WASHINGTON—In what was likely her last public speech before stepping down as under secretary of defense for policy, Michèle Flournoy on Monday emphasized current budget challenges, future threats, and the principles behind the new defense strategy President Barack Obama unveiled at the Pentagon on Jan. 5. Her remarks came at the 2012 ROA National Security Symposium, in progress at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park through Feb. 1.
“In the years since [Sept. 11, 2001], we’ve passed one signpost after another marking the arrival of an even more complex strategic era,” she said, and noted the fast pace of China’s economic growth and military modernization, asymmetric warfare challenges and “the arrival of cyberspace as a domain of potential conflict—one that forces us to revisit longstanding ideas of deterrence and culpability.”
Eschewing those at home and abroad who claim an erosion of U.S. global leadership and have said the United States is in decline, she noted challenges but said they were “no greater, frankly, than those previous generations of Americans have faced, including Harry Truman and his advisers early on in the Cold War.”
She highlighted the recently released defense strategy Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership [Principles] for 21st Century [Defense].
“The emphasis throughout the review—from President Obama to Secretary Panetta on down—has been that the size, structure, and capabilities of our military must be driven by strategy, not the other way around,” Ms. Flournoy said. “To protect our country and maintain U.S. leadership, we need to set smart, sensible priorities for the future.”
She said four principles guided the report and the recently released budget: Maintain the U.S. global leadership role; avoid hollowing the force; balance savings and ensure “that the U.S. can still conduct combat operations and deal effectively with aggression in more than one theater at a time.”
She said it wasn’t a question of whether the U.S. military can confront more than one adversary, but was a question of how.
“We are retaining full capability to confront more than one aggressor anywhere in the world, even if we are engaged in large-scale operations,” Ms. Flournoy said, and the U.S. would “be able to quickly deny the objectives of an opportunistic adversary.”
For the Reserve Component, she noted the current expansion of missions and responsibilities, including the provisions in 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that allow service secretaries, outside of war, to call up as many as 60,000 reservists into active duty for up to a year for pre-planned missions. She also mentioned provisions under which governors can request that DoD activate reservists for disasters or emergencies.
Ms. Flournoy said the Reserve Components were an essential part of the future force.
“These provisions reflect an awareness on the part of leaders in the administration or on [Capitol] Hill of just how important the Reserve can be to our security across the range of potential situations,” she said.
Ms. Flournoy, one of the highest-ranking civilians ever at DoD, announced in December 2011 that she would step down from her post to spend more time with her family. In 2008 she served as a defense policy adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during then-Sen. Clinton’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. In announcing her plans to step down in December, The New York Times stated that Ms. Flournoy would work “informally” for President Obama’s re-election bid.