The American military will be leaner in the years ahead, but it will remain lethal and without a match in the world, President Barack Obama said at the Pentagon today.
Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, detailed the new defense strategic guidance during a news conference.
“The world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” the president said.
He pledged to keep faith with service members and their families as officials use the strategy guidance to shape the Defense Department’s budget for the years ahead. The department will pare $487 billion from its budget over the next 10 years.
“We’re also going to keep faith with those who serve by making sure our troops have the equipment and capabilities they need to succeed and by prioritizing efforts that focus on wounded warriors, mental health and the well-being of military families,” the president said.
The government also will keep the interests of America’s newest veterans in mind, Obama said, and he vowed to “keep working to give our veterans the care, benefits and job opportunities they deserve and earned.”
After 10 years of war, now is the time to build a new military to confront the challenges of the 21st century, Obama said. The Iraq mission is over, and 91,000 American troops are in Afghanistan working to turn over security responsibility there to Afghan forces.
Still, Panetta said, the world will continue to be dangerous.
“The United States still faces complex and growing array of security challenges across the globe,” he said. “Unlike past drawdowns, when oftentimes the threats that the country was facing went away, the fact is that there remain a number of challenges that we have to confront -- challenges that call for reshaping of America's defense priorities.”
Panetta said the threats include violent extremism, proliferation of lethal weapons and materials and the destabilizing behavior of nations such as Iran and North Korea. The strategic calculus has shifted with the rise of new powers in Asia and the dramatic changes in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa, he noted.
All this is occurring against the backdrop of budget pressures. The secretary reiterated his belief that Americans do not need to choose between national security and fiscal responsibility. Still, DOD will “play its part in helping the nation put our fiscal house in order,” he said.
The strategy honors four over-arching principles, Panetta said: America’s military must remain pre-eminent. The strategy must avoid hollowing out the force, must achieve balanced savings, must preserve the quality of the all-volunteer force and must not break faith with men and women in uniform or their families.
Given those principles, Panetta said, the U.S. military will remain capable across the spectrum.
From a geographic perspective, he said, while the Asia-Pacific region will be a new focus for the U.S. military, America will continue to work in the Middle East and Central Asia to ensure stability and economic prosperity.
“In Latin America, Africa, elsewhere in the world, we will use innovative methods to sustain U.S. presence, maintaining key military-to-military relations and pursuing new security partnerships as needed,” the secretary said.
The military will look to develop low-cost and small-footprint approaches to achieving security objectives, he explained. For service members, he added, this means rotational deployments and military exercises to maintain U.S. presence.
But, Panetta added, a military must be able to confront and defeat any aggressor and respond to the changing nature of warfare.
“Our strategy review concluded that the United States must have the capability to fight several conflicts at the same time,” Panetta said. “We are not confronting, obviously, the threats of the past. We are confronting the threats of the 21st century. And that demands greater flexibility to shift and deploy forces to be able to fight and defeat any enemy anywhere.
“How we defeat the enemy may very well vary across conflicts,” he continued. “But make no mistake, we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time.”
Dempsey said all defense leaders worked on the new guidance, which he called “a sound strategy” that ensures the United States remains the pre-eminent military in the world while preserving the talent of the all-volunteer force.
The strategy takes into account the lessons of the last 10 years of war, Dempsey said. “It acknowledges the imperative of a global, networked and full-spectrum joint force,” he added.
The general emphasized that the military would be adopting much of the strategy even in the absence of fiscal constraints.
“Even if we didn't have fewer resources, we would expect to change,” he said. “As a consequence, it calls for innovation, for new ways of operating and partnering. It rebalances our focus by region and mission.”