WASHINGTON, June 8, 2011 — Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III expressed concern today that as the U.S. government tightens its fiscal belt, programs critical to preventing conflict — many funded by the State Department — could fall victim.
Lynn, speaking at the Center for International and Strategic Studies’ 2011 Global Security Forum, said fiscal restraint will require some tough, calculated choices about defense spending.
“The challenge for us is to navigate our nation’s fiscal circumstances without disrupting the capabilities of the world’s most effective military force,” he told the audience. “We need to make the right judgments about the nature of our future security environment,” investing in capabilities and force structure and adapting technology and doctrine as threats evolve and mature.
Predicting the next big conflict has never been easy, Lynn acknowledged.
“In fact, we have a particularly poor track record of projecting when, where and against whom we will fight,” he said. “Secretary [Robert M.] Gates has described our record in this regard as perfect — we have never gotten it right.”
Increased investment in intelligence assets may help to make these predictions more successful, Lynn said during a question-and-answer session following his address. But the better chance of success, he said, boils down to preventing conflicts from happening in the first place. That means, he said, more front-end investment in programs managed directly by the State Department or in partnership with the Defense Department.
Among them are programs that promote security assistance, economic development and improved governance.
“The hope would be that we would head off crises before they reach the stage where the U.S. [needed] to deploy military forces, that we have addressed the problems in advance,” Lynn said.
Looking across the scope of challenges the United States faces, the deputy secretary said, the goal would be to identify “cauldrons of conflict” and “address the panoply of them and bring them all back from a boil so we won’t have to deploy military forces.”
One problem in this approach, Lynn said, is that the security assistance and economic development spending needed to support these initiatives funded through the State Department could suffer as government organizations reduce their spending levels.
Gates has been a staunch advocate for increasing the U.S. government’s civilian international assistance capabilities, including those within the State Department. His argument has been a straightforward acknowledgement that other parts of the government must take on some of the duties such as nation-building and international development that the military has taken on by default.
Sitting side by side during congressional testimony in March, Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pressed the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee to approve supplemental funding critical to both departments to support ongoing contingency operations.
“Our joint testimony today reflects the close cooperation of our two departments and the importance of a properly funded and integrated civil-military approach to the challenges we face in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world,” Gates said during the March 25 hearing. “I would like to offer my strong support for the programs funded in the State portion of the supplemental request, without which our military efforts will not be successful.”
Sufficient State Department funding is expected to be particularly critical as the United States prepares for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan.
“We are in the midst of the beginning of the next step” of the operation, Lynn told the CSIS audience today. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, is expected to make recommendations “in the very near future” about how to implement the phased U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan President Barack Obama announced 18 months ago, he said.
But as Gates and Obama have made clear, the Afghanistan drawdown plan will be “conditions-based,” Lynn said.
“It will depend on judgments about the strength of the Taliban, about progress in terms of capabilities of the Afghan national security forces and the ability of the Afghan government to take an increasingly larger role in the security function,” he said.
“That shift will start very soon and will progress over the next couple of years to that full transition that is projected for 2014,” Lynn said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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