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Secretary of Defense Mark Esper: Johns Hopkins SAIS Remarks as Prepared

Good morning, and thank you, Mara, for that kind introduction.  I want to thank SAIS [Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies] and the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies for inviting me here today.  A special thank you to SAIS Dean Eliot Cohen, and to the Merrill Center’s associate director Paula Thornhill, for playing such an important role in training the national security leaders of tomorrow.

Just over two years ago, in January of 2018, the National Defense Strategy was officially unveiled right here at SAIS.  The creation of that strategy was the result of a collective recognition that the security landscape had changed.  Effectively preparing for the future would require a new approach to how we equip, posture, and employ military forces around the world.

The NDS outlined the United States' plan to maintain a competitive advantage in a new era of great power competition, where revisionist powers seek to rewrite the international, rules-based order and norms of good behavior.  Take China and Russia.  Both countries have violated the sovereignty of their neighbors and routinely use coercion against smaller states to gain strategic advantages.

Beijing continues to perpetuate intellectual property theft, while attempting to control the economic and security decisions of other nations through its "Belt and Road" investments.  Meanwhile, Moscow has turned to hybrid warfare as a means to expand regional influence, at the expense of law-abiding nations, while also breaking treaty obligations and engaging in malicious cyber operations.

We also face continued threats from rogue states like Iran and North Korea that require our constant vigilance.  Our recent actions against the Iranian regime, for example, restored deterrence in the region and sent the message that the United States will not stand idly by when our troops and interests are threatened.

The NDS prepares us to overcome these challenges through three major lines of effort.  First, we are strengthening military readiness and investing in the modernization of a more lethal force.  Second, we are building alliances and attracting new partners across the globe.  And third, we are reforming the Department for greater performance and accountability.

As we mark the two-year anniversary of the NDS, we are looking to the road ahead with a focus on irreversible implementation.  To achieve our goals, it is critical that Congress provide us with predictable, timely, and sufficient defense budgets.  Our past three annual budgets have enabled us to begin rebuilding readiness and modernizing the force after years of funding shortfalls and continuing resolutions.

But to stay on the right track, we will need more support from the Hill in the years ahead.  In a matter of days, we will present to Congress our fiscal year 2021 request, which reflects our commitment to making – and maintaining – major changes that will implement the NDS.  This budget will allow us to invest in a more lethal force, realign our mission and operations around the globe, and ensure accountability for every taxpayer dollar.

President Trump and congressional leadership have already made significant investments in the modernization of our armed forces, which advances our first line of effort.  From fighter jets to naval vessels, to each leg of the nuclear triad, we are making solid progress in boosting operational readiness and lethality.  To maintain our competitive advantage in the face of tomorrow’s threats, we have invested in technologies like artificial intelligence, 5G, and hypersonic weapons.  Through our new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, we are pooling all our data and putting the warfighter into the cloud.

We are working alongside industry to test U.S. 5G technology at our military bases, while we encourage the private sector to lead the way on alternatives to Huawei.  We have also ramped up our long-term investment in hypersonic weapons, with an additional $5 billion over the Future Years Defense Program – and we plan to deliver this capability years ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, we established the United States Space Command and bolstered our offensive and defensive cyberspace programs.  We recently swore in the first Chief of Space Operations, and are making great strides in standing up the U.S. Space Force.  The creation of a new military Service is not only a historic moment for our country, but also a new chapter for the Pentagon, as we recognize the urgency of U.S. dominance in every warfighting domain.

But ultimately, readiness and lethality rely on more than just new technology and organizational changes.  To harness the full potential of our efforts, we must also modernize how we fight.  Our budget request supports the development of a new Joint Warfighting Concept, which includes all-domain operations.  This new doctrine will enable Dynamic Force Employment, a new concept that keeps our military operationally unpredictable, and therefore more lethal and adaptable.

Our second line of effort capitalizes on a strategic advantage that our adversaries do not possess – a robust network of like-minded allies and partners.  Across the world, we are strengthening our relationships with our traditional allies, while growing new partnerships to help smaller states stand up to Chinese coercion.  I personally have travelled to the Indo-Pacific region twice as Defense Secretary, and continue to build upon our relationships there with countries of all sizes.  They recognize better than anyone the threats posed by a rising China, and they share our desire to uphold international norms and values.  Together, we are working toward a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

We will continue to work by, with, and through our partners in other parts of the world as well, as we strengthen our trans-Atlantic bonds with our European allies.  A ready and capable NATO is vital to our collective security, and we are pleased to see member states increasing their investments to advance burden sharing.  Last December at the NATO Leaders Meeting in London, we met our goal of identifying 100 percent of the contributions for the NATO Readiness Initiative.  This plan provides the alliance with the capability to have 30 mechanized battalions, 30 combat vessels, and 30 air squadrons ready to fight in 30 days or less.

