- By Dov ZakheimDov Zakheim is Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies and former Under Secretary of Defense.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appears to be making the right choices for near-term defense priorities, given the budget constraints under which he must work. He recognizes that the Pentagon is ripe, indeed, long overdue, for institutional reform. He needs to cut back on support contractors and civil servants, finally bring the acquisition system into line, and reduce other elements of unnecessary overhead spending. His headquarters reductions are more symbolic than real in terms of budget savings, however; while these cuts are necessary, it is the bloat in the field that must be trimmed as well.
Hagel is also correct to identify not only space, cyber, and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) — all favorite tools of the current Administration — as critical capabilities to be protected. He also rightly points to the need to fund major weapons systems that will ensure America’s technological lead in the years to come.
Finally, Hagel identifies the urgent need for compensation reform. The commission that has been appointed to address this issue, of which I am a member, aims to provide the Defense Department and the Congress with innovative ideas that hopefully will help enable the secretary to achieve his objectives in this regard.
What is most unfortunate, however, is Hagel’s recognition that he will be unable to fund the readiness and overseas presence necessary to signal to allies, partners, friends, and adversaries that the United States remains committed as ever to maintaining international stability. Perhaps allowing the reserves to lose some of their proficiency is a recognition of the inevitable, given the end of the major conflicts that enabled them to achieve that proficiency in the first place. But it is budget constraints that are going to hamper the overall readiness and size of the armed forces, and the White House appears ready to live with those constraints.
The administration has not been willing to treat defense as anything but just another discretionary account. Like every other such account, the administration contends, defense must "pay its share" of budget reductions. What that share actually is remains highly debatable, but in any event, the notion that defense is just another account flies in the face of both reality and the Constitution. Moreover, in the spirit of its indifference to defense, the White House has been virtually silent about the impact of the sequester on national security. It is Hagel who, like his predecessor Leon Panetta, has identified the sequester as a major threat to American security. Too bad the White House isn’t paying attention; everyone else around the world certainly is doing so.
Hagel as a mensch: building “unprecedented” ties with Israel; Is Buck McKeon a drone puppet?; Ash Carter on the 20 percent cut; What an Army helicopter pilot thinks about Afg. customs charges; A new AF secretary nom’ed; and a bit more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |