Defense Secretary To Announce Pentagon Spending Cuts This Week
Both the White House and Pentagon agreed last summer on $450 billion in spending cuts over the course of a decade, roughly 8 percent of the Pentagon's base budget. Funds would be cut across the board in military spending, including salaries, health benefits, the nuclear arsenal and combat aircraft. The issue now is over a proposed $500 billion in additional cuts if Congress makes good on promises of further reductions.
Having withdrawn from Iraq and winding down efforts in Afghanistan, the U.S. is reevaluating its role in foreign wars. Panetta said with the initial cuts, American military forces will be able to sustain one major conflict and also "'spoil' a second adversary's ambitions in another part of the world while also conducting a number of other smaller operations, like providing disaster relief or enforcing a no-flight zone."
Panetta is expected to outline a careful strategy for the $450 billion cuts, perhaps in an effort to discourage the additional reductions he and other defense hawks are calling "ruinous" for national security. Meanwhile, Democrats and some Republicans on the other side of the debate maintain the cuts would be manageable.
From the Times:
“Even at a trillion dollars, this is a shallower build-down than any of the last three we’ve done,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House and is now a fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “It would still be the world’s most dominant military. We would be in an arms race with ourselves.”
Many who are more worried about cuts, including Mr. Panetta, acknowledge that Pentagon personnel costs are unsustainable and that generous retirement benefits may have to be scaled back to save crucial weapons programs.
“If we allow the current trend to continue,” said Arnold L. Punaro, a consultant on a Pentagon advisory group, the Defense Business Board, who has pushed for changes in the military retirement system, “we’re going to turn the Department of Defense into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist.”
But some military officials have voiced concern about what the spending cuts would do to the U.S.'s relations with allies and reputation as a world power.
Again, from the Times' report:
“It would matter some with Iran, it would matter a lot with China,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and the author of a recent book, “The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity.”
Nowhere is balancing budget and strategy more challenging than in deciding how large a ground combat force the nation needs and can afford. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, the former commander in Iraq, points out that the Army had 480,000 people in uniform before the Sept. 11 attacks, and at that number was supposed to be able to fight two wars at once.
But the Army proved to be too small to sustain the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and was increased to its current size of 570,000. The Army is now set to drop to 520,000 soldiers, beginning in 2015, although few expect that to be the floor. The reality is that the United States may not be able to afford waging two wars at once.
“That said, there are certain risks with falling off the two-war posture,” said Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “You may risk losing the confidence of some allies, and you may risk emboldening your adversaries. But at the end of the day, a strategy of bluffing, or asserting that you have a capability that you don’t, is probably the worst posture of all.”
Panetta will likely address these concerns at a news conference this week before submitting his detailed plan to Congress for debate and possible amendments.
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