Defense cuts jeopardize NATO's effectiveness, Panetta warns

BRUSSELS Fri Feb 22, 2013 2:02pm EST

1 of 2. U.S.' Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels February 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Chip Somodevilla/Pool

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Defense cuts and U.S. budget gridlock are jeopardizing NATO's effectiveness, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned on Friday.

Leaving his last NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, Panetta joined those warning of the effects of deep Defense cuts in many Western countries and said it would be an "irresponsible act of political dysfunction" if the U.S. Congress permitted sweeping across-the-board Defense cuts to take place.

Many NATO governments have responded to economic crisis and budget pressures by slashing Defense spending, creating a growing gulf between U.S. and European military capabilities.

Some $46 billion in U.S. budget cuts are scheduled to take effect from March 1 that would slash nearly every U.S. military program or activity unless Congress acts to avert them.

Panetta formally notified Congress on Wednesday that the Pentagon plans to put civilian Defense employees on unpaid leave this year if the cuts take effect.

President Barack Obama's administration is pushing Congress to avert the cuts, known as sequestration.

Panetta said that if the budget cuts happened, "it could impact not only our readiness but frankly the role that we would play with regards to the readiness of NATO as well."

"There's no question that in the current budget environment, with deep cuts in European Defense spending and the kind of political gridlock that we are seeing in the United States right now with regards to our own budget, (it) is putting at risk our ability to effectively act together," he told a news conference.

"As I prepare to step down as secretary of defense, I do fear that the alliance will soon be - if it is not already - stretched too thin," he said.


Panetta said he hoped Congress would not allow the across-the-board budget cuts to take place.

"I think it would be frankly a very shameful and irresponsible act of political dysfunction if in fact that were to occur. The American people would be justly outraged to have people, who they elect to office to protect them, harm them by allowing sequester to take place," he said.

Obama signed the Budget Control Act in 2011 requiring $487 billion in Defense spending cuts over a decade. The law also put in place another $500 billion in mandatory, across-the-board Pentagon cuts.

The cuts were never meant to go into effect, but were intended to coerce Congress and the White House into agreeing on more selective budget reductions. That deal never happened.

Panetta's comments were reminiscent of the warning given by another departing U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, who said in Brussels in June 2011 that NATO risked "collective military irrelevance" unless alliance members took action to reverse declining capabilities.

Obama nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to succeed Panetta, but Republican lawmakers succeeded last week in delaying a Senate vote on confirming Hagel as defense secretary.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Jason Webb)

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Comments (6)
haggler wrote:
So — it’s the ‘ol “end of the world as we know it” speech, eh Leon? Time for a new scriptwriter. You’ve worn out the old standby. Just not believable any more. Billion-dollar aircraft? 20 aircraft carriers? Troops in 150 countries? 700+ military bases? Enough! Time to cut, cut, cut, and cut some more. I think 1/3 the current size should suffice nicely.

Feb 22, 2013 3:17pm EST  --  Report as abuse
bobber1956 wrote:
Right now NATO and the UN be damned. We have a Country to save. Let the rest of the world save itself for a change/or not. See you on the other side.

Feb 22, 2013 3:34pm EST  --  Report as abuse
blah77 wrote:
Good. Why shouldn’t it? Defense budget is not above the fray when it comes to fiscal issues, especially when it comes to our bloated spending on that front. So many of our defense industry programs have shown a knack for consistantly underdelivering, suffered delays, ran over budget, or flat out cancelled after many billions have already been poured in. JSF, LCS, Comanche, MEADs, airbourne laser, just to name a few major ones during the past decade alone. Frankly, the bidding process for these ambitious new toys is no longer about who can do it for less but rather whose proposal contain the most lies. As these shenanigans went on, guess who were the ones that got the shaft? Clue: when our troops arrived in Iraq in 2003, many of them even lacked basic gear such as armored door plating for humvees or proper body armor and many that they did have turned out to be defective. What is wrong with this picture?

As for NATO, these days it is mostly an antiquated military alliance without an enemy to fight. Last I checked, the Warsaw Pact is long gone and many of its former members are now NATO members. NATO can not become a world policing force because that would contradict the entire point behind the United Nations. Now of course certain people will say that the UN is sometimes ineffective but even with those weaknesses, I would much prefer a world organization that at least tries to represent 7 billion human beings as opposed to one that only represent 1 billion. To turn NATO into the global equivalent of the 1% would be a recipe for unilateralism disaster. Just look at Iraq and Afghanistan for recent examples or the British Empire (unchecked unilateral global power with a multitude of allies/colonies) as an older version. I rest my case.

Feb 22, 2013 3:37pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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