Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
By Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White
To The Association of the United States Army, Washington, D.C.
National Defense into the 21st Century
Feb. 24, 1997
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today, because
this is a critical moment for the Department of Defense, our
defense policy, and the Armed Forces we maintain to protect and
defend us. We are going to be counting on organizations like
yours for support as we make the tough but critical decisions
about our future.
We are at a pivot point in history, as the Cold War recedes
into the past and a new century rushes toward us. We have
prepared well for this point, having spent the past four years
building a national security strategy and the military forces
necessary to meet todays challenges. We also know we cannot
stand still. The chief characteristic of this world is rapid
change. To protect American security, we must stay ahead of
change ... indeed, we must shape and direct that change.
If we are to shape the future, we have to resist the natural
impulse to be nearsighted -- to focus our defense strategies,
resources and choices mainly on the world as we know it. During
the Cold War, when the threat forecast was relatively constant
and the adversaries were well identified, our principal security
challenges were clear. But in today's world, when the threat
forecast is more blurry and changeable, we must focus a greater
share of our attention on the strategy and requirements for
meeting the unknown challenges of the long-term.
In short, we need to strike a better balance between the
present and the future. That is one of our chief goals in the
Quadrennial Defense Review as we take a hard look at the world
ahead, identify the challenges that confront us, and determine
the best and most affordable way to meet those challenges.
Today I want to talk about how we are using the QDR to help
us make the key decisions that will guide our national defense
into the coming century. Some of our choices will be hard. They
will involve difficult trade-offs, and they will be
controversial. But unless we are willing to make them, we run
the risk of entering the next century unprepared for the
challenges we will face. Our strategy for the 21st century must
drive our choices in the QDR, but we must make these choices
within the resource constraints we face. This is the central
challenge for the QDR and the basic reason we have undertaken it:
To develop a new strategy and new capabilities for a new era with
First, let me tell you a little about the QDR. It is a
collaborative effort involving the Office of the Secretary of
Defense, the Joint Staff, the CINCs and the Services.
At a general level the review is being conducted by seven
panels, each with its own subject area -- strategy, force
structure, modernization, readiness, infrastructure, human
resources and information operations and intelligence.
At more senior levels, this work is reviewed and integrated,
options are developed, and choices are framed for decision by the
Secretary. As we proceed, we will work closely with the National
Defense Panel, which is now established and prepared to review
our progress and to make recommendations for consideration by the
Department. We will present our final report to Congress by May
15, but will be consulting with them throughout the process.
Our overarching goal in the QDR is a fundamental
reassessment of America's defense. It is about assessing and
balancing risk, developing an appropriate strategy, and making
tough choices about the capabilities we need to carry out that
strategy. As the Secretary has stressed, we are examining
everything: strategic assumptions, warfighting plans, force size
and disposition, investment programs and supporting
I want to emphasize four broad ideas about the QDR that I
hope to leave with you today:
It is strategy-driven, that is, we will make choices based
on how best to meet the perceived threats and challenges of the
It is realistic. Therefore, we are taking into account the
resource constraints we face. We want our choices to be
executable. To ignore the resource constraints would be to
produce a work of no practical value.
It is analytic and professional. We are engaged in a
serious analytic process to determine what we need, how we
structure our forces, how we develop our program; always informed
by professional military judgments.
Finally, at the end of the day, choices in the QDR are about
balancing risks. We must assess a changing world (knowing our
forecasts will often be wrong), and then evaluate the trade-offs
between present and future capabilities realistically, among
competing alternatives to accomplish the same mission, and among
the threats and challenges we may face and for which we must
Risks are unavoidable, so what is the correct balance?
A fundamental problem we must address in the QDR concerns
the overall balance of our defense program, specifically the
necessity of modernizing our force while maintaining highly ready
forces today for the broad range of missions our strategy
demands. If we continue as we have over the past few years, we
will be unable to modernize the force sufficiently. You are all
familiar with the call for increasing our funding for procurement
to a level of approximately $60 billion per year. This is the
level estimated to be required to replace our aging equipment and
to maintain our technological edge. We have not been able to
meet this goal in our past few budgets.
Let me illustrate this dilemma: Last year, we planned to
put $45.5 billion in the FY98 budget for procurement. But in
the budget we submitted to Congress this month, we actually asked
for only $42.5 billion -- $3 billion less. As those of you who
follow the budget carefully know, this phenomenon has bedeviled
us for the past several years, although we have made improvements
year to year. There are three basic reasons why we have had
First of all, we had to offset the costs of contingency
operations that were not provided for in last year's budget.
