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Hagel discusses 'State of DOD' in Nebraska speech

  • Published
  • By Karen Parrish
  • American Forces Press Service
In a wide-ranging speech given today at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, his alma mater, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel talked about the necessity of adapting the nation's military to operate in a world that's undergoing far-reaching geopolitical, technological and economic change.

"The world is changing, and America's national security structure -- including our military -- must change with it," he said. "How America responds to the challenges of this new world will direct our future."

Even as U.S. forces transition to a noncombat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, he said, Syria, Iran and North Korea all remain uncertain security challenges whose volatility requires a range of rapid and flexible response. With defense budgets over the foreseeable future also uncertain, the secretary said, vital strategic choices are unavoidable.

Hagel listed forces he said are "reshaping our world" as:

-- The rising importance of Asia;

-- The outbreak of revolution and sectarian conflict across the Middle East and North Africa;

-- The continuing impact of financial crises and recessions in Europe;

-- The "astounding diffusion" of global economic power as seen in the rise of China, India, Brazil and other countries; and

-- The role of technology in closely linking the world's people and their aspirations and economies.

In the face of rapidly developing and interconnected new threats such as cyber that fundamentally change the face of future conflicts, Hagel said, the military must reset from a defense enterprise structure that still reflects its Cold War design.

"To respond to this necessary effort our military is undertaking a series of important shifts that reflect changing geopolitical dynamics, new threats, new technologies, and new fiscal realities," he said.

The first such major shift is a renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, he noted.

"We are undertaking this rebalancing because of the region's growing importance to America's future security and prosperity and because of the essential role the United States has played, and continues to play, in helping ensure peace and stability in this part of the world," Hagel said.

The presence in the region of rising powers such as China, India and Indonesia, Hagel said, illustrates that all nations "have an interest in building a world order based on strong economic ties, mutual security interests, and respect for rules, norms, and the institutions that underpin them," as well as human rights.

The U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific is not a retreat from other regions, he added, but an acknowledgment of "changing strategic realities that direct increased engagement in Asia and [the] Pacific."

In Asia and beyond, another shift in U.S. strategy is to build multilateral capabilities, he said.

"Our approach to security in the 21st century is to strengthen alliances, build new partnerships, and forge coalitions of common interest that help resolve problems and, hopefully, prevent conflict," Hagel said. "We are doing this in Europe through our renewed commitment to the NATO Alliance, and in the Middle East and Latin America. All of these regions will help define the world's future."

He said the partnered approach, emphasizing joint exercises and other training activities between both regular and special operations forces, helps further another strategic shift, toward a lighter "footprint."

A smaller footprint, as the military refers to the forward presence of troops, buildings and equipment, can be much less costly than a larger force and, Hagel noted, "also enables us to respond to crises more quickly and effectively."

He emphasized the United States will maintain its capacity to meet its commitments and deter aggression, including by maintaining its nuclear "triad" of bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and ballistic missile submarines, and by continuing to develop new cyber capabilities.

"At the same time, the most sustainable and wisest approach to our security in the 21st century will be to help allies do more to contribute to their own security and our common interests," Hagel said.

Turning to defense spending, the secretary noted DOD has for several years been preparing for "an inevitable downturn," but "a combination of fiscal pressures and a gridlocked political process has led to far more abrupt, deeper and steeper reductions than expected or planned for."

The department is now grappling with both known and unknown budget factors, he noted, which include:

-- Under sequester, a $37 billion cut this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30;

-- An additional sequester cut of another $52 billion next year, and $500 billion over the next decade; and

-- The $487 billion, 10-year defense spending reduction agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which DOD is currently implementing.

"This has produced unprecedented uncertainty," Hagel said, noting the strategic choices and management review he directed earlier this year is intended to develop choices, options and priorities to deal with and plan for further reductions.

"The department must understand the challenges and uncertainties, plan for the risks -- and, yes -- recognize there are opportunities inherent in budget constraints," the secretary said.

He added that Pentagon leaders are studying the review's findings now and "evaluating the options that have emerged." More hard work and difficult decisions remain in the weeks and months ahead, he said.

The military must cut back on infrastructure and personnel costs, he said, echoing his own and other defense leaders' testimony to Congress in recent weeks.

"As we do so," Hagel added, "we must reassure the bright and patriotic young men and women who join the military that they will be fairly compensated, trained, and regarded as the professionals they are, and they will be given opportunities for career and personal enhancement. And they must be assured that their families will be taken care of."

Hagel said his ultimate goal is "to ensure that the United States military remains in balance and America remains secure and strong."

That balance involves strategic priorities, alliances, military capabilities and defense spending, he said.

"But there is one final area where balance must be achieved," Hagel added, "and that is between America's military and its other instruments of national power."

Most of the nation's pressing security challenges have political, economic, and cultural components, he said, and do not necessarily lend themselves to a military resolution.

Yet, Hagel added, the nation's leaders "cannot let our military strength atrophy, either, in this very dangerous world. But that will require wise leadership capable of making tough decisions."

What distinguishes the United States' military is not its power, he said, but its purpose and commitment to making a better life for all people.

"America is a just, thoughtful and steady nation, worthy of its power, generous of its spirit, and still committed to the profession of peace in a complex yet hopeful 21st century," Hagel said.

Hagel's visit to the university is the first stop on a trip to his home state of Nebraska that will also include time at U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha.