Military Strategy Drives Budget Decisions, Dempsey Says

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2011 — The Defense Depart­ment con­sid­ers strat­e­gy and capa­bil­i­ties as key fac­tors in bud­get deci­sions that will cut $450 bil­lion over the next 10 years, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Wash­ing­ton author and colum­nist David Ignatius at the Atlantic Coun­cil, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey dis­cussed the process of shap­ing the DOD bud­get.

Craft­ing the fis­cal 2013 to 2017 Pen­ta­gon bud­get means look­ing at it through the lens of defense strat­e­gy, Dempsey said. Even if the U.S. mil­i­tary had a blank check, he said, there would still be pres­sure to trans­form.

“We have learned an enor­mous amount over the past 10 years of war,” the gen­er­al said.

A “flush” U.S. mil­i­tary with plen­ty of mon­ey would want to look at strat­e­gy, force struc­ture, mod­ern­iza­tion pro­grams, train­ing and leader devel­op­ment, the chair­man. But in the cur­rent fis­cal­ly con­strained envi­ron­ment, he added, this will be imper­a­tive. Pen­ta­gon lead­ers also will look at strate­gic risks to the Unit­ed States, Dempsey said. “Are they exact­ly where they were before, or are they shift­ing?” he asked.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said dur­ing his lat­est trip to Asia that the Unit­ed States will focus more on the Pacif­ic region in the com­ing years, the chair­man not­ed.

“We see the strate­gic risks as shift­ing. Demo­graph­ics are shift­ing, eco­nom­ic pow­er is shift­ing, mil­i­tary pow­er is shift­ing,” he explained. “It is incum­bent on us as mil­i­tary lead­ers to dis­cuss with and advise as to how we should adjust our­selves to these strate­gic shifts.”

Envi­sioned threats fac­ing the Unit­ed States and its allies also influ­ence how defense dol­lars are allo­cat­ed, he said. “I’m not pre­pared, nor should our allies be pre­pared, to ignore or wish away any kind of con­flict in the future,” Dempsey said. “That’s just not the way the world works.”

U.S. mil­i­tary plan­ners, for exam­ple, can­not say whether there will be anoth­er oper­a­tion the size of the one wrap­ping up in Iraq. The mil­i­tary may be called upon to pro­vide a force of 200,000 again, Dempsey said, but is going to have to pro­vide that capa­bil­i­ty with less mon­ey.

Dempsey stressed this shift can­not be done at the risk of America’s tra­di­tion­al strate­gic part­ners. “If the Unit­ed States went to war, we would still call on our close NATO allies,” he said.

Pro­vid­ing a force that can han­dle full-spec­trum oper­a­tions, the chair­man said, is a pri­or­i­ty. “So the ques­tion is how do we reset the force so that it is not a niche orga­ni­za­tion — not a one-trick pony,” he said. “We have to be capa­ble in a new fis­cal envi­ron­ment.”

Eco­nom­ics is now a nec­es­sary skill for defense lead­ers, the chair­man said. Dempsey joked that before he took over as chair­man, he vis­it­ed the eco­nom­ics fac­ul­ty at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my in West Point, N.Y., and said he was sor­ry. “I’m sor­ry I did­n’t pay atten­tion here when I was a cadet,” he said he told the pro­fes­sors.

Since he became chair­man, Dempsey said, he has focused on under­stand­ing the new eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of the nation and under­stand­ing that U.S. nation­al pow­er is the sum of mil­i­tary, eco­nom­ic and diplo­mat­ic pow­ers. He has met with eco­nom­ic experts in acad­e­mia, with Fed­er­al Reserve offi­cials in New York and with Fed­er­al Reserve Chair­man Ben Bernanke at the Pen­ta­gon.

“This is about rebal­anc­ing,” Dempsey said. I’m encour­aged that we have a process where strat­e­gy is slight­ly in the lead of our bud­get deci­sions.” Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta has made it clear that “noth­ing is decid­ed until every­thing is decid­ed,” said he added. The bud­get will be released in Feb­ru­ary, but defense lead­ers will dis­cuss the strat­e­gy under­pin­ning the bud­getary deci­sions in Jan­u­ary. Panet­ta and oth­er defense lead­ers will talk pub­licly in Jan­u­ary about the strat­e­gy, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary George Lit­tle told reporters today.

“This is some­thing that he thinks is extreme­ly impor­tant to con­vey to the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Lit­tle said. “In light of the hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in cuts that we’re con­fronting, he under­stands that we need to dis­cuss with the Amer­i­can peo­ple what the U.S. mil­i­tary of the 21st cen­tu­ry is going to do, at least in the near term, and what some of the trade-offs might need to be.” Lit­tle, too, stressed that strat­e­gy leads the bud­get.

“It’s about the capa­bil­i­ties of the U.S. mil­i­tary and the threats that we con­tin­ue to face as a nation,” he said.

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

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