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Statement on Defense Strategic Guidance

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Press Briefing Room, The Pentagon, Washington, DC, Thursday, January 05, 2012

Let me begin by thanking President Obama for coming here to the Pentagon this morning, and also in particular to thank him for his vision and guidance and leadership as this department went through a very intensive review that we undertook to try to develop the new strategic guidance that we're releasing today. 

And in my experience, this has been an unprecedented process, to have the President of the United States participate in discussions involving the development of a defense strategy, and to spend time with our service chiefs and spend time with our combatant commanders to get their views.  It's truly unprecedented. 

This guidance that we are releasing today, and which has been distributed now throughout the department -- it really does represent a historic shift to the future.  And it recognizes that this country is at a strategic turning point, after a decade of war and after large increases in defense spending. 

As the president mentioned, the U.S. military's mission in Iraq has now ended.  We do have continued progress in Afghanistan.  It's tough, and it remains challenging, but we are beginning to enable a transition to Afghan security responsibility.  The NATO effort in Libya has concluded with the fall of Gadhafi.  And targeted counterterrorism efforts have significantly weakened al-Qaida and decimated its leadership.  

And now, as these events are occurring -- and the Congress has mandated, by law, that we achieve significant defense savings.  So clearly, we are at a turning point.   

But even as our large-scale military campaigns recede, the United States still faces complex and growing array of security challenges across the globe.  And 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:  focusing on the continuing threat of violent extremism, which is still there and still to be dealt with; proliferation of lethal weapons and materials; the destabilizing behavior of nations like Iran and North Korea; the rise of new powers across Asia; and the dramatic changes that we've seen unfold in the Middle East.  

All of this comes at a time when America confronts a very serious deficit and debt problem here at home, a problem which is itself a national security risk that is squeezing both the defense and domestic budgets.  Even as we face these considerable pressures, including the requirement of the Budget Control Act to reduce defense spending by what we have now as the number of $487 billion over 10 years, I do not believe -- and I've said this before -- that we have to choose between our national security and fiscal responsibility.  The Department of Defense will play its part in helping the nation put our fiscal house in order. 

The president has made clear, and I've made clear, that the savings that we've been mandated to achieve must be driven by strategy and must be driven by rigorous analysis, not by numbers alone.

Consequently, over the last few months, we've conducted an intensive review to try to guide defense priorities and spending over the coming decade, all of this in light of the strategic guidance that we received in discussions with the president and the recommendations of this department's both senior military and civilian leadership.  Both of them provided those kinds of recommendations.  This process has enabled us to assess risk, to set priorities and to make some very hard choices.

Let me be clear again.  The department would need to make a strategic shift regardless of the nation's fiscal situation.  We are at that point in history.  That's the reality of the world we live in.  Fiscal crisis has forced us to face the strategic shift that's taking place now. 

As difficult as it may be to achieve the mandated defense savings, this has given all of us in the Department of Defense the opportunity to reshape our defense strategy and force structure to more effectively meet the challenges of the future -- to deter aggression, to shape the security environment and to decisively prevail in any conflict.   

From the beginning, I set out to ensure that this strategy review would be inclusive.  Chairman Dempsey and I met frequently with department leaders, including our undersecretaries, the service chiefs, the service secretaries, the combatant commanders, our senior enlisted advisers.  We also discussed this strategy and its implications, obviously, with the president, his national security advisers, with members of Congress and with outside experts.   

There are four over-arching principles that have guided our deliberations, and I've said this at the very beginning as we began this process.  One, we must maintain the world's finest military, one that supports and sustains the unique global leadership role of the United States in today's world.   

Two, we must avoid hollowing out the force -- a smaller, ready, and well-equipped military is much more preferable to a larger, ill-prepared force that has been arbitrarily cut across the board.   

Third, savings must be achieved in a balanced manner, with everything on the table, including politically sensitive areas that will likely provoke opposition from parts of the Congress, from industry and from advocacy groups. 

That's the nature of making hard choices. 

Four, we must preserve the quality of the all-volunteer force and not break faith with our men and women in uniform or their families. With these principles in mind, I'll focus on some of the significant strategic choices and shifts that are being made. 

The United States military -- let me be very clear about this -- the United States military will remain capable across the spectrum. We will continue to conduct a complex set of missions ranging from counterterrorism, ranging from countering weapons of mass destruction, to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.  We will be fully prepared to protect our interests, defend our homeland and support civil authorities. 

Our goal to achieve the U.S. force for the future involves the following significant changes. 

First, the U.S. joint force will be smaller, and it will be leaner.  But its great strength will be that it will be more agile, more flexible, ready to deploy quickly, innovative, and technologically advanced.  That is the force for the future. 

Second, as we move towards this new joint force, we are also rebalancing our global posture and presence, emphasizing the Pacific and the Middle East. 

These are the areas where we see the greatest challenges for the future.  The U.S. military will increase its institutional weight and focus on enhanced presence, power projection, and deterrence in Asia- Pacific. 

This region is growing in importance to the future of the United States in terms of our economy and our national security.  This means, for instance, improving capabilities that maintain our military's technological edge and freedom of action.  At the same time, the United States will place a premium in maintaining our military presence and capabilities in the broader Middle East.  The United States and our partners must remain capable of deterring and defeating aggression while supporting political progress and reform. 

