General Calls Deep Defense Cuts ‘Very High Risk’
10:01 AM, Jul 28, 2011 • By ROBERT ZARATE
“Extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” That’s how General Martin Dempsey, the Army’s chief of staff and Obama’s pick to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bluntly described proposals by the president and certain lawmakers to cut national security spending by anywhere from $400 billion to $1 trillion or more over the next decade.
During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, General Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the nation’s four military services had already begun to examine the possible impact of Obama’s April 2011 proposal to cut yet another $400 billion from the Department of Defense’s so-called “baseline” budget.
The baseline budget—which excludes the supplemental costs for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as defense-related programs funded by other federal agencies—is what the Pentagon uses to pay annually for military personnel and benefits, operating costs and maintenance, weapons procurement, research and development, construction, and housing.
As the chart below illustrates, the Defense Department’s baseline spending, when viewed as a percentage of total federal spending, has generally declined since 2003. And when viewed as a percentage of gross domestic product, the Pentagon’s baseline budget has stayed relatively constant at levels between 3 percent and 4 percent.
General Dempsey cautioned that severe cuts to the Pentagon’s baseline may demand a fundamental change in America’s strategy and posture worldwide. “We’ll make some adaptations on how we do things,” he said. “But we may reach a point where we have to recommend to the president that we have to adapt or revise our strategy.”
That same day, at a hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, Chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA) outlined four questions that he thinks proponents of drastic defense cuts haven’t been asking:
As the vice chiefs of America’s four military services testified on the issues raised by Chairman Forbes, two key themes emerged from the hearing.
First, the military services are currently able to meet the personnel and equipment requirements of the Department of Defense’s Central Command—which has an area of responsibility that encompasses the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—but they are not always able to meet the requirements of other regional combatant commands. The comment of Admiral Jonathan Greenert, vice chief of naval operations, was representative: “No, we cannot meet all of the other combatant commanders’ validated demands” for resources, but “we help them manage those risks.”
Second, all four vice chiefs reiterated that deep defense cuts in the future will cast doubt on the ability of the military to meet America’s current worldwide posture and strategy, and called instead for long-term budget stability and predictability:
* General Peter Chiarell, Army vice chief of staff: “Whatever reductions are made carry risk, and with reductions we will not be able to do as much tomorrow as we are able to do today.”