Southcom Chief Warns Budget Issues Could Affect National Security
By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2013 U.S. Southern Command’s top officer told a Senate panel today he is “gravely concerned” about the effects sequestration and other budget constraints will have on the United States’ ability to deter and respond to regional security challenges, and he warned the cuts will damage U.S. leadership, readiness and, consequently, national security.
In nearly every area of U.S military engagement in the Southcom region, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee, sequestration will have a negative impact on U.S operations or influence. In particular, the spending cuts affect preventing illegal drugs from entering the United States, “potentially allowing hundreds of tons of cocaine and other illicit products to flood into our cities,” he said in prepared remarks to the committee.
The day could also soon arrive, Kelly said, when Southcom “has no assigned DOD surface assets to conduct detention and monitoring operations,” citing a January memo from the chief of naval operations that warned sequestration will compel the Navy to stop all deployments to the Caribbean and South America.
The budget sequester, which took effect March 1, has forced the Defense Department to absorb $46 billion in cuts through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, while an ongoing continuing resolution continues to impose financial uncertainty on military spending as well in the absence of a fiscal year budget.
Kelly emphasized that the budget issues come amid regional security challenges and pose “potentially devastating long-term impacts.”
“Significantly, reduced U.S military engagement will make it difficult to counter those who would seek to exploit perceptions that the U.S. is abandoning our long-standing commitment to the region,” the general said.
In particular, he suggested that China, which he said is expanding its influence in Latin America, appears ready to fill the void, especially in light of the likely sequestration-triggered cancellation of this year’s deployment to the region of the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
“With an unprecedented three naval deployments to Latin America since 2008, including a hospital ship visit in 2011, China is attempting to directly compete with U.S. military activities in the region,” the Southcom commander said.
Kelly said Southcom already is absorbing a cut of 26 percent across a range of programs, and that if defense cuts continue in coming years, “there will be some missions we will simply no longer be able to conduct.”