Debt is Biggest Threat to National Security, Chairman Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2011 — Loom­ing bud­get reduc­tions are the biggest threat to the Unit­ed States’ nation­al secu­ri­ty, said Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dur­ing remarks to busi­ness exec­u­tives today.

“I’ve said many times that I believe the sin­gle, biggest threat to our nation­al secu­ri­ty is our debt, so I also believe we have every respon­si­bil­i­ty to help elim­i­nate that threat,” he said. “We must, and will, do our part.”

Speak­ing to the Busi­ness Exec­u­tives for Nation­al Secu­ri­ty, the chair­man dis­cussed bud­get con­cerns and sought the exec­u­tives’ expe­ri­ences to help for­mu­late strate­gic fis­cal plan­ning.

“All of you have dealt with down­turns in the busi­ness cycle,” Mullen said. “Many of you have turned around trou­bled cor­po­ra­tions, or restruc­tured firms. Our chal­lenges will not pre­cise­ly be yours, but I’ll bet we can take a les­son or two from what you’ve seen.”

Found­ed in 1982, BENS is a nation­wide, non-par­ti­san orga­ni­za­tion which sup­ports the U.S. gov­ern­ment by apply­ing, free of charge, best busi­ness prac­tice solu­tions for nation­al secu­ri­ty chal­lenges, accord­ing to a media release.

Mullen talked to the group about con­cerns caused by the “seques­tra­tion” mech­a­nism includ­ed in the nation’s new debt-reduc­tion law.

“As you know, the res­i­dent has made a deci­sion to reduce the defense bud­get by more than $450 bil­lion over the next 10 years,” he said.

“That’s a lot of mon­ey from any per­spec­tive,” Mullen con­tin­ued. “But, in fact, it only rep­re­sents a lit­tle over nine per­cent a year from our base­line.

“Many of you have faced worse,” he con­tin­ued. “And yet, as achiev­able as I believe these cuts to be, they will also be dif­fi­cult to iden­ti­fy and to exe­cute � more dif­fi­cult, I think, than they would be for you.”

Mullen said most dif­fi­cul­ties stem from large cap­i­tal expens­es, huge fixed and aging infra­struc­ture such as bases, ships and air­craft.

“Our replace­ment turnover rate is extreme­ly low, because it takes so long to design, build, test and field new equip­ment,” he said.

“Cuts in this are­na have sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary impacts, because to make any sort of dif­fer­ence you have to remove from your inven­to­ry a plat­form that will take a long time to replace,” he said.

Mullen also attrib­uted these dif­fi­cul­ties to fight­ing in two wars for a decade which has result­ed in a “must-pay” lia­bil­i­ty.

“Much of that equip­ment has been worn out more quick­ly than expect­ed because of the wars we are fight­ing,” he said. “It needs to be repaired or replaced when it comes home.”

The chair­man said the next log­i­cal step of reduc­tion would be peo­ple and their com­pen­sa­tion, but he cau­tioned against “dra­con­ian” changes.

“They dri­ve our costs in the Pen­ta­gon just like they have in the cor­po­rate world � increas­es in pay, and espe­cial­ly increas­es in the cost of health care,” Mullen said.

“We are a well-com­pen­sat­ed force today and right­ful­ly so,” he said. “And because I sim­ply can’t � and [Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta] has made clear that he won’t � break faith with our troops, we need to be very care­ful here.”

Mullen praised ser­vice mem­bers for their sac­ri­fices and reit­er­at­ed his com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing them.

“They are not my employ­ees,” he said. “They aren’t anyone’s employ­ees.

“They are sol­diers, air­men, sailors, Marines and coast guards­men — vol­un­teers all — who made a life deci­sion to join our ranks,” Mullen said. “And many of them risk those lives every, sin­gle day.”

The chair­man said the nation faces an “imper­a­tive,” and agreed with Panetta’s assess­ment of the chal­lenge as being “hard but man­age­able.” �

“We must con­sid­er the world as it is, the threats as we see them, not wish­ing away the dan­ger nor blow­ing it out of pro­por­tion,” Mullen said.

“Prag­ma­tism and prac­ti­cal­i­ty must be our watch­words mov­ing for­ward,” he added, “[and] strat­e­gy must become our acu­men.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)