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Senior Defense Official Previews SecDef Hill Testimony

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
June 21, 2001

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

(Interview of a senior Defense official by a small group of reporters at the Pentagon.)

Senior Defense Official: This is to try to give you some feeling of what the secretary is going to be saying tomorrow.

To put it in context, and my apologies for you waiting so long, but we are working three budgets simultaneously, as I think you know. The '01 supplemental is moving fairly rapidly. The '02 amended budget is working intensively with OMB. But tomorrow -- and he'll be testifying on that next week. But the purpose of tomorrow is to talk strategy.

It's our feeling, the secretary's feeling very strongly, that we need to have strategy first before you get to budget. you need to have a strategy-driving budget, not a budget-driven strategy.

Some of what he's going to say, I guess those of you who were with him in Europe will recognize some of it. Actually, before I get into substance let me say a word about process because I think something remarkable's taken place here in the last few weeks. It started with a session in the tank which I think [a reporter] at least got a version of [a senior official's version]. (Laughter) But I'm not trying to play [inaudible] here.

But people were saying to the secretary that we were sort of way past, not way past, but that we were entering sort of a danger zone in terms of getting the Quadrennial Defense Review done in a way that would actually impact effectively on the '03 budget. At the same time, he was beginning to understand that if you just turn the bureaucratic process loose on the Quadrennial Defense Review you will get -- not to insult the bureaucracy because it's full of fine people, but they're locked into very bureaucratic positions and you'd get something that would really just be more status quo.

And really kind of was thinking out with the chiefs in that tank session, he proposed to them that if the way to have a QDR produce something other than conventional results was to give it something other than conventional guidance going in, then let's work intensively together to try to develop what that guidance is going to be.

As a result starting -- well, it was the week before he left for Europe. I guess it was a week after Memorial Day, [senior officials] met every day starting on Tuesday of that week for two hours plus, and then he met -- [the deputy secretary of defense] was [out of town]. That Saturday he spent a half a day with the CINCs. Then [the deputy secretary of defense] continued with two or three similar meetings. I'll describe these meetings in just a second. [The deputy secretary of defense] conducted two or three similar meetings while he was in Europe, and then since he's come back we've had about four, and each of them has lasted on the average of two hours, and the attendance in the room, in my experience, is remarkable and unprecedented in that he had each of the service chiefs, each of the service secretaries, each of the three confirmed under secretaries, and Steve Cambone, and almost no one else. I don't think there were -- there were four or five others. But the main point is the service secretaries and the service chiefs were there on their own without staffs.

It was intended and I think did achieve a level of candor and original getting people's real thoughts as opposed to simply standard products. And at junctures along the way he at times asked them to give him written responses to -- to put on paper their answers to some of the questions that were coming. He said without benefit of staff, please. And judging from the products they were not staffed efforts.

So there's been a level of dialogue that I haven't seen in -- I guess I've been involved in one defense review at the end of the Ford administration; one at the beginning of the Carter administration; one at the beginning of the Bush administration; and then the regional defense strategy base force, which I think is the most impressive review of defense policy I've seen to date. So this is the fifth one I've seen. I've never seen that level of interaction between the secretary and the service chiefs at the front end of the process.

Now whether that produces a great result at the back end remains to be seen, and obviously it does aim at consensus and some folks would say that's not the way to go, you've got to tell them exactly how it's going to be. I think the secretary's feeling is unless we get some consensus on major change, major change isn't going to stick and that it's really important to bring folks on board.

So that's the process which he's in effect reporting on tomorrow.

Some of the opening part of the testimony I think is material that he's talked about with you guys on background in Europe or at the NAC [North Atlantic Council] about the strategic environment that we live in.

The fact that we have unrivaled military power, that the major threats of the past have gone away, but that the proliferation of new technology is making potentially dangerous, some medium sized countries potentially extremely dangerous. And the revolution in military affairs is both, well, it's providing what could be an enormous force multiplier for whoever captures it first, and it's rather important for the United States to at least be tied for number one, if not number one in that respect.

I think you've heard him say this, but we can say it again. As you look back over the history of the last 100 years, and I would submit if we had better track of defense planning earlier the same thing would come true, the ability to predict ten years ahead is not very good yet we're designing forces for -- the decisions we make today really come into play 10 to 20 years from now.

This is the secretary's job and everyone else who is involved in making defense posture decisions today really need to think of their work in terms, should think of their work in terms of legacies.

