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Sequester putting military at risk of becoming ‘hollow force’

The U.S. military is at risk of becoming a “hollow force” because of the effects of automatic rather than strategically planned budget cuts, a former principal adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Defense said Wednesday in Aspen.

Michele Fluornoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Department of Defense, said automatic cuts could have disastrous effects on the military’s combat readiness. She criticized the inability of Congress to pass a compromise budget.

“I’ve never seen the depth of political paralysis that we see now,” Fluornoy said. A big part of the problem is that the Republican Party is fractured into budget hawks and defense hawks, she said, and they are engaged in a struggle for control.

Fluornoy was a featured speaker in one of the opening sessions of the Aspen Ideas Festival. Hundreds of leaders and influential thinkers from around the world are discussing their work and issues that inspire them. This is the ninth annual Ideas Festival, a presentation of the Aspen Institute and the Atlantic magazine.

One of several program tracks at the festival is “America, One Nation, Divisible.” It looks at issues — such as defense spending — that are dividing Americans.

Fluornoy said sequestration — the automatic budget cuts being implemented in the absence of a budget — has the potential to hit the defense department particularly hard. It accounts for 20 percent of the federal budget and 50 percent of the discretionary spending, according to Fluornoy.

Cuts are necessary and achievable after an “unprecedented” buildup of the military over the past decade to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said. For example, military leaders themselves say the department will have 20 percent more bases and training facilities than necessary with the wind-down of the two wars. The problem, she said, is that no one in Congress wants bases in their districts closed.

A coalition of 10 Washington, D.C., think tanks from across the political spectrum is advising Congress to reduce bases and training; reduce overhead, which includes unprecedented hiring of civilian employees; and reducing compensation commitments for the long term, Fluornoy said.

Congress and Department of Defense officials must come to grip that strategic cuts of 25 to 30 percent are necessary over the next 10 years, she said.

“If we fail to do so, we will not like where we end up,” she said.

Before making cuts, civilian and military leaders need to weigh such significant issues as the U.S. role in the world and the country’s strategic interests, according to Fluornoy. She believes that the country needs to maintain a budget that allows it to have a force that can fight in one theater and at least provide a response and “push-back” in another theater.

She credited the Ideas Festival with examining the tough topic of military spending cuts at a time when Congress and the public at large isn’t engaged in the topic.

“This is the kind of dialogue we need to have as Americans,” Fluornoy said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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