WASHINGTON: The Defense Department has made progress in addressing the challenges of the world today, but huge problems remain and the department must do much more to face the dangers the nation confronts, the undersecretary of defense for policy said yesterday.

Michele Flournoy spoke to the Center for a New American Strategy, a think-tank she once presided over. The world is still dangerous, she noted, and the tools the United States can use are outdated.

“To put it bluntly, we’re trying to face 21st century threats with national security processes and tools that were designed for the Cold War — and with a bureaucracy that sometimes seems to have been designed for the Byzantine Empire, which, you will recall, didn’t end well,” Flournoy said. “We’re still too often rigid when we need to be flexible, clumsy when we need to be agile, slow when we need to be fast, focused on individual agency equities when we need to be focused on the broader whole of government mission.”

Building international cooperation is a must, and the administration has worked hard to rebuild trust with allies and friends around the globe, she said.

Interagency cooperation is also tremendously important, Flournoy said. Almost nine years of war proved to defense officials the need for civilian agencies in a “whole-of-government” approach to the problems confronting the world. “The interagency community is beginning to grapple with tough challenges,” she said.

The State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community are examining how to better work together with each other and with the Defense Department.

“If we as a government can’t get better at linking ends, ways and means, we will not adequately position the United States to protect and advance our national interests in the face of a very challenging 21st century security and economic environment,” Flournoy said.

The Defense Department must look to reform itself, too, she said. Defense leaders are working to embrace the lessons of the war. The central lesson being intelligent adversaries will seek to confront U.S. weaknesses, not American strengths.

“U.S. forces in this century will need to prevail against a wide range of challenges: from insurgencies and state failure, to regional powers seeking to deny U.S. access to critical regions, to the ever-expanding ‘hybrid’ possibilities in between,” she said. “We will need the agility of a David, not the clumsiness of a Goliath.”

All moves are to make the military more versatile across the range of possible conflicts.

“For far too long we assumed that, for example, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, building security capacity and stability operations were ‘lesser included’ cases — subsets of the canonical contingencies that dominated our defense planning,” Flournoy said. “As long as we planned for conventional warfare, so the argument went, we could succeed in these other operations.”

That is patently not true, she said, and what’s more the point is not to assume that future conflicts will look just like current conflicts.

“Future conflicts and threats may take many shapes,” she said. “Yet we can’t prepare simultaneously and fully for every possible contingency — so we need to focus on flexibility and agility, on creating a force that is prepared for the most likely threats, and can adapt quickly to the unpredictable.”