I remember when the Gulf War was fought Secretary Cheney publicly thanked Harold Brown and Bill Perry for having ten years before created the key weapon systems that made that victory so dramatically effective. And actually, the Tomahawk cruise missile which Rumsfeld played a big role in was 15 years before.

We're not turning a hot sports car on a dime. We're turning a great big vessel. But when you set the directions down -- I must have my metaphors hopelessly mixed by now, but when you set the direction -- please don't say that. Keep the metaphors straight -- you straighten them out for me. (Laughter) When you set the direction, it has a big impact down the road.

He has, if he still keeps it, this list starting when he was born in 1932, the Great Depression was underway and the defense planning assumption in Great Britain was no war for ten years. I think they dropped that only in 1936, if my memory serves right. And just at any juncture in the last century if you try to say what did people think the world would look like ten years from now, they are at best fuzzy and frequently dramatically wrong, which requires a different way, I think, of looking at the future than the very scenario-based, threat-based planning which is incorporated in, I would say, incorporated in the idea of two major regional contingencies, which I think was a very important innovation when it came out of the Cheney Defense Department ten years ago. It was the alternative to a global war with the Soviet Union. It focused us on specifically the Persian Gulf and North Korea, and in fact ironically President Bush announced this new defense strategy on August 2nd, the day Iraq invaded the Persian Gulf, making it probably one of the most prescient pieces of defense planning over the last century. I hadn't thought about that.

But when you look to the future, it's much less clear who might threaten us. But the kinds of things that might threaten us, both the kinds capabilities we need to worry about, both in terms of how our society is structured, our vulnerability to terrorism, our vulnerability to cyber attack, but also the kinds of capabilities that will be most threatening -- ballistic missiles, ranges, things that a number of countries are doing, ballistic missiles actually being one of them, to develop what the Andy Marshall review -- Let me say more honestly, Andy Marshall long before he did this review for Rumsfeld identified as anti-access strategies, which has clearly become a major focus of countries that think they want to take us on where our interests are involved.

Those are the kinds of things we need to be able to counter. Who might do them, I mean you can make candidate lists. I suppose futurologists could come up with scenarios, but we think when we're talking that far out in the future it is better, more useful to focus on the capabilities that you need rather than on very threat-specific scenarios.

And I would say that is perhaps the major insight that came out of the Marshall strategy paper. There were a number of other important ones there.

I think one of the, in my view, perhaps one of the most significant points to emerge from those discussions that I described earlier with the chiefs and service secretaries was the eventual agreement that a lot of our present force planning and over the last I would say probably most of the last ten years, has focused very heavily on a single measure of risk. That is to say the risk of not having the forces with a need to carry out current war plans.

What it in the process has tended to neglect are three other dimensions of risk that after a lot of discussion I think we have some pretty high level of agreement on.

One is the risk that derives in large measure from the fact that we use the force on a day-to-day basis for an extraordinary number and range of what in this building I guess are called SSCs as opposed to MRCs -- small scale contingencies -- that have put a lot of enormous burdens on the force, demanded a lot of it, and has as a result created something that we're talking about is a force management risk. You have a force that's either too small or too under-resourced to be able to conduct its peacetime missions without creating -- I think the clearest measure of risk here is the risk that you drive good people out of the service because you're just over-using them. There are other associated risks, like the risk that your aircraft and other equipment just suffer from very low readiness rates because they're over-used, or your spare parts inventories are too low.

The second dimension is a sort of more, as I said, what used to be really the only dimensions. At least for now we're calling it operational risk, the risk that we won't have the forces or the sufficiently ready forces to carry out war plans.

But the third risk, and this is one that I think our heavy focus on the Persian Gulf and Korea has tended to obscure, is the risk, that we won't have what we need in the future for one of these much harder to define emerging dangers, and since it's typically number one, easier to identify problems that are not too far away or even in the present than to identify these vaguer things 10 or 15 years out; and since the guys with responsibility to carry out those war plans understandably want everything they could possibly need and perhaps a little bit more. Unless you very consciously put some stress on measuring future risk there is a tendency for this operational risk to drive out everything else.

The fourth dimension, which is one the secretary personally, I won't say he doesn't feel strongly about the others, but he is the strongest identified advocate of what -- again, I have to say with a little bit of tentativeness, we may have different terms, but efficiency risk, that we will not manage our resources effectively enough. With the result either that we have wasted (inaudible) in terms of essential capabilities, or in a larger sense we lose the confidence of the American public in trusting us with these kinds of resources.

