Lloyd J. Austin III, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to be defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that Defense Department resources and strategy must match.
“DOD needs resources to match strategy, a strategy matched to policy, and policy matched to the will of the American people,” he said.
The retired Army general also dealt with reservations by some about his status as a recently retired military officer who has been nominated to become the DOD leader. Austin would require a waiver to serve in the position.
“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” Austin said. “I spent my entire life committed to that principle. In war and peace, I implemented the policies of civilians [who were] elected and appointed over me.”
However, Austin knows that being a member of any president’s cabinet requires a different perspective and carries unique duties from a career in uniform. “I intend to surround myself with empowered, experienced, capable civilian leaders who will enable healthy civil-military relations grounded in meaningful oversight,” he said.
If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security.
Lloyd J. Austin III, Defense Secretary nominee
He told the committee that he will include the DOD undersecretary for policy in top decision-making meetings. This will ensure that strategic and operational decisions are informed by policy, he said. Austin also said he wants to rebalance collaboration and coordination between the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure civilian input is integrated at every level of the process.
Finally, Austin assured the senators that he will emphasize that the Pentagon must work hand-in-glove with the State Department.
The nominee also assured the senators that he will consult with members of Congress and respect the oversight responsibilities that Congress has on the executive branch. “We will be transparent with you,” he said. “I will provide you my best counsel, and I will seek yours.”
Austin told the committee he sees China as the pacing threat for the United States. The Indo-Pacific must be the focus of the department. “I know I’ll need your help in tackling these problems and to give our men and women in uniform the tools that they need to fight and win,” he said.
Austin said his most immediate challenge will be the coronavirus pandemic. “If confirmed, I will quickly review the department’s contributions to coronavirus relief efforts, ensuring that we’re doing everything that we can to help distribute vaccines across the country and to vaccinate our troops and preserve readiness,” he said.
As part of that, he said he will ensure that the department is supporting military families fighting the virus. “They, too, are educating kids at home and losing their jobs and trying to stock the pantry,” he said. “We owe them our best efforts to lighten that load.”
Austin also addressed the enemy in the ranks, saying service members deserve a working environment free of discrimination, hate and harassment. “I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault and to rid our ranks of racists and extremists and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity,” he said. “The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies, but we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
In other points, the nominee supports overturning the ban against transgender people serving in the military.
He also wants a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, but he said it was likely that some U.S. counterterrorism capabilities will remain in the country.
Austin noted the importance of naval power and said he will study the Navy recommendations to increase the size of the fleet.
The nominee said he personally supports the nuclear triad.
Austin said he did not seek the job of DOD secretary, but he thinks being considered is an honor. “If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security,” he said. “I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended. And I would not be here asking for your support if I felt that I was unable or unwilling to question people with whom I once served in operations, that I once led, or [be] too afraid to speak my mind to you or to the president.
“I was a general and a soldier, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “But today, I appear before you as a citizen, the son of a postal worker and a homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia, and I’m proud of that, too. If you confirm me, I am prepared to serve now as a civilian, fully acknowledging the importance of this distinction.”