Security Leaders Call For A Balanced Solution

June 13, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense today with a clear message:  “I don’t think we have to choose between our national security and our fiscal security.” Commitment to both those goals requires other tough choices. National security leaders from both parties have spoken out in recent weeks to say that those choices will have to include measured cuts, increases in revenue, and a commitment to U.S. infrastructure and economic strength that form the foundation of our national power.  As a Council on Foreign Relations taskforce co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it, “national security today is closely linked with human capital, and the human capital of a nation is as strong or as weak as its public schools.”

National security leaders call for balanced solution to sequester: prudent cuts and additional revenue.  Yesterday, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-MI) explained, “Most of my colleagues — not all, but most of my colleagues in both parties see sequestration as a mindless kind of a threat to a sensible budgeting process, threat not just to important defense priorities, security priorities, but to a lot of other priorities of our nation, including education, including health care, transportation, environment and many other critically important challenges…We’ve got to make hard choices, and the only choice that really is an acceptable one, the correct one, and one which is politically feasible, is to have a balanced solution, a solution which includes additional spending cuts but prioritized, prudent. No area can be exempt. … [The question of additional revenue] is the real challenge… I believe, eventually, the Republicans are going to have to choose.” [Carl Levin, National Press Club, 6/12/12]

Bipartisan leaders recognize need for balanced approach. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a conservative, has recognized the need for a realistic approach. Yahoo! News reports, “Graham says the debt crisis is so severe that the [Norquist] tax pledge — which says no tax loopholes can be eliminated unless every dollar raised by closing  loopholes goes to tax cuts — has got to go. ‘When you eliminate a deduction, it’s okay with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That’s where I disagree with the pledge,’ said Graham. The Americans for Tax Reform pledge commits signers to ‘oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses … and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.’ Graham said eliminating some deductions should free up money to lower tax rates — but also to pay down U.S. debt. ‘I just think that makes a lot of sense. And if I’m willing to do that as a Republican, I’ve crossed a rubicon… We’re so far in debt, that if you don’t give up some ideological ground, the country sinks,’ said Graham.” Meanwhile, bipartisan think tanks – the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies – have both put out reports and blueprints for how strategic, careful management of the Pentagon budget can contribute further to deficit reduction.  [Lindsey Graham via Yahoo!, 6/12/12. Winslow Wheeler, TIME, 6/13/12]

National security leaders call for balanced approach:

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What we’ve said to Congress … is in the interests of national security, they really ought to find some other way than sequestration to balance this budget, and it can’t all be balanced on our backs.” [Martin Dempsey, 3/10/12]

Ash Carter, deputy secretary of defense: “Sequester was supposed to be … a trigger so irrational that the prospect of it would … drive the leadership to do what was needed, which was to put together an overall budget package for the nation’s finances that could win wide support.”[Ash Carter via Washington Times, 5/30/12]

Michèle Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense: “The onus is really on Congress to exercise the discipline, the political courage, the pragmatism to reach a budget deal that avoids sequestration, which would impose draconian cuts in a mindless way that would have severe and negative impacts for our national security…  I think frankly we would be wise to spend our time trying to build a balanced package … tax reform, spending cuts, and more investment in things that drive American competitiveness.” [Michèle  Flournoy via the Cable, 5/15/12]

Lieutenant General David W. Barno, USA (Ret.), Dr. Nora Bensahel, Travis Sharp of CNAS: “The responsible way forward is clear: Congress should set aside sequestration as soon as possible and work to develop a thoughtful, comprehensive deficit-reduction package. The Budget Control Act’s $487 billion level of defense cuts should stand, and any further cuts should be implemented gradually as part of a new deficit-reduction package—while keeping in mind the potential for greater national-security risk as the amount of cuts increases.” [David W. Barno, Nora Bensahel and Travis Sharp, 1/26/12]

America’s domestic strength is the foundation of our power in the world. A strong economic base at home is fundamental to America’s military and national security strength, all the more when facing the globalized economy of the 21st century. Charles Kupchan, professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explains, “[R]enewing the nation’s economic health is vital to advancing its national security… Reviving economic growth, reducing unemployment and income inequality, improving education—these are prerequisites for rebuilding the economic base on which national power rests and restoring the political consensus needed to guide U.S. statecraft.” America’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, adds, “[W]e have come to grips fairly effectively, I think, with the interrelationship of the diplomatic, military and economic instruments. And if you’re wondering why this is being — our grand strategy is being renegotiated in terms of outcomes in the face of the nation’s budget crisis, it’s because, truly, we are only as strong as those three pillars — diplomatic, military and economic — can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome.”

A Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security, co-chaired by former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, reports, “The Task Force members believe America’s educational failures pose five distinct threats to national security: threats to economic growth and competitiveness, U.S. physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion. The Task Force does not deny America’s military might, but military might is no longer sufficient to guarantee security. Rather, national security today is closely linked with human capital, and the human capital of a nation is as strong or as weak as its public schools.”  [Charles Kupchan, Winter 2012. Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12. CFR, 3/12]

What We’re Reading

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