Some of those latter risks are obviously, some of them are due to our own inefficiencies. Some of them are due to requirements that come from outside the defense budget. And if the country in its collective judgment decides those are burdens we want to take on that is a legitimate judgment. But as with really all the other three, the secretary's view is we need to force these risks up on the table so they compete with one another.

That's what we're trying to have, is a process that allows the president in particular, but really the senior decisionmakers as a whole -- by which I mean specifically to include the Congress -- that the country as a whole makes these conscious judgments about the tradeoff between the risk of doing too many small scale contingencies or not having the forces to do enough; the risk of not having what you need to meet immediate threats in the Persian Gulf or Korea; the risk that you're not going to have what you need out there in the future or identified in the risk of just not managing it all.

In a way, as someone said, there's today, there's tomorrow, and there's the day after tomorrow. We have tended to focus rather heavily on tomorrow in the past without realizing how much we're expending today and how important it is to invest for the day after tomorrow.

So what we're hoping to set in motion here is both an internal defense review, but also I would say a national debate that we put these various risks on the table and make tradeoffs in a more conscious way.

I think you will probably see that the threats have, what the secretary is going to say is to push for the idea that we have up until now been neglecting the future, and that one way or another we need to put more emphasis there. But that's first place in the matter for when we get to the end of the QDR we will be able I think to let the president make his judgments about where those tradeoffs are. And until we've gotten to the end of that process, one can't I think arbitrarily say we can draw any conclusion about how they should be made.

I think that -- there's going to be more. I wouldn't want it to seem that I've given you everything that's in his testimony or you wouldn't come and listen.

Q: I think we would.

Senior Defense Official: Just to check for the contradictions. (Laughter)

Q: Boy, did [you] get it wrong.

Senior Defense Official: Anything else?

Q: Do you get into force structure implications at all at this time?

Senior Defense Official: Implications, yes but conclusions, no. And I think a major, some people would even say the major product of the QDR is our conclusions about force product and force structure, and so one of the reasons there's been so much debate over [drawing] assumptions is everyone is thinking how is that going to translate down the road to something I think needs to be in the force structure?

I'm quite confident the next couple of months is going to lead to an awful lot of attempts by people who say that what they think is important is justified under this framework. (Inaudible) the way this building works as the inevitable way, but what the secretary is trying to set is standards that are somewhat different from a war in the Persian Gulf and a war in Korea, which are the main, they're actually critical requirements, but they're not the only requirements. We've tended I think to some extent to drive --

Q: I think it's fair to ask this question and tell me if you think it's not. With the four dimensions in hand, does that point toward a bigger military, a smaller military, or a different military?

Senior Defense Official: Most of all a different military. And I think ultimately the total size is going to be a matter of balancing risk against resources. That's why it's a presidential level decision. We set a strategy-driven budget, but obviously this kind of strategic process should, if it's done right, not just be a syllogism that starts with a national objective and proceeds largely toward an [agreement] in which there's no reconsideration. In fact what it really should do is surface tradeoffs from the leadership of the country.

I keep saying it that way because it's obviously not the president all by himself, although he's got the winning vote, can look at the implications of these decisions and if they say wait a minute, I just think for some reason that's more than I want to invest in defense, or those risks don't strike me as all that intolerable, and we run a higher risk if we rebalance it.

So the total size I think is something that is not particularly determined by looking at risk in a broader way. But certainly I would think the shape is bound to be affected by it insofar as there are capabilities that are more designed for the future and if I'm right in thinking the process up until now has tended not to assign much weight to that, then any given level of risk is going to be bound, the tradeoffs towards that future capability.

And similarly -- not quite similarly, it's a little bit different, but more consciously identify what the costs are of these small scale contingencies and more consciously identifying how many of them really want to do --

There was a caricature as this administration came into office, that we simply planned to pull out of the Balkans and you name it, everywhere in the world, Sinai, everywhere in the world we withdraw from. I don't think that was ever the intent, and I also know that as we've seen with Sinai we can have the intent to reduce but there are a lot of realities that slow down that process.

But the whole subject should be treated more consciously than it has been hitherto. We've required a lot of these commitments over the last ten years. Some of them started Operation Southern Watch and Northern Watch, and aren't they a bit [inaudible], but they obviously go back to the first Bush administration, the previous Bush administration.

A lot of them were supposed to only last a year, at the most two. It's kind of accumulated. Yet we don't take sufficient or explicit account of them.

