WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned global rivals on Sunday not to misjudge U.S. plans to slash military spending over the next decade, saying America would still field the world’s strongest military and nobody should “mess with that.”
President Barack Obama announced his administration’s new military strategy two days ago, saying it will include cutting at least $487 billion in defense spending over the next ten years. Obama said that the US military will be smaller, but that the budget will still be larger than the next 10 largest countries militarily combined.
“Yes, the tide of war is receding. However, this strategy will answer what kind of military we will need after the long wars of the last decade (Iraq and Afghanistan). Today, we’re moving forward, from a position of strength,” said the president Thursday during his press conference at the Pentagon. “I just want to say that that this effort reflects the guidance I gave throughout this process.”
Some Republicans have expressed concerns about the cuts and their impact. Leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney charged that President Barack Obama’s new military strategy was “inexcusable and unthinkable” because it would reduce U.S. global military capability.
Mitt Romney has said he would “clamp down on China” if he is elected in this year’s presidential election. “It’s time to let a conservative businessman take the reins of government to make sure America, not China is the economic powerhouse of the world,” Romney said.
Obama’s new strategy calls for greater emphasis on Asia with the Army and Marines shrink to become smaller and more agile forces. The U.S. saw its debt grow over the past decade due to massive spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the president says his priority is to bring down those growing debts, now standing at over $14 trillion.
“Some will no doubt say the spending reductions are too big; others will say they’re too small,” said Obama. “It will be easy to take issue with a particular change. However, I would encourage all of us to remember what (former) President Eisenhower once said — that ‘each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”
“I think this country has to deal with the reality of the situation that we’re confronting,” Panetta said in a pre-recorded interview. “We’re coming out of a decade of war. We are facing a huge budget crisis in this country. The Congress said… we have to reduce the defense budget by $487 billion.”
Panetta however, said U.S. rivals should not misunderstand the situation. “I think the message that the world needs to understand is: America is the strongest military power and we intend to remain the strongest military power and nobody ought to mess with that,” he said.
“They need to know that… if they take any hostile step, they are going to get stopped,” Panetta added.
General Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer as chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CBS News he worried that some countries might misunderstand the debate Americans are having over changing strategy and the need to cut defense spending.
“There may be some around the world who see us as a nation in decline, and worse, as a military in decline. And nothing could be further from the truth,” Dempsey said.
He said such a miscalculation could be “troublesome” in dealing with countries like Iran or North Korea but it could also cause close friends to wonder if the United States would continue to be a consistent ally.
“What I’d like to say right now is we’re the same partner we’ve always been, and intend to remain that way,” Dempsey said.
“All of the trends, demographic trends, geopolitical trends, economic trends and military trends are shifting toward the Asia-Pacific,” the general said. “So our strategic challenges in the future will largely emanate out of the Asia-Pacific region. America’s biggest 21st Century rival is China.”
The president mentioned China’s growing military power in his speech at the Pentagon Thursday, warning that the U.S. will maintain its reputation as an elite world military power. “States such as China will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projections capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors as well,” said Mr. Obama.
“The fiscal choices we face are difficult ones, but there should be no doubt, here in the United States or around the world – we will keep our Armed Forces the best-trained, best-led, best equipped fighting force in history.”
China, who has the second-largest military spending in the world, did not give any official response, but the Xinhua news agency, warned Washington on Friday not to “recklessly practice militarism” or engage in “war mongering.” Reacting to Thursday’s announcement, an editorial in Global Times, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said China should “remain sober” in response to the U.S. shift.
“China should try to avoid a new cold war with the U.S., but by no means should it give up its peripheral security in exchange for U.S. ease in Asia,” the newspaper wrote. “The U.S. must realize that it cannot stop the rise of China and that being friendly to China is in its utmost interests.”
The leadership in China however, has largely dismissed the sabre-rattling as ‘political rhetoric’ in election year. Former president Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and the current Obama had in the past ‘talk tough’ on China in times of election. Politicians of both countries likewise, have no appetite to start a war. While the right wing groups in the U.S. called for economic and strategical triumph over China, they did not ask for a war, the countries they pressed to go war with instead, are Iran, Syria and Pakistan.