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Sequestration Endangers Defense Strategy, Dempsey Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, March 3, 2015 — While the U.S. military remains strong, sequestration endangers the mission of protecting America and its interests, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the Senate today.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified before the Armed Services Committee. Both men said the military would not be able to fulfill defense strategic guidance if sequestration triggers in October.

“With threats proliferating, resources declining, and sequestration just months away, our ability to assure our allies is in question and our advantages over our adversaries are shrinking,” Dempsey said. “This is a major strategic challenge affecting not only our military, but ultimately, America’s leadership in the global world order.”

Adversaries 'Leveling the Playing Field’

The United States faces the reemergence of nation-states with the capability -- and potentially the intent -- to constrain the nation, the chairman said.

These nation-states could build capabilities to catch up in areas of traditional dominance. In the newer domains of military power -- space and cyberspace -- “adversaries are rapidly leveling the playing field,” he said.

Nonstate entities -- including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- also threaten U.S. national security interest both overseas and at home. “Our strategy against ISIL integrates and balances nine lines of effort, only two of which are military,” Dempsey said. “ISIL’s threat is trans-regional and will require a sustainable level of effort over an extended period of time to create an environment in which they will be expelled, and ultimately, defeated.”

Russian Leaders on a ‘Dangerous Path’

Russia, Dempsey noted, seeks to reduce NATO and European Union influence in Eastern Europe and generate disagreement among the NATO allies on the very future of Europe. “Russian leaders have chosen a very dangerous path to achieve their strategic objectives, lighting a fire of ethnicity and nationalism not seen in Europe in 65 years,” the chairman said. “It may burn out of control.”

The U.S. military strategy is to reassure and reinforce our NATO allies, he said. American forces are operating in the Baltic republics, Poland, Romania and in the Black and Baltic seas. Other instruments of national power -- such as sanctions -- show Russian leaders the consequences of their policies.

“Altogether, the global security environment is as uncertain as I’ve seen it in my 40 years of service,” the chairman said. “And we are at a point where our national aspirations are at risk of exceeding our available resources.”

Budget Request Reflects ‘Bottom Edge’ of Manageable Risk

The president’s fiscal 2016 Budget Request “represents a responsible combination of capability, capacity and readiness investment,” Dempsey said. “It’s what we need to remain however at the bottom edge of manageable risk to our national defense.”

If this budget were approved as it is, there would be “no slack, no margin left for error nor for response to strategic surprise,” he said. “Funding lower than [the president’s budget request] and a lack of flexibility to make the reforms we need to make will put us in a situation where our nation’s current defense strategy will no longer be viable.”

The chairman said funding cuts would mean the nation’s forces could not perform the missions that have served the country so well.

“For the past 25 years, the U.S. military has secured the global commons, we’ve deterred adversaries, reassured allies, and responded to conflict and crises by maintaining presence abroad,” the general said. “It’s been our strategy to shape the international security environment by our forward presence and by building relationships among regional partners.”

The rule of thumb was always that a third of the force was forward deployed, a third was getting ready to deploy and a third was returning.

Sequestration Would Make Conflict ‘More Costly’

“Sequestration will fundamentally and significantly change the way we deploy the force and shape the security environment,” he said. “We will be almost 20 percent smaller and our forward presence will be reduced by more than a third.”

With fewer troops there will be less influence and response times will grow, he noted. “Conflict will take longer to resolve and will be more costly in both dollars and in casualties,” Dempsey said. “In an age when we are less certain about what will happen next, but quite certain that it will happen more quickly, we will be further away and less ready than we need to be.”

The chairman stressed that American service members are performing around the globe with extraordinary courage, character and professionalism.

“We owe them and their families clarity – and importantly, predictability – on everything from policy to compensation, health care, equipment, training and readiness,” he said. “Settling down uncertainty in our decision making processes will help keep the right people – our decisive edge – in our all-volunteer force and maintain the military that the American people deserve and expect.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)