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Carter Outlines Security Challenges, Warns Against Sequestration

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, March 17, 2016 — The United States is facing five global strategic challenges, while at home sequestration poses a great risk to the funding of critical investments, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers here today.

"Today’s security environment is dramatically different from the last 25 years, requiring new ways of investing and operating," Carter said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the fiscal year 2017 defense budget request.

He testified with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., and Defense Department Comptroller Mike McCord.

VIDEO | 00:38 | Carter on Today's Security Environment
Carter listed Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and terrorism as the five evolving strategic challenges that are driving the DoD's planning and budgeting, he told the panel.

The defense budget request totals $582.7 billion -- $523.9 billion in the base budget and $58.8 billion in the overseas contingency operations fund. The funding request takes the "long view" of current and evolving security threats, Carter said.

Sequestration Poses Risk

Last year's bipartisan budget act gave the Defense Department "much-need stability after years of gridlock and turbulence," Carter said. But he warned the greatest risk to the department is losing that predictably and having uncertainty and sequester in future years.

VIDEO | 00:42 | Carter on DoD Budget Proposal
Avoiding sequestration would prevent $100 billion in automatic cuts and allow the department to maintain stability and sustain critical investments, he said.

Challenges from Russia, China

Addressing the challenges from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorism requires new investments, new posture in some regions, and also new and enhanced capabilities, the secretary said.

"All the while, we’re continuing to help protect our homeland," Carter said. "We’re accelerating our overall counter-ISIL campaign. We’re backing it up with increased funding for 2017 -- requesting 50 percent more than last year."

Key to the approach is being able to deter advanced competitors, he said.

"We must have and be seen to have the ability to ensure that anyone who starts a conflict with us will regret doing so," Carter said. "In our budget, our capabilities, our readiness, and our actions, we must and will be prepared for a high-end enemy -- what we call full-spectrum."

VIDEO | 00:59 | Carter on Deterring Threats
He described Russia and China as the most "stressing competitors" that have both developed and continue to advance military systems that seek to threaten U.S. advantages in specific areas.

The Defense Department is taking a "strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression" in Eastern Europe, Carter said.

"The other challenge is in the Asia-Pacific, where China is rising, which is fine, but behaving aggressively, which is not," he said.

The U.S. military is continuing its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region to maintain the stability the U.S. has underwritten for the past 70 years, allowing many nations to rise and prosper, Carter said. He described the region as the "single most consequential region for America’s future."

Counter-ISIL Momentum

The U.S. is seeking a lasting defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Carter said. He outlined momentum against the "parent tumor" in Iraq and Syria, as well as other areas where it is "metastasizing," including Africa and Afghanistan.

"Notably, the Iraqis retook Ramadi, and are reclaiming further ground in Anbar province," he said.

The U.S. and its partners have supported capable and motivated local forces in Syria to retake the eastern Syrian town of Shaddadi, Carter said. That is the last major northern artery between Raqqa and Mosul -- between ISIL in Iraq and ISIL in Syria, he pointed out.

Coalition partners have committed to increase contributions to help defeat ISIL, strikes on ISIL-held cash depots and oil revenues have increased, and there have been strikes against ISIL in Libya as well, he noted.

North Korea, Iran

Forces on the Korean Peninsula remain ready to “fight tonight,” he said, noting  North Korea poses a  threat to regional security and stability.

Iran is demonstrating "reckless and destabilizing behavior," Carter said. The United States, he said, seeks to counter Iran’s aggression, counter its malign influence, and uphold our "ironclad commitments" to regional allies, notably Israel.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)