The senior leaders of the U.S. military have finally said enough is enough. You cannot wear out the military by requiring that it fights two, even three wars over a decade, conduct countless out-of-area deployments, maintain forward presence around the world, provide humanitarian assistance in dozens of disasters and conduct training missions with nearly one hundred countries and then tell it to suck up $1 trillion in budget cuts. For the first time in decades, the leaders of the nation’s armed forces are standing up and standing together to warn that massive cuts in defense spending will break the force.
The revolt was led from the top. In an appearance yesterday on Capitol Hill, Army General Martin Dempsey, the Obama Administration’s nominee to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, broke with previous Chairmen by publicly challenging the policy line being put forward by political leaders. General Dempsey directly contradicted the view of his predecessor, Admiral Michael Mullen, who had opined that the national debt was the greatest threat to national security. In his written remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Dempsey said “I would not describe our economic condition as the single biggest threat to our national security. National security did not cause the debt crisis nor will it solve it.” He went on to warn that deep budget cuts would undermine defense policy, resulting in additional risk to U.S. interests overseas and American’s security at home.
General Dempsey’s remarks were echoed in the same hearing by the nominee to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral James Winnefeld. The Admiral warned that proposed budget reductions could readily lead to a hollow force. “ … as we get to a higher and higher number, we’re going to find that the strategies that we currently have are going to reach inflection points where we’re just going to have to stop doing some of the things that we currently are able to do because what we can’t afford is to have any kind of a cut result in a hollow force. We can’t afford to have a cut result in irreversible damage to our industrial base.”
Dempsey and Winnefeld were supported by a Greek chorus consisting of the Vice Chiefs of each of the services. In hearings before the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee, the Vice Chiefs described a military worn out by continuous combat or allowed to age out as the result of a defense buildup that failed to adequately modernize the force. Each of the services has been plagued by readiness problems that, in some cases, have interfered with their ability to deploy forces.
The military has already sustained nearly $400 billion in cuts as a result of decisions taken by the former Defense Secretary and is planning to absorb another $400 billion in reductions per the President’s recent directive. In addition, the Pentagon is being required to absorb an increasing share of war costs in its base budget. This is why proposals to cut defense by $800 billion or even $1 trillion would have such a devastating impact.
It is time for other interested parties to chime in. Defense industry leaders need to make it clear to our political leaders that proposed draconian cuts in defense spending will mean the loss of irreplaceable production, engineering and design capability. The danger in such areas as nuclear ship construction, large solid and liquid rocket motors, large satellite systems, nuclear weapons refurbishment, and military electronics is real and current.
This revolt of the generals and admirals is not a civil-military issue. Civilians are firmly in control of the military. What we have here is a national security issue. It is the responsibility of military leaders, particularly the JCS Chairman to tell truth to power. And the truth is that proposed budget cuts pose intolerable risks to national security.