Panetta Senate Hearings vs. Gates NATO Speech
Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his main objective as the new Defense Secretary will be to ensure that the United States continues to have the best trained, best equipped and strongest military in the world. Despite the Department of Defense’ efforts to cut $400 billion as part of deficit reduction measures Panetta also stressed to the Committee the United States does not need to choose between strong fiscal discipline and a strong national defense. Instead the challenge lies in designing budgets that eliminate wasteful spending while protecting those core elements deemed vital to national security.
Panetta also told the Committee that the United States now faces a ‘blizzard of challenges’ to its security. These include terrorism, cyber-attacks, rising powers and ‘nations in turmoil’. Panetta also indicated that while the death of Osama bin Laden has weakened al Qaeda, they still remain dangerous. He emphasized that there are still Islamic terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Shabab “has been looking at targets beyond Somalia” and that the likes of Hezbollah continue to pose a significant threat. However, the incoming Defense Secretary is confident that the U.S. can meet these challenges, “but only if we keep the pressure up”. In this respect, Panetta is further confident that Iraq will ask for U.S. troops to stay beyond their scheduled Dec. 31 departure to counter an upsurge in violence linked to al Qaeda insurgents. Panetta is also encouraged that Yemen continues to offer support to counterterrorist activities despite recent political unrest.
The incoming Defense Secretary reaffirms President Obama’s view that America’s goal is to create a stable and secure Afghanistan that terrorists cannot use as a base to launch attacks. Panetta also cites assistance from USAID and other government departments to emphasize that Afghanistan must be a ‘whole of government operation’. He remains confident that the Afghans have the will to take over security on their own. Key to this objective will be working with them beyond the planned transfer of military authority in 2014. Panetta also believes it is important that United States has in Pakistan an ally that recognizes that terrorists who are hiding inside the country are enemies of both states. To meet this objective Panetta – in his capacity as Head of the CIA – recently met Pakistan’s army and intelligence chiefs to discuss frameworks for future intelligence sharing and to remove distrust caused by the US unilateral raid to kill Osama bin Laden.
A ‘whole of government’ approach also underpins Panetta’s strategy for countering cyber-attacks. After telling the Committee that the machinery of government does not spend enough time talking about cyber-attacks, Panetta vowed to work closely with departments and private-sector counterparts on a cyber strategy that includes defensive as well as offensive measures. Consideration was also given to collaboration with international allies to determine a joint cyber strategy. Yet Panetta’s comments that the “next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber-attack” did not escape criticism. According to Danger Room, many cybersecurity experts see a cyber-attack from another state as highly unlikely. Instead, waiting for a cyber Pearl Harbor detracts from the steady growth of cyber crime.
Panetta also says that if the United States is to maintain its national defense it will need to maintain its industrial and technological base. This could involve completing the review of outmoded American export controls – a standard complaint from the defense industry – and finding a better way to help American companies trade internationally. Panetta also indicated that the idea of cost sharing with defense contractors is worth considering. The Pentagon has already been looking into cost-sharing, and defense contractors have said that it could work within limits.
Meanwhile, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Security and Defense Agenda that NATO is now a two-tiered alliance, consisting of members who bear the full cost of commitments and those who enjoy the benefits of membership without sharing the risks. Gates also emphasized that problems with resources and political will that have marred Afghanistan operations are now being replicated in the Libyan campaign. Tight fiscal conditions, a general lack of defense expenditure and poor resource planning were all identified as reasons why many NATO members are not engaged in Libya, despite approving the mission. Gates also said that the United States’ own economic problems and Congress’ increasing reluctance to fund NATO members unwilling to devote their own necessary resources meant that member states must now be responsible for their fair share of the common defense. While ‘smart defense’ initiatives like the pooling of resources were useful, Gates was clear that protecting defense budgets from austerity measures and better allocation of resources were also vital.
The Washington Times labeled Gates’ comments that NATO was falling down on its obligations and foisting too much of the hard work on the U.S. as unusually harsh and unvarnished. Consideration is also given to Gates’ remarks that the United States has tens of thousands of troops based in Europe, not to stand guard against invasion but to train with European forces and promote what for decades has been lacking: the ability of the Europeans to go to war alongside the U.S. in a coherent way.
Bloomberg argues that Gates’ comments represent an implicit threat that the U.S. may eventually withdraw support for NATO. This represents a hardening of Washington’s position regarding the future of the Alliance. Bloomberg also revisits Gates’ and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s warning to European members not to further reduce defense spending. Rasmussen also warned last year that European defense risked becoming a “paper tiger.” These comments gain in significance in relation to Gates’ remarks that both he and President Obama believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to withdraw from its global responsibilities. At last week’s Shangri-La Dialogue, for example, Gates discussed the expansion of U.S. engagements in Asia.
The UK’s Guardian tells of how Gates read the riot act to a stunned elite audience of European officers, diplomats, and officials. Gates predicted that Europe’s complacency over international security could lead to NATO being consigned to “military irrelevance” unless member states enacted the necessary changes. Gates also warned that a new post-cold war generation of American leaders may withdraw the country’s post-war guarantee of security for Europe.
DoD Buzz cites cultural differences, the generational change in U.S. politics and the pace of debates concerning intervention in the Balkans and Libya as the main reasons why NATO will remain a two-tiered alliance.