About PDA


The Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA) conducts defense policy research, analysis, and development, combining “common security” and “defense reform” perspectives.  The project seeks to advance policy options that reconcile the goals of:

  • Reliable, sustainable defense against aggression;
  • Enhanced international stability and cooperation;
  • Robust national defense without contributing to interstate tensions, crisis instability, or arms racing;
  • Lower levels of armed force and military spending worldwide; and
  • The progressive diminishment of the use and role of force in international relations.


PDA understands policy change as not only a political process, but also an intellectual and social one. We combine pragmatism and vision to alter policy in two interlocking ways: First, by altering the balance of expert, leadership, influential, and public opinion, and second, by developing and supporting “alternative policy networks” that cut across leadership sectors and bring together like-minded, influential individuals.  We believe that the prerequisite of innovation to be a close and critical engagement in the mainstream security policy debate, engaging with informed opposing views seriously and with respect.

The constituencies for these efforts – our “focal audiences” – are:

  • The policy development community;
  • NGO and civic leaders;
  • The media; and
  • Government and congressional leaders and staff.

The tools we use to “alter opinion” and “build alternative policy networks” include reports and articles of various length and detail, resource compilations, fact sheets, graphic material, public education materials, media interviews, and public presentations. PDA also organizes and conducts meetings of various types, including round tables and study groups, media and congressional briefings, and conferences.


The Project on Defense Alternatives was founded in 1991 by Carl Conetta and Charles Knight.  They had first worked together at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies in Brookline, MA where they had developed ideas for how the United States could contribute to ending the Cold War by leading NATO toward a less offensive posture in Europe which could reassure the Soviet Union that it was taking reasonable security risks in loosening its grip on its allies in Easter Europe.

PDA then turned its attention to helping define a less militarized world after the Cold War, including intensive work in eastern Europe and in southern African.  PDA also developed a detailed proposal for a UN legion which could provide rapid-response peace operations of varied sorts.

Toward the end of the 1990s PDA turned more attention to US military policy doing studies of the Quadrennial Review Process, the wars in the Balkans, and the so-called ‘readiness crisis’ of US armed forces.

After 911 PDA warned of the dangers of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the new strategy behind them, providing detailed critical studies of the operations and compilations of wide-ranging resources for scholars and journalists.

In 2009 PDA turned increasing attention to the undisciplined way in which the defense budget had grown since 1998 and its unsustainability in the new fiscal realities.  PDA had a leading role in the Sustainable Defense Task Force in 2010 and in subsequent intense engagement with the ongoing national debate about the future composition of national security spending.

Scanning the chronology of PDA publications over the years will provide a good sense of PDA’s 20+ year contribution to national security thinking and policy.

About PDA Staff