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Panetta: Budget Shortfalls and Global Security Challenges Place Defense Department at a ‘Turning Point’

DoD releases new strategy: Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense

While the U.S. is not abdicating global military leadership, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says “we are at a turning point.”

With the war in Iraq and the NATO Libyan operation at a conclusion, Osama bin Laden gone, and a transition of Afghan security responsibility underway, the nation also faces “a very serious deficit and debt problem here at home, a problem which is itself a national security risk that is squeezing both the defense and domestic budgets,” Panetta says.

“But,” he says, “even as our large-scale military campaigns recede, the United States still faces a complex and growing array of security challenges across the globe. And unlike past drawdowns, when oftentimes the threats that the country was facing went away, the fact is that there remain a number of challenges that we have to confront, challenges that call for reshaping of America’s defense priorities:  focusing on the continuing threat of violent extremism, which is still there and still to be dealt with; proliferation of lethal weapons and materials; the destabilizing behavior of nations like Iran and North Korea; the rise of new powers across Asia; and the dramatic changes that we’ve seen unfold in the Middle East.”

The Budget Control Act of 2011, passed on Aug. 2, 2011, directs the Department of Defense to eliminate more than $450 billion from the Defense Base Budget over 10 years.

Panetta says DoD would need to make a strategic shift anyway, regardless of the nation’s fiscal situation. But the fiscal crisis has forced the department to address the strategic shift taking place today.

“As difficult as it may be to achieve the mandated defense savings, this has given all of us in the Department of Defense the opportunity to reshape our defense strategy and force structure to more effectively meet the challenges of the future – to deter aggression, to shape the security environment and to decisively prevail in any conflict,” he says.

Panetta says the new strategy is guided by four basic principles:

  • Maintain the world’s finest military that supports and sustains the U.S. global leadership.
  • Avoid hollowing out the force. A smaller, ready military is preferable to a larger force that is ill-prepared because resources are not made available for training, maintenance and modernization relative to force structure.
  • Everything must be considered, including politically sensitive areas that will likely provoke opposition from parts of Congress, industry and advocacy groups.
  • Preserve the quality of the all-volunteer force and ensure our troops are treated fairly.

According to Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, issued on Jan. 5, 2012, in order to protect U.S. national interests and achieve the objectives of the 2010 National Security Strategy in this environment, the Joint Force will need to recalibrate its capabilities and make selective additional investments to succeed in the following ten mission areas:

  1. Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare.
  2. Deter and Defeat Aggression
  3. Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges.
  4. Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  5. Operate Effectively in Cyberspace and Space.
  6. Maintain a Safe, Secure, and Effective Nuclear Deterrent.
  7. Defend the Homeland and Provide Support to Civil Authorities.
  8. Provide a Stabilizing Presence.
  9. Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations.
  10. Conduct Humanitarian, Disaster Relief, and Other Operations.

The aforementioned missions will largely determine the shape of the future Joint Force,” the report reads. “The overall capacity of U.S. forces, however, will be based on requirements that the following subset of missions demand: counter terrorism and irregular warfare; deter and defeat aggression; maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent; and defend the homeland and support civil authorities.”

“As a global force, our military will never be doing only one thing,” Panetta said. “It will be responsible for a range of missions and activities across the globe of varying scope, duration, and strategic priority. This will place a premium on flexible and adaptable forces that can respond quickly and effectively to a variety of contingencies and potential adversaries.”

Panetta said the U.S. would not back away from its security commitments. “The United States military will remain capable across the spectrum. We will continue to conduct a complex set of missions ranging from counterterrorism, ranging from countering weapons of mass destruction, to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.  We will be fully prepared to protect our interests, defend our homeland and support civil authorities.”

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters that the strategy review will guide the department in preparing the FY 13 defense budget.  $250 billion of the defense budget reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act are in the Future Years Defense Program (FY13-17) to be submitted with the FY13 defense budget in February.

Little dismissed some critics who say the new strategy expects the U.S. would be capable of dealing with only one war at a time in the future.  “What the document said was that we are prepared to address a full spectrum of threats. This country is poised to take on more than one national security challenge at a time,” Little said.

“Our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” President Barack Obama said at the Pentagon on Jan. 5.

While there have been many reports in the media on what this strategic direction means for particular programs, the report itself is short on specifics.

Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense

Key Strategic Elements

  • Sustaining global presence; renewed emphasis on Asia together with continued focus on the Middle East; maintaining our commitments and evolving our presence in Europe and building innovative, low-cost, small-footprint approaches to partnership around the world.
  • Protecting new capabilities and investments to respond to the changing nature of warfare; preserve lessons, capabilities and expertise of the past ten years; and ensuring our technological edge to meet future challenges.
  • Aligning size and composition of forces to be capable of a range of missions and activities.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...