MILWAUKEE, Aug. 31, 2010 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates solicited support for his initiative to reform the Pentagon at the American Legion’s national convention here today, telling a very friendly crowd that the United States cannot afford a peace dividend.
“As a country, historically, we have a troubling, predictable pattern of coming to the end of a conflict, concluding that the nature of man and the world has changed for the better, and turning inward – unilaterally disarming and dismantling institutions important to our national security,” Gates said.
The United States thought World War I was “the war to end all wars.” An Army approaching 3 million soldiers vanished and on the eve of World War II, the United States could have matched up against Yugoslavia or Romania, but not a major power.
Rather than learning a lesson, the United States went from an Army of more than 10 million at the end of World War II, to roughly 5 million – with most in garrison duty. The result was a scramble to build the forces for the Korean War.
The same occurred at the end of Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. “When war comes again, we have had to rebuild and rearm, at huge cost of blood and treasure, most recently after September 11th,” Gates said.
The U.S. military received all it asked for in the months and years after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. The military transformed itself from a cumbersome, but deadly, machine, to a lithe, precise and dangerous entity capable of defending against a range of threats.
But there is already talk of reaping another peace dividend when the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan end. “It is critically important moving forward that we not repeat that mistake again,” Gates said.
President Barack Obama has pledged a small real growth in the Defense Department budget of between 1 percent and 2 percent a year. But that will not be enough to reset the forces and to continue to grow and nurture the capabilities that the military needs to defend the country, Gates said. Essentially, he said, the department needs another 1 percent of 2 percent real growth for the nation to be safe.
“To make the case for this growth at a time of economic and fiscal duress requires the Defense Department to make every dollar count – to fundamentally change the way we do business,” Gates said. “It means shifting resources from bureaucracies and overhead to the combat capabilities needed today and in the future.”
Gates tasked the services to find $100 billion in savings over five years. That money could be reprogrammed to meet more pressing needs. Essentially, the secretary declared war on excessive spending, duplication and overhead costs. He has agreed to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command among other cost savings.
The secretary said the resilient and courageous men and women in uniform deserve the best support their country can provide. “Our troops have more than done their part, now it’s time for us in Washington to do ours,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure that we live up to our solemn obligations – for the safety of our country, for the well-being of our troops.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)