Gates: Upcoming Defense Review Will Not Be a 'Mini QDR'
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he wants the review to be an honest analysis of what responsibilities and functions the Defense Department should perform in the future, rather than a "math exercise" of indiscriminate budget cuts across the board.
"Options, consequences and risks must be identified" in this review, so that elected officials understand the national security implications of any funding cutbacks, Gates said April 21 at a Pentagon news conference.
The format for the forthcoming review is still being debated, but it is not going to be a "mini QDR," Gates said, referring to the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review. The latest QDR, published in early 2010, was criticized for failing to set priorities that matched the available resources.
"We have just gotten started to begin thinking about how we structure" the review, he said. One approach that is being considered is to evaluate different "threat scenarios," as it done during the QDR, and decide what missions potentially the Pentagon would propose eliminating in order to cut costs. "We'll start with a QDR and then translate it into programmatic implications," said Gates.
When the Obama administration-appointed Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission unveiled recommendations in December that called for more than $200 billion in budget cuts, Gates criticized the report for tackling the defense budget as a "math problem" without a serious analysis of how missions stacked up against available resources. But Gates said he does not object to the latest target set by Obama -- $400 billion in cuts by 2023 -- because spending choices will be tied to a strategic review. "I'm not criticizing" the president's decision, Gates said.
"The worst we could do," he said, would be to give the entire Defense Department a "hair cut." That type of percentage-driven budget drill has been done in the past and risks "hollowing out" the military because it forces the Pentagon to keep doing the same, but with less. Gates said he hopes that the upcoming review, by contrast, will ultimately allow the Defense Department to curtail spending but also ensure that the nation can afford whatever missions the military has to do.
As to whether any major weapon program cuts are in the offing, Gates said it is too early to predict. "Those are decisions that need to be teed up for the president," Gates said. During the next 12 years when budget reductions will be made, the Pentagon still will need to make "key investments" to modernize weapon systems, said Gates. "You may have to make some choices."