Unprecedented budget factors have placed the nation's defense strategy in jeopardy, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
"If sequestration occurs, it will severely limit our ability to implement our defense strategy," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said, referring to major across-the-board spending cuts mandated by budget law unless Congress finds an alternative. "It will put the nation at greater risk of coercion. And, it will break faith with the men and women who serve this nation in uniform."
In a hearing that also included Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dempsey spoke of the dangers posed to national security by sequestration and the possibility that the continuing resolution now funding the government in lieu of a budget will be extended.
Sequestration was delayed until March 1 by a bill passed in January. If implemented, it would mandate about $500 billion in across-the-board defense spending cuts over 10 years in addition to $487 billion in cuts mandated over that period by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The Defense Department is, and will continue to be, part of the nation's economic recovery, the chairman said, but to do so requires budget certainty.
"We need the antithesis of sequestration -- a steady, predictable funding stream ... [and] the time to implement reductions in a responsible manner over a manageable timeline," he said.
"Finally, we need the flexibility to transfer and reprogram money to our highest priorities," the chairman said. "Readiness loses when major portions of the budget are untouchable. Everything needs to be on the table."
Failing to act is a choice in itself, Dempsey said, "one that will eventually require a progressive contraction of security commitments around the world and a less proactive approach to protecting our interests."
If the budget uncertainty isn't addressed, Dempsey said, the nation's defense options will be reduced and risk will increase in turn. "Our military power will be less credible, because it will be less sustainable. Now, we are only a few days away from making that a reality," he added.
"Our nation, our service members and their families expect us to do better," the chairman said. "Most importantly, a turbulent world that relies on American leadership demands that we do better."