So that's, again, by surfacing more consciously what the costs, and I mean costs in the broader sense. Not just costs in money, but costs in people, costs in force structure. What those requirements impose on the force. Then the president and the country make a more conscious -- they're forced to make a more conscious decision (inaudible).

Q: Would it be fair to say, I assume he'll be asked whether he thinks we should be fulfilling some of our responsibilities overseas. How will he respond to that?

Senior Defense Official: Well, it's a case by case. It has to be taken case by case. I think -- If you take Bosnia, for example, and he's made it very clear that he thinks there are functions that ought to be performed by civil authorities. And as long as they think they can rely on NATO military forces and U.S. forces to perform them, they'll be happy doing that forever. So he clearly wants to push those things. Get the military out of that kind of thing as much as possible.

At the same time, he's made it clear, the president and Powell made it very clear that we're not about to pull the plug on the situation there that would lead to the very kind of instability that we went there to fix, [giving rise] to the phrase we went in together and we'll come out together, but we prefer not to stay there forever. At least if we're going to stay there forever let's do so without -- Let me not go into the conditions of staying there forever.

We don't want to stay there forever, and whatever we have there should be the minimum necessary and it should be part of (inaudible)

Q: You talked about the efficiencies and how DoD has to be efficient in this deal. Obviously the last administration said there were too many bases. What's he going to say about the base closure program?

Senior Defense Official: I don't know what he'll say in Q&A. I think our view on base closure, it's an important issue, but it's not to be addressed tomorrow. It might be as early as the '02 budget. We start getting into this as soon as we start talking about real resource expenditures.

Unfortunately, the delay in getting nominees confirmed has really slowed us up in this part of the process. Our hopes are very high that (inaudible), I think most of you heard in the press conference the other day, along with Pete Aldridge we're really going to be able to move the general process of efficiencies much much harder than we've been able to do in the past. The question is infrastructure and how we align infrastructure with force structure. (Inaudible) their job.

In a sense, to really do that right, apart from all the complicated politics of it until you get to the end of the QDR where there's still enough uncertainty about what the force structure will be that someone could argue well, let's not touch a base because we don't know what the force structure is going to be. On the other hand there are enough gross measures of the fact that we have a base structure that's considerably bigger than the present force that we have that there are at least some people who think there are efficiencies to be found.

That's about as far as -- I've probably gone further than he will go tomorrow. But that's the problem we have. The solution's a lot harder B, because the politics are so complex.

Q: How do you guard against the future? How do you create a metric so you can measure kind of future risk and make sure you're laying appropriate money down? I a resource-constrained environment you're always robbing to pay the present...

Senior Defense Official: Or you're robbing the present to pay the future.

If you're really doing this process right --

Q: It's much easier to measure the present than it is -- to see what's wrong in the present than to see what's going to be wrong in the future.

Senior Defense Official: That's true. My hope is the next six to eight weeks of work will develop something in the way of concrete metrics that allow us to be as firm in saying there's a risk that we'll lose our edge in ASW [antisubmarine warfare] or a risk that we will be able to deploy a capable mobile force rapidly enough, or that we'll be able to have long range strike capability that operates without bases. I'm trying to not lead the witness too far in this, but in fact a big part of the challenge is going to be to measure enough things to really stretch people but not to try to measure everything because then you end up in effect measuring nothing.

I'm sure the intense argument over what are the priority capabilities (inaudible), but I don't think anyone would disagree that there are certain things that have a much higher priority than others. Different (inaudible) may be different at the end of the day. I think we'll have a pretty strong view that we can be prepared to recommend to the president and the Congress.

Q: Do we have any new bumper sticker name for what he's going to call his strategy if it's not two MTW?

Senior Defense Official: I think he's going to raise some questions about -- By the way, two MTW, it really should be said it is not a strategy. It was at best a force sizing construct. And I think it's rather distorting, misleading as a strategy. Whether there's a better force sizing construct is a question I think is going to be put on the table tomorrow, but I don't think he's going to give an answer to that yet. As he said, until we're sure we have an answer, it's fine to say there are problems with two MTW as a force sizing construct, but until we come up with a better one, let's not say for sure -- It might be the least bad of the various alternatives.

I don't think so. Personally I think we can come up with a better one, but that's going to be the work (inaudible).

Q: So it's going to raise more questions than set a direction or --

Senior Defense Official: He's not going to offer conclusions, but I think he is -- This is a delicate balance, in a way. We spent a lot of time on what are the terms of reference of the QDR, the conclusions of the QDR, the guidance of the people doing the analysis.

