WASHINGTON – The military will undergo over the next decade its most extensive budget cuts since the Cold War, emphasizing speed, strengthening ties to European allies and refocusing its operations on the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.
President Barack Obama, making a rare appearance in the Pentagon’s briefing room, joined Panetta to unveil the leaner defense budget. The Pentagon will cut military spending $487 billion in the next 10 years, Panetta said.
While the troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan have lessened the strains on the Pentagon, Obama said the budget cuts will not come at the expense of U.S. military might.
“We’ve built the best trained, best led and best equipped military in history, and as commander-in-chief I’m going to keep it that way,” he said.
Balancing security and fiscal austerity, the military – though significantly smaller – will be able to better “respond to the changing nature of warfare,” Panetta said.
“The Department [of Defense] would need to make a strategic shift regardless of the nation’s fiscal situation,” he added. “We are at that point in history. That’s the reality of the world we live in.”
Panetta stressed the new, “leaner” military’s continued ability to confront and defeat multiple opponents at once.
He also ended speculation from many analysts that cuts would affect compensation of current and past members of the armed forces, saying their pay and benefits will not be affected. He refused to comment, however, on benefits for future members of the military.
The cuts – which will be part of Obama’s upcoming budget plan to be presented to Congress – were based on a wide-ranging strategic review of U.S. military objectives, Panetta said.
Focus will shift to existing and emerging threats in both the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions, he added, specifically mentioning Iran. The ability to quickly mobilize and deploy troops will be central to the new strategy, he said, along with increased use of unmanned systems, special forces and cyber defense. Improved intelligence efforts, coupled with closer diplomatic ties with European allies, also will be essential.
In Africa and Latin America, meanwhile, the Pentagon will use low-cost, “innovative methods to sustain U.S. presence and maintain key military relations,” he added.
“We have an opportunity to end the old ways of doing business and build a modern force for the 21st century that can respond to any threat and challenge of the future,” Panetta said.
Few details were given regarding the scope of troop reductions or cuts to specific programs. Final budget decisions “will be finalized and announced in the coming weeks,” Panetta said.
The defense secretary’s emphasis on the military’s ability to confront multiple opponents countered many analysts’ expectations for the briefing. But Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said later that the new-look military will advance such objectives without “land invasion and occupation.”
“We will not retain force structure in ground forces for large and prolonged stability operations, as were required in Iraq,” he said.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that the armed forces’ capacity to fight on multiple fronts will continue to be a hallmark of U.S. military power.
“That two-war paradigm has been a bit of an anchor, frankly, for helping us figure out the future,” he said. “It’s not about whether we confront adversaries in the future. It’s how.”