A new defense strategy shifting the focus away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and toward the Asia-Pacific region tees up a reduction of nearly $490 billion in previous Pentagon planning, aimed at reducing the federal deficit.
In a Jan. 5 Pentagon press briefing, President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided few specifics about the defense budget for fiscal 2013. But officials made clear that as the Pentagon looks to meet deficit-reduction targets mandated by Congress, the department will reduce the size of the force, spending on weapons systems, overhead costs and military compensation.
And they added that the strategy will preserve or increase investments in special operations, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction, building partner capacity and some science and technology areas.
As the U.S. ramps up its presence in Asia and continues a focus on the Middle East, officials signaled changes in the U.S. force presence in the rest of the world, referring to the need for “innovative” approaches to the force in Africa and Latin America.
Obama acknowledged his visit to the Pentagon briefing room was an historic occasion. In announcing the more limited strategy for the U.S. military, Obama took the opportunity to remind the nation that even with restrictions on military spending, the Pentagon will continue spending at high rates.
“I think it’s important for all Americans to remember: over the past 10 years, since 9/11, our defense budget grew at an extraordinary pace,” Obama said. “Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: it will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership.”
And he stressed that Congress set in motion reductions to planned Pentagon spending. In August, lawmakers passed the Budget Control Act, which stipulates that Congress must reduce the federal deficit by another $1.2 trillion or else the budget will automatically be cut by the same amount, which would send $600 billion in reductions the Pentagon’s way by January 2013.
But that doesn’t mean that trimming $489 billion from the Pentagon’s former plans over 10 years was easy or that the Pentagon is backing off its opposition to the specter of nearly $1 trillion in cuts, cautioned Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. “You’ll see in two and a half weeks,” Carter said, referring to the release of the federal budget, just how difficult the reductions were. The budget is typically released on the first Monday in February and after the president delivers his State of the Union Address.
Carter indicated that program cuts and kills would be coming, though he declined to spell them out. “We have had to make major changes in every area,” he said. “That includes modernization.”
As specifics of the budget emerge, Panetta said it is likely some members of Congress will oppose individual decisions. Overall, though, he said, “I am confident Congress will support what we’re trying to do.”
Reaction from Capitol Hill is already mixed. Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, praised the president and the Pentagon for putting together a strategy that allows the U.S. to build on the military’s successes.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is taking a wait-and-see approach, saying he will closely examine the new strategy. “I understand the need for reductions in defense spending, but we must also address the broader cultural problem plaguing our defense establishment: the waste, inefficiency, and ineffective programs that result from an overly consolidated military-industrial-congressional complex,” McCain said in a statement. “We must eliminate the shameless cost overruns that characterize too many of our defense programs.”
But Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) came out with guns blazing. “This is a lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America. The president has packaged our retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy to mask his divestment of our military and national defense,” McKeon said. “In order to justify massive cuts to our military, he has revoked the guarantee that America will support our allies, defend our interests, and defy our opponents.”
By Jen DiMascio
January 5, 2012