"The Force of the 21st Century" (National Press Club): As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Washington DC, Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Thank you very much, Theresa, for that kind introduction. And thank you for the invitation to be here today. I look forward to the opportunity to go back and pick walnuts back in Carmel Valley. I've told this story before, but it makes the point. When I was young, my father--when he first planted that walnut orchard, as it grew, he would go around with a pole and hook and shake each of the branches. And my brother and I would be underneath collecting the walnuts. When I got elected to Congress, my Italian father said, "You've been well trained to go to Washington, because you've been dodging nuts all your life."
True. It was great training.
I've had the opportunity to be here at the Press Club in, obviously, some of my past jobs as a member of Congress, as OMB Director, and then as chief of staff. In those jobs, words were both my weapon and my shield. In this job, as Secretary of Defense, I have a hell of a lot more going for me, but in a democracy, words remain the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. And it's for that reason that it is an honor for me to again be here at the National Press Club.
I've long had a deep and abiding respect for the Washington press corps. You play an essential role in making our democracy strong by holding leaders and holding institutions accountable to the people they serve. As Secretary of Defense, and in my past jobs, I learned that it was important to be accessible to the press and to be transparent with them with regards to the issues and challenges that you confront. And in this job, I've tried to be as accessible as I can to the Pentagon press corps, to engage regularly with reporters and to encourage other senior officials in the department to do the same.
It is an especially important time to communicate our vision and our priorities as a department, because as I've said time and time and time again over this past year, I believe that we are at a strategic turning point.
After more than a decade of war, the longest extended period of conflict in the history of the United States, at the beginning of 2012, President Obama and the military and civilian leaders of the department came together to publicly release a new defense strategy. It was designed to help the military effectively navigate this turning point and prepare for the future.
Under that strategy, our goal was to reshape the force of the 21st century, to try to meet the new security challenges that we're confronting in this world and try to help the country at the same time reduce the deficits that we're confronting.
We were handed a number in the Budget Control Act to reduce the defense budget by $487 billion over the next decade, almost a half a trillion dollars. And based on my own budget experience at the time, I knew that the approach should be not to just simply cut it across the board and hollow out the force, but to try to develop a strategy for what is it we want the Defense Department to be not just now, but going into the future, as well. And that was the purpose of why we developed the strategy.
As the year 2012 draws to a close, today I want to describe the strategic environment that is shaping our future plans, the progress we have made toward implementing this strategy, and the risks that we face as we work every day to try to keep America safe and secure.
Before I continue, let me just pay tribute to a couple people here who join me at the head table. My Deputy Secretary, Ash Carter, has played and continues to play a crucial role in helping me and DOD develop and implement the strategy, and I deeply appreciate his dedication and commitment to the department. And I also want to pay tribute to my Undersecretary for Policy, Jim Miller, who's also here, who also worked very hard on that strategy to ensure that we develop the right strategy for the future.
And I should also say, Marty Dempsey and all of the members, our service chiefs, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all participated. …