Facing a trillion dollars in cuts over the next decade and a declining appetite for engagement abroad, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel attempted to rally the faithful as the US struggles to maintain its massive worldwide military presence.
With around 47 percent of Americans saying the United States should take a less active role in global conflicts, Hagel, speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Tuesday, sought to assure the public that America’s massive military stamp was first and foremost done for their benefit following more than a decade of war and inevitable defense cuts.
“It only forces us to be more engaged later — at a higher cost in blood and treasure, and often on the terms of others,” he said. Hagel said staying engaged with the world was not an act of “charity” but a matter of practical national interests.
“Although Americans today are increasingly skeptical of foreign engagement and global responsibilities, it is a mistake to view these responsibilities as a burden or as charity,” Hagel told the audience. “Let us remember that the biggest beneficiaries of American leadership and engagement in the world are the American people.”
Hagel said investment for America’s global military presence, which includes 400,000 troops in 100 countries, is necessary to help build a peaceful, free, and stable world. He further warned of the perils of isolationism, which would inevitably come back to haunt the US.
“Turning inward, history teaches us, does not insulate us from the world’s troubles,” he said.
“It only forces us to be more engaged later — at a higher cost in blood and treasure, and often on the terms of others,” he said.
Despite inevitable cutbacks, Hagel argued that the US military and its allies should not only be strengthened, but deployed with greater frequency.
“Even as we shrink our military’s size…we must continue strengthening the capabilities of our allies, forming new alliances and bolstering old ones, and investing in collective security arrangements,” Hagel said. “We want our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines active around the world, deploying with greater frequency and agility, with the skills and expertise needed to build security capacity in each region.”
Turning his eye to Capitol Hill, Hagel hammered Congress for imposing steep, “irresponsible” automatic budget cuts while at the same time resisting the military's main proposals for making them.
"Even as Congress has slashed our overall budget, they have so far proven unwilling to accept necessary reforms to curb growth in compensation costs and eliminate the Defense Department's excess infrastructure and unneeded facilities," he said.
Hagel named cuts to military pay, aging weapons systems, the size of the armed forces, and the closure of military bases popular with lawmakers and their constituents that should face the chopping block.
Referring to two aircraft that Congress is loath to mothball,
Hagel argued that the A-10 aircraft, which provides close air
support for combat troops, and the U-2 spy plane were not up to
task in the modern world of sophisticated air defenses.
"Continuing to limp along with 50-year-old platforms, no matter how good they were or how effective they were, we don't have that luxury," he said. "We've got to build for the future. ... Congress has to be a partner with us."
Hagel said that the Defense Department instead needs to focus on countering high-intensity threats from sophisticated adversaries, including irregular forces, cyber terrorists and those closing in on the US technological lead.
He said this would require major investments in next-generations weapons systems, increased cyber and space capabilities, a bolstering of unmanned systems, along with precision strike and intelligence platforms.
Hagel’s stress on capabilities is part and parcel of DOD strategy
which would ensure US forces maintain their edge in arms,
equipment and technological superiority.
“I’m not interested in a fair fight, and I don’t want to be capable of only fighting the last war,” Hagel said.