. Even a regional power with a relatively modest defense budget could alter its force posture and operational concepts to present us with significant problems by avoiding our strengths and attacking our weaknesses.

Therefore, we must begin to change now or risk being caught unprepared. The very context of war and battle could change dramatically over the next generation as enemies find ways to deny us access to contested regions, attack our information systems, and strike at our deployed forces or citizens with chemical and biological weapons. They will seek asymmetric means to overcome our forces and our will. If we fail to anticipate such new challenges and if we fail to change commensurately over the next twenty years, our ability to protect U. S. interests will inexorably erode.

The current era, therefore, offers us a great paradox. On the one hand, we are in a relatively secure interlude following an era of intense international confrontation. On the other hand, we are uncertain about the nature and form of emerging risks. One certainty, however, is clear: the greatest danger lies in an unwillingness or an inability to change our security posture in time to meet the challenges of the next century.

The United States needs a transformation strategy that enables us to meet a range of security challenges in 2010– 2020 without taking undue risk in the interim. Implementing such a transformation will require a delicate balance. If we transform ourselves too quickly, we may inadvertently dismantle elements of our military that have kept us safe all these years and still have to play a role. But the Panel strongly believes that if we fail to begin the transformation now, we could be fundamentally unprepared for the future, and the security of future generations of Americans will be at risk.


Looking back from 2020:
Different opportunities and challenges; unanticipated asymmetries

Transformation Strategy:
U. S. forces must change— a process that must begin now!


This transformation promises to be complex. We must recognize that we cannot know the full extent and nature of future challenges, emerging threats, or even the pace of change in technology. Yet we must make critical decisions and choices entailing significant investments of resources and energies. The easiest path would be to increase the defense budget by several billion dollars annually to fund the necessary transformation while simultaneously maintaining a defense structure and military strategy to meet near-term challenges. In an era of increasing fiscal austerity, however, such budget increases are unlikely.

If increased funding is not feasible, we can do one or some combination of the following:

  • Mount a major effort to streamline support costs and infrastructure;
  • Rethink today's defense posture with its focus on two regional conflicts;
  • Develop new operational concepts to employ currently planned forces exploiting asymmetric advantages and reducing the number of required forces;
  • Reduce readiness and manpower levels;
  • Reduce Defense participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian activities;
  • Cancel one or more major weapon systems and reorder service acquisition plans, accepting some increased near-term risk.

    No matter which course we choose, it is clear that in the increasingly complex world that we foresee, the Department of Defense alone cannot preserve U. S. interests. Defense is but one element of the broader national security structure. If we are to succeed in meeting the challenges of the future, the entire U. S. national security structure must become more integrated, coherent, and proactive. The national security structures laid out by the 1947 National Security Act have served us well over the past fifty years. It is time, however, to think through what changes are necessary and to update accordingly.

    Additionally, we must not ignore the role of our alliance partners. We share many interests and have similar security challenges. The United States should not expect to ensure its security unilaterally and must have the active support and involvement of our allies. In some cases we must be prepared to act alone, but in almost all cases we will be more effective if we work within a coalition.

    This Report will review the critical issues, challenges, and threats we believe will emerge over the next ten to twenty years. Our response will be influenced by key global trends, their potential manifestation in four hypothetical worlds possible in the years 2010– 2020, and how the United States might adapt to meet its future security needs.

    We then describe how a range of operational challenges will affect our future security requirements: security of the homeland, support for regional stability, the projection of military power, protection of our space and information assets, and deterrence against attacks by weapons of mass destruction. We then consider the corresponding military capabilities that would enhance our ability to meet our security needs.

    Finally, we focus on the specifics of a transformation strategy for our military. We examine the process of experimentation and change leading to new force structures, platforms, operational concepts, and doctrine; consider what revisions might be necessary in the unified command plan that delineates geographic and functional responsibilities of the uniformed services; review Defense infrastructure and support systems; and consider how to best shape our national security arrangements for the twenty-first century.

    It is our hope to engender a broad and informed debate of national security. Toward that end, this Report will provide a series of recommendations to move us, as a nation, forward to a more secure future.

    Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.
    --Thomas Paine, 1777



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    Transforming Defense
    National Security in the 21st Century
    Report of the National Defense Panel - December 1997