Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Thursday rolled out his priorities in a memo to the troops, with the fight against COVID-19 topping the list.
While the document, laden with business jargon, identifies Mr. Austin‘s goals in the Pentagon, it offers few clues on how they will be addressed. It breaks his goals into three categories: defending the nation, taking care of his people and succeeding through teamwork.
“The greatest proximate challenge to our nation’s security is the threat of COVID-19,” he wrote. “The Department will continue to act boldly and quickly to support federal government efforts to defeat the disease, defend the force against it and work without domestic and international partners to protect our nation from potential novel and deadly viruses of the future.”
The memo identifies China as the Pentagon’s “pacing threat” and said the military will focus on developing operational plans to bolster deterrence and maintain the nation’s competitive advantage.
“We will ensure that our approach toward China is coordinated and synchronized across the enterprise to advance our priorities, integrated into domestic and foreign policy in a whole-of-government strategy, strengthened by our alliances and partnerships and supported on a bipartisan basis in Congress,” he wrote.
The memo also addresses the need for innovation and modernization inside the Pentagon and signals that some weapons being used today might find themselves on the chopping block.
“Where necessary, we will divest of legacy systems and programs that no longer meet our security needs while investing smartly for the future,” he wrote. “In turn, we will improve the efficiency of the force and guarantee freedom of action in contested, complex operating environments.”
Mr. Austin also addressed issues such as sexual harassment in the ranks and extremism which he said are “alive within our workforce.” He said leaders at every level will be responsible for building a safe environment for service members and showing “swift and clear accountability” for anyone who doesn’t act within the department’s highest standards.
He said extremism — which he doesn’t define — presents a unique challenge to the military.
“We must meet this head-on, working to stamp out extremism in the ranks, permanently,” Mr. Austin said. “These efforts, among others, will ensure that we provide every member of the department a safe and supportive place to serve their country - one free from discrimination, hate harassment and fear.”
President Biden made a point to emphasize that if elected, he would work to bolster America’s relationship with its allies. Mr. Austin, a retired four-star Army general, called them a force multiplier and one of the country’s greatest strategic assets.
“Our success will depend on how closely we work with our friends around the world to secure our common interests and promote our shared values,” he wrote. “We cannot meet our responsibilities alone nor should we try.”
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