Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in a news conference at the pentagon last week that the decision process required by the president to identify the next round of defense budget cuts must be “driven by analysis” and the management of risks related to future security threats and challenges. 

When President Obama announced his new deficit reduction plan earlier this month, he proposed a $400 billion from security and defense budgets over the next 10 years.  At that time he directed DoD’s leaders “to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world,” after which he would decide on specific cuts. Referring to this direction, Gates said his idea for this review is to ensure that the options for budget cuts consider the consequences and risks to force structure and capabilities so the president and the Congress “can make well-thought-out decisions.”

Gates disagreed with the assumption that setting a $400 billion target forces a decision process that is numbers rather than strategy driven.  He reiterated the president’s direction that DoD conduct a review and present decision options and pointed out the president said he will make no final decisions until the review is completed and options developed.

He rejected the prospect of identifying cuts to the defense budget by using across-the-board cuts.  He said he believed that the worst possible approach would be to “give the entire Department of Defense a haircut, basically [saying] everybody is going to cut X percent.”  He said that past history has proven this to be the wrong way to cut citing the hollow military that was created in the 1970s and 1990s.

The secretary acknowledged that the process to meet the reduction goals would not be an easy one.  He said that bills for some high-cost spending categories, such as health care and fuel, must be paid.  In addition, he said that there are some investments that DoD has to make, mentioning buying a new tanker, replacing aging surface ships, and modernizing the elements of the strategic triad.  However, he implied that he believed further defense cuts could be made without adversely affecting US security.