Winnefeld: Uncertain Financial Times Require Leadership 


With the military’s financial future unclear, officials must step to the fore and lead, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in Arlington, Va., Sept, 12.

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army’s Gen. Bernard W. Rogers Strategic Issues Forum lecture series, Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. detailed the problems facing the military.

“As we prepare to step onto the shaky financial field of the future, we find ourselves with no idea how much money the Defense Department is going to have in 2014, much less beyond,” he said.

Adding, “[We have] no idea when we’re going to know how much we’re going to have, and no idea what the rules are going to be when we find out.”

All this has a deleterious effect on national security, the admiral said. “We don’t have the luxury of muttering what a shame it all is and blaming the other side,” Winnefeld added.

“We have to defend our nation.”

The military will get through this if it uses two fundamentally important weapons, the vice chairman said.

The first is “courageous and effective leaders able and willing to face the new realities of this evolving security environment, and able to lead change,” he said.

Leaders must confront reality, he added, and cannot just wish the situation was different or that a different dynamic is at play. Leaders must take the world as it is, recognize the changes and understand what they can do to still reach their goals, he said.

The second “weapon” is an intellectual framework that guides decisions.

“My sense is this framework finds its most solid foundation when we strike a proper balance among the three elements of strategy, namely our national security ends, or interests, and the threats thereto; the military ways we go about defending those interests; and the financial means we shape into the military tools of capability, capacity, and readiness to defend those interests,” Winnefeld said.

Each set of leaders has to redefine the balance of these three legs of strategy and leaders today must do the same, the he said.

 “Those who would suggest we should just articulate our strategic ends and then simply demand the means to make it happen have never seriously done strategy in the real world,” he said, “and they risk leaving us with a bankrupt strategy if we do so.”

The ends, ways and means of strategy are shifting, and agile leaders must understand this and work with it or “our strategy will be bankrupt and we’ll fail our great nation,” the vice chairman said.

The “ends” part of the equation begins with the idea of protecting the country and finishes with the protection of universal values, he said. This entails the military role in preventing catastrophic attacks, maintaining secure, confident and reliable allies and partners, and protecting American citizens abroad, he explained.

“What changes is the degree to which we can comfortably cover everything on the list, and if not, making sure we can and do cover the most important things,” Winnefeld said.

Priorities and the amount of risk change, he noted. This was at the heart of a risk assessment undertaken by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Winnefeld said.

“It’s doubly important that we do this now, in a tough fiscal environment, when the operational and investment decisions we need to make will be so tough,” he added.

The “ways” of the department require constant examination also, Winnefeld said.

“First, we owe it to the taxpayer to always search for ways to become more efficient so we can preserve more front-end warfighting capability for every dollar,” he told the audience.

Adding, “We will need help from Congress in giving us freedom to maneuver within our budgets, and by removing a host of restrictions on our ability to become more efficient, such as limitations on our downsizing glideslopes and prohibitions on base closures and a mandated pay and benefits growth glideslope that is out of touch and simply not sustainable.”

Another “ways” imperative is “to look ahead and make sure we’re not stuck in the equilibrium of the past and that we’re preparing for the next fight, not the current or the last fight, or we will become irrelevant or worse,” the he said.

The military is more likely to fight a Desert Storm-type battle than a drawn out counterinsurgency campaign, the vice chairman said.

“I simply don’t know where the security interests of our nation are threatened enough to cause us to lead a future major, extended [counterinsurgency] campaign (COIN),” he added.

“The president himself made it clear in the defense strategic guidance that we will retain some capability for COIN, but only on a limited scale.”

The “means” part of the equation, the vice chairman said, is the one getting the most attention by the public.

“We are all … going to have to make do with fewer means,” he said.