Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the comprehensive defense review he plans to launch soon will ensure any further defense budget cuts are based on a well-thought-out analysis of the consequences of decisions made.
“The worst of all possible worlds, in my view, is to give the entire Department of Defense a haircut that basically says ‘Everybody is going to cut ‘x’ percent,’” Gates told reporters today during a Pentagon news briefing. “That is the way we got the ‘hollow’ military in the 1970s and the 1990s.”
Gates said he does not know exactly how much of the additional $400 billion that President Barack Obama seeks to cut from national security program budgets between now and 2023 will come from DOD. The secretary said he’s gratified that Obama has agreed to wait for the findings of a comprehensive DOD review before making specific budgetary decisions.
“I want to frame this so that options and consequences and risks are taken into account as budget decisions are made, first by the president, and then by the Congress,” Gates said. “What I hope to do is frame this in a way that says, ‘If you want to cut this number of dollars, here are the consequences for force structure. Here are your choices in terms of capabilities that will be reduced or investments that are not made. And here are the consequences of this.’”
The budget review “needs to be a process that is driven by the analysis,” the secretary said, “and where it is about risk management with respect to future national security threats and challenges as well as missions that our elected officials decide we should not have to perform or can’t perform any more because we don’t have the resources.”
Gates said he has had just one meeting to begin thinking about ways to conduct the review, and has not yet decided on an approach. One suggested approach, he said, would begin with the Quadrennial Defense Review and to consider the implications of scaling back or eliminating specific missions.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the review will involve important strategic considerations about quantities and capabilities.
Cartwright said the review could challenge some long-held assumptions, such as the department’s ability to fight two major theater conflicts simultaneously.
Some people believe that funding the Defense Department at the rate of inflation for the next 12 years could identify much of the cost savings that Obama seeks, Gates said. However, he noted, that approach wouldn’t account for costs for health-care, fuel and critical big-ticket investments.
“We have some investments we have to make,” the secretary said. “We have to buy the new [Air Force refueling] tanker. We have to replace some of the surface ships …built during the Reagan years that will age out over that 12-year period…All elements of the [nuclear] Triad need to be modernized” — bomber aircraft, land-based missiles and ballistic-missile submarines.
“You may have to make some choices there,” Gates said. “I want to frame this so it is not a math exercise, but so people understand the strategic and national security consequences of the decisions that they are making.”