Future US Defense Chief Warns Against Deep Cuts

The next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urges lawmakers not to cut hundreds of billions in military spending.

United States Army Chief of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey warned against multibillion dollar defense cuts in testimony to Congress this week. He told lawmakers on Tuesday that it would be “extraordinary difficult and very high risk” to trim $800 billion in defense spending over the next decade as part of a broad deficit reduction effort.

Dempsey, who is set to succeed Admiral Michael Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military officer and an important national security advisor to the president, pushed back hard in his Senate nomination hearing against proposals to at least double the $400 billion in defense cuts which were identified by Secretary Robert Gates last year.

Though he attempted to rein in American defense spending, Gates, who resigned last month, warned that “tough economic times or the winding down of a military campaign” should not lead to “steep and unwise reductions in defense.” Dempsey recently echoed that sentiment.

“National security didn’t cause the debt crisis nor will it solve it,” the Army general told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Although annual defense spending has increased by almost $400 billion since 2001, Dempsey is correct when he claims that the armed services aren’t wholly nor, indeed, particularly responsible for the nation’s mounting debt burden. Without a military, the government would still be spending about $1 trillion more than it takes in in revenue this year.

With Democrats opposed to entitlement cuts and Republicans unwilling to raise taxes, Politico reports that defense is the one area where many in both parties can agree to cut, buoyed by polls which show that Americans want to scale back their nation’s overseas involvements. Some foreign policy hawks are critical though.

Republican senator John McCain, Barack Obama’s rival in the 2008 presidential election and one of few outspoken interventionists in the current Congress, criticized the rising pressure to cut military spending without considering the impact on strategy. “Defense spending is not what is sinking this country into fiscal crisis,” he said, “and if the Congress and the president act on that flawed assumption, they will create a situation that is truly unaffordable — the hollowing out of American military power and the loss of faith of our military members.”