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Wheeler, Winslow T., and Lawrence J. Korb. Military Reform: An Uneven History and an Uncertain Future.

Wheeler, Winslow T., and Lawrence J. Korb. Military Reform: An Uneven History and an Uncertain Future. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 2009. 256pp. $24.95

In Military Reform, two national security experts reflect on initiatives intended to reform defense planning across the entire enterprise. For decades Winslow Wheeler and Lawrence Korb have observed, studied, and participated in defense reform, gaining a weathered perspective on the ideas, events, and actions taken by national security organizations within government. This work describes the conditions necessary or common in the national security environment in cases where individuals or institutions have exhibited interest in reform.

Wheeler and Korb review the issues that underpinned defense reform initiatives over several decades. They describe the actions of key individuals who championed reform ideas and the issues and stakes of those who opposed or resisted. Each reform movement that the authors study is recounted in a style like that of a novel. Wheeler and Korb take the time to develop reformers like characters in stories. The value of this approach is that the reader gains added insight into the people involved in these ideas and decisions and into the impact that their experiences, knowledge, and personalities had on the period of reform.

Military Reform conveys the complexity of interests and institutions that compete in national defense. Defense planning is a collaborative process that includes the armed services and agencies of the Department of Defense and Congress. Through the use of case studies of past reform initiatives, the authors capture the impact of the actions of these organizations from the perspectives of organizational behavior, process, and competing interests.

For example, chapters 2 and 3 assess the actions and influence of key members in Congress and the Congressional Military Reform Caucus, as well as of the senior leadership within the Department of Defense in the early 1980s. The authors' assessment details the actions taken to control rising acquisition costs in several defense programs. This case study illustrates the impact that politics has on defense reform, the need for a reform leader or champion, and the impact that the news media can have in amplifying reform issues.

Ultimately, the authors conclude that the realities of the political environment can trump the actions of reformers, because members of Congress are politicians and so tend to view reform issues as political challenges or opportunities for compromise or political gain. Members of Congress and congressional committees have legislative processes and oversight authority that can significantly impact the objectives and mitigate the effects of reform. Further, though the media can amplify issues, their tendency to focus on the "newsworthiness" of reform issues results in a lack of "staying power."

Defense reform is not only impacted by Congress and the media, however. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the impact of previous defense reviews conducted by the Department of Defense, blueribbon panels commissioned by the executive branch, and thematic trends such as "transformation" or the "revolution in military affairs."

The organizations within the Pentagon possess a remarkable ability to resist change. Senior Pentagon officials are bureaucrats, tending to view issues and problems either as threats to established programs and funding sources or as opportunities for increases in funding. The bureaucratic management necessities of the Department of Defense and competition for budget and mission lead to perceptions that reform is a threat to the organization.

The book concludes with a description of what defense reform is and is not, in terms of budget, technology, and organizational behavior. This work takes a pragmatic approach in the study of defense reform, assessing the complex and competitive nature of the reform endeavor within government. It is also timely: the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review report, released by the Defense Department in February, and the current national security environment both reflect several of the qualities analyzed in the book.


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Author:Sullivan, Sean
Publication:Naval War College Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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