Military Power Aids Diplomacy, Defense Official Says
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2014 Military power can be a critical part of diplomacy and the true test of influence in compelling action without use of force, a senior Pentagon official said at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last night.
Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, spoke as part of the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues lecture series.
He cited examples in which U.S. forces and allies have taken the fight to al-Qaida’s networks in Libya and Syria. “Make no mistake – the world remains a very dangerous place, and at times, military force will be necessary to protect our interests,” Chollet said.
The U.S. military’s role, as directed by President Barack Obama, must be limited to its unique capabilities, such as intelligence, airlift, refueling and precision munitions, he explained.
Rather than invade Libya with hundreds of thousands of troops, Chollet said, the United States and its partners used air power to lead to the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. He noted that while the United States initially provided the “bulk of the military muscle,” the operation demonstrated the value of allies maintaining highly capable militaries that plan, train and equip together. “Simply put, Libya was not America’s fight alone,” Chollet said.
U.S. forces also enabled collective action in Syria last summer, he said, after the Bashir Assad regime used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,300 innocent civilians outside Damascus. Although the president decided to seek congressional buy-in on conducting air strikes that would degrade Assad’s capability and willingness to conduct further chemical weapons attacks, authorization for the use of military force proved unnecessary, he added.
“Our credible threat of force compelled Assad to back down, giving a chance for diplomacy to step in,” he said, noting that to prevent an attack, Assad agreed to a U.N. Security Council resolution that forced him to give up his chemical weapons.
“So today, remarkably, we’re on the cusp of achieving something very significant: Syria voluntarily giving up its chemical weapons to be destroyed without a shot being fired,” he added. “There’s still a way to go, and Syria still needs to live up to its obligations, but a Syria without chemical weapons makes us all safer.”
Chollet said the president’s five-year defense spending plan will define a policy that protects U.S. national security interests with sustainable resources.
“This would be the first defense spending plan after 13 years of post-9/11 conflict,” Chollet said, adding that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel already has announced a 20-percent reduction in the department’s major headquarters.
Overall, the military also will reassess the assumptions and scenarios for which it organizes, trains and equips, Chollet said, recognizing the advances made by global rivals and potential adversaries.
As they cope with readiness challenges stemming from sequestration spending cuts, he said, DOD leaders will focus on avoiding a “hollow force” that lacks sufficient training and equipment to accomplish missions. Meanwhile, he added, in matters of emerging capabilities, the military will protect its investments, particularly in space, cyber, special operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“Secretary Hagel has made … clear that he wants the military to stay in balance even as resources come down,” he said, “to have the right mix of forces in the right places around the world to accomplish the most important and most likely missions of the future.”
But savings, Chollet acknowledged, likely will come from military compensation, which has grown 40 percent above the private sector since 2011. “Otherwise,” he added, “we risk becoming a force that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and equipped.”
And although the bipartisan budget agreement passed in December brings some temporary relief from sequestration, Chollet said, Hagel still must still implement a total of $70 billion in additional cuts during the next two years.
“All three secretaries of defense under President Obama … have recognized a central fact: that this is not just a math exercise,” he said. The United States not only must continue to address global interests and responsibilities, he added, but also must maintain an advantage over other nations whose military modernization challenges U.S. superiority in air, sea, space and cyberspace.
“We have worked hard to align our defense strategy with this new fiscal reality,” Chollet said. “Fundamentally, strategy is about choices, and having to do with less helps clarify priorities and trade-offs.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)