Defense spending cuts a 'strategic misstep,' panel warns in Pentagon review

| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Downsizing the armed forces is a “serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States,” a bipartisan panel has concluded in its report on the Pentagon's review of its strategy and priorities.

“Our policy of active global engagement has been so beneficial and is so ingrained that those who would retreat from it have a heavy burden of proof to present an alternative that would better serve the security interests and well-being of the United States,” said the National Defense Panel, which was led by former Defense Secretary William Perry and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Abizaid at the request of Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

“There is a cost when America does not lead, and there are consequences when America disengages,” agreed outgoing House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., in an interview with The Washington Times. “What the president fails to understand — which the report points out — is that a strong military underwrites all other tools our nation has for global influence.”

The panel, mandated by Congress to review the Pentagon's latest Quadrennial Defense Review, concluded the military should not jettison its policy of preparing to fight two wars at the same time and endorsed politically toxic cost-cutting measures, such as base closures and compensation reform.

The spending cuts caused by the sequester have harmed the readiness of the armed forces and should be reversed, the panel said. Citing mounting global conflicts — including nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, the “assertiveness” of China, the “recent aggression” of Russia and “a serious insurgency” in Iraq — the panel advocates for increased Defense funding.

The panel said the capabilities called for in the Pentagon's review “clearly exceed the budget resources made available to the department.” The panel recommended “a twofold plan to rebuild a force structure with both sufficient capacity and capability to meet the demands of sustained American global leadership.”

Among the recommendations:

• The Army and the Marine Corps should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 size — 490,000 active-duty soldiers in the Army and 182,000 active Marines.

• The Navy must be larger. The fleet is on a budgetary path to 260 ships or less, but the panel says it needs between 323 and 346 ships.

• “Nuclear force modernization is essential” with the “looming ob­so­­lescence” of forces from the Cold War.

Although the panel is bipartisan, it is mostly heeded by Republicans, according to Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., deputy editor of

“Given that they're endorsing some things most of the Armed Services Committee already agrees with, e.g. repealing sequestration … you'll see the NDP being whipped out and used as a rhetorical support,” one House Democratic aide told “It will be used by people who already believe in the message — and everyone else will ignore it.”

Sam Brannen, a former Obama administration official who is a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Freedberg: “The chief proponents of the (panel) the whole way along definitely have been (House Armed Services Committee) Republicans; I don't think it's been particularly of interest to anyone” in the Armed Services Committee.

Nevertheless, “the (panel) can say things that are both inconvenient for the administration and inconvenient for Congress. It can blow the alarm on things like the actual cost to our national security of the collapse of consensus on defense spending (and) frame some of these grand strategic questions that are now contributing to gridlock inside the armed services committees.”

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