Hard Choices, Sharpened Resolve: Renewed Mutual Purpose

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A lecture by His Excellency Mr Louis B. Susman, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Court of St. James’s. In his lecture, Ambassador Susman will explore the use of smart power in an era of global politics, reflecting the recognition that in today’s world ‘all politics are global’.

The Speech

(As prepared for delivery)

Your Royal Highness, Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the Royal United Services Institute for the invitation to speak today.

It's a singular honor to appear before you - and not just because RUSI was recently voted "Foreign Policy Think Tank of the Year" by Prospect Magazine. Not just because it has influenced the world's most important political leaders for more than 150 years. But because, I believe, RUSI is one of the premier venues in the United Kingdom today for thoughtful and timely discussion of foreign policy issues.

At this point in time, nothing could be more timely than the challenges of maintaining our global leadership in this time of austerity. And nothing could be more serious than the choices that Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Osborne have recently faced, cutting 81 billion pounds in government expenditures, and making equally challenging decisions for the Strategic Defense and Security Review.

On the eve of last week's announcement, Prime Minister Cameron telephoned President Obama to provide his own personal analysis of those decisions. He reassured the President that the United Kingdom will continue to meet its NATO responsibilities, and that front-line operations in Afghanistan would not be affected in any way.  

The Coalition government has emphasized that it has identified its pre-eminent defense and security relationship with the United States, as well as its membership in NATO, as essential to its future security; and that the United Kingdom has every intention of remaining our most capable and strategic partner.

The President expressed his gratitude to the Prime Minister that the United Kingdom had maintained its defense priorities while enacting the deepest budget cuts in a generation. He also voiced his appreciation that the British government will retain its capability to partner effectively with the United States around the world.    

My government also expressed its appreciation that the UK has maintained its continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, while also mindful of our shared commitment to work towards a world without nuclear weapons.

Given the UK's Defense and spending review, I thought it would be useful to discuss with this audience our efforts in the United States to review our own defense strategies. While I have found that our efforts to bolster the world's economic recovery seem to dominate the news,  our work on reducing military spending over the long term deserves more attention than it has received.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently laid out his views on defense spending in a speech at the Eisenhower Library, a venue he chose to draw attention to the trenchant lessons laid down, more than half a century ago, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Every day, I pass by the statue of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of our embassy, and I get the chance to appreciate his contributions to the greatest military triumph of the 20th century - the allied victory in Europe - and to appreciate his insights, as President, for a strategy for appropriate defense capabilities.

In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Eisenhower first warned the civilized world about a rapidly expanding military industrial complex.

Secretary Gates's speech drew closer attention to another aspect of Eisenhower's legacy - his warnings about the danger of military spending beyond its means.

Eisenhower keenly understood that America did not have unlimited resources. He believed a nation could only be as strong as it was fiscally sound. The U.S. should spend whatever is necessary on national defense, he said, but not a penny more. In fact, he went so far as to say "the patriot today is the fellow who can do the job with less money."

If history is a vast early warning system, then Eisenhower's wisdom seems to have been heard, loud and clear, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In his National Security Strategy speech last May, President Obama made the case that a strong economy doesn't just support American jobs, and forge economic links abroad. It pays for our military, underwrites our diplomacy and development efforts, and is the foundation of our influence in the world.

Secretary Gates, under President Obama's leadership, has directed the Department to take a hard, unsparing look at how it is staffed, organized and operated. This initiative is not designed to reduce the defense topline.  The current topline is seen as the minimum needed to sustain a military at war and to protect our interests in the years to come in an ever more unstable and dangerous world.

His goal is to significantly reduce overhead costs in order to free up the resources needed to sustain our force structure, to modernize, and create future combat capabilities while living within our current topline.

Everyone in this room knows this will be difficult.

Secretary Gates faces formidable challenges on many fronts. In Eisenhower's day, the world was a simpler place. It was relatively easier to make real choices, establish priorities and enforce limits. But the attacks of September 11, 2001, opened a new era of threats, leading to a near doubling of the base defense budget over the past decade. And that's not even counting the supplemental appropriations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Harsh economic realities have brought home the need for closer scrutiny of everything we do, including in the realm of defense.  But we miss an opportunity if we see this merely as a time for reductions.  Secretary Gates certainly doesn't see it that way. The process we are going through is not just about reduction. It's about transformation.

In a complex, top-to-bottom undertaking, Secretary Gates has looked at major weapons programs, and noted rising, unsustainable costs that have given us $20 million howitzers, $2 billion bombers, and $6 billion dollar destroyers in the past decade. This resulted in current reforms to the department's military acquisition approach.

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. Ash Carter, recently unveiled his acquisition initiatives, which included 23 significant changes to the way the Department contracts for goods and services.