Additionally, as President Trump noted during the State of the Union this week, the number of allies meeting the two percent of GDP commitment has more than doubled.  NATO members are contributing an additional $130 billion cumulatively in defense spending since 2016, and are projected to add $400 billion by 2024.  Their investments are especially important as the alliance considers expanding its train, advise, and assist mission in the Middle East, helping to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS – a priority for all of us.

Our ability to invest in these relationships and build our readiness relies on the success of our third major line of effort: reforming the Department for greater performance and affordability.  At the end of last year, we completed our second Department-wide financial audit, which was no small feat for the nation’s largest employer.  Nearly three million military and civilian personnel work for the DoD, operating on every continent, flying roughly 14,000 aircraft, and maintaining over 570,000 facilities.  Ongoing, annual reviews of this expansive enterprise are necessary to keep us on track.

After my confirmation as Secretary of Defense, we launched a new initiative called the Defense-Wide Review, which was a historic step in freeing up time, money, and manpower to reinvest back into our top priorities.  Over the course of four months, we examined $99 billion in appropriated resources across the Fourth Estate, which is comprised of roughly 50 DoD organizations outside of the military departments.

Ultimately, this process generated over $5 billion in savings.  The majority of it came from reductions to legacy activities that don’t adequately support NDS requirements, as well as decreasing overhead and shedding lower priority programs.  We also identified over $2 billion in activities to transfer to the military departments.

These savings will be invested in cutting-edge innovation and the warfighting requirements of our core missions, including a strong and reliable nuclear deterrent, missile defense, hypersonic weapons, AI, secure 5G technologies, the Space Force, and response force readiness.  Our reform effort also includes major changes to our internal management systems, many of which are remnants of the Cold War era.

We have integrated our leadership teams to achieve results more efficiently and effectively, and modified our internal battle rhythm.  We now have a weekly meeting that brings together senior military and civilian leaders from across the force to discuss our progress on the NDS, and maintain accountability for the outcomes.  Additionally, we are establishing a new governance model for the Fourth Estate, with the Chief Management Officer at the lead.  This will force tough trade-offs between those organizations and field activities, rather than passing cost growth on to the Services.

I have also launched a review of Combatant Commands to identify opportunities to rebalance troops and resources in support of the NDS.  We have focused thus far on AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM, and will continue our way through all the Combatant Commands to scrutinize our missions, tasks, requirements, and resources.  As we continue to review our activities, structures, and operating systems, we ask Congress for their support.  At the end of the day, the success of our reforms and our NDS priorities will rely heavily on their leadership, both for the 2021 authorization and appropriations bills, and beyond.

I’d also like to mention a personal priority of mine – the wellbeing of our Service members and their families.  These men and women are the backbone of our national security, and it is our duty to ensure they and their families are cared for, so that they can focus on their mission.  This means providing safe and affordable housing, and improving access to quality childcare for military families, particularly in the areas that are experiencing staffing shortages.  And it means supporting professional development opportunities to help military spouses advance in their careers.  The Department is addressing each of these areas to better attract and retain the people who have made the U.S. military the greatest fighting force in the world.

On the subject of people impacting change, let me end with the example of Paul H. Nitze, the namesake of this institution.  Nitze was a chief architect of the United States' military strategy during the Cold War, often remembered for his advocacy of U.S. military investment to deter the Soviet Union’s hegemonic ambitions.  His urgent calls for the United States to foster a technological edge over its competitors created a legacy that is reflected in many of our priorities today, 70 years later.

As a champion of military might, Nitze often stirred controversy with his approach to policy.  But he was a forward thinker who inspired future generations of policy makers and national security leaders to recognize the power of innovation, and to break out of traditional bureaucracy in implementing a new vision.  This is the kind of spirit that is fostered at SAIS, and that I encourage across the DoD.  It’s the kind of spirit that has prepared us for great power competition, for the development and deployment of new technologies, and for making the National Defense Strategy truly irreversible and undoubtedly successful in the years ahead.  I look forward to taking your questions.  Thank you.