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The Biggest Threat to America’s Security Isn’t What You Think

An F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and an F-22A Raptor from the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., soar over the Emerald Coast Sept. 19, 2012. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock via Wikimedia Commons.

The Islamic State, formerly know as ISIS, is creating chaos in Iraq, Russia is breathing down Ukraine's neck, North Korea continues to prove it's unstable, and there's the immigration crisis along America's southern border. Suffice it to say, things today are far from peaceful.

However, while all of the aforementioned conflicts could be considered threats -- or emerging threats -- to America's security, they aren't the biggest problem facing America. In fact, the biggest threat to America's security is far more insidious. It's a policy that a bipartisan panel of national security experts unanimously reports could bring America's defensive capabilities to its knees. Here's what you need to know.

The Quadrennial Defense Review
Every four years, during the first year of each presidential administration, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducts what's called a Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR. This report is then given to Congress, along with the President's fiscal year budget proposal, to help establish a shared vision for the future and facilitate Congressional oversight.

Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) launches a standard missile. Photo credit: U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons.

More specifically, according to the DOD, the purpose of the QDR is to advance a defense strategy for the United States and help determine a defense program for the next 20 years, which includes establishing a force structure, a force modernization plan, a budget, and other elements of the defense program and policies of the U.S.

Further, according to the National Security Act of 1947, the defense strategy delineated by the QDR must be consistent with the most recent National Security Strategy prescribed by the president, but is fiscally unconstrained by the current president's budget. In other words, while the QDR must take into account the National Security Strategy, and the defense budget proposed by the president, it is independent from the president's budget -- so changes can be made.

Importantly, because the QDR has a significant impact on the military and America's defense policy, by law, the report has to be reviewed by a National Defense Panel, or NDP. This is an independent and bipartisan panel of 10 national security experts that closely examine the contents of the QDR, and take into account current and future security challenges. After reviewing the QDR, the NDP submits a report to Congress that provides recommendations based on their findings.

The 2014 QDR review
How the above fits in with today's security concerns is that the 2014 QDR and NDP review was just completed, and the NDP's findings are anything but reassuring. Specifically, while the NDP found that the 2014 QDR presents "realistic force structure choices that the Department will be forced to make at top line funding levels currently being projected," the effects of these cuts will render the military unable to accomplish the National Defense Strategy. Explicitly, some of the problems the NDP found include:

  • The smaller force envisioned in the QDR is insufficient to meet the challenges of potential adversaries: "the force structure contemplated in the 2014 QDR -- much less the projected force structure if the current budget baseline does not change -- is inadequate given the future strategic and operational environment." 
  • The 2014 QDR is not an adequate long-term planning document because it was dominated by shifting budget constraints, and these restraints don't allow the U.S. to "prepare for what will almost certainly be a much more challenging future."  
  • The budgetary path the Navy is on will result in 260 ships or less, which is far below the estimated need of 323 to 346 ships that may be required to meet potential challenges in the Western Pacific. (By 2020 China is expected to have a Navy of close to 350 ships, the majority being modern vessels with advanced capabilities.)  
  • Despite an increase in threats, the Air Force now fields the smallest and oldest force of combat aircraft in its history, and plans a 50% reduction to the Air Force's Bomber, Fighter, and Surveillance forces by 2019, which "will put this nation's national security strategy at much higher risk."  
  • Defense budget cuts won't help solve America's fiscal crisis: "Sustaining these significant cuts to our defense budgets will not solve our fiscal woes, but will increasingly jeopardize our international defense posture and ultimately damage our security, prospects for economic growth, and other interests. ... Aggressive health care cost containment should certainly be pursued both within the Department and more broadly across all government programs. Our national health care system is cost inefficient and stunningly wasteful, and it consumes more than a third of the federal budget." 

To put the above succinctly, what the NDP found is that if the 2014 QDR is adopted by Congress and the DOD without significant changes, the military will be effectively gutted, and America's ability to combat escalating threats will go down the tubes.

The Budget Control Act's ripple effects
Defense budget cuts are a requirement under the Budget Control Act of 2011. But, as the QDR and the NDP point out, the threats facing America are continuing to grow, while the gap between the U.S. military's strategic objectives and the resources required to meet these objectives is increasing. Furthermore, the NDP reports that one of the only ways to reverse this trend is for Congress to find a solution to the Budget Control Act.

RQ-4 Block 20 Global Hawk. Photo credit: Northrop Grumman.

If Congress doesn't, and the 2014 QDR is implemented with the current budget constraints, the NDP states that America might find itself in a position where it has to either enter a conflict that it's not prepared for, or abandon a national interest -- either of which could be devastating.

What to watch
As of this writing, Congress hasn't agreed to a fiscal 2015 defense budget, let alone found a solution to the Budget Control Act -- and time is ticking as fiscal 2015 starts on October 1. The good news is the 2014 QDR and the NDP's review are seminal documents, and will hopefully cause Congress to act. If they don't, then America's ability to engage and deter threats like those coming from the Islamic State, China, North Korea, et al, could be a thing of the past, not to mention this could have a long-lasting impact on defense companies in general (I'll explain this impact in an upcoming article). For now, investors, and those concerned about America's security, would do well to monitor Congressional budget negotiations, especially as we near the middle, and end, of September.

