Pentagon Official On QDR Priorities

The undersecretary of defense for policy says the U.S. must plan for complex, uncertain situations the country will likely face in a rapidly evolving security environment. That's one of the recommendations of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, and Michele Flournoy also discusses the QDR's focus on energy and climate change.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host

This week, the Defense Department released its Quadrennial Defense Review - the QDR it's called. Every four years the Pentagon publishes a report on its priorities. It used to be common for the QDR to say that the armed forces should be prepared to fight two major conventional wars at once. This year it's less hypothetical. The Pentagon says its priority objectives start with prevailing in the two wars that we're actually in. The other priority objectives are, and I quote, "to prevent and deter conflict, to prepare to defeat advisories and succeed in a wide range of contingencies, and to preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force."

Michele Flournoy is Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and she joins us now from the Pentagon, welcome to the program once again.

Undersecretary MICHELE FLOURNOY (Department of Defense for Policy): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: And I would like to ask you about that last item preserving and enhancing the all-volunteer force. The U.S. has met the demands of Afghanistan and Iraq through multiple deployments of active duty forces and also call-ups of the Reserves and the National Guard. Is that a sustainable approach to meeting military manpower needs?

Undersec. FLOURNOY: Well, we wanted to elevate the objective of preserving and enhancing the all-volunteer force because eight years of war has put enormous strain on our men and women in uniform and their families. This is really the first QDR that's elevated taking care of people to a strategic objective. We have put a number of programs in place to try to ensure that we can really maintain the all-volunteer force because it is so important to our national security.

SIEGEL: Taking care of people meaning, broadly, what?

Undersec. FLOURNOY: Certainly providing adequate health care, much improved family support programs, care for wounded warriors and so on.

SIEGEL: But if there is, in fact, as the review foresees, a responsible drawdown - I think is the phrase - of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, would that mean that the present levels of the armed forces could remain the same or must say the army get bigger?

Undersec. FLOURNOY: Well, I think that that's to be determined as we get greater clarity on the future security environment. But we certainly hope to be taking steps to reduce the strain on the force, lengthen the time at home between deployments and so forth for the people who are in service.

SIEGEL: The Quadrennial Defense Review deals a lot with cyber-attacks and here is a line that I'll read: Future adversaries would likely possess sophisticated capabilities designed to contest or deny command of the air, sea, space and cyberspace domains. Many Americans might just assume that the U.S. should be the world's leading military cyber-power. Are we better at this than any other real or potential rival in the world?

Undersec. FLOURNOY: I think in terms of protecting our military systems and our government systems, we probably are the best in the world. I think the issues that we're working through is what is the division of labor across the U.S. government, and between the government and the private sector, for protecting not only the dot-mil world but the dot-gov world and then ultimately dot-com. And dot-com is really where our economy exists and thrives.

SIEGEL: It's been widely noted that the old two-wars-at-once standard is not here in the QDR. Is the lesson of Afghanistan and Iraq, as it's understood at the Pentagon, that fighting two wars at once in fact has placed greater strains on the Defense Department's resources than past reviews had foreseen?

Undersec. FLOURNOY: I think certainly we have been very strained by the wars that we're in. But I think the real insight in the QDR is that we can't just plan for the sort of classical conventional wars that we would like to fight, if you will, and that we're most prepared to fight. We need to prepare for the kinds of complex, uncertain situations that we'll face in a very rapidly-evolving security environment. And so we're likely to see situations where there's a mix of approaches used by an adversary. They may be conventional elements but there may also be elements of terrorism or insurgency, weapons of mass destruction, cyber-attack and so forth. And it's those mixed pictures that we really have to be prepared for and test ourselves against.

SIEGEL: What does it mean that environmental issues are linked to security issues in this Quadrennial Defense Review for the first time?

Undersec. FLOURNOY: Well, the Congress asked us to look in this review at the question of energy and climate change and its implications for the Department of Defense. And so we looked at these issues both as a factor in the future security environment - how competition for energy, how climate change could actually affect the operating environment for the U.S. military in the future -but we also looked at it from the perspective of the Department of Defense being one of the largest, if not the largest, energy consumer in the United States. And how do we gain further efficiencies in our facilities, in our use of fuels and so forth? How do we become a market leader potentially in driving innovation and investment in more sustainable energy sources?

SIEGEL: Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, thank you very much for talking with us.

Undersec. FLOURNOY: Thank you.

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