Rethinking Risk in Defense


Apr 20, 2015

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to Pentagon personnel, February 19, 2015

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to Pentagon personnel, February 19, 2015

Photo by Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/U.S. Department of Defense

This commentary originally appeared on War on the Rocks on April 13, 2015.

Admiral William Gortney, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command, was recently discussing the threat posed by advanced Russian long-range conventional cruise missiles. These weapons, Gortney testified, provided Russia with deterrent options “short of the nuclear threshold.” As a result, “NORAD will face increased risk in our ability to defend North America against Russian air, maritime and cruise missile threats.”

That term—“risk”—is cropping up more and more frequently in national security assessments. Senior military and civilian leaders constantly refer to the importance of dealing with risk. Just about every piece of testimony now employs the term. Dozens (PDF) of risk management frameworks crowd the national security enterprise. The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) introduced a framework for assessing risk in the national security enterprise that has since become a standard approach throughout various parts of Department of Defense…

The remainder of this commentary is available at

Michael J. Mazarr is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He completed the research for this project as a nonresident fellow with the New America Foundation. He was previously a faculty member and associate dean at the U.S. National War College.

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