This is a chronic problem that often forces us to dip into our
readiness and modernization funds.
Second, every year we face a cost forecasting problem.
When the services put together their budget plans, they are often
too optimistic about the cost of operations and support, such as
running military installations or conducting depot maintenance.
Consequently, in each budget year, they may have to spend more
money on operations and support than originally planned, and they
typically spend it out of procurement. It can really add up.
We had to shift $2.9 billion from the modernization account to
pay for these underestimated costs in the FY 98 budget.
But, the problem is more complicated. Between 1990 and
1997, our spending on procurement dropped about 53 percent.
That was appropriate during the post-Cold War drawdown, because
we could keep our forces modern by weeding out the older
Over the past four years, we took on an array of new
responsibilities and activities. We not only needed to size our
capabilities to deal with two nearly simultaneous major
contingencies, but we also faced a dramatic increase in other
activities, running the gambit from humanitarian and relief
operations in the third world to the major deployment in Bosnia.
This was a new world for all of us and we needed to evolve and
adjust with it.
A new world with new challenges required us to focus
resources on the here and now. That was appropriate. We needed
to be successful in meeting these new challenges, and we have
Our current defense strategy and forces structure have kept
us relatively safe in this uncertain, dynamic world. Indeed, we
have helped to make the world a less dangerous place. We have
deterred aggression in the Arabian Gulf. We have restored
democracy to Haiti. We have stopped the war in Bosnia and
prevented it from spreading throughout the heart of Europe. We
have maintained peace on the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, we
have helped to reduce the former Soviet nuclear arsenals, heal
the Cold War fault lines in Europe, advance cooperation and
stability in our own hemisphere, and strengthen our alliance with
Japan as we advanced security in the Pacific. In short, we have
made the world a safer place and yes, a better place. And the
key to all of this has been American engagement in the world.
The focus on the present has come at the expense of
investment for the future. We cannot continue this practice of
ignoring future needs while we operate in the present. We need
to strike the proper balance between these competing demands.
This year we are beginning the transition to a new era. As part
of that transition, we need a completely fresh examination of how
we balance current and future capabilities.
Some might challenge this assertion. Today we have the
worlds most capable military, a powerful and flexible force
second to none. Our forces are ready, our people are of the
highest quality, and we continue to maintain our technological
edge and to modernize the force. We have strong alliances, a
global presence, and the ability to meet any potential challenge
on todays battlefield. Why the call for reviewing our defense
strategy, making hard choices, reshaping the force?
The fundamental reason is the one I have already mentioned:
we cannot stand idle while the world changes around us. We must
actively shape events, revise our strategies as necessary, and
adapt to the changing environment.
In addition, as I have said, we must be assured that we have
struck the correct balance between present and future, and across
the array of risks that must be faced.
To do this right, the QDR will work through four levels of
analysis, beginning with a close examination of the challenges we
face and our objectives in meeting those challenges. Essentially
this is a threat analysis, taking into account the potential
changes in the world over the coming years and the anticipated
challenges to our interests. It is also an attempt to identify
the opportunities available to us to shape the future in ways
favorable to our interests.
We must maintain our ability to meet todays challenges
while we position ourselves to prevent future threats from
emerging and to be able to defeat them if they do emerge.
With this view of the desirable future, we then must develop
a strategy to help achieve that world. This is the second level
of analysis. The core principles of that strategy have been
identified even though we are still exploring many specific means
First, we want to shape the international environment, to
promote regional stability, to prevent or reduce conflict and
threats, and to deter aggression and coercion.
Second, we want our forces to be able to respond to a full
spectrum of challenges -- from deterring aggression and coercion
in crises, to conducting a wide range of contingency operations,
including fighting and winning theater wars. These first two
principles require the United States to remain engaged in the
world, to lead, and to work to influence the actions of others --
who can affect our national well being.
The third principle is that we must prepare now for the
challenges of an uncertain future. We must exploit the
revolution in military affairs, introduce best business practices
into the Department, and remain flexible to deal with unlikely
but potentially significant threats.
The third level in the QDR analysis is to translate the
strategy into specific elements of our overall defense posture --
what missions will our forces be equipped to undertake, what
range of capabilities do we need, how many forces are required,
and how should they be structured.
