Friday, April 13, 2007

QDR Strategic Crossroads

The QDR is an illuminating formulation of US military strategy, and its international scope makes it all the more intriguing. The Defense Department knows that the QDR is reviewed globally and that international audiences will interpret it as US global policy. Given this context, the priority of “Shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads” in the 2006 publication is somewhat interesting.

The 2006 QDR actually lists four main priorities: “Defending the homeland in depth”—always a sound policy; “Defeating terrorist networks” and “Preventing hostile states and non-state actors from acquiring or using WMD”—less clear, less compact goals, but still commendable; “Shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads”—now wait a minute.

The other three priorities unambiguously refer to actors that have malice-afore-thought against the US, or who hope to benefit or exert themselves through violence. But the “strategic crossroads” concept is vague and gives a considerable, perhaps concerning latitude of responsibility to the Defense Department.

First, while the other three priorities deal with weapons and warfighting, the phrase “strategic crossroads” can apply to a broad spectrum of issues, suggesting prerogatives beyond a purely defensive mandate. Instead of being that “other means” for the implementation of policy, the Department appears to be assuming a right of way in US foreign policy. If so, this is hardly a model for other countries, especially ones at critical junctures.

Leaving the definition of strategic crossroads aside, there is the question of how the Department plans to respond to them. Foreign governments are no doubt a bit curious on this point. Fortunately—or unfortunately—the QRD gives them an indication of what it has in mind: “Many countries in the Middle East find themselves at strategic crossroads.” The QDR’s offers high-profile examples of such cases, of democracy “emerging in Iraq” and freedom “taking root in Lebanon.” What is not clear, and what many leaders of strategically crossroading countries in the Middle East and elsewhere may wish to know, is what “shaping” techniques the Department will choose to apply, and where it will choose to apply them. For a country like China, the QDR is explicity accommodating and co-optive in its crossroads approach, but less formidable nations in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Latin America are left to imagine.

This post is not to suggest the Department is unscrupulously seeking to overreach its responsibilities, but merely to discuss the wisdom of the 2006 QDR’s strategic crossroads mandate. It is not a duty naturally located within the Defense Department, and other countries may well be uncomfortable with its implications.

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