As the Defense Department adopts a new paradigm for the U.S. military to remain a formidable force while absorbing $487 billion in spending reductions over the next decade, the prospect of an additional $500 billion spending reduction over that period would be “a disaster” not only for national defense, but also for defense communities, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in Monterey, Calif., Aug. 6.
In remarks at an Association of Defense Communities conference, the secretary said the new defense strategy and the Pentagon’s budget decisions reflect the need to bring the government’s budget under control.
“There is a strategic and fiscal imperative that is driving the department to a smaller, … leaner and more agile force – that’s the reality,” Panetta said. “It would be irresponsible not to reduce the budget and do our role in confronting the fiscal challenges facing this country.”
The secretary noted that though the department and the nation are weathering a period of great challenge, an opportunity for planning emerges.
Under the new strategy, Panetta said, the force will remain agile, quickly deployable, flexible, and prepared to deal with crises anywhere in the world. As drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan unfold, the United States will continue to sharpen its focus on matters in the Asia-Pacific region, sparking a rebalance of global posture as part of an overall strategy to maintain a presence elsewhere in the world.
Additionally, he said, vigilance against cyberspace threats is essential. He called the cyber arena the “battlefield for the future,” with the potential to cripple progress for the United States and its allies.
The strategy also must include investment in and protection of DOD’s industrial base, the secretary said.
Close partnerships with members of Congress, committees, caucuses, defense industrial partners, foreign allies, foreign partners and defense communities across the country remain one of the guiding principles in implementing the new strategy, Panetta said.
Noting that he has to “put every area of the defense budget on the table,” the secretary acknowledged challenges that stem from assessing major areas such as compensation, which he said has increased by 80 percent.
“Unless we confront the costs in that area, we’re going to find ourselves cutting our national defense in order to deal with tremendously increased health care costs.” But at the same time, he said, the Defense Department must “keep faith” with the military.
“We’ve got to make sure we stand by the promises that were made to them and to their families,” Panetta said, adding defense communities can help by making sure they hire veterans and spouses who enrich those areas. “I ask each of you to look for creative ways to help us better support each other,” he said. “We’ve got be honest and open with each about the nature of the fiscal challenge that confronts this country.”
But a “sequestration” mechanism built into the budget law would trigger another half-trillion dollars in across-the-board defense spending cuts over the next decade, Panetta said, and a similar amount in other government spending if Congress fails to find an alternative by January. That, he said, would “hollow out the military.”
“I’ve made clear, and I’ll continue to do so, that if sequestration is allowed to go into effect, it’ll be a disaster for national defense and it would be a disaster, frankly, for defense communities as well,” he said. “And frankly, it’s not only true about the DOD budget, it’s also true relating to the domestic discretionary cuts that will deprive communities of the needed federal support they need in areas like education.”
Panetta called sequestration “an indiscriminate formula” that was never meant to take effect.
“It was never designed to be implemented,” he said. “It was designed to trigger such untold damage that it would force people to do the right thing.” He urged the defense community leaders to do what they can to ensure Congress reaches a solution that avoids sequestration.