From that analysis will flow specific decisions numbers
and kinds of forces, infrastructure, modernization of systems, R
& D programs and so on. Only when we have made the decisions at
the other levels can we address the specific allocation of
resources. This is the fourth level. But once we have reached
that level, we must keep the decision process integrated, because
a decision in one area will affect what we should do in other
For example, decisions about lift can affect both strategic
options how we might choose to deal with a potential conflict -
- and options for weapons systems in individual services. If we
alter a large modernization program because the threat has
changed, it can necessitate changes in force structure.
Conversely, changes in force structure can cause changes in
modernization programs and support infrastructure. In addition,
changes in one modernization program can affect others. Only by
making the connections and their implications clear can we have a
crisp and coherent debate over fundamental decisions.
Recognizing all these complexities and interdependencies
still begs the question of whether there is a need for hard
choices. The answer is clearly yes. There is a temptation to
assume -- or hope -- that the choices we face will not be as
difficult because we will find relief from budgetary pressures.
I believe this is wishful thinking. Given the pressures for
deficit reduction and a balanced budget by 2002, I do not believe
we can assume that the resources available for defense will be
greater than those available today.
Will the current allocation of resources allow us to do all
we need to do? No. We have demonstrated the shortfall in our
ability to meet our modernization goals. But it is worse than
that. We need to consider other requirements, including chronic
underfunding of real property maintenance and other
infrastructure needs, unknown contingencies, expanded ballistic
missile and cruise missile defense programs, and new initiatives
to deal with the threats from weapons of mass destruction and
Can we fund these shortfalls by reducing our support costs?
Yes, to some extent. We probably need to consider further base
closing and realignment. I dont have to tell you how
politically difficult that will be, but when weighed against
other choices that option may begin to look more attractive.
Moreover, it would be unrealistic to expect that infrastructure
reductions alone could produce the investment funds we need in
the short term. BRAC, for example, has significant up front
costs. We must continue to push acquisition reform and we will.
We need to expand our outsourcing, and we will -- aggressively.
But I want to assure you that these savings, even at their most
optimistic, will not be enough. The need is too large. We must
look to other areas for savings: operations, modernization, force
structure and end strength. Unless we look make tough choices in
these areas, we will not achieve the objectives of the QDR
The Department is taking the QDR very seriously. The entire
senior leadership of the Department is fully engaged. In my
judgment, a successful QDR is the only way we will be able to
achieve the necessary balance between meeting current needs,
investing for the future, and shaping that future in ways
favorable to our interests. We have the obligation to the
country to do just that.
Let me conclude by noting for you what I think constitute
the elements of a successful QDR.
We must look across all elements of the Department,
questioning and evaluating the reasons we are doing things the
way we are. As the Secretary has stated, everything is on the
table. We must ask whether the tempo of current operations is
having an impact on the readiness of selected units, and we must
do something about it if that is the case. We must ask whether
the high state of readiness we maintain across the board is
appropriate given our strategy. We must ask whether the current
generation of planned modernization programs are the right ones,
and whether the quantities budgeted are properly sized. And we
must ask whether we are operating as efficiently as possible in
our business and management practices.
We must not shrink from these choices.
The QDR will be successful if it makes clear the connections
and balances the risks among choices at different levels
between threat analysis and strategy, between strategy and
program elements and between choices of alternative systems. If
we have made those connections clear, balanced the risks, made
the tough choices, and reallocated the resources to implement a
sound program, then the QDR will be a success.
One of the qualities that has made America the world's sole
superpower and undisputed leader of the free world is that we do
not shrink from making tough choices. Arthur Miller once said,
What is paradise, but the absence of the need to choose?
Building a strong force for an uncertain future under tight
fiscal constraints is certainly no paradise. It will involve
some hellish choices. But we cannot afford not to make them.
If we do the QDR right, it should touch off a national
debate over how to defend our country in the 21st Century. This
debate is healthy, the timing is exactly right, and I am
optimistic that the end result will be a strong, sensible and
affordable defense, and a secure nation. But that optimistic
outcome will occur only if we make honest choices. The only
sacred cow is a strong defense.
To succeed, we will need your support. I urge all of you
who have supported a strong defense all these years to stand with
us as we make the hard choices necessary to keep our forces
strong and our nation secure.