Pentagon Working with Allies to Shape Future Force

Thom Shanker reports in today’s New York Times on a bold initiative by the U.S. Defense Department to involve its allies in planning its force structure. While eminently sensible in theory, this carries some obvious risks to U.S. sovereignty. One would be reluctant to hinge military operations on the participation of France, for example.

Pentagon Invites Allies for First Time to Secret Talks Aimed at Sharing Burdens

The Pentagon has for the first time invited foreign allies into classified discussions that will shape America’s military missions and combat forces for years to come, with the goal of identifying tasks that would become the responsibility of other nations and no longer the burden of the United States. Senior Defense Department and military officials say the effort is a significant departure for how America decides the size, shape and missions of its armed forces. The decisions could more closely bind America and its military allies in peacetime, the officials said, and allow them to operate more efficiently when conducting disaster relief, peacekeeping, stabilization and full-scale combat operations.

The goal of revitalizing military alliances, and of forging new ones, is a central theme of a sweeping review of strategy, forces and missions now under way as required by Congress every four years. This Quadrennial Defense Review, or Q.D.R., to be completed by early next year, is shaped in this initial phase by guidelines laid out in a secret document, known as Terms of Reference and recently approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “Generating coalitions or expanding alliances capable of conducting major military operations will require increased levels of security cooperation,” says the classified document, which runs about 40 pages. “The United States cannot win a conflict against terrorist-extremists unilaterally.”

Pentagon officials acknowledged that the focus on alliances could be cited by critics as an admission that the Bush administration did not do enough before the invasion of Iraq to secure worldwide support, or later to sustain contributions of allies as Iraq struggles to fight an insurgency and install a new government. “Although the United States has historically preferred to act in concert with other states, it has also maintained the ability to act unilaterally if necessary,” the classified planning document states. “Today’s problems, however, are such that the United States cannot succeed by addressing them alone. The Terms of Reference, therefore, propose that the United States develop new partnerships to address nontraditional challenges.”

Pentagon and military officials said the guidance had already prompted discussions with allies, including Britain, on how military burdens might be shared, with specific tasks to be assigned to specific allies. “We are reaching out to some of our allies and partners as part of the Q.D.R., and talking with them about the kinds of contributions each of us might make in future coalition operations,” a senior Pentagon official said. “Likewise, we want to develop common assessments of security problems facing us and understand what sorts of capabilities and assistance our allies and partners might need from us.”

Given that force planning must be tied to strategy, this would seem in conflict with the National Military Strategy of the United States, which emphasizes the need to have the flexibility to act unilaterally if necessary.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Maybe we should share the burden of operating checkpoints by assigning it to the Italians?

  2. Clint Lovell says:

    What allies? You mean the British and the Aussies? Our English fathers and cousins?

    We should make a commitment on this site to stop giving lip service to the quaint notion that we have this host of allies as we had in the last century.

    They’ve gone their way and we need to go ours. NATO should be scrapped and we cut seperate deals with the ones who need supporting and stop supporting the French, the Belgians, the Germans, et. al.

    When I was in the Navy 25 years ago we did exercises with NATO all the time. They Euros sucked then. They suck now.

    Now they say they want to be a counter-balance to the U.S. power machine. Fine. Part and parcel to the super-power gig is having your own military instead of relying on ours. This is a shameless waste of taxpayer dollars and American lives that we can definitely do without.