Third, the United States will continue to strengthen its key alliances, to build partnerships and to develop innovative ways to sustain U.S. presence elsewhere in the world.  A long history of close political and military cooperation with our European allies and partners will be critical to addressing the challenges of the 21st century.  We will invest in the shared capabilities and responsibilities of NATO, our most effective military alliance. 

The U.S. military's force posture in Europe will, of necessity, continue to adapt and evolve to meet new challenges and opportunities, particularly in light of the security needs of the continent relative to the emerging strategic priorities that we face elsewhere.  We are committed to sustaining a presence that will meet our Article 5 commitments, deter aggression, and the U.S. military will work closely with our allies to allow for the kinds of coalition operations that NATO has undertaken in Libya and Afghanistan. 

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.  Wherever possible, we will develop low-cost and small- footprint approaches to achieving our security objectives, emphasizing rotational deployments, emphasizing exercises -- military exercises with these nations, and doing other innovative approaches to maintain a presence throughout the rest of the world. 

Fourth, as we shift the size and composition of our ground, air and naval forces, we must be capable of successfully confronting and defeating 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.  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.  But make no mistake, we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time. 

As a global force, our military will never be doing only one thing.  It will be responsible for a range of missions and activities across the globe of varying scope, duration, and strategic priority. This will place a premium on flexible and adaptable forces that can respond quickly and effectively to a variety of contingencies and potential adversaries.  Again, that's the nature of the world that we are dealing with.  In addition to these forces, the United States will emphasize building the capacity of our partners and allies to more effectively defend their own territory, their own interests, through a better use of diplomacy, development, and security force assistance. 

In accordance with this construct, and with the end of U.S. military commitments in Iraq and the drawdown that is already under way in Afghanistan, the Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support the kind of large-scale, long-term stability operations that have dominated military priorities and force generation over the past decade. 

Lastly, as we reduce the overall defense budget, we will protect, and in some cases increase, our investments in special operations forces, in new technologies like ISR and unmanned systems, in space -- and, in particular, in cyberspace --capabilities, and also our capacity to quickly mobilize if necessary. 

These investments will help the military retain and continue to refine and institutionalize the expertise and capabilities that have been gained at such great cost over the last decade.

And most importantly, we will structure and pace the reductions in the nation's ground forces in such a way that they can surge, regenerate and mobilize capabilities needed for any contingency. Building in reversibility and the ability to quickly mobilize will be key.  That means re-examining the mix of elements in the active and Reserve components.  It means maintaining a strong National Guard and Reserve.  It means retaining a healthy cadre of experienced NCOs and mid-grade officers and preserving the health and viability of the nation's defense industrial base. 

The strategic guidance that we're providing is the first step in this department's goal to build the joint force of 2020, a force sized and shaped differently than the military of the Cold War, the post- Cold War force of the 1990s, or the force that was built over the past decade to engage in large-scale ground wars.

This strategy and vision will guide the more specific budget decisions that will be finalized and announced in the coming weeks as part of the president's budget.  In some cases, we will be reducing capabilities that we believe no longer are a top priority. 

But in other cases, we will invest in new capabilities to maintain a decisive military edge against a growing array of threats.  There's no question -- there's no question -- that we have to make some trade-offs and that we will be taking, as a result of that, some level of additional but acceptable risk in the budget plan that we release next month.  These are not easy choices.   

We will continue aggressive efforts to weed out waste, reduce overhead, to reform business practices, to consolidate our duplicative operations.  But budget reductions of this magnitude will inevitably impact the size and capabilities of our military.  And as I said before, true national security cannot be achieved through a strong military alone.  It requires strong diplomacy.  It requires strong intelligence efforts.  And above all, it requires a strong economy, fiscal discipline and effective government. 

The capability, readiness and agility of the force will not be sustained if Congress fails to do its duty and the military is forced to accept far deeper cuts, in particular, the arbitrary, across-the- board cuts that are currently scheduled to take effect in January of 2013 through the mechanism of sequester.  That would force us to shed missions and commitments and capabilities that we believe are necessary to protect core U.S. national security interests. 

And it would result in what we think would be a demoralized and hollow force.  That is not something that we intend to do.

And finally, I'd like to also address our men and women in uniform, and the civilian employees who support them, whom I -- who I know have been watching the budget debates here in Washington with concern about what it means for them and for their families.  You have done everything this country has asked you to do and more. 

You have put your lives on the line, and you have fought to make our country safer and stronger.   I believe the strategic guidance honors your sacrifice and strengthens the country by building a force equipped to deal with the future.  I have no higher responsibility than fighting to protect you and to protect your families.  And just as you have fought and bled to protect our country, I commit to you that I will fight for you and for your families. 

There is no doubt that the fiscal situation this country faces is difficult, and in many ways we are at a crisis point.  But I believe that in every crisis there is opportunity.  Out of this crisis, we have the opportunity to end the old ways of doing business and to build a modern force for the 21st century that can win today's wars and successfully confront any enemy, and respond to any threat and any challenge of the future. 

Our responsibility -- my responsibility as secretary of defense -- is to protect the nation's security and to keep America safe.  With this joint force, I am confident that we can effectively defend the United States of America. 

 Thank you.

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