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Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 3:17 PM, TrustyScout wrote:

    The biggest threat to the country and the west is a guy by the name of Barrack Hussein Obama. He was put into power by a lot of morons.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 3:18 PM, msbav8r wrote:

    The biggest threat to the people of this country is it's government.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 3:24 PM, MoreBS wrote:

    It's fine to have a brain storming session without bounds but then reality strikes the the real world meets star wars. In the real world there are financial limitations and further the strategy fails to encompass the contribution of allies into the whole defense plan. There are other issues that need to be considered beyond the "Military" so maybe they should a bit of realism into their brain storms before leaking them to the press.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 3:36 PM, flylowguy wrote:

    "Our national health care system is cost inefficient and stunningly wasteful, and it consumes more than a third of the federal budget."

    Ah, yes. There's no shortage of bummers to be concerned with.

    But until we get the money out of politics, nothing substantial in terms of economic reform will be possible.

    The tail is wagging the dog. We've been sold out to special interests. And so on.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 4:12 PM, Ken65 wrote:

    "The biggest threat to the people of this country is it's government."

    And when the GOP gets complete control you will not be ably to make the comments you do.

    Of course people have been saying this about America for over the last 200 years, so you may have to wait a while longer.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 4:16 PM, Perry1212 wrote:

    The biggest threat we have to security right now in this country is YALS' President who is running a harbor house for thousands of Ilegal invaders against the wishes of American citizens and destroying our constitution and national sovereignty in the process..

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 4:18 PM, Perry1212 wrote:

    BARAK INSANE OBAMA ... #1 Enemy of the State.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 4:27 PM, nathan0999 wrote:

    Good, some of you had a clue.

    Obama fist gave "non-lethal aids" to the rebels whie they were fighting the Syrian government. As soon as he heard Al Qaeda was joining them, he doubled the aids plus "lethal-aids" (go ahead and check, Kerry announced this). Then Obama tried so hard to fool the Republican controlled Congress to allow him to bomb the Syrians government, but to no avail. He even had the delusional McCain to help him, taking picture with a known Al Qaeda terrorist leader standing in the background. The rebel controlled area in Syria then became a safe heaven for terrorists, with free foods and weapons delivered directly from Obama. Obama's decision to hastily withdraw all of US troops created a void that all of a sudden, ISIS appeared from nowhere, well, actually from Syria (where else do you think?) taken 1/3 of Iraq and giant weapon storages left behind, US weapons of course. Now US (Obama actually) iss giving the Lebanese troops (Hamas in disguise) so that they could fight ISIS (but Obama's goal is for Hamas to use these weapons against Israel.

    So by now, you're beginning to wonder what Obama is and where he came from. Birther's issue aside, Obama has studied the Communist manifesto & Marxist doctrine and his friends were know Communists like Frank Marshall Davis, William Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, Alice Palmer and finally with helps from the black panthers characters like Al Sharpton and the Communists like John Kerry, worked his way up the ladder in Chicago and became an Illinois Senator. From there forward, with terms extracted directly from the Communist Manifesto: "redistribution of wealth", "taxing the rich", "government in control of big enterprises like healthcare and gun sales". The poor believed him, the liberals believed him, the college kids believed him, there was no stopping him.

    This is how you connect the dots. Oh, forgot the conclusion. The conclusion is Obama is a Muslim Extremist and a double-agent who uses the Communist Doctrine for his advance and to lure the poor & liberals (oh "hope & dream" some of the liberals are still waiting right?). In the end, the US would become a 3rd world country, there is no way to pay back 22 Trillion debt by the time Obama leaves office, not without taxing the working class 50% of their income. Not without stopping the amnesty of 12 million illegals and millions more crossing the border every year. Can you spell BANKRUPTCY? Iraq and Lybia would be a terrorist country (Iran would then seem like a Saint). Israel will be wiped out. Saudie and our Arab allies would all be threatened by an evil force that was foreseen by the Bible and Nostradamus. Now can you see what Obama is and his goal?

    Go ahead liberals, reply back with your one single incomplete sentences like "you're delusional", "drink coolaid", "take your med", you are all the same it won't be difficult to recognize your kind.

    Now if all of a sudden you wake up from your liberal dreams and want to stop ISIS, first you must help us kick out all of the Democrats by this November. With the GOP controlling both Houses, they would render Obama useless for the rest of his term. He could take executive order, but he's going to bring impeachment upon himself. Then with a Republican president in 2016 who has the guts to REPEAL Obamacare, ENFORCE immigration laws, SEAL the border (even with US troops), our country maybe could stand back on its feet, "maybe" because the train wreck has already headed down the cliff.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 4:28 PM, ilsm50 wrote:

    National Defense Panel hysterics are the gravest threat to the US.

