Leaner military, weaker military? Obama must tread tricky line. (VIDEO)
The defense strategy released Thursday faces up to budget realities, but the Obama administration will have to balance the need for cuts against Pentagon warnings about undermining security.
As the country wrestles with a looming debt crisis as well as what the Pentagon insists are growing security threats post-9/11, President Obama rolled out a new, more "realistic" national defense strategy Thursday.Skip to next paragraph
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In doing so, the administration must walk a tricky line, issuing enough warnings about looming dangers to stave off calls for deeper spending cuts, yet also offering election-year reassurances to voters about the strength of American security.
The ultimate point of the defense strategic review is to bring the US military in line with the fiscal realities of trillion-dollar deficits. Yet if Congress insists on spending cuts, Pentagon officials have warned for months, then the United States must accept that the armed forces will have to be less ambitious.
Indeed, the strategy released Thursday, called “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century,” cautions that the US military is at a “strategic turning point” –- one in which “the balance between available resources and our security needs has never been more delicate.”
Clearly, the Pentagon feels that, in many ways, its job has never been tougher. Not only does the possibility of a conventional war (say, against China) remain, but the Pentagon must also be prepared to continue the fight against terrorism and perhaps even strike Iran. These skill sets are often at odds with one another and enormously costly to maintain – requiring different training, equipment, and priorities.
The question, then, is how willing the Pentagon will be to play the "fear" card – warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of budget cuts – even as Congress is convulsed by runaway federal spending.
The strategy announced Thursday takes a large step back from the counterinsurgency operations that America has been conducting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade. Instead, it turns its attention towards the broader Middle East, cyberwarfare, and the Pacific as the epicenter of the new security challenges that the United States will face.
As a result, the size of the Army and Marines will shrink. The force "will be smaller and leaner, but its great strength will be that it is more agile, flexible, ready to deploy, innovative, and technologically advanced," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
At the same time, the US military will focus on projecting its power in the Pacific, and for that, defense officials say, it will need aircraft carriers and stealth fighters – in other words, the star of the Air Force and Navy will be on the rise.
Secretary Panetta warned that the array of threats is “growing.” He then offered a bracing litany, which included:
- Extremists who “have the potential to pose catastrophic threats that could directly affect [US] security and prosperity.”
- An unstable North Korea that is “actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program,” according to the document.
- China, which could “affect the US economy and our security in a variety of ways,” the document notes.
- The strategy also ominously points to “opportunistic aggressors” who could take advantage of the reduced US force presence to make a play for power.