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Ten Questions for Defense Secretary Nominee Leon Panetta

9:41 AM, Jun 9, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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In anticipation of today’s Senate confirmation hearing for Defense secretary nominee Leon Panetta, a list of ten questions on the future of U.S. defense spending priorities was jointly released by the American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Heritage Foundation earlier this week. Here’s the full text:

Panetta Leon

(1) Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on May 24, 2011:  “I have long believed, and I still do, that the defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country’s fiscal woes.”

  • Do you agree with Secretary Gates’ statement?  If so, what is the logic for cutting defense spending even further than it already has been so far during wartime?  Should defense be given higher priority than other areas of federal spending?

(2) The bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Independent Panel -- chaired by former Defense Secretary William Perry and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley -- concluded that “the Department of Defense now faces the urgent need to recapitalize large parts of the force.  Although this is a long-standing problem, we believe the Department needs to come to grips with this requirement…. Meeting the crucial requirements of modernization will require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term.”

  • Do you agree with the panel that there is an urgent problem?  If not, why not?  If so, how is the modernization challenge to be addressed with a defense budget that is flat or declining?

(3) Secretary Gates stated in a speech on May 24, 2011 that “a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go to fewer places and be able to do fewer things.”

  • Presuming that President Obama’s additional proposed cuts will include a reduction in the size of America’s armed forces, what “places” would you recommend that we forego going to and what “things” would you recommend that the American military stop doing?

(4) Secretary Gates has stated that ill-conceived cuts to defense spending could increase America’s vulnerability in a “complex and unpredictable security environment” and, in the same spirit, that “the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power -- the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military.”

  • Do you agree with Secretary Gates’ assessment of the dangers incurred by cuts in military spending and the role of hard power in keeping the peace? And if so, how are those views to be squared with President Obama’s proposal to cut America’s base defense budget (as a percentage of America's GDP) to its lowest point in more than 60 years?

(5) The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, recommended on June 2, 2011 that when implementing President Obama’s plan to cut $400 billion from security spending, savings should be identified in military pay and benefits before making cuts to “force structure” (i.e. weapons programs, equipment and the number of personnel in uniform).

  • Do you agree with Admiral Mullen’s recommendations?

(6) As a chief architect of the defense budget drawdown in the 1990s, you oversaw major reductions in military procurement spending (including a 13.4% decline in FY 1994):

  • Secretary Gates and the QDR Independent Panel have agreed that the U.S. went on a “procurement holiday” in the 1990s. How have procurement decisions in the 1990s affected our operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere? Given the experience of recent years -- and knowing what you know now – would you have supported the same cuts?

(7) Rising Threats:  China and Iran

China has tripled its military’s budget over the past 15 years, putting at risk our military’s long-standing ability to operate decisively and safely in Northeast Asia. 

  • How should the continuing quantitative and qualitative growth of Chinese military capabilities inform U.S. defense investments?

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran is working on a likely nuclear weapons program.  Iran’s missile program also demonstrates increasing proficiency and range. 

  • Should Iran’s nuclear program inform U.S. missile defense research and development?  Is Iran’s nuclear program relevant to U.S. force structure and strategic posture in the region?

(8) U.S. Air Force

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