The quadrennial defence review and the reserve components

Raymond E. Bell Jr.


Every four years the United States Congress requires the Department of Defence (DOD) to publish an overview known as the quadrennial defence review (QDR). The QDR is the document which tells the Congress how the DOD intents to provide for the defence of the United States during the succeeding four years. It purports to be a comprehensive look at how the different armed services will conduct themselves in accomplishing their assigned roles according to the guidance they receive from the President, his advisors, and executive department personnel. The QDR is therefore designed to provide Congress with not only the status of the Armed Services but also how changes and/or modifications of national strategy, force structure, modernization, transformation, readiness and commitments are to be executed. Unfortunately, the seven Reserve Components of the United States Armed Forces have been minor players in all the quadrennial defence reviews from the beginning of the time that the United States Congress first required the four year report to be submitted. The QDR over the years since it was first submitted has hardly addressed the subjects of the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve. This essay examines how these Reserve Components have fared in the QDR since its first 1997 rendering to Congress. There is no doubt that in the last ten years the Reserve Components have become a key part of the Total Force. Yet, the Reserve Components were hardly mentioned in the three QDR sent to the United States Congress before 2010. On the other hand, primarily because of continuing involvement in Kosovo, the occupation of Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan, the Reserve Components became highly visible in the 2010 QDR, perhaps not in numbers but in emphasis. It is important to note, however, that the Reserve Components have a strong constituency in the U.S. Congress, the recipient of the QDR. Because the Reserve Components can make what amounts to an “end run” through local congressmen and senators around their active armed service counterparts when it comes to funding, the amount of any kind of mention in the QDR can not be considered an absolute matter. Budgetary considerations aside, the QDR, even with its lack of specific content concerning the Reserve Components, does provide a comprehensive review of the status of the Armed Forces and where the administration is directing its efforts to execute the national strategy. The bottom line is that the QDR is a report, not a directive requiring implementation. It is also a document which, if the United States Congress so desires, can assist it in determining what is necessary for national defence. That Congress may disregard the review’s contents in no way hinders the administration from planning and executing appropriate measures to defend the United States against all enemies.