The quiet and low-key retired General Lloyd Austin III has been nominated to become our next secretary of defense.
“DOD needs resources to match strategy, a strategy matched to policy, and policy matched to the will of the American people,” Lloyd Austin said.
“The safety and security of our democracy demand competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” Austin added in his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “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.”
The retired general also dealt with the reservations of some regarding his status as a recently retired military officer nominated to become DoD’s leader.
“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,” Austin added.
To be confirmed, Austin will require a Congressional waiver since he has only been out of the military for four years. The 1947 National Security Act stipulates that seven years must pass before a former military member assumes the position.
For some, Austin’s nomination represents something more important than the future of America’s strategic outlook or the looming great power competition. If confirmed, Austin would be the first African American SecDef. While this is monumental, he still has something in common with all those that came before him: he is a man and in the defense world gender, not race, has proved to be the greatest barrier. Regardless, he has been nominated by President Biden.
Austin knows that the secretary of defense position will require a different perspective than what he had in the military. To that effect, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would include the DoD undersecretary for policy in top decision-making meetings to ensure that strategic and operational decisions are informed by the policy.
Austin also said that 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.
Jen Psaki, Biden’s incoming press secretary, explained in an interview: “Biden knows [Austin], he has a comfort level with him. He likes the fact that Austin knows his way around the department[…] The historic nature of this pick is not lost on him.” Psaki added that Austin’s “calm” and his “ability to manage under pressure” were “appealing.”
In addition to the challenge of working with the media, Austin will face two potential hurdles. First, many Congress members want to restore firm civilian control over a Pentagon that was changed by the Trump presidency. Because of that, although Congress will probably grant Austin’s waiver, some will be uneasy in doing so. Second, General Austin lacks experience in the Pentagon’s primary challenge: that of reinventing weapons and strategy to counter a rising, high-tech China.
“I intend to surround myself with empowered, experienced, capable civilian leaders who will enable healthy civil-military relations grounded in meaningful oversight,” General Austin said.
To read more about the former general’s plans, click here.