    How could the US spend half the world's war money, nearly $500B [the Iraq, Afghan, Yemen, Africa, Libya, etc blunderings are off budget] for "core pentagon", as much as during Vietnam, and be "inadequate given the future strategic and operational environment"?

    The answer is all 10 NDP hysterics are selling for the inept war industry.

    How can a force structure with 1.5 million fewer service members, half the Air Force, a third the Navy and Coast Guard added department of Homeland Insecurity cost so much?

    One answer the F-22, Air Force got 183 planes for the cost of 750, and those are did no pass all their testing.

    There is Zumwalt at $3B a copy with radar and systems no more useful than tactically inept Aegis.

    While the AIr Force and Navy chase $1500B for the failed late and unreliable F-35.

    The corruption and ineptitude of the military industry congress complex is no longer a threat to the US it has already destroyed it.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 4:34 PM, ilsm50 wrote:


    Thanks for spouting all the glibertarian, Ayn Rand, Fox News delusionality.

    Saved me a lot of time in front of the tube!

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 5:22 PM, nvtncs wrote:

    The biggest threats to this country are:

    1. The rising cost of healthcare.

    2. The Tea Party.

    3. The rising cost of higher education.

    4. Unregulated capitalism.

    5. Free trade with China as MFN.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 6:39 PM, duudaa wrote:

    Bankers are the biggest threat by far.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 7:36 PM, ilsm50 wrote:

    There are no strategic threats to the US.

    There are threats to what presidents including Obama call US interests around the world. These are corporations' business interest are US empire and have not one thing to do with providing for the "common defense".

    Quadrennial review identifies environments and strategies outside the scope of the US constitution.

    Selling perpetual war for profit!

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 7:53 PM, whbonny wrote:

    I'm still amazed at some of the ignorance in this country. I think the only way we are 'United' is in name only. Look at the comments on here; it's the Democrats fault, It's the Republican's fault. Choosing between one of the two parties is like telling an alcoholic to switch to whiskey because vodka is bad for him. They are one in the same. They take money to get what corporations and lobbyist want done, screw the people. They are all worried about getting re-elected so give them enough money and they will be your puppet. We actually had a congresswoman on recorded TV say that we had to pass a law to know what was in it. We have a pres who spent millions to have several years of his past sealed and nobody stops to ask why? We have a Senator who was photographed with a terrorist group. Sometimes it seems we are just along for whatever ride they want to take us on. We are divided on race, class, religion, political ideas, you name and we are divided. No wonder 'We the People' can't get a damn thing done for the good of our Country. How much bigger can our government grow? Every department now has a swat- like force. I feel bad for our grandkids and great grandkids. They will be living in poverty because we keep spending with no end in site. What do we do when China stops loaning? Start saluting their flag?

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 8:36 PM, geoJane wrote:

    The imminent US defense force structure crisis 'solution' should Finally include: killing or at least suspending the F-35 acquisition Program and replaced with an accelerated 10-yr stopgap recap plan. Finding alternative to highly risky and unsustainable USAF NGB Program. Freezing the 3rd Ford-Class CVN procurement, to be augmented with accelerated alternatives plan. And Freezing LCS procurement beyond 15 or so (transfer them to USCG -- some perhaps deployed for joint-training w/ Philippines Coast Guard among others and pre-positioned for added natural disaster relief mission).

    For one; the current 'stay the course' F-35 recap and modernization strategy (as a solution to USAF's late 90s recap and modernization requirements) e.g., is flat out not sustainable. The continuation of Program alone is the reason why USAF tactical capabilities and deterrence will be at US's lowest point by 2020 and beyond, despite 'increasing' global security uncertainty (significant balance of power shift) along with risks/threats going forward, with no evidence of any slow-down on the horizon.

    That said, the 2010 'QDR' could fairly be seen today as a combination of being mis-interpreted (e.g., policy-makers ignoring the strategic uncertainty warning part, going forward), insufficient and mis-calculated.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 9:16 PM, oldgeek1 wrote:

    Simplistically, Defense spending is comprised of 2 major components; the institutional and the operational structures.

    Focusing upon how many ships, planes etc and combat troops we have without discussing the management, support and overhead does not present a balanced picture

    The management structure is bloated both the civilian and military. The cost of new ships and planes is absurd. The Defense budget has been treated like a jobs program by both the Congress, the States and military and industry.

    IF the real concern is our national security then a restructure is necessary to focus on what we require + some reasonable cushion. The problem is not enough money but how, where and why it is spent.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 10:47 PM, murph83 wrote:

    A very simple fact that is easily verifiable is that the United States spends more per capita on its military than any other country in the world....and it is not close. Of course military leaders want more military funding but it is hard to bash our govt past or present for underspending in this area. Our govt approves more dollars per capita than anyone anywhere.

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Katie Spence

Katie Spence has been a financial journalist for The Fool since 2011. She specializes in defense companies, “green" technology, autos, and robots. Follow her on Twitter for breaking news in the defense, auto, and robot industry.

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