The Joint Chiefs have a warning about military cuts


US Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno (L-R), Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark Welsh testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the impact of sequestration on the national defense, on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 7, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • GEN Odierno: "History is rife with the wars that leaders knew would never be fought."

    Tweet This

  • Sequestration cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish

    Tweet This

  • America's military strength and credibility are at stake

    Tweet This

America's senior military leaders painted another grim picture regarding the outlook for national security before Congress this week. To those who regularly tune in, the Joint Chiefs of Staff might be accused of sounding like a broken record. But that should not dissuade policymakers from paying attention to the facts our senior military representatives are soberly presenting day-in, day-out, week after week and month after month.

Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno kicked off with a straightforward warning: "History is rife with the wars that leaders knew would never be fought." These words hung over the room throughout the hearing as a reminder of the real world consequences of rapidly reduced budgets being imposed on those in uniform.

Odierno continued by outlining how America's lack of preparedness in previous wars extracted a terrible toll. He described how in both Korea and Vietnam, select American forces went into combat without the best training possible. The tragic results included reduced combat effectiveness and increased casualties. In fact, America's Joint Chiefs have taken to regularly discussing the past unnecessary casualties that have resulted from poorly-executed budget cuts. When they worry that the same thing might happen again in the future, they are not speculating, but rather basing their predictions on recent history. But few seem to be listening.

What is most ironic about what the Army chief calls "grave uncertainty" in the world is that America's recent drop in military preparedness is not only unwise, but expensive. This is a textbook example of being "penny-wise and pound foolish." Sequestration may save a dollar today but will cost two or three times as much to recover when the nation asks. And it will ask. Moreover, sequestration is resulting in inefficient and wasteful spending. Marine Corps Commandant James Amos noted that penalties arising from cancelled aviation contracts resulting from the cuts will cost $6.5 billion alone. Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert further emphasized this point: "We are not saving costs, we are deferring costs … that are going to come home to roost."

While Pentagon leaders were able to soften the impacts of sequestration in 2013 in many cases by carrying over funding from past years and creative stretching of programs, no such buffer will exist in 2014. As Greenert's testimony noted, "we will not be able to use prior-year funds to mitigate shortfalls as we did in FY 2013." In other words, there is no more wiggle room. In fact, Congress learned today -- to the contrary -- some of the services are actually having to carry over unpaid invoices from 2013 due to deferred readiness bills.

All of this is especially depressing because, as Greenert observed, 2013 was a banner year for highlighting the effectiveness of American military power. Advanced U.S. planes and ships helped deter a conflict on the Korean peninsula, U.S.-Egyptian military ties helped keep an open line to the fluid situation there throughout the latest upheaval and, as the administration was quick to claim, the threat of military force in Syria helped pave the way to negotiations.

The most attractive aspect of military power is that it furthers the national interest even when it is not employed. This is what money buys through the payoff of deterrence. 2013 was proof positive of this effect.

Yet as the Chiefs made clear today, America's military strength and credibility are at stake. Unless President Obama and Congress actively work to alter sequestration, its primary billpayer, the U.S. military — and the American public — will lose twice. First, the taxpayer will owe more as a result of all this inefficient insecurity. And secondly, the nation will suffer immeasurably due to unnecessary instability and increasing military weakness as a result.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies. 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author



What's new on AEI

Love people, not pleasure
image Oval Office lacks resolve on Ukraine
image Middle East Morass: A public opinion rundown of Iraq, Iran, and more
image Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad and the facts they didn't tell you
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.