The principle is if you send them in completely unguided and just guide themselves, you'll get a result that may not have any relation to what you're interested in. On the other hand, if you knew all the answers going in you wouldn't need to do the analysis.

So I think it is setting direction. The very nature of the questions you ask do that. But there is a need to --

For one thing, I think there's a need for very smart people to do a lot of thinking. There are a lot of people --

This isn't quite like acquisition reform where I think there's a general feeling that we don't need more studies, we don't need more knowledge, we need implementation. This is an area where there's an awful lot of good thinking, but I think even the people who feel they have a pretty good handle on their own conclusions would probably admit, at least under cross-examination, that there are large areas of uncertainty.

But furthermore, it's very different to develop a strategy that guides this whole department, and I say this with all due humility as somebody who wrote these sort of papers, to write an academic paper saying this is my advice to the Department of Defense about how they ought to operate. It's very important to go through the process of [internalizing] these things, to get the best ideas out of both the uniformed military and the civilians.

The way ahead, in fact, is going to be on the model of what in business they like to call integrated product teams. Instead of -- Someone told me in the last QDR that one particular question that was asked, I don't know, went through nine layers of briefings before it got to the secretary of defense.

The idea of an integrated product team is that everybody who has an important view is represented in one team, one layer, one leader. That leader's responsibility is to make sure that the big issues get surfaced to the senior management group, and the senior management group will hands-on discuss and debate.

I think the willingness, the ability of the secretary and the chiefs to really engage on hard issues over the last three weeks, and put a lot of time into it I think is a very important precedent for what has to come at the end of the process.

It can't run on autopilot. If there isn't an equally intense deliberation at the other end, it won't work.

I have to say this, and it hadn't occurred to me until just now, and I'm not, it's not (inaudible), or you can write it off to that. [Identifying information deleted.] If you observe what happened in the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission that Rumsfeld chaired, he had an extraordinary range of nine people with very, very different views going in on the subject, and came out with a report that was unanimous and not because it rounded off all the conclusions. It was unanimous in fairly dramatic conclusions.

The process that he led there was one of saying okay, if we have a disagreement, let's look for the facts. Let's argue with one another. We'll spend as much time as it takes until we find out what we think is ground truth. He was helped in that by that none of the nine had any bureaucratic interests they were reporting to or responsible for. This is going to be harder. But that willingness to engage and that ability to engage I think is key to making this sort of process work effectively.

He's demonstrated a way to do that. He's going to be optimistic going forward.

Q: Did you figure out what the terms of reference are for the QDR? Are you reaching consensus there?

Senior Defense Official: We're close. I don't want to set a target date, but I think he'll be ready to issue it pretty soon. Close enough in fact that these IPTs, integrated product teams, already have a pretty clear idea of how to organize their own work. They've seen enough of the drafts. They have pretty clear marching orders. They might change a little bit in the last stages, but I don't expect very much.

Q: Are you getting closer on a budget with OMB?

Senior Defense Official: Yes. (Laughter)

Q: How close are you?

Senior Defense Official: Close enough for government work, how's that?

Q: On Macedonia, (inaudible) doing [inaudible] there, but there's been sort of rumblings about Macedonia and NATO debates that are [reassembling] a force.

Senior Defense Official: Well there's planning and discussions going on about options to try to contain this problem. The heart of it's going to be some kind of negotiation between Trajkovski and the Albanians in general.

There isn't a military solution here, but I think we're all leaning forward in terms of trying to figure out anything that we or our NATO allies can do to support that negotiation. And I think in fact Lord Robertson is in town today and he's meeting with the secretary later on, and I'm pretty certain that's what he came for.

Q: Secretary Powell, I'm going by the wires, said on the Hill today that he could see the 700 U.S. troops currently based in Macedonia for logistics support, could be involved in the NATO mission.

Senior Defense Official: That's certainly our thinking. It depends on how that mission ends up being defined. It's more likely going to be a kind of symbolic political mission rather than a military mission. It's not a purely military mission, not even a purely peacekeeping mission, but something that might support the outcome of the negotiation.

Q: Thank you, sir.

Q: -- in Macedonia, [inaudible] as I recall, about 1990, (inaudible), the first UN mission in the Balkans.

Senior Defense Official: Monitors.

Q: (Inaudible)

Senior Defense Official: The greatest [detail] --

Q: Thanks a lot.

Senior Defense Official: You're welcome.

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