The U.S. Department of Defense just released its most recent edition of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a Congressionally mandated run down of U.S. defense strategies and priorities. Those interested in the structure of American defense parse the document carefully, as seemingly innocuous omissions and minute wording choices could signal a long-term shift in Department priorities.

The QDR specifically mentions the United Nations in four places.

  1. In the Executive Summary (pg. 19), the QDR reads, “America’s power and influence are enhanced by …maintaining interactions with important international institutions such as the United Nations.”  This is a clear assertion by the Department of Defense, important enough to include in the distilled version of the report, that engagement with the UN increases U.S. power and influence, plain and simple.
  2. Regarding peacekeeping in particular (pg. 53), the QDR states, “The Department will improve its capacity for enabling the United Nations and other multinational peacekeeping efforts….The Department will work to enhance the capacity of United Nations and regional organizations’ peacekeeping field operations.”  It’s vague language, but, paired late last year with the full repayment of $2 billion plus in UN peacekeeping arrears and full financial support in the FY2011 budget, this Administration has shown true commitment to “enabling” the United Nations peacekeeping forces to do their job.
  3. The QDR, in an oddly titled section  (pg. 106), “Reforming the U.S. Export Control System,” states in somewhat cryptic language the UN’s value in securing sensitive technology and WMDs.  Specifically, the QDR notes that a “global control standard via United Nations Security Council resolutions” that helps “ensure that key technologies and items available in numerous countries are controlled in order to prevent their acquisition by actors who would use them contrary to U.S. and allied interests.”  Time will tell whether the recent announcement by Iran to take the deal will punctuate this section in the report.
  4. The QDR (pg. 109) says, directly, “To support cooperative engagement in the Arctic, DoD strongly supports accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.” Add DoD to the deep list of open UNCLOS supporters, which includes — just at the top — the U.S. Department of State, industry, and this Administration as well as the last.  Seriously, it’s time to bring this to the Senate floor.

The 2006 QDR contained only passing reference to the United Nations.  No surprise that wasn’t the case in 2010. Given the continuance of two wars and a limping economy, U.S. defense policy has become even more complex in the last four years.  It’s a smart play from the Department of Defense to look toward cooperation.  Those who foolishly argue that the United Nations isn’t a critical support for American security should look to what the U.S. defense apparatus, the best in the world, specifically states as its priorities and needs.