Gates: Defense Cuts Must Be Prioritized, Strategic

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said he is deter­mined that the depart­ment not fall vic­tim to the mis­takes of the past, “where the bud­get tar­gets were met most­ly by tak­ing a per­cent­age off the top of every­thing, the sim­plest and most polit­i­cal­ly expe­di­ent approach both inside the Pen­ta­gon and out­side of it.”

“That kind of ‘sala­mi-slic­ing’ approach pre­serves over­head and main­tains force struc­ture on paper, but results in a hol­low­ing-out of the force from a lack of prop­er train­ing, main­te­nance and equip­ment — and man­pow­er,” Gates said dur­ing a speech at the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Research here today. “That is what hap­pened in the 1970s — a dis­as­trous peri­od for our mil­i­tary — and to a less­er extent dur­ing the late 1990s.”

In deliv­er­ing his last major pol­i­cy speech dur­ing his tenure as defense sec­re­tary, Gates laid out the department’s cost sav­ing ini­tia­tives over the past few years, and out­lined what he expects from a com­pre­hen­sive review he launched last week.

Gates said the review should ensure that future spend­ing deci­sions are focused on pri­or­i­ties, strat­e­gy and risks, and are not sim­ply a math and account­ing exer­cise.

“In the end, this process must be about iden­ti­fy­ing options for the pres­i­dent and the Con­gress, to ensure the nation con­scious­ly acknowl­edges and accepts addi­tion­al risk in exchange for reduced invest­ment in the Depart­ment of Defense,” Gates said.

Gates said the analy­sis will include going places that have been avoid­ed polit­i­cal­ly in the past, such as re-exam­in­ing mil­i­tary com­pen­sa­tion lev­els, retire­ment, pay and pen­sions and spi­ral­ing health care costs.

The review also will exam­ine force struc­ture — the military’s fight­ing for­ma­tions such as Army brigades, Marine expe­di­tionary units, Air Force wings, Navy ships and sup­port­ing avi­a­tion assets.

“The over­ar­ch­ing goal will be to pre­serve a U.S. mil­i­tary capa­ble of meet­ing cru­cial nation­al secu­ri­ty pri­or­i­ties even if fis­cal pres­sure requires reduc­tions in that force’s size,” Gates said.

“I’ve said repeat­ed­ly that I’d rather have a small­er, superbly capa­ble mil­i­tary then a larg­er, hol­low, less capa­ble one. How­ev­er, we need to be hon­est with the pres­i­dent, with the Con­gress, with the Amer­i­can peo­ple, indeed with our­selves, about what those con­se­quences are — that a small­er mil­i­tary, no mat­ter how superb, will be able to go few­er places and be able to do few­er things,” he said.

Gates said that in con­sid­er­ing cuts, some assump­tions that his­tor­i­cal­ly have been used to guide defense fund­ing should be ques­tioned.

For exam­ple, the assump­tion behind most mil­i­tary plan­ning since the end of the Cold War has been that the Unit­ed States must be able to fight two major region­al wars at the same time.

“One might con­clude the odds of that con­tin­gency are suf­fi­cient­ly low, or that any erup­tion of con­flicts would hap­pen one after the oth­er, not simul­ta­ne­ous­ly,” the sec­re­tary said. “What are the impli­ca­tions of that with respect to force struc­ture, and what are the risks? One can assume cer­tain things won’t hap­pen on account of their appar­ent­ly low prob­a­bil­i­ty.

“But the ene­my always has a vote,” Gates added.

Still, those are the kinds of sce­nar­ios the depart­ment and U.S. offi­cials need to con­sid­er, he said.

“If we are going to reduce the resources and the size of the U.S. mil­i­tary, peo­ple need to make con­scious choic­es about what the impli­ca­tions are for the secu­ri­ty of the coun­try, as well as for the vari­ety of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions we have around the world if low­er pri­or­i­ty mis­sions are scaled back or elim­i­nat­ed,” Gates said.

Amer­i­can needs to under­stand that a small­er pool of forces could mean greater impacts on troops and fam­i­lies, should the Unit­ed States find itself in anoth­er pro­tract­ed war.

“To shirk this dis­cus­sion of risks and con­se­quences — and the hard deci­sions that must fol­low — I would regard as man­age­r­i­al cow­ardice,” Gates said.

In the end, the sec­re­tary said, the tough choic­es ahead are about the kind of role the Amer­i­can peo­ple — accus­tomed to unques­tioned mil­i­tary dom­i­nance for the past two decades — want their coun­try to play in the world.

“Since I entered gov­ern­ment 45 years ago, I’ve shift­ed my views and changed my mind on a good many things as cir­cum­stances, new infor­ma­tion, or log­ic dic­tat­ed. But I have yet to see evi­dence that would dis­suade me from this fun­da­men­tal belief — that Amer­i­ca does have a spe­cial posi­tion and set of respon­si­bil­i­ties on this plan­et,” Gates said.

“I share Win­ston Churchill’s belief, that ‘The price of great­ness is respon­si­bil­i­ty … [and] the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States can­not escape world respon­si­bil­i­ty.’ This sta­tus pro­vides enor­mous ben­e­fits — for allies, part­ners, and oth­ers abroad to be sure, but in the final analy­sis the great­est ben­e­fi­cia­ries are the Amer­i­can peo­ple, in terms of our secu­ri­ty, our pros­per­i­ty, our free­dom,” Gates said.

Gates acknowl­edged that after a decade of con­flict, the Amer­i­can peo­ple are tired of war.

“But there is no doubt in my mind that the con­tin­ued strength and glob­al reach of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary will remain the great­est deter­rent against aggres­sion, and the most effec­tive means of pre­serv­ing peace in the 21st cen­tu­ry, as it was in the 20th,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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