Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Brookings Institution Board of Trustees
May 12, 1997
Let me begin by describing a certain pivot point in history:
It is a time of daunting security challenges both at home
and abroad. In Europe, the United States proposes a bold plan to
advance democracy, free-markets and shared security across a
divided continent, and we struggle with how Russia would fit into
this plan. In the Pacific, America is the dominant power, but
Korea remains dangerously divided, and China is in a period of
profound transition, its future uncertain, its intentions
unclear. Breathtaking advances in technology are fueling a
revolution in military affairs. And a Democratic President and a
Republican Congress struggle mightily to balance the federal
Mike Armacost is not the only one in this distinguished
group that knows the period I'm talking about is not 1997, but
1947, a half-century ago, when President Truman created the
Department of Defense, and charged it with the awesome
responsibility to protect and promote American national
But how we defend the country has not been frozen in time.
For in the past decade alone, the world has witnessed rapid and
dramatic changes. The Soviet Empire has disintegrated. The
Berlin Wall has been swept into the dust bin of history. And
where dictatorship once prevailed, democratic institutions and
free markets now are openly embraced by freedom-loving people.
And so DoD reduced and reshaped the force for the new era.
The defense budget -- down 35 percent. Force structure -- down
33 percent. Procurement programs -- down 67 percent. The result
was a smaller force, yes, but the right force for the times, and
indisputably the most powerful force in the world.
But the post-Cold War era is coming to an end. The term has
lost its relevance and meaning in today's world, and it is time
we discarded that phrase. For we have come to another pivot
point in history. Technology has miniaturized the globe,
reducing vast oceans to mere ponds. Distant countries are now
almost neighboring counties in terms of travel. The world is not
much bigger than a ball, spinning of the finger of science. We
have not witnessed the end of history, but the dawn of a new era.
To paraphrase Pasternak's Lieutenant Schmidt: We know that the
stake where we will stand will be the border of two different
eras of history, and we are glad to be chosen.
The time has come to step into the future. To look at the
world ahead. To ask, what will be America's role? Should we
seek to influence events, or simply respond to them? Shall we
remain the world's only superpower? What are the benefits and
burdens? Should we instead reconcile ourselves to becoming just
one power among many? If so, what are the risks involved in the
multiplication of power centers in a world that is not truly
stable? And so we have to ask: What type of military do we need
for the 21st Century? That is what the Quadrennial Defense
Review has been trying to determine.
We do know how we are not going to reach the future we want.
It is not by taking the road well traveled -- that road is gone.
For in today's world, the Spanish poet Antonio Machado captured
the challenge: Traveler, there is no road. You make the road as
you go along. To make our road, we cannot simply project
today's defense into the future. Rather, we must choose our
destination, and then chart a course that will take us from where
we are today.
That is what the QDR has done. Next week, I will issue the
final report on the QDR with my decisions. Not surprisingly, I
have already heard from Capitol Hill about what I'm not going to
do very easily. I heard echoes of the signs from the road of the
past: Don't close bases; don't cut troops; don't touch depots;
don't even think about touching tac air.
This response demonstrates an all too common phenomenon in
defense. The tail too often wags the dog. Defense programs take
on a life of their own, disembodied from the defense strategy
they were originally created to support -- even if the strategy
changes to fit the times. But that can undermine our ability to
carry out the strategy by taking up scarce resources.
The QDR faced this problem head-on. First, it determined
the challenges we are likely to face. Then it devised a strategy
to protect and promote American interests. Finally, it is going
to ensure that how we allocate resources supports the strategy.
Strategy without resources, or resources without strategy, are
equations that are likely to produce failure.
The strategy devised through the QDR can be summed up in
three words: shape, respond and prepare.
First, we want to shape the security environment. To
encourage a world where there is more democracy in more nations.
More stability in more regions. And thus, fewer threats to
American interests, and fewer risks to American service men and
women. To do that, we must remain engaged in world affairs, to
influence the actions of others -- friends and foes -- who can
affect our national well-being. We can't simply zip ourselves
into a continental cocoon and watch the world unfold on CNN. But
to be engaged, we have to be forward deployed, out there so we
can influence events, rather than become a prisoner of events.
So we intend to maintain a robust presence in key regions of the
world, including roughly 100,000 people forward deployed in the
Asia-Pacific region and another 100,000 forward deployed in
But we also need strong, ready forces that can respond
quickly and decisively to threats across a full spectrum of
crises, from non-combatant evacuations, like the ones we
conducted in Albania and Liberia, to small-scale crises, to major
conflicts. For that we need forces that are agile, flexible and
responsive in a dynamic and uncertain world; forces that can
quickly descend on and dominate any situation. We also need
forces that can halt and defeat military aggression by major
regional powers, even in two places across the globe. Those who
question this need must face a difficult choice: Should we ask
General Tilleli to send home those 37,000 men and women in Korea,
saying we don't need to worry about North Korea? Or should we
ask General Peay to send home those forces in Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait, concluding we don't need to worry about Iraq or Iran?
The military force structure we have today can meet our
needs to shape and respond to the world from here to the horizon.
But what about over the horizon, beyond the limits of our sight?
What kind of Armed Forces will we need then? That leads to the
toughest part of our strategy: preparing now for the future.
The critical part of this preparation is modernization. But
the term modernization implies an evolutionary change. The
time has come to take our forces into the future. Twenty years
ago, Alvin Toffler warned that, unless you tame technology, you
will encounter future shock. We want to harness technology for
defense to turn future shock into future security. To do so,
we must bring about the Revolution in Military Affairs and begin
to build the future force today.
