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The Pentagon Talks Prevention

January 28, 2010

While the President is trying to motivate new energy on jobs and health care, the Department of Defense has just released its latest Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which outlines the Pentagon’s strategy for the coming years.  This QDR breaks from the idea that the US needs to be prepared to fight two major wars at a time, along with some other contingency operations, and instead offers a more complex and diffused picture of global threats and how the U.S. military should be prepared to address them.  Before the document was released, we at FCNL were told that it would include new attention to the theme of prevention.  Wondering what the military would see as its role in preventing war – or what prevention might even mean to military strategists – I’ve been waiting expectantly for the final document’s release.

A quick review of the 2010 QDR suggests that the Pentagon is still committed to ensuring the US maintains a dominant military force in the world while also being able to disrupt criminal networks, intervene in global crises, and help stabilize and shore up failing states.  All of this of course implies an ever-expanding military budget that will starve resources from building real security at home and abroad. (Urge your member to oppose this costly approach.)

But the QDR also includes a new addition to the Pentagon’s strategic thinking:  namely, prevention.

The new force-shaping model was derived from what the draft report calls the Pentagon’s four defense strategy priorities: “prevail in today’s wars; prevent and deter conflict; prepare to succeed in a wide range of contingencies; and preserve and enhance the force.” Sources say the priorities are known within the QDR process as “the Four Ps.” (my emphasis added)

The document is still focused largely around how to maintain, increase, and deploy military force in the world, not surprising given that is the Pentagon’s mission.  And much of the so-called prevention rhetoric is really still about deterrence by overwhelming military power.  Still, I did find a few lines that suggest a bit of light is beginning to penetrate the Pentagon’s armor.  That FCNL’s vision of the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict may even be planting seeds in the military’s view of the world.  After all, I don’t think previous QDR’s included very much language like this…

An international order underpinned by U.S. leadership and engagement that promotes peace, security, responsibility, and stronger cooperation to meet global challenges, including transnational threats.

Whenever possible, we seek to pursue our interests through cooperation, diplomacy, development, and economic engagement, and the power of America’s ideas.

The United States can only lead when others trust it to carry forward their best interests, to listen to their concerns, and to conduct itself in line with the norms and values of the international community.

They are just a few lines amid pages dedicated to the continued reliance on military force that is still the overwhelming face of U.S. engagement in the world.  But they are lines we should grab onto, lift up, and ask the leaders of the Pentagon and the rest of the government to put into practice.

5 Comments
  1. January 29, 2010 1:59 pm

    I wish I believed that the Pentagon has become warm and fuzzy enough to embrace peace. In any case, one immediate opportunity the Obama administration has to head off a preventable war of tragic proportions is in Sudan. The approaching 2011 deadline for a referendum that would allow South Sudan to withdraw from the Government of National Unity is a sputtering fuse. And yet Obama breathed not a word of Sudan in his State of the Union address.
    See “Can Sudan Marriage Be Saved?” posted on Huffington Post Jan. 25.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-morse/can-sudan-marriage-be-sav_b_433971.html

  2. Trevor permalink
    January 29, 2010 11:33 pm

    Very interesting. I’d be curious to know how the Pentagon envision’s their role in prevention given that it is largely a civilian task. Will this mean a greater encroachment on civilian agencies? Or more emphasis on training for peacekeepers and SSR in post-conflict societies? Nevertheless, good to know that DOD is thinking and perhaps devoting resources to prevention.

  3. Martha W D Bushnell permalink
    January 30, 2010 1:04 am

    The Pentagon wants to prevent war. They can not. They have created perpetual war in Afghanistan, The British want to buy the Taliban off. That is one way to stop war in Afghanistan, You stop war by taking care of peoples needs. The Afghan people need be put to work building sewage systems in all their cities and towns. They need to be put to work building 1000 schools for both their boys and their girls. They need to be put to work rebuilding homes, roads, and electric generation plants, and the electric grid needed to electrify their businesses and homes.

    I can assure you that the Defense Department knows how to create wars and most of your other departments know how to prevent wars by building a sustainable infrastructure.

  4. February 1, 2010 1:37 pm

    Thanks for the comments. David, you’re definitely right on Sudan – a clear case of urgent prevention needed and not enough attention from the White House or Congress. Trevor, you’ve of course hit the nail on the head – preventing war is fundamentally about creating non-military approaches to address problems before they explode into violence. That’s a job for civilians. Martha, as you say, DoD’s mission is to wage war, not prevent it. I hope the more DoD talks about preventing war the more policymakers will realize that the military doesn’t have the right tools for the job of building real security. We need better civilian tools if we really want to prevent war.

  5. February 2, 2010 4:05 am

    War is a diversion of our attention and a way to make money for war profiteers. The best war prevention the military industrial complex can provide is to convert itself into a national security industry that puts people to work constructing atomospheric-saving solar and wind energy substitutes for petroleum and coal. I have no idea why Obama has not pushed these ideas from his ’08 Campaign! The late January Rolling Stone magazine article The Climate Killers by Tim Dickinson and their previous article “As the World Burns” by Jeff Goodell identifies the oil and coal billionaires who pay Congress to stop effective abandonment of petroleum and coal as producers of electricity.

    If we do not stop these specific people who have no interest in human life now or in the future, there will be no human race.

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