Defense

March 18, 2013

Hagel orders review of U.S. defense strategy to test its underpinnings in light of budget cuts

In response to the budget cuts that took effect March 1, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a re-evaluation of the underpinnings of the defense strategy that President Barack Obama announced 14 months ago.

Hagel spokesman George Little said March 17 that Hagel wants to see the results by May 31.

The Obama strategy, unveiled with great fanfare in January 2011, was meant to reshape defense strategy in the aftermath of lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It called for greater emphasis on security ties in the Asia-Pacific region, a continued focus on the Middle East and a reduced military presence in Europe.

Little did not say that Hagel intends to write a new strategy. He said he wants to ìexamine the choices that underlie the current strategy. The review is to define the major decisions that must be made in the decade ahead to preserve and adapt our defense strategy in light of budget uncertainty, Little said.

Hagel took office three weeks ago facing a range of uncertainties, topped by the prospect of a new round of budget cuts resulting from the failure of Congress and the administration to reach a new deficit-reduction deal by March 1.

The Pentagon was already facing a $487 billion, 10-year reduction in projected spending as part of the budget law that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011. In addition to that, the military is grappling with $43 billion in across-the-board cuts that went into effect on March 1.

Congress has shown little inclination to reverse the $43 billion in cuts while balking at new cost-cutting steps the Pentagon has proposed, such as another round of military base closings. This has unsettled the Pentagonís leaders, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey said Monday that deficit reduction is necessary and a ìnational security imperative.î But he also said that the current budget-cutting approach, known as sequestration, is ìthe most irresponsible way possible to manage the nation’s defense.

Dempsey did not mention Hagelís directive for a re-examination of the defense strategy, but he suggested that it was an exercise worth undertaking.

As I stand here, I donít yet know how much our defense strategy will change, but I predict it will,î Dempsey said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ìWeíll need to relook our assumptions. Weíll need to adjust our ambitions to match our abilities.

Hagelís predecessor, Leon Panetta, had said repeatedly that if the forced budget cuts took effect the administration would have to redo its defense strategy. ìWeíd probably have to … throw that strategy out the window,î Panetta said June 1.

Little said Hagelís review will take that 2011 strategy as the point of departure,î and it will examine whether the assumptions underlying it are valid in light of the budget crisis. He said Hagel ordered the review last week and put his top deputy, Ashton Carter, in charge. AP




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