“The real crisis for defense spending is not downward pressure on the defense budget, but rather problems from within the budget,” Roughead wrote in a paper co-authored with Kori Schake, a Hoover Institution colleague. The paper, “National Defense in a Time of Change,” was the basis for Roughead’s presentation Friday and was written for the Brookings’ Hamilton Project.
His talk offered a clearer version of where the Obama administration’s Pentagon is heading, but from a military commander’s point of view.
Roughead called “unsustainable” defense procurement and all-volunteer uniformed and civilian personnel costs. The acquisition process, he said, was “too slow and expensive” and the service pay and benefits programs will “crowd out procurement, modernization and operations” within decades.
He questioned the view that security threats today are more complex and appear more dangerous than during the Cold War, when Pentagon spending was far less. He was seconded Friday by former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“What is different today is the speed and ubiquity of information that creates pressure to act, and an increasing impulse to prematurely translate violence and disorder into strategic threats [to the United States],” Roughead wrote in a quote cited by Nunn.
Nunn agreed that restraint was necessary and said that policymakers needed to decide “what’s vital” in making military commitments, distinguishing between “what’s necessary” and “what’s [just] desirable.” He said it’s also time to restore the idea that the United States would help countries but that those countries must help themselves.
Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, on Friday discussed the United States becoming more “a catalyst for common action” to meet threats. She also noted U.S. interagency action is hindered by the Pentagon’s ability to get money while the State Department cannot. “One department cannot be on steroids while others are on life support,” she said.
Roughead raised issues not often heard from active flag officers, such as the Pentagon’s purchases of excessively costly high-tech weapons and their use against less-costly targets.
“We are a military superb at effectiveness, but long out of practice at efficiency,” he said.
He even suggested that joint assignments had distorted personnel policies, becoming a promotion route and causing overstaffing of joint headquarters.
Roughead’s most controversial suggestion came after he described as an indulgence the pursuit of “equal service budget shares,” which “ensures continuity and harmony among the branches.”