Transforming Defense
National Security in the 21st Century
Report of the National Defense Panel - December 1997


In a world characterized by these key trends and future challenges, we must preserve the sovereignty, political freedom, and independence of the United States with its values, institutions, and territory secure; protect the lives and personal safety of Americans at home and abroad; and provide for the well-being and prosperity of the nation and its people. These concepts can be summarized by the following imperatives.

National Survival

Protecting the United States from any threats to its survival as a nation remains the primary role of our military forces. In terms of the immediate physical destruction of the country, weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, remain the primary threat. Therefore, we must maintain the appropriate offensive and defensive capabilities to protect and defend against the coercive threat or actual use of these weapons. At the same time, threats that would destroy or undermine our economic viability, institutions, and values, while perhaps taking longer to have an effect, are ultimately as dangerous. Consequently, our military capabilities must also be able to assist in protecting the nation from threats such as drug trafficking or assaults such as cyber-terrorism on our information or economic infrastructures.

Global Economic and Political Stability

The United States remains a world military and economic superpower. Our national interests are enhanced by global stability. The main threats to global stability are wars, international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the destabilizing effects of demographic, economic, and social trends as discussed previously. These threats pose challenges that require an effective response from all elements of the national security establishment, including robust and specialized military capabilities.

  • Threats of physical destruction
  • Threats to undermine economy, institutions, and values


  • Cooperative relationships with friends and allies

  • Expanded free market arrangements
  • Free flow of information
  • Interoperability with allies

  • Cooperative relationships with other nations, especially our friends and allies, are essential to maintaining global stability. Such relationships promote global interdependence, ensure orderly political arrangements, and bolster the rule of law. Cooperation increases our access and ability to influence and promote stability, democratization, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and humanitarian efforts. Central to this cooperation is expansion of free market arrangements into all regions of the world. At the same time, we must promote and sustain U. S. technology in ways that cultivate the advancement of U. S. scientific and commercial development while maintaining interoperability with our allies. Finally, we must foster the free flow of information to promote national security and economic prosperity, reduce tensions, and promote international cooperation.

    Domestic Security

    Ultimately, Americans must feel secure and safe in their own country. Beyond its responsibility to secure our borders against attack, the Department of Defense must be able to assist civil authorities against a variety of threats to lives and property in the United States, regardless of their source.

    These imperatives cannot be considered in isolation. They are interrelated and mutually reinforcing, each contributing to the overall security of the United States. We must recognize that pursuing these imperatives may directly conflict with the interests of other states, groups, and individuals. Consequently, we acknowledge that security is a dynamic process that changes and adapts to strategic realities.


    The Panel discussed a wide range of alternative strategies ranging from those that depicted the United States as relatively withdrawn from military and political involvement in the international system (but heavily engaged economically) to those that saw the United States as broadly engaged. In the latter case, one variation depicted the United States as heavily dependent on the military cooperation of allies and coalition partners to assert effective military power abroad. Another variant witnessed the United States as heavily dependent upon unilateral military action in virtually every region of the globe. In all cases, the United States was portrayed as being prepared and able to defend its homeland, although the degree of threat was varied.

    It was the Panel's judgement, however, that selecting a strategy appropriate for twenty years hence was not possible or desirable. Events and circumstances at that time will drive the decisions of the U. S. leadership. Therefore, we believe that the best way to ensure our future security is to provide a process for developing the tools and concepts necessary to implement whatever the most appropriate strategy might be at that time. What did become clear in our discussion is this: our current course is unlikely to produce the military capabilities necessary to meet the range of challenges we foresee in 2010– 2020.

    The Panel considered operational challenges the United States may face in light of current U. S. force structure and strategy, as well as that posited by the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). While the Panel acknowledges that many of today's legacy systems will play a role in deterring and responding to threats to U. S. interests, we believe that the current and planned structure, doctrine, and strategy— that is to say, our current security arrangements— will not be adequate to meeting the challenges of the future.

    The force structure of the future must have the ability to respond effectively to some of the new challenges:

  • Information attacks;
  • The use of weapons of mass destruction¾especially against civilian and commercial targets;
  • Space operations;
  • The absence of access to forward bases;
  • Deep inland operations;
  • Mass population problems such as urban operations and mass refugee or epidemic crises.

    Therefore, the Panel focused on the need for a transformation strategy and how best to prepare our security structures now for the unknowns of the 2010– 2020 time frame. In the pages that follow, we consider the range of challenges the United States will have to meet, the capabilities we will need, and how to obtain them.

    The Strategy for the future: TRANSFORMATION

  • Develop the process to produce the tools and concepts to engage the future
  • Change defense structure to match emerging challenges
  • Develop concepts that embody the total force



    Transforming Defense
    National Security in the 21st Century
    Report of the National Defense Panel - December 1997