This future force will look a lot like the vision set forth
by General Shalikashvili, called, Joint Vision 2010. It will
seek the best people our nation can offer. It will give them the
best technology our scientists can produce. And this technology
will transform the way our forces fight. We want them to be able
to dominate any situation we send them into. We don't want a
fair fight -- we want a decisive advantage.
The key is an integrated system of systems that gives them
battlespace awareness, greatly reducing the risk of war. This
system of systems will integrate the laptop, the microchip, the
microwave, the videocam, the satellite and the sensor. It will
connect the cockpit, the quarterdeck, the control panel and the
command post and link the front office to the frontlines to the
This system will give the future forces some remarkable
capabilities. They will have dominant maneuver -- an ability to
out-maneuver and out-position the enemy with greater information,
speed, mobility, agility and versatility. They will have
precision engagement -- the ability to identify and aim smart
weapons at precise targets. They will have focused logistics --
the ability to have the supplies they need, just in time, when
and where they need them. And they will have full dimension
protection -- to better protect themselves, their assets and
their communications against a full spectrum of threats, from
ballistic missiles to germ warfare, so they have greater freedom
What these four capabilities mean is that our forces can go
in lighter. They will need fewer weapons platforms. They will
be able to direct lethal fire to the right targets. There will
be less collateral damage, less friendly fire and fewer
casualties. And they will be able to surprise and overwhelm the
enemy, and end the battle quickly on our terms.
These capabilities are not drawn from the X-Files of the FBI
or the Starship Enterprise. Right now, soldiers, sailors, airmen
and Marines are conducting research, experiments and exercises to
make them a reality. But even as the troops are helping us build
the future force, they are still part of the current force, and
still ready for today's missions. They can stand on the border
of the present and the future, and do both equally well.
We have tried to sustain the current force and prepare the
future force under the fixed budget of about $250 billion a year.
But to pay for the cost of day-to-day operations and support, DoD
has had to push our modernization investments further and further
into the future. Balancing our investment in the present versus
the future was one of the major challenges of the QDR. And so we
examined three different strategic paths.
One path is to focus more on current dangers and
opportunities. This option does not ignore the future, but sees
today's threats demanding more attention and tomorrow's threats
far enough away to give us ample time to respond. This option
would maintain the current force structure exactly as is. But it
would also result in less investment in modernization, that is, a
greater aging in major platforms, few new systems and delay in
fully exploiting Revolution in Military Affairs.
Another path is to focus more on future dangers and
opportunities. This path does not ignore the present, but sees
greater dangers over the horizon, including the emergence of a
great regional power. This path would devote more resources to
building the future force. But to do so would also require
significant reductions in the current force. This would sharply
reduce our ability to shape the international environment. And
this would undermine our security commitments to our allies while
potentially encouraging aggressors. And most importantly, it
would erode our military capability, stress the troops and put
them at more risk in battle in the near and mid-term.
We chose a third path -- to strike a balance between the
present and the future. This balance will largely sustain the
current force in order to sustain American global leadership and
capability to meet current threats. At the same time, this path
will also invest in the future force with a focused modernization
plan that introduces new systems and technologies at the right
pace. We can afford this plan by making some marginal reductions
in the current force, without undermining combat capability. For
instance, we can modestly reduce the number of our active,
reserve and civilian personnel, get more out of our newer, more
capable ships, aircraft and other platforms.
But more importantly, we can reduce our support structure
and make it perform better at less cost by harnessing the
Revolution in Business Affairs. In other words, we can sustain
the shooters and reduce the supporters -- we can keep the tooth,
but cut the tail.
Right now there is too much fat in the tail. Our
infrastructure is still too large for our force structure today.
Our purchasing system is still too cumbersome, slow and
expensive. Our logistics system has too many people. We still
do too many things in-house that we can do better and cheaper
through outsourcing. And yes, the Office of Secretary of Defense
is too big and too bureaucratic. Across the board, we've got to
streamline, downsize and buy more off the shelf. We've got to
consolidate, computerize and commercialize.
We need to cut the fat from defense not just to save money,
but also to make the Department every bit as agile, flexible and
responsive as the troops we support.
Ultimately, though, cutting the fat from defense depends on
Congress. It was Congress that deregulated the defense
acquisition system so we can buy our systems, services and
supplies better, faster and cheaper. Now we need to deregulate
defense across the board, and we need Congress's support and
Congress to resist the temptation to respond with, Not yet, not
here, not now, and not mine.
We have to ask Congress to make fundamental -- and
inescapable -- choices about what is more important: Is it
depots in government hands or high tech weapons in soldiers'
hands? Protecting facilities or protecting forces? Preserving
local defense contracts or promoting solid enlistment contracts?
The choices come down to this: Do we want to build a force
structure for the 21st Century? Or do we want to protect the
infrastructure of the 20th Century?
On the eve of World War II, Walter Lippman said something
about choices then that still resonates today. He said, For
every right that you cherish, you have a duty you must fulfill.
For every hope that you entertain, you have a task you must
perform. For every good wish you wish to preserve, you must
sacrifice your comfort and your ease. There is nothing for
nothing anymore. That's the message that we have to bring to
all of our colleagues, members of Congress, and general public.
In defense, there is nothing for nothing anymore.