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In a Time of Defense Budget Difficulties, an Opportunity for Reform

An interview with Kori N. Schake, Ph.D., co-author, “National Defense in a Time of Change”

Kori N. Schake, Ph.D., is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. She began her government work at the Pentagon, where she served from 1990 to 1996, first in the Joint Staff’s Strategy and Policy Directorate, and then in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. During President George W. Bush’s first term, she was director for Defense Strategy and Requirements for the National Security Council, where she helped coordinate long-term defense planning and budgeting for defense transformation – including the most significant global realignment of U.S. military forces and bases since 1950.

In 2007, Schake returned to government service, serving a year as the deputy director for policy planning in the State Department. She has served on the faculties of the U.S. Military Academy, where she held the Distinguished Chair of International Security Studies; the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs; and the National Defense University. She is on the boards of the Centre for European Reform and Orbis, the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s quarterly journal. She also writes for the Shadow Government blog on the Foreign Policy website.

In February 2013, Schake and former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, U.S. Navy (Ret.), an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, published National Defense in a Time of Change,” a discussion paper prepared for the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project for promoting new economic policymaking ideas.

In “National Defense in a Time of Change,” Schake and Roughead argue that the military’s budget problems are not the result of slower growth in the budget top line, but of three “systemic drivers” – force structure, the acquisition system, and personnel compensation – which, if reformed, could allow the armed forces to maintain critical capabilities while significantly reducing costs.

Kori N. Schake, Ph.D.

Kori N. Schake, Ph.D. Hoover Institution photo


Craig Collins: In “National Defense in a Time of Change,” you and Adm. Gary Roughead write that redesigning the force to adapt to changing strategic and budgetary circumstances could create enormous savings – perhaps $25 billion a year. Do you think the 2013 defense budget is out of alignment with the strategic guidance issued by Secretary Leon E. Panetta in January 2012?

Kori N. Schake, Ph.D.: Yes, I do. For example, Secretary Panetta’s strategic guidance emphasized challenges in the Pacific, managing the rise of China through active military defense engagement with America’s allies in the region, and reassuring them that as China rises, they can rely on our security guarantees and our security cooperation. A component of that is more presence and activity in the Pacific, and confidence among American allies that we can execute our Pacific war plans with speed and effectiveness that will deter any challenges.

I think there is general congressional agreement with the plan for reducing end strength by 2016 – but I think there is a lot more congressional concern about the pacing of these cuts, and the terms on which they’re being performed.

The Pentagon has now given up the strategic principle that it will be able to fight two conventional wars simultaneously, and Secretary Panetta’s strategic guidance said the DoD [Department of Defense] does not plan to have the ability to fight sustained ground combat over long periods of time, in the way we have in Iraq and Afghanistan. So there’s the emphasis on Asia, the giving up on the two-war strategy, and also on having the capacity to fight and assist in the way that we have for the last 13 years. And yet the existing force structure is almost identical to the force structure of the 1990s.

What is the argument for 490,000 active-duty soldiers in the strategic environment that Secretary Panetta outlined?

That would be the same size Army we had in 1993, when we were managing Russia’s decline and thought we had to fight two sustained ground wars on opposite sides of the world simultaneously. Secretary Panetta has dramatically reduced the level of ambition in the strategic guidance – appropriately, in my view – but the force structure hasn’t been brought into line with that strategic guidance. Gary and I, in our paper, accept Secretary Panetta’s 2012 guidance, and the force structure we recommend [290,000 active-duty soldiers, 172,000 Marines, and an increase of 100,000 reservists and National Guard personnel] we think is actually more responsive to it than the one he himself recommends.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...