Panetta: Budget Cuts Will Boost Risk to Nation at War

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2011 — Bud­get cuts cre­ate more risk for the mil­i­tary in time of war, but the risk can be reduced by mak­ing deci­sions strate­gi­cal­ly and pro­tect­ing core nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said today.

“While we will con­tin­ue to focus on reduc­ing over­head and dupli­ca­tion, make no mis­take,” Panet­ta told reporters dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon news brief­ing, “these reduc­tions will force us to take on greater risk in our mis­sion to pro­tect the coun­try in time of war and in the face of grow­ing secu­ri­ty chal­lenges.”

The nation must think and act smart­ly as it makes dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary fis­cal deci­sions about force struc­ture, per­son­nel and oper­a­tions, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Panet­ta at the brief­ing, said.

“It is because I believe that our nation­al debt is our great­est nation­al secu­ri­ty threat that I also believe we must do our part to reduce it, to lim­it its harm,” he added.

The depart­ment, Panet­ta said, is under­go­ing a strat­e­gy-dri­ven process to pre­pare to imple­ment the more than $450 bil­lion in sav­ings that will be required over 10 years as a result of the debt-lim­it agree­ment.

“This review is still ongo­ing,” he said. “No deci­sions have been made, but I am com­mit­ted to mak­ing these deci­sions based on the best advice that I receive from the ser­vice sec­re­taries and from the ser­vice chiefs, as well as the com­bat­ant com­man­ders.”

The fol­low­ing prin­ci­ples will guide such deci­sions, he said. The nation must:

— Main­tain the world’s best mil­i­tary, a force capa­ble of deter­ring con­flict, pro­ject­ing pow­er and win­ning wars;

— Avoid a hol­low force and main­tain a mil­i­tary that, even if small­er, is ready, agile and deploy­able;

— Take a bal­anced approach to the entire bud­get for poten­tial sav­ings — from trim­ming dupli­ca­tion and bureau­crat­ic over­head to improv­ing com­pe­ti­tion and man­age­ment in oper­at­ing and invest­ment pro­grams, to tight­en­ing per­son­nel costs and devel­op­ing a small­er, more agile and flex­i­ble future force; and

— Keep faith with the men and women in uni­form because the vol­un­teer force is cen­tral to a strong future mil­i­tary.

Panet­ta said that the bud­get-cut­ting envi­ron­ment “can be used as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to shape the very best defense we can for this coun­try as we approach the next 10 years.”

Achiev­ing the man­dat­ed sav­ings “will be very hard and require extreme­ly dif­fi­cult trade­offs,” Panet­ta said. He added that an auto­mat­ic trig­ger in the nation’s debt-reduc­tion law to take more cuts out of fed­er­al spend­ing if Con­gress fails to agree on reduc­tions by Nov. 24 would be poten­tial­ly dev­as­tat­ing.

For the Defense Depart­ment, that means anoth­er $500 bil­lion from defense spend­ing over 10 years, on top of more than $450 bil­lion in cuts already iden­ti­fied over the same peri­od.

“The rough­ly $1 tril­lion in cuts forced by sequester would leave us with a mil­i­tary that would be unable to pro­tect this nation from the range of secu­ri­ty threats we face,” the sec­re­tary said.

Such seques­tra­tion would hol­low out the force, reduc­ing mil­i­tary and eco­nom­ic strength, he added.

“Can­cel­la­tion of weapon sys­tems, con­struc­tion projects [and] research activ­i­ty would seri­ous­ly crip­ple our indus­tri­al base,” Panet­ta said, “which would be unac­cept­able not only to me as sec­re­tary of defense, but to our abil­i­ty to be able to main­tain the best defense sys­tem.”

Mullen said the depart­ment must begin with a clear-eyed assess­ment of things the joint force must con­tin­ue to do for the nation and the options it must be able to pro­vide the pres­i­dent.

“And [we must] be will­ing to cur­tail or even end those mis­sions and capa­bil­i­ties which do not com­port with that strat­e­gy,” the chair­man said.

The Unit­ed States must con­sid­er the world as it is, the threats as we see them, he added.

“Pro­grams that are behind sched­ule or woe­ful­ly over bud­get should be con­sid­ered for elim­i­na­tion. The per­son­nel accounts, which make up the vast major­i­ty of our allo­ca­tion, should be scrubbed for inef­fi­cien­cies and over­head,” Mullen said.

Exer­cis­es and oper­a­tions that do not direct­ly con­tribute to essen­tial secu­ri­ty com­mit­ments should be recal­i­brat­ed, he added.

“We ought to make sure that the mil­i­tary is the right one for the future: flex­i­ble and adapt­able enough to fight wars both big and small, near and far,” the chair­man said, “a force that can secure our nation­al inter­ests, and not by its size and shape define those inter­ests.”

Mullen said he is con­vinced the effort to find more than $450 bil­lion dol­lars in cuts over the next 10 years is achiev­able, but agreed with Panet­ta that pos­si­ble seques­tra­tion cuts puts “at risk the very secu­ri­ty we are charged to pro­vide.”

Ten years of war have not bro­ken the all-vol­un­teer force, the chair­man said, “but dras­tic bud­get mea­sures that adverse­ly affect the lives and liveli­hoods of our peo­ple very well might. We can afford to lose some things, but we can­not to lose them.”

The bud­get envi­ron­ment presents dif­fi­cult choic­es for our armed forces, Panet­ta said.

“I believe that if we can avoid fur­ther cuts, we will have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to set pri­or­i­ties and make the hard choic­es need­ed to build a stronger force for the future,” he said, “and to keep faith with our men and women in uni­form.”

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