Defense spending cuts slated to take place if a congressional “supercommittee” fails to reach a deficit-reduction deal would exact “catastrophic damage” on the military, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Tuesday.
The Pentagon already faces budget cuts of more than $450 billion over the next decade that were agreed to in President Obama’s July debt deal with congressional leaders.
An additional $600 billion could be cut automatically if the bipartisan super-committee that was created during the debt-ceiling crisis fails to reach an agreement that would achieve $.12 trillion in deficit savings.
“This mechanism would force defense cuts that would do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect the country,” Mr. Panetta said in a speech at the Wilson Center. “It would double the number of cuts we confront, and it would damage our interests not only here, but around the world.”
Mr. Panetta implored members of Congress to help the Pentagon forge a smart, 21st-century defense strategy - a strategy, he emphasized, “that may not always include their favorite base or their favorite weapons system.”
“Congress must be a responsible partner in this effort,” said Mr. Panetta, himself a former congressman. “They have as much responsibility for the defense of this country as we in the executive branch.”
The U.S. military of the future needs to be smaller, he said. But “a smaller, highly capable, and ready force is preferable to a larger hollow force.”
“While some limited reductions [in force structure] can take place, we must maintain the ability to fight in more than one area,” Mr. Panetta said.
He said that efforts begun by his predecessor Robert M. Gates to improve efficiency and eliminate waste are bearing fruit but could “only go so far,” adding that the Pentagon needs to make “hard choices.”
“Given the nature of today’s security landscape, we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of past reductions in force that followed World War II, Korea, Vetnam and the fall of the Iron Curtain, which to varying degrees — as a result of across-the-board cuts — weakened our military,” he said.