U.S. Must Sustain Military Strength, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2010 — Even in a time of bud­getary con­straints, the Unit­ed States must main­tain its mil­i­tary might to address the secu­ri­ty chal­lenges of today and the future, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.
“Giv­en the secu­ri­ty chal­lenges that the U.S. is like­ly to face around the world — and the unfor­tu­nate real­i­ty that most of our allies are reduc­ing their mil­i­taries — the bur­dens on us and the secu­ri­ty chal­lenges are going to remain unchanged and poten­tial­ly even increase in the future — there­fore, the need to sus­tain force struc­ture,” he said.

Speak­ing at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Coun­cil here, Gates said he is sym­pa­thet­ic to the chal­lenges caused by the fed­er­al deficit. “If you cut the defense bud­get by 10 per­cent — which would be cat­a­stroph­ic in terms of force struc­ture — that’s $55 bil­lion out of a $1.4 tril­lion deficit,” he said. “We are not the prob­lem.”

The sec­re­tary addressed rec­om­men­da­tions from the Nation­al Com­mis­sion on Fis­cal Respon­si­bil­i­ty and Reform, which has rec­om­mend­ed cut­ting defense pro­cure­ment by 15 per­cent and its research and devel­op­ment by 10 per­cent. The com­mis­sion also rec­om­mend­ed freez­ing non-com­bat mil­i­tary and civil­ian pay. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma appoint­ed Ersk­ine Bowles and for­mer U.S. Sen. Alan Simp­son to co-chair the pan­el in April. They pre­sent­ed their report last week.

Gates called the commission’s rec­om­men­da­tion to slash the defense bud­get “math, not strat­e­gy.”

“Frankly, the idea that Defense would take half of the cut in dis­cre­tionary spend­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en what we’re try­ing to do in terms of pre­serv­ing secu­ri­ty, is a prob­lem,” he said.

The sec­re­tary has launched his own ini­tia­tive to cut over­head costs and allow the ser­vices to keep the sav­ings to re-invest in the needs of troops. The depart­ment needs to main­tain about 3 per­cent real growth in capa­bil­i­ties in order to sus­tain the present force struc­ture, he said.

“What we are try­ing to do in the Depart­ment of Defense is fig­ure out how you kill pro­grams that aren’t work­ing,” Gates said. “How do we devel­op the broad­est capa­bil­i­ties for the widest range of sce­nar­ios, and sus­tain the strength this coun­try needs? That means going in with a scalpel instead of a meat axe and fig­ure out how we do busi­ness.”

Gates said he aims to take $100 bil­lion out of over­head – the “tail” — and re-invest it in the “tooth side” of the depart­ment. He said he’s got­ten the coop­er­a­tion of the ser­vices by reas­sur­ing them that they can re-invest the sav­ings. “So what the Navy finds in sav­ings, they can apply to ship build­ing,” he said. “The same way with the oth­er ser­vices.”

The sec­re­tary also said he hopes to find between $15 bil­lion and $20 bil­lion in sav­ings out­side of the mil­i­tary ser­vices that he can then rein­vest in the ser­vices. “I think that has incen­tivized the ser­vices to real­ly look very hard at the way they do busi­ness,” he said. “This isn’t a mat­ter of doing the same things we’re doing with 10 per­cent less mon­ey. It’s fig­ur­ing out new ways to do busi­ness.”

Gates also addressed some of the secu­ri­ty threats the nation faces today and may face in the future.

On Afghanistan, the sec­re­tary addressed media reports of ten­sion between Afghanistan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and U.S. and NATO lead­ers. “Pres­i­dent Karzai is our part­ner,” he said. “He will be the pres­i­dent of Afghanistan until his sec­ond term is out in 2014. We will con­tin­ue to part­ner with him through this con­flict.”

Gates said he believes Karzai’s recent com­ments about increas­ing Afghan con­trol of secu­ri­ty shows the leader’s frus­tra­tions with three decades of war. “I think Pres­i­dent Karzai is reflect­ing the impa­tience of a coun­try that’s been at war for 30 years,” he said.

“I think what Pres­i­dent Karzai was artic­u­lat­ing was the desire to see Afghanistan get to the point where… it was in the 1950s and ‘60s when the pri­ma­ry Amer­i­can pres­ence was a devel­op­ment pres­ence. We were build­ing roads; we were putting in irri­ga­tion sys­tems,” he said.

“We share that desire,” he added. “The prob­lem is, we can’t get from here to there tomor­row.”

Gates said he expects NATO to address the issue of tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty to the Afghans at its sum­mit in Lis­bon lat­er this week. NATO “prob­a­bly will embrace Pres­i­dent Karzai’s own stat­ed goal of hav­ing a tran­si­tion of respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty com­plete by 2014,” he said.

The sec­re­tary added that Afghan secu­ri­ty forces already are play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in their country’s secu­ri­ty. In one of the most aggres­sive oper­a­tions, in Kan­da­har, Afghans account for 60–75 per­cent of the secu­ri­ty forces and are lead­ing the oper­a­tion, he said.

On Pak­istan, Gates said the gov­ern­ment has exceed­ed his expec­ta­tions in its deci­sion to focus its mil­i­tary on the Tal­iban insur­gency. “If you had told me two years ago that Pak­istan would have 140,000 troops on its west­ern bor­der fight­ing the Tal­iban and the var­i­ous oth­er ter­ror­ist groups that are in that area, I would have thought that impos­si­ble,” he said.

“If you had told me again two years ago that they would have occu­pied Swat and south Waziris­tan and be going after these peo­ple, be work­ing with us, and part­ner­ing with us as we coor­di­nate on both sides of the bor­der, I would have thought that was a reach,” he said.

Gates said he believes Pak­istan changed course against the Tal­iban because of strate­gic dis­cus­sions with U.S. and NATO lead­ers that have built a rela­tion­ship of trust and a “com­mon under­stand­ing of the mutu­al threats that we face.”

On Yemen, Gates said that coun­try, as well as Soma­lia and oth­er parts of north Africa, have become ter­ror­ist havens as oper­a­tions in Afghanistan and Pak­istan have caused the ter­ror­ist move­ment to “metas­ti­cize” to oth­er areas. The Unit­ed State’s best tool in Yemen is form­ing a part­ner­ship with the gov­ern­ment so it can defeat ter­ror­ism in its own coun­try.

“We don’t need anoth­er war,” he said. “The Yeme­nis have shown a will­ing­ness to go after al Qai­da on the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la. They’re work­ing with us, with the Saud­is, and with oth­ers.

“One of the big themes over the last cou­ple of years for us has been what we call build­ing part­ner­ship capac­i­ty, which is giv­ing them the equip­ment and the train­ing so they can do the job them­selves,” he added. “This is the theme behind a lot of our efforts in Africa as well as in the Mid­dle East. That’s our best tool.”

On Iran, Gates said the world must keep polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pres­sure on the coun­try to keep it from devel­op­ing a nuclear weapons pro­gram. “The only long-term solu­tion in avoid­ing an Iran­ian nuclear weapons capa­bil­i­ty is for the Ira­ni­ans to decide it’s not in their inter­est,” he said. “Every­thing else is a short-term solu­tion, is a two-to-three year solu­tion.”

The sec­re­tary said he believes the cur­rent sanc­tions have been much hard­er on Iran than its lead­ers antic­i­pat­ed, and that they are “hav­ing an impact.”

Gates said he does not believe a “mil­i­tary solu­tion” is the right way to deal with Iran. “If it’s a mil­i­tary solu­tion, as far as I’m con­cerned, it will bring togeth­er a divid­ed nation,” he said. “It will only make them absolute­ly com­mit­ted to obtain­ing nuclear weapons and they will just go deep­er and more covert. So I think the polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic strat­e­gy is the one that we have to con­tin­ue to pur­sue and ratch­et up and cre­ate an exit for them.”

If Iran builds con­fi­dence with the Unit­ed Nations “then there is a way out of the box they’ve got­ten them­selves in,” he said.

(AFPS Writer Jim Gara­mone con­tributed to this report).

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

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