Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work answers questions at the 3rd Annual Defense One Summit on November 02, 2015.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work answers questions at the 3rd Annual Defense One Summit on November 02, 2015. DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Clydell Kinchen

Work: 'The Age of Everything Is the Era of Grand Strategy'

Deputy defense secretary lays out his views on 15 years of change.

The resurgence of Russia and the continued rise of China have created a new period of great-power rivalry — and a corresponding need for a solid grand strategy, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said Monday at the Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C.

“The era of everything is the era of grand strategy,” Work said, suggesting that the United States must carefully marshal and deploy its great yet limited resources. “We will look back on 2001 to 2015 and say, ‘Wow, what a change.’”

At the turn of the century, the deputy secretary said, “We worried about three canonical contingencies: resurgence of Iraq, Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and a North Korean invasion of the south.” Today, the Defense Department is concerned about Iran, China, Russia, and “a global counterterrorism campaign increasingly defined by the fight against ISIS….On top of that, we worry about global pandemics, as witnessed last year, when the president ordered the military to be the leading edge on the fight against ebola” and about the destabilizing effects of climate change, Work said. “So we went from three contingencies to four-plus-one.”

In the meantime, “the capabilities and capacities of our allies began to decline” while those of the nation’s potential adversaries began to rise, he said.

Today, “almost all our combat power” is in the United States itself, and “we think about swinging forces quickly from theater to theater.” This means that “if an adversary wants to attack, they will be able to pick the time and place, and have an initial advantage in forces.” Moreover, their technology has caught up with the U.S. in important areas; for example, they can throw guided munitions as far and in as many numbers as the U.S. military can.

“The third thing that’s different,” Work said: “You now have to assume that you’re going to be under intense cyber attack even before you move….The distinction between home and away games is beginning to blur” because as we move our forces, our adversaries will reach out to try to slow our approach.”

That means, among other things, improving the U.S. cyber strategy. The Defense Department efforts are proceeding along three lines: improving DOD networks (for example, reducing the thousand-plus exposed firewalls to fewer than 200); hardening national infrastructure against network attack; and developing offensive cyber capabilities that can deter attack.

Work welcomed the recently announced budget deal between Congress and the White House, saying the previous uncertainty had prevented DoD from performing planning that is sustainable. “But we’re not done yet. This is the seventh continuing resolution,” he said, which means the Pentagon must work with a nine-month fiscal year that is “totally unsatisfactory. It cannot continue.”

Defense planners addressing fiscal 2016 felt they had enough funding “as a reasonable target to hit,” Work said, but for fiscal 2017 there is a $14 billion “delta” that they must address in preparing next February’s budget.

To achieve the needed balance between the national security mission and available resources, Work said, he hoped there would be a “serious debate in the 2016 presidential election about ends and means.”

Charles Clark contributed to this report.