President Obama made a rare appearance at the Pentagon on Thursday to unnveil a new military strategy, one driven by shrinking budgets.
The president spoke about “turning the page on a decade of war.” He said we’ve succeeded in defending our nation and taking the fight to our enemies, and said we are safer and stronger. Then the president said, we have the opportunity and responsibility to look ahead to the force that we will need in the future.
“That’s why I called for this comprehensive defense review to clarify our strategic interests in a fast-changing world and to guide our defense priorities and spending over the coming decade. Because the size and the structure of our military and defense budgets have to be driven by a strategy, not the other way around.”
That strategy will likely include a smaller Army and Marine Corps, with a greater emphasis on Asia and the Middle East.
The president gave few specifics. He said concrete details will come in the next few weeks with the release of the Pentagon budget. But he did give a preview of sorts.
“We’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces. We’ll continue to get rid of outdated cold war era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities that we need for the future including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, counter terrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction, and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access.”
These changes are driven, in large part, by nearly $500 billion in defense cuts set to take place over the next 10 years.
The president tried to pre-empt his critics today, saying the military budget will still be larger than the next 10 countries combined, even larger than during the last years of the Bush Administration.
“Some will no doubt say the spending reductions are too big. Others will say that they’re too small. It will be easy to take issue with a particular change in a particular program. But I encourage all of us to remember what President Eisenhower once said, that each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration, the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”
After the president spoke, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta took the podium. He reiterated the president’s words, that a smaller military doesn’t mean a weaker military.
“I do not believe, and I’ve said this before, that we have to choose between our national security and fiscal responsibility.”
Panetta said America’s rising debt is also a national security risk, and that the US has to maintain its economic strength, to support its military might.
Panetta said the Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support large-scale, long-term security operations.
“The United States will emphasize building the capacity of our partners and allies to more effectively defend their own territory, their own interests, through a better use of diplomacy, development, and security force assistance.”
But Panetta warned, as he has before, that further cuts to the Pentagon budget would severely weaken military capabilities. It’s already facing the $500 billion cut, and the Pentagon could lose another $500 billion because the so-called “Congressional Supercommittee” failed to come up with a debt reduction agreement last fall. That triggered additional cuts to the military budget.
“That would force us to shed missions and commitments and capabilities that we believe our necessary to protect core US national security interests,” Panetta said. “And it would result in what we think would be a demoralized and hollow force.”
Many in Congress, particularly Republicans, are vowing to undo new cuts to the military budget. President Obama has promised to veto any legislation that would do that, unless Congress comes up with a way to also trim the deficit.