Our Take: Ash Carter's "Breaking New Ground" Speech at CSIS


I was in the room Wednesday as Defense Secretary Ash Carter revealed his plan to reform the structure of the military at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

In his talk, “Breaking New Ground: Preparing the DOD for the Future,” Carter said it was time to reform the Goldwater-Nichols Act passed in 1986 that streamlined the chain of command, among other reforms.

Carter said changing times and evolving threats require new reforms to ensure the structure is conducive to the battlefield of today.

“Instead of the Cold War and one clear threat, we face a security environment that’s dramatically different from the last quarter-century,” he said. “It’s time that we consider practical updates to this critical organizational framework, while still preserving its spirit and intent.”

He believes the first step to reform is clarifying several roles, beginning with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said that keeping the chairman out of the chain of command codifies that position as the top military advisor to the president. That advice is important to civilian leadership and should be maintained, but that role should be more clearly defined in law.

The secretary also wants to put more power in the hands of the service chiefs when purchasing equipment. Too many people are involved in the process now, he said. This creates “bureaucratic hurdles.” He’d like more productive analysis and decision-making.

Carter would also like to change the joint-service requirement for officers from three years to two, saying the current “narrow” requirement is preventing some leaders from progressing in their careers.

He floated the idea of making U.S. Cyber Command a full combatant command, noting that it is now receiving its “first wartime assignment” in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“We should consider changes to cyber’s role in DoD’s unified command plan,” he said. “I believe as the year goes along, this issue will become more of a priority.”

Carter emphasized that any change to Goldwater-Nichols must not harm the ability of the Defense Department to execute its duties to the national security mission.

It was a pleasure to hear the civilian leader of the Pentagon discuss his thoughts on this important topic. I look forward to seeing what changes actually take place.

Watch Carter's full speech here. First Lt. Heather Bennett is a member of the Mississippi National Guard. She is spending one year in Washington, D.C., as part of the NGAUS Fellows Program.

Heather Bennett

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