The Department is already curtailing or cancelling about 20 troubled or excess programs, that if pursued to completion would have cost more than $300 billion.

The Secretary has directed the Department to take a hard look at how it can flatten and streamline the organization; reduce executive or flag-officer billets and the staff apparatus under them; shed overlapping commands and organizations; and reduce the role and costs of contractors as part of an effort to move overhead spending to operations. This is all part of his mission to move the military from 20th century history to 21st century reality.

Without subjecting you to mind numbing statistics, or death by Powerpoint, I'd like to mention just a couple of examples, to understand the steep institutional and political challenges the President and the Secretary face.  

Our system of government requires legislation to be approved by both houses of Congress, which is different from the British Parliament system, which does not require votes on such legislation as defense issues.

The President must also work with a Congress that sometimes feels duty bound to its hometown constituencies, to the detriment of necessary budgetary cuts.

A good example of our congressional issues is that, in spite of the combined efforts and support of President Obama, the State Department and a majority in both houses of Congress, it took three years for the senate to approve  the U.S-U.K. Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty.

The treaty will now enable our defense industries to work together more efficiently, save money, increase inter-operability, and make our defense industries more competitive around the world. It also reinforces the long-standing special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.

In another example of the difficulties we face, the U.S. Defense Department, in this year's budget submission, asked to end funding for an unnecessary alternative engine for the new Joint Strike Fighter.

Studies indicate its heavy upfront costs - nearly $3 billion - would far outweigh any marginal savings. This request was backed by the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy, who did not want a second F-35 engine.

The Department is also requesting the curtailing of C 17 cargo planes. The Air Force has made clear it has enough of them, and does not need any more; nor can it afford them. Furthermore, the military has ample air-lift capacity to meet all current and feasible future needs.

Yet as we speak, a battle is underway to keep the Congress from putting both of these programs back in the budget - at an unnecessary potential cost to the taxpayers of billions of dollars over the next few years.  

The Secretary has made progress. The Department of Defense is making tough choices, cancelling or curtailing major weapons systems that were either performing poorly or had costs that were far in excess of their benefits.

But there is more to be done. In all these matters, Gates has said, the following questions must be asked: Is this respectful of the American taxpayer at a time of economic and fiscal duress? And second, is this the best use of limited dollars, given the pressing needs to take care of our people, win the wars we are in, and invest in defending ourselves from the most likely and lethal future threats?


These have been tough times for both our nations, as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression continues to challenge not only our economies, but our shared military missions around the world. In terms of defense, it's crucial we turn our budgetary challenges into opportunities to spend better and smarter. By doing so, we'll be prepared for the challenges of today and the untold, future battles of the 21st century.

Looking at the actions both our governments have taken to date, I believe it's a case of "so far, so good." Both governments understand the need for global leadership, despite unprecedented deficits and other fiscal challenges. We also appreciate the special partnership between us that has been standard operating procedure since we stood against the forces of fascism and communism in World War II and the Cold War.

The times have certainly changed and as President Obama emphasized at his speech in Prague, the concept of partnership is essential.  America cannot do it alone. This has to be the era of the super partner, not the superpower.

It is my firm belief that the United States and the United Kingdom are on the right track in doing all that is necessary to have an appropriate defense for our nations, now and in the future, while fulfilling the primary role of protecting our citizens.

The United Kingdom's position of maintaining cooperation with America and their allies in current operations in Afghanistan, with no reduction in forces and resources, was greatly appreciated.

Few appreciate this more than General Petraeus, who recently called the United Kingdom "the partner on which we can repeatedly count." In this very room, he recently praised the British troops in Afghanistan for their extraordinary initiative, creativity, determination, and courage.

The General also said that the surge in new troops has allowed the ISAF to ramp up the tempo of our counter insurgency program, across the board. We are seeing promising results but much remains to be done. There is tough fighting ahead, he acknowledged, but as he put it, "our approach is not just the right approach, it's the only approach."  

I visited Afghanistan last September and I came to understand the complexity of the situation but I returned confident that we have the right approach and the right team.

It is a regrettable outcome that our commitment, unfortunately, can be measured every day in the blood that is spilled by the British and American men and women on the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan. Both of our nations have fought together, died together, and sadly grieved together. But those sacrifices are for an honorable and ultimately winnable cause. And no one appreciates the United Kingdom's contribution more than the United States.

I would like to reiterate the words of President Obama, who said "America has no better friend or more dependable ally than the United Kingdom."  

 At the end of the day, our nations walk together, not just because it's the right thing to do for this time, but because it will secure the futures of our children and our grandchildren. As previous generations did for us, we must do for them.


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