Gates warns on defense spending cuts

WASHINGTON Sun May 22, 2011 1:16pm EDT

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is seen before the start of a ceremony conducted by U.S. President Barack Obama posthumously awarding the Medal of Honor to Private First Class Anthony T. Kaho'ohanohano, U.S. Army, and Private First Class Henry Svehla, U.S. Army, for conspicuous gallantry at the White House, in Washington May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is seen before the start of a ceremony conducted by U.S. President Barack Obama posthumously awarding the Medal of Honor to Private First Class Anthony T. Kaho'ohanohano, U.S. Army, and Private First Class Henry Svehla, U.S. Army, for conspicuous gallantry at the White House, in Washington May 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned on Sunday against sharply cutting the size and reach of the U.S. armed forces to trim the deficit, portraying America's military might as an essential safeguard of global stability.

The comments by Gates to graduating students at Notre Dame University came as some Republicans and Democrats look to defense as a way to address the U.S. deficit, running about $1.4 trillion this fiscal year that ends September 30.

Obama announced plans in April to hold national security spending below the rate of inflation for the next 12 years, a move that would save about $400 billion, mainly from Defense Department budgets.

Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration who is leaving the post at the end of June, predicted future calls for major Pentagon cuts could challenge U.S. global leadership.

"As we make the tough choices needed to put this country's finances in order ... there will undoubtedly be calls to shrink America's role in the world, for us to sharply reduce our international commitments and the size and capabilities of our military," he told the audience at the Indiana university.

But Gates said a properly funded U.S. military "cannot be taken for granted." He pointed to an unpredictable world grappling with nuclear proliferation, terrorism, revolution throughout the Middle East, as well as a nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan and U.S. efforts to end the war in Iraq.

"Our military credibility, commitment, and presence are required to sustain alliances, to protect trade routes and energy supplies, and to deter would-be adversaries," he said.

HOLLOWING-OUT THE MILITARY

Gates has repeatedly urged against across-the-board cuts such as those in the 1970s after the Vietnam War or in the 1990s after the Cold War, which he says hollow-out the military.

Instead a strategic review of U.S. military missions and capabilities were in order.

"The lessons of history tell us we must not diminish our ability or our determination to deal with the threats and challenges on the horizon," Gates said.

Gates has been a strong supporter of greater resources for U.S. diplomacy and economic development, tools commonly referred to as "soft-power," as a way to advance U.S. interests.

"But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power -- the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military," he said.

Gates acknowledged that the size of the U.S. defense budget needed to be addressed, saying the country's fiscal imbalances and mounting debt could become a "deep crisis for our nation."

He pointed to a need to find ways to further reduce bureaucratic excess, overhead and examine personnel levels.

When it came to U.S. military missions and capabilities, Gates said it was important to "separate the desirable or optional from the essential."

But even as the Pentagon conducts that review, Gates urged the U.S. military should not shrink from the world. He quoted Winston Churchill saying: "The price of greatness is responsibility ... the people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility."

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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Comments (6)
Paul_MN wrote:
Mr. Gates, I think that if you were to take a poll of whether the world at large is tired of war the resounding answer would be yes. Your (the US) spending on the war machine has gotten us (the world) to the edge of the financial cliff which if we fall off will only end in pain. And for what – just so you can say ‘we are the mightiest nation in the world’.

You could justify your motives any number of ways, but the bottom line is that you’re broke and borrowing more money to fund the war machine will not feed the majority of people in the US and the rest of the world or make it any safer.

Wake up.

May 22, 2011 2:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
stanrich wrote:
Our defense budget is 6 TIMES larger than the next largest big spender.

It seems to me there is lots of room for cuts in that number…

May 22, 2011 3:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
txgadfly wrote:
Why should the American taxpayer fund a huge military capability when our leadership refuses to use that military as the People want? It is a play toy for a small group of wealthy people who we have tolerated in our country. And now they think it is their country, just as their mansions are. They need to think again.

If we cannot control our military and our rulers, then we must gut them both and retake control of our own country. It is called self determination and we do not have it. Corruption rules here.

May